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APRIL POLLS: WHEN THINGS GO WRONG

By NBF News
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In politics, the lessons of the last election is prized beyond its application to the one at hand. Each election, like in every war, is dependent upon the experience of the one before it. Each should be unique, if not different. And every new experience ought to educate. For that is how to minimize errors. That's how success is achieved. But when new experience ceases to educate, groping in the dark becomes a routine.

Managing the popular fury which was stirred up by the bungling of the April 2 National Assembly poll remains one horrible event hard to take. The restart of that election last Saturday, April 9, has not completely diminished that national anger that trailed the botched one.

More than anything else, the fiasco of April 2 confirmed public disillusionment about the lack of competence and performance of certain public institutions entrusted with very important national assignments such as the conduct of elections in our country. This is crucial in any democracy because political institutions such as our Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) exist so that they can become more responsive and responsible. The bitter criticisms that have continued to trail the performance of INEC so far, with some people calling for the removal of INEC chief, Prof. Attahiru Jega may not completely be dismissed. But the pledge of our support in spite of all the shortcomings make better sense because of the 'higher forces' that often conspire to 'overpower' the promise to deliver.

And that much we have heard on why INEC bungled the April 2 NASS poll for which INEC boss came under high condemnatory attacks. But every assessment of an individual performance must be taken in the context of a team's failure. The elements, seen and unseen, that may have rocked the boat of Jega, first and foremost, has to do largely with public perception of the commission which remains terribly bad. It is not unkind to say that public perception of INEC is like mending a broken egg. Successive governments in the country have not been bold enough to rein in the Leviathan that continues to make the electoral umpire unable to deliver as promised. Often, we are tired of the electoral body promise the 'moon' only to deliver 'cheese'. That again is why INEC continues to evoke condescending grimaces from the public, even with repeated assurances from its leadership.

Jega may not have been acquainted with these centrifugal and centripetal forces that make successive elections flawed and highly disputable. When things go wrong (as the NASS election in some states attest), it is always easy to play the blame game. The result is that the electoral body and its leadership become the butt of all jokes. This much is however plain: when a vision fails, it is so because the execution has failed to hit its target. You therefore have to tie it up to two main things: strategy and accountability.

The lesson for the leadership becomes: lead from the front, don't push from the rear. From the happenings of the last ten days, starting from the botched poll on April 2 and the outcome of last Saturday, it is clear that the lights have been turned on, brightly perhaps, and we can now see the shadows through the shades.

Essentially, conducting a free, fair and credible poll appears now to be a hard thing to do, at least, not yet. I empathize with Prof. Jega who deep inside him may be looking like a tourist in the alien land of national politics and suddenly caught up in the labyrinth of public service discomfort. Maybe, it was good that INEC bungled the first NASS election of April 2. The lesson may have started to show in the rescheduled poll, as the results come in. One of the lessons that is clear now is that there is a world of difference between why politics is conducted and the outcome of election.

This makes it hard for people on the sidelines to get to know very little (if at all), of what happens inside the arena of politics. Which is why in many places, the electorate - that bastion of democracy - is yet to render decisive judgment on those that will represent them at the National Assembly, effective June, this year. There is no doubt that the NASS needs a new leadership based on transparency. There is need for a departure from the present visionless, vacuous, profligate and scandal-ridden, National Assembly. Sadly, we may end up having more of the same, not a real choice of the people. Our national politics doesn't really need a re-alignment as many have suggested.

What we need is a de-alignment, a withdrawal of ethnic/tribalistic party loyalties in favour of a more pragmatic and detached form of political involvement. This is crucial because, in any responsible parliamentary system, the parliament is where the action ought to be. It is where trust and openness ought to be visible, it is where the issues concerning the people should be given pre-eminence. It is not a place of grandstanding and self-aggrandizement. Unfortunately, in the last twelve years, the sanctity of the National Assembly had been desecrated on the altar of self-interest. Strong leadership has been visibly absent. The ability to get things done through legislation, have only moves with the speed of light when the matter before it concerns members perks of office. Proceedings in the two chambers for the greater part of this democratic dispensation have been a roller-coaster ride, a momentum of tragic drama, stocked with dozens of funny characters and sleazy affairs - all driving towards a conclusion that the National Assembly as currently constituted does not represent the aspirations of the Nigeria people. That's what you get when things go wrong.

But the events of the past one week will reach a classic drama in the Presidential Poll next Saturday. This is a field that contains dozens of unpresidential characters, many of them more of 'water carriers' than presidential materials. Can that election produce the change Nigeria needs? When you have water carriers, you receive no spark, no creativity, no inspiration and no stolidity. That is, indeed, a great worry.

The issues at stake next Saturday include leadership, the sputtering economy, corruption and profligate spending, power sector, social infrastructure decay and security concerns, among other niggling problems. These are no easy tasks for whoever wins the Presidency.

If things go right, the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan should not expect an easy coronation. South South and South East may be sure-banker for him. And no more. Other states and geo-political zones are battlegrounds. What Nigerians are looking for, if things don't go wrong, is a president who will advance a series of programmes that can, objectively, a more effective responses to our national needs than the present. And someone who can secure a modest but coherent changes in the way political and economic institutions operate, so that they become more responsive and responsible. At the moment, many of these institutions, in particular, those with political and electoral values have been inept and unresponsive to the things that ought to impact positively on the lives of the people. The economy has become even as troubling as the political arena. With our foreign reserves in steady decline since last year as a result of high cost of governance, it raises the question: What is the essence of government? To raise money and spend?

Ideally, democracy is not a fail-safe form of government. It persuades the people to make choices, to assume the ultimate responsibility for their country. That responsibility has not being discharged with a sincerity of purpose since 1999 either by the legislatures of the Executive branch. What we have seen is that all our politicians run for offices promising to change things. But once in power, they end up becoming its captives. Once elected, they reverse themselves as quickly as Hope-Meister. Nigerians are indeed disillusioned with politicians and government's incompetence and outright disdain of the needs of the people. Whether their votes really counted last week, or will count next Saturday, requires deeper analysis.