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THE BOTCHED NATIONAL ASSEMBLY POLLS

By NBF News
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With all the hype and assurances by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, the first of the three- stage, April 2011 elections - the election to the National Assembly - flopped on Saturday, April 2, 2011, frustrating the large and enthusiastic number of voters who thronged polling stations to exercise their civic rights. Jega, the juggler, juggles the INEC ball into offside play, some would say, foul play. Many are in a rage, ready to wave the red flag in Jega's face.

Were it to be April 1, 2011, I would have considered it April Fool treatment when word first filtered into a polling station in Iwo, Osun State at about 12.40pm that the election has been postponed. Five minutes earlier, the youth corper who was manning the polling station had addressed the crowd to exercise patience, that the ballot papers were being expected any moment. The expectant crowd was even prepared for a long wait.

That was the level of enthusiasm. In fact, some thought the story making the rounds was a ploy to get some to leave, such that when voting eventually takes place, it would favour a particular party.

I was among the large crowd that had waited patiently on the queue to get accredited for the election. It was relatively fast - with two lines, it took me 30 minutes to get accredited. I returned to the house and came back to the polling station at 12.15pm preparatory to commencement of voting at 12.30pm. Many had stayed put after the accreditation.

When it finally dawned on the people that the postponement was authentic, it was a demoralized crowd that left the polling station in a dejected shuffle. However, one interesting observation I noted was that more than two thirds of the turnout were women- the young, the middle aged and a sprinkling of the elderly. I pondered that were women to enjoy better encouragement to run for elective offices and get better organized in terms of mobilizing resources, they will elect many of their gender since democracy is a game of numbers. Hopefully, someday, women would wake up to the reality of their numerical power in elections.

Well, I digress.
The man in the eye of the storm is Attahiru Jega. Yes, he apologized to the nation for flunking his first national examination - the assignment of conducting his much hyped free, fair and credible election when he couldn't get the National Assembly election off the ground. Maybe we should not really be surprised. I have had cause to write that Prof. Jega seems to be building up alibi of excuses for possible failure of the elections with his plethora of complaints and his stampede strategy of getting things done - from the release of funding to repeated amendments of the Constitution and the Electoral Act - to accommodate his programme of activities. It is now apparent that Jega underestimated the task but seems to believe that like most things Nigerian, he would muddle through. Now, we can see that muddling through amounts to 'messing' through.

The question Jega owes an answer to Nigerians is: At what point did he realize the practical impossibility of getting the election materials delivered early enough to meet the deadline for last Saturday's election? If the materials had not been delivered in Nigeria 24 hours before the election day, a realistic Jega should know that the logistics of distributing the materials nationwide would be near impossible and consequently advise on announcement of the election's postponement by Friday, April 1, 2011 such that people would be able to go about their normal activities for the day rather than suffer restricted movement, all for nothing, except perhaps visiting frustration and trauma on them. We seem to have developed a penchant for expecting miracles, a situation that has led to pastors, mullahs, alfas, 'babalawos' and marabouts holding sway in peoples' lives.

President Goodluck Jonathan weighed in on the debacle, appealing to Nigerians to show understanding of the situation. Nigerians have had to endure appeals for failure of various officials and organizations to perform to public's expectation. It is becoming a charade. An irony of this first misstep in the general election schedule is that Nigeria that has found it difficult to conduct credible election at home had been raring to go to another country - Ivory Coast – to enforce the disputed result of a presidential election. Can charity about fair, undisputed election begin at home, please? The other day, former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, diplomatically mocked Nigeria when he noted that the country has been less able to manage its affairs well, making it a disappointment to Africa. Mogae is the leader of the Commonwealth Election Observer team for the general election. For how long are we going to hold this nation up to public ridicule, at home and abroad?

Well, the harm has been done but a public relations doctrine says that one can snatch victory from a disaster situation. And I am a little curious. How did Prof. Maurice Iwu manage to get ballot papers and other elections materials on ground, even with the late court judgement that restored Atiku Abubuakar as a candidate in the 2007 presidential election?

Jonathan one-man presidential 'debate'
President Goodluck Jonathan,PDP presidential candidate got his day in the sun on the platform of the Nigeria Elections Debate Group on Wednesday, May 30, 2011. First, I had thought the organizers, with the absence of the other three 'Debaters' would have changed the format and tag it 'FACE THE NATION' under which after a session with the panelists, the channels would be thrown open for viewers/listeners to ask questions from candidate Jonathan.

That would have been quite exciting. Well, President Jonathan came up sharp and confident, even if he overflogged his humble beginnings. There were no ambush questions and it was like a honky dory outing. But Jonathan made a significant suggestion, though it was to protest charges of 'expo' against him about seeking pre-debate questions. His suggestion of letting the candidates throw the questions at each other will make such encounter the REAL DEBATE.