JEGA: ANY HOPE FOR 2011 POLLS?
The signs are quite familiar; Advance an excuse ahead of time to push any subsequent problems at the doorsteps of a distant alibi.. That is exactly the game the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Athahiru Jega is currently engaged in.
By asking for the amendment of the Electoral Act, Jega is indirectly blackmailing the National Assembly to hold the institution up as reason (s) for expected pitfalls. Certainly there is heavy volume of work to be done to deliver 'a credible, free and fair' elections next year, But that hardly calls an early search for scapegoats.
But he is not to be blamed. His modest achievement and visibility as a trade unionist could not have elevated him to the pedestal for which he was expected to conduct such a crucial general election. Those who lionized him as a man without appreciating the task he was to perform are the real culprits.
Even the executive arm of government which nominated him was deluded and blackmailed by the civil society groups who naively or mischievously thought that the sacking of Prof Maurice Iwu and the appointment of Jega would end all the electoral woes of Nigeria. Goaded by a vociferous and baying crowd of self righteous people, the federal government caved in, made sweeping changing in INEC barely eight months to the conduct of the election. How the officials believed that a new set of people would understand the underpinnings in INEC that early is what really baffles.
It is also amazing that the much trumpeted electoral reforms promised by President Jonathan are yet to materialize, except that we believe that the removal of Prof Iwu as INEC chairman and the appointment of new leaders at the electoral body would solve our problem. Nigerians expected something better than that. They wanted to see an INEC freed from the stranglehold of the presidency. What has happened is a cosmetic gesture which in no way has given us the confidence that we required.
Be that as it may, Prof Jega an undisputably intelligent may have played to the gallery. Apparently buoyed by the ovation of the moment, he declared to the word that he would conduct the 'most credible election' within the shortest period of time. He went ahead to demand a whopping N89b for the compilation of a new voters' register. Instructively, nobody remembered that a nation in a democracy updates its voters' register no matter how imperfect. Yet Jega got away with it and was handed over the money even when respected Nigerians cried blue murder.
At a retreat with National and President Electoral Commissioners, Prof Jega told them point blank that while the compilation of a new voters' register was necessary, the reality on the grand was that they have to update the existing one if they were to meet up with the time frame for the conduct of the 2011 general elections. Surprisingly, as soon as he returned to Abuja from Cross River, the INEC chairman started singing a new song. He now insisted that without a new voters' register, the 2011 elections would not be credible. Could it be that he was playing out a script written, perhaps from above? If so, why is Jega still on seat since he swore that he would never be teleguided by anybody?
Unfortunately for him, there is a wide hiatus between theory and practice. Without adequate planning and research, Jega rushed to release a time table for the election even when rudimentary issues had not been taken care of. Suddenly, he has realized that he needs more time to conduct the election after the compilation of a new voters' register.
While it is clear that the National Assembly would as usual grant the extension of time, the lesson to learn from this fanx paux from Jega and his new team in INEC is that we should never be in a hurry to jump to conclusions without analyzing the issues first.
For now it must be glaring to everybody that contrary to the sponsored wide outcry against Prof Iwu and his team, that they could not have been the bane of conducting a successful election in Nigeria. Even the politicians have openly admitted that election would remain a do or die affair for them. Indeed the open confession of one of them on how they corrupt and circumvent the system should be an eye opener to every patriotic Nigerian not given to the Roman mob attitude.
It also means that allowing Prof Iwu to stay on and conduct the 2011 general elections would have been beneficial to all instead of engaging an entirely new team that would have to learn on the job while the nation wastes valuable time. The experimentation currently going on in INEC is an avoidable mistake if we should be truthful to ourselves. While it is acknowledged that institutions should be self-driven no matter the human beings involved, we all know that experience is the best teacher.
Having noted that, Jega knowing fully well the implication of accepting the INEC job should not turn round to offer lame excuses to Nigerians as to why he could not perform. Amending the Electoral Act should not be difficult for the National Assembly after they appropriated N89b for INEC even when it was not on the original 2010 budget. What is required of the new INEC boss is for him to demonstrate that he has the will power to withstand and resist pressure from above.
Even when some Nigerians glibly talk of the 2007 election as being 'flawed', they forget that but for the courage of Prof Iwu, there would not have been any civilian to civilian transition as we have today. When the international community demands their own acceptable standard of election in Nigeria, they forget the peculiar and difficult environment under which we operate.
As for the civil society groups, it is heartwarming to note that they have seen that it takes more than one man and his integrity to conduct an election. Jega has to get down to work to prove to us that he can do better them his predecessors. Anything short of that would be an admittance of failure.
Mazi Ikeogu wrote in from Ututu, Abia State.