INEC: Shame on the opposition


 BySKC Ogbonia,
[email protected], Texas

One of the earliest lessons I learned from my father, Ilogebe Ogbonnia, the Ikeoha, is that a

habit of excuses is an existential catalyst for failure. Nowhere is this

adage more evident than the attitude of Nigerian opposition parties toward

the Independent National Election Commission (INEC). Perhaps it is no

longer news that the INEC has been the common excuse for failures in the

different elections in the Fourth Republic. But with the 2015 general

elections around the corner, and even in midst of efforts in the National

Assembly to amend electoral laws, recent events show that the opposition

is already positioning a fore excuse for another failure. This problem is

rooted on the long-standing scape-goating of the different chairmen of the

Nigerian electoral body and its officials. Even though such excuse is

genuine, it masks an inner foolishness for the opposition not to have

recognized that expecting a commission fully controlled by a partisan

executive arm of the government to produce free and fair elections is no

different from perceiving a stench as an aroma. The case of Maurice Iwu,

the chairman of Independent National Election Commission (INEC) in the

controversial elections of 2007 is still fresh in our memory. In the eyes

of the opposition, Professor Maurice Iwu was the problem and the problem

was Professor Iwu. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan obliged and swiftly

replaced Iwu with Attahiru Jega, another radical professor, then generally

hailed as the Election Messiah. Yet, after 2011 elections, we are back to

square one. According to Muhammadu Buhari of CPC, the main opponent of

President Jonathan in the 2011 elections, What happened in this year's

elections eclipsed all the other elections in the depth and scope of

forgery and rigging. Initially there were high hopes that after 2003 and

2007 a semblance of electoral propriety would be witnessed. The new

chairman of INEC, Professor Jega, was touted as competent and a man of

integrity. He has proved neither. (As quoted in Vanguard Newspaper,

December 28, 2011) For the national chairman of the then frontline

opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria, Bisi Akande: The intention

of the INEC was to have it right, but what you see is total manipulation

particularly by the security agencies and the lower level of INEC staff

because the PDP induced people with plenty of money. They managed to use

money to manipulate the INEC officials at the lower level of the

commission and they used them to intimidate and to falsify the results of

the election. (As quoted in Daily Sun, April 15, 2011) To cap it all,

after the 2014 Anambra governorship election, widely seen as the pretest

of Nigeria's general elections of 2015, the opposition (including PDP in

this case) also accused the INEC of colluding with security agents to rig

the elections in favor of the state ruling APGA. The PDP candidate, Tony

Nwonye, had this to say: Since the history of elections, I have always

known of a conspiracy by incumbents, but this one by Peter Obi is

monumental. I have never seen an election where the security agent and the

INEC collude to subdue other political parties. (As quoted in Daily Post,

November 17, 2013) This sweeping rebuke of INEC by the political elites is

a rude awakening. The inmost gist is that the problem has gone nowhere

despite the replacement of a distinguished professor with another. It

apparently explains why a broad spectrum of observers has continued to

ridicule the degree of the mass ignorance. A maverick senator, Arthur

Nzeribe, jumpstarted the debate by arguing that the serial attempts to

focus solely on the perceived individual abilities of the chairman rather

than the nucleus of the problem was height of hypocrisy (This Day, January

26, 2009). An unbiased umpire, the Rev. Fr. Mathew Kukah followed by

cautioning that the mere replacement of Maurice Iwu, the individual, would

not always guarantee free and fair elections in the future-noting that,

“the very fact that we say we are looking for a person of integrity does

not mean that anybody that gets there would not become a crook” (As quoted

in Sunday Guardian, March 29, 2009). And Professor Okon Uya, a former

chairman of National Electoral Commission, would later place the matter

exactly how and where it belongs: There is no gainsaying that a leader

with deep sense of independence and fairness is desirable for the headship

of the electoral commission, but the success of any election is far beyond

the ability of a single individual (Daily Sun, February 28, 2011). Unless

it is enmeshed in sheer amnesia, these incisive viewpoints were sufficient

to have provoked the opposition to think otherwise. After all, virtually

all heads of Nigeria's electoral commission in history have been men

with outstanding pedigrees before appointment. That is, even if the

president is to appoint a given chairman that is most credible, who

checkmates him or her to ensure that the real goals and objectives of the

electoral commission are being fulfilled? Other than the national

chairman, who are the other electoral officers at the national and zonal

levels, in the states, local governments, wards, and in the polling

booths? How credible, how efficient, and how independent are these

electoral officers? Who are the contractors and other personnel vested

with the responsibility of providing the logistics for the elections? How

independent and neutral are the security agents and Judiciary in the

process of these Nigerian elections? A review of the last Electoral

Reform Committee (ERC) suggests that some of these questions might have

been hovering in the minds of its members when they recommended among

other things the following: a) the National Judicial Council should

appoint the chairman b) the commission should include members of

independent organizations, such as the Labor Union or the News-Media.

