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APRIL POLLS AND 150 MILLION FOOLS

By NBF News
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This is a country of fools. April fools! 150 million of us! Okay, I concede; not all of us are fools. For we would have to remove a certain Prof. Attahiru Jega and his INEC commissioners from the list.

Of course, the biggest fools are those over 73 million of us who were foolish enough to not only register to vote, but who actually roused ourselves from sweet Saturday morning sleep to go out to vote. Yes, those who expected that everything would go well with the April 2 polls are fools. And I rank top on that list. But I am not complaining. Because I am in the company of so many respectable and respected Nigerians.

I don't know where to place President Goodluck Jonathan in all this. But the fact that he could not even get accredited, let alone vote, means he, just like the rest of us 73 million registered voters, was also taken for a ride. By his own employees!

The likes of Governor Fashola even went a step further. They actually voted, only to discover that it was all in vain.

Yes, It is no longer news that the Jega-led INEC chose to play an April fool prank on all of us, 24 clear hours after the Fools' Day.

Of course I was not surprised. in fact April polls and April fools was the title I had chose for the article, which I could not finish early enough for last Wednesday.

I always knew we were headed in this direction. The signs were everywhere.

First, INEC said it was going to use a system of modified open ballot but the PDP said no. I guess that does not make rigging very easy. Jega then rolled out a code of conduct for political parties, but PDP again, leading many others, initially refused to sign. As if signing made any difference. Afterall, how much have they complied with the campaign expense ceiling which the National Assembly fixed by an act of parliament? Even those who enacted the law have not complied let alone the people they made the law for. RECs raised alarm that despite all the money 'ear'marked for the polls, they had yet to 'eye'mark the result sheets. But Jega told them to have faith, that everything was under control. That like Ali Baba and the Angels, only good could see the result sheets. However, Jega insisted that the INEC plane, which had not succeed in taking off was already on autopilot, even while still on the tarmac.

The time table was done in such a way that there was no room for any slip or lapses. But Jega insisted all was well. He would have nothing of our suggestion that a Plan B should be put in place. There was no better way to snatch defeat from the jaws of success.

Despite all the lapses, I am not one of those who would call on Jega to resign. For I can't immediately think of any right-thinking person who would want that job now. I, for instance, would not. Not even for all the billions that the National Assembly would be ready to approve.

I am also not unaware that Jega happens to be working for a gang of wicked elders who send out a child on an errand to deliver a load of salt only to send rain after the same messenger. So from the onset, Jega, like this salt-bearing messenger, was programmed to fail.

The little ray of hope we had that things could turn out to the contrary was largely hinged on Jega's unquestionable integrity.

It was the fear of what mischief and collateral damage a typical Nigerian politician could visit on the process if he had as much as five-hour pre-balloting glimpse of what the ballot papers looked like that made Jega hoard some of the sensitive materials from even his own staff. I am sure, if those materials had been sent well ahead of balloting, the politicians would have hijacked them and thumb-printing would have started in earnest - well ahead of the official commencement of voting.

It was also this fear of politicians hijacking the process that has seen our voting materials move from South Africa to Dubai, China, Saudi Arabia, and even got held up in the crises in the Middle East. Yet, this is a country that has a Security Printing and Minting Company, has publishers and private printers of note, prints bank papers and even ballot papers for state electoral commissions. But the fear of Oluwole blinded us to all these opportunities. Jega should come to Lagos and see what Fashola has turned the once dreaded Oluwole into.

But that still does not mean that Jega has failed. To me, all those saying that the Prof failed, despite that he got everything he asked for: money, freedom, constitutional amendment etc are talking rubbish. Nobody seems to remember anymore that the lawmakers kept dilly-dallying with everything until the 11th hour before they suddenly began to approve just anything. After they had taken care of their collective (but selfish) interests, got assurance of both return ticket and guarantees from the executive that it would use the instrument of state to fix their re-election.

I see this first Jega misadventure from the positive side. I see it from the analogy of the proverbial vulture which insists that he is a living proof that every disadvantage is a blessing. His explanation for this is simple: Since the good Lord did not deem it fit to give Mr. Vulture any hairs on the head, he has saved this hated bird the tortuous but regular journey to the barber's.

But this piece is not about vultures, although one could be tempted to use such words on those who hover over us praying and preying and waiting for us to stumble as a nation - just as vultures hover over wounded soldiers on the battlefield - so that they can take advantage.

The inherent advantage of the botched April 2 polls and its cancellation is that the little that transpired that day has already given us a fore taste of what was to come. And it is now for us to use this period of extension (or is it postponement) to address the problems that were already beginning to emerge. In those few hours that we thought the election would go on, those who wanted to rig had already laid their cards on the table. They had given away their game plan.

For obvious reason, over which I don't think I owe anyone an apology, I took particular interest in the situation in three specific states, including Abia - where, few weeks to the election, I had daily received complaints from several parts of the state about the impending manipulation. If it was not allegation of issuing fake ID cards to returnee kidnappers to enable them infiltrate the INEC adhoc staff list, then it would be that election materials meant to be taken straight to the Central Bank office in the state had decided to make a stop over at government house.

Of course there was also a case of a seemingly orchestrated violence which many believed was instigated in order to create the justification for massive deployment of soldiers to opposition strongholds on election day. That was what eventually happened in Abia North, Dr. Orji Kalu's base.

On election day proper, the same opposition which the powers that be had used the instrumentality of state power to stop from carrying out any appreciable campaign, shut out of the government owned state broadcast media, hounded with security agents on spurious allegations of kidnapping, armed robbery and, in some cases, murder, were deliberately shut out of the voting.

Voting materials were deliberately delayed from getting on time to perceived opposition strongholds, while there were visible efforts to abuse the use of security agents deployed for the exercise.

While agents and operatives of the state governments roamed free 'fixing' thugs from one polling unit to another - cutting across constituencies, the soldiers and police were deliberately deployed to keep close monitor on known key opposition figures, to stop them from as much as leaving their respective homes, let alone monitor the exercise around their immediate neighbourhood.

Now that the polls have been shifted forward, its time to plug all the leakages. It is still not too late to redeploy RECs who have been found to have compromised themselves and the process.

But while we are at it, let us not hang Jega for what is obviously not his fault. Yes, he is INEC chairman but it is in his desperation to run away from our corrupting influence that he has boxed himself into a corner.

In one of the states where I took interest last week, I noticed that the decision by INEC and the security agencies to restrict movement on election day had throw politicians off balance. As late into the night as 2.00 am key politicians in the state were still meeting on how to either circumvent the order without being caught or how to ensure that their opponents were not roaming the polling booths if they decided to stay home to abide by the directive. It's the state of mutual distrust. If the politicians don't trust themselves, how do they expect INEC to trust them. That's why Jega did not want to take chances, forget all the conspiracy theory.