By NBF News

Against all expectations from Nigerians and the international community that the National Assembly election scheduled for last Saturday, April 2, would usher in a season of credible polls to redeem the nation's blighted reputation for flawed elections, the exercise ended in fiasco.

Although the election actually took off as planned, it was halted mid-way by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over late delivery of critical election materials by foreign vendors, and other logistical challenges.

The bungling and subsequent postponement of the election, first to Monday, April 4, and later to tomorrow, April 9, took the nation and the world by surprise. The shock generated by the false start to the exercise and its cancellation after accreditation of voters and commencement of voting in many states, including Lagos, is still reverberating across the country.

Deep disappointment and outrage have largely characterised public response to the poor showing of INEC and its boss, Professor Attahiru Jega, in this very first of the critical 2011 general elections. The mismanagement of the National Assembly election is a great letdown, especially considering the massive enthusiasm that heralded the exercise and the large turnout by the electorate, eager to exercise its franchise.

Signals that all might not be well with the elections emerged early in the day, last Saturday, as it became clear that INEC was not on top of operational challenges of the exercise. Electoral officials did not arrive on time at many of the polling stations.

Many registered voters were reported not to have seen their names on the registers of voters. There was short supply of electoral materials at many polling stations, even as some had no materials at all. Some polling stations had registers of voters of places other than their own locations, while ballot papers in many places had logos of some political parties missing. Also, some ballot papers had the names of the parties arranged alphabetically, while others, interestingly, had that of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) at the bottom of the list, coming even after parties whose names begin with the letters L and S.

Protests against these lapses in some parts of the country became a veritable threat to the election, hence, the announcement of the cancellation of the exercise was a welcome relief to many.

The stoppage of the National Assembly poll on account of logistical inadequacies of INEC in the full glare of the world is, undoubtedly, a national disgrace.

However, we acknowledge the courage and humility of Jega, who halted the exercise, apologised and took full responsibility for the disaster. This readiness to admit failure, and express regrets, is rare in the country. Nigeria has had experiences similar to this in the recent past when elections did not hold in some parts of the country, yet results came out from such places. The only difference between that time and now is the scope of the places affected.

As much as INEC's shoddy performance is annoying, however, Jega's humility and unreserved apology are mollifying. We, therefore, advise Nigerians to accept the apology and resolve to do all they can to make the poll, which will now hold tomorrow, a success.

This, we acknowledge, is a daunting challenge, considering the enormity of INEC's fumbling. For one, Jega had, in the weeks preceding the poll, lured the nation into a false sense of security with his repeated assurances that INEC was ready for the election. It is logical for Nigerians to ask for the value of his much-vaunted readiness at a time when the materials required for the elections had not even arrived in the country.

Again, Nigeria has done everything Jega demanded, to ensure credible elections. About N90 billion requested for the exercise had been released to INEC, as due. The Electoral Act was amended, more than once, at his request, to accommodate his timetables for the exercise.

The commencement of the elections on a wrong foot is, therefore, indefensible and understandably unacceptable to the people. But, all that has become history. We now have to put this vexing experience behind us and forge ahead with the elections, beginning with the National Assembly poll, tomorrow.

The most important thing for INEC and Jega, now, is to understand that no further excuses or lapses will be brooked in these important elections. Nigeria and the international community are not in the mood for any more excuses. We expect that between last Saturday and today, INEC should have done everything necessary to perfect its performance tomorrow. The mind-boggling operational deficiencies that marred last Saturday's effort should have been adequately dealt with.

Tomorrow, the people want to see an electoral agency that is up to the task that it has undertaken to perform. The agency must demonstrate that it is capable of tackling the logistical challenges that come with conducting credible elections. This is important, not only for image of the country, but also national unity. The cohesion of the country is so fragile now because of rancorous rivalry that attended electioneering.

INEC cannot, therefore, afford to misstep again, lest it triggers a crisis of unimaginable proportions.

The minimum expectation of Nigerians from the electoral agency, tomorrow, is an election that conforms to best practices. The people want an exercise that will be free, fair and conducted peacefully.

The onus, now, is on all stakeholders to ensure that we get it right. INEC must be efficient and effective in the discharge of its responsibility.

The politicians and political parties must play by the rules. Voters should conduct themselves peacefully and in accordance with the rules guiding the process, while security agencies must be impartial. Some soldiers deployed for security duties during the botched election reportedly brutalised members of the opposition in some states, leading to calls for their withdrawal in Abia. In Edo, Governor Adams Oshiomhole raised an alarm over alleged brutalisation of the people by troops on election duties. This should be guarded against, tomorrow. The troops should keep away from voting centres and avoid being used to intimidate the opposition.

Prof. Jega came highly recommended to INEC, with uncommonly high integrity and respectability. Now, there is a big question mark not only on his integrity, but also his competence. The respected professor cannot afford to fritter away his hard-earned reputation on the altar of botched elections.

He should strive to rise above the internal and external challenges confronting INEC and put nothing but his best into tomorrow's election. This is one election that has implications not only for our polity, but our democracy and its future. We cannot afford not to get it right, this time.