While those considerations have their merits, the question remains: who

are these individuals that would work hand in hand with the

chairman-agents of the ruling party or the opposition? How will the

so-called National Judicial Council be different from judges or other

electoral agents who are always manipulated by the party in power? How

many truly independent members of the Labor Union or the News-Media are

there to recruit? How many independent NLC or pressmen are available and

can abandon their jobs to man the over 120,000 polling booths? It is true

that INEC eventually recruited members of the National Youth Service Corps

(NYSC) as Ad-hoc staff in the 2011 elections, but how can such susceptible

inexperienced staff (usually in their mid-twenties) not be easily

intimidated and influenced by powerful party agents and money bags at the

polling booths as were alleged in the pilot exercise of 2011? Another

scheme used in the 2011 elections was the deployment of highly placed

university professors as Resident Electoral Commissioners. But does the

opposition expect these university dons to be so different from most

failed politicians, who had also distinguished themselves in previous

careers before turning to politics? How do they expect that the university

recruits would not be wholly subservient to the ruling parties at the

states where their universities are located? Any honest answer to any of

these endless questions will reveal that while the INEC and its various

personnel might have role to play in the different electoral malpractices,

it smacks of crass ignorance on part of the opposition to act as if one

needs to be told that the outcomes of most national elections

(particularly 2003, 2007, and 2011 polls) were fait accompli-far

determined even before the electoral officials began their job. A former

Chief Justice of Nigeria and the chairman of the 2008 Electoral Reform

Committee (ERC), Mohammed Uwais had alluded to this irony when he remarked

that the hoopla about free and fair elections without creating the

enabling conditions was pure baloney (Nigerian Guardian, December 1,

2010). Common sense dictates that the emphasis ought to have been on

creating a truly independent electoral commission before discussing

elections. Yet, the opposition did nothing and still doing nothing serious

toward producing a reliable electoral body. To improve the system,

particularly with the current debate on electoral reform in the

legislature, the opposition parties should without further delay compel

President Goodluck Jonathan to truly support changes to the electoral

commission in two important ways: First is to create a commission composed

representatives from the ruling party and the opposition. A structure with

members drawn from the ruling parties and representatives of truly

qualified opposition parties at the different levels of government will

strengthen the needed checks and balances within the commission itself. It

has the potential to facilitate the enabling environment for effective

leadership of the commission, ensure and sustain true independence

throughout the width and breadth of the commission, and guarantee fairness

to the parties involved. To abridge the inherent partisanship, the

proposed structure can be augmented with a select few drawn from the civil

society: the Nigerian Labor Congress, NYSC, Judiciary; and the security

agents. In simple terms, the qualified political parties themselves should

submit members with clear party affiliations to the new council. The

central idea is that the different phases of the election from top

leadership to other areas, including but not limited to handling and

distribution of election materials, accreditation, supervision, voting,

collation, tabulations and declarations (or cancellations) of

results-from the national level to polling stations-must be guarded

and managed by an election team with full view and representation of

members of qualified parties. This approach can forestall the likelihood

of situations where, in absence of opposition party agents, the INEC and

its leadership connive with the ruling or favored party to manipulate

electoral outcomes. The proposal parallels the position of the main

opposition party in the 2007 election, the All Nigeria's Peoples Party

(ANPP), where it's National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Enenkwu,

canvassed for members of the different political parties to be included in

the leadership of INEC (Champion Newspaper, August 24, 2007). The

objective fact here is that true independence or neutrality is far beyond

the mere appointment of a national chairman; it is more attainable in an

environment that deters or checkmates the group or individual from acting

otherwise. Also important, the council members or the observers of

elections in the different poll stations should be recruited from the

immediate communities where their antecedents are better-known. Second,

given that most individual elections in Nigeria are already being financed

through looted funds from government treasury; similar to the

McCain-Feingold in the United States of America, without the choice for

individual contributions, Nigeria should adopt full public funding for

inter-party elections. Thank God that this proposal will not be burdened

by the number of parties as once imagined. The opposition is now gradually

evolving to the desired two-party structure after finally realizing that

multiplicity of parties was a pyrrhic victory in the first place. Even

more, in absence of a two-party structure, to frustrate political

merchants who would like to capitalize on the loopholes of the government

funding, more stringent conditions should be set for registration as well

as participation of parties in elections. Alternatively or

simultaneously, the opposition should ensure that that the proposed

Cashless Policy is fully implemented and INEC strengthened to enforce

extant laws on campaign finance. For instance, despite the fact that the

1999 Constitution and the Electoral Acts of 2002, 2006, and 2010

stipulated specific guidelines for campaign finance and attendant

penalties, neither Presidents Goodluck Jonathan, Umaru Yar'Adua, nor

President Olusegun Obasanjo before them could account for the tens of

billions of naira sunk into their respective political campaigns. Of

course, there has been some musings here and there on the issue of

excessive use of money and its source, with aggrieved parties occasionally

hollering, but none of the political parties or individuals has registered

any solid official complaint-either because of their own culpability or

the simple truth that INEC is not designed to implement the relevant

campaign laws ab initio. Not even the Nigeria's promising news media,

known for free and sensational journalism, could charge their searchlights

when it comes to campaign finance. No one was or is authoritatively

asking: How did President Goodluck Jonathan and former Vice President

Atiku Abubakar source the funds to openly 'settle†the delegates who

voted for them in the epic 2011 PDP presidential primary election? What

is the source of money Jonathan used to prosecute his cross-country

campaign while his opponents were stalled to their regional enclaves?

Conversely, how in the world did an ex-police commissioner, Nuhu Ribadu,

suddenly land the money to offset his campaign bills? Just wait… To make

matters worse, the very commission entrusted with monitoring electoral

finance is notoriously nonchalant with this important responsibility. In

fact, the current Chairman of INEC, Attahiru Jega, had to confess that

even though the Electoral Act empowers it to monitor sources and nature of

funding, the 'INEC does not even have a desk that handles campaign

financing†(As quoted in Vanguard Newspaper, May 8, 2011). While this

utter negligence was enough to have provoked a guided mass action, the

Nigerian opposition seems to have coolly joined the chorus. The following

proclamation by Nuhu Ribadu, the presidential candidate of Action Congress

of Nigeria, and a former corruption czar, is an exclamation point: 'I

won't bother myself with the integrity of politicians that will fund my

campaign. I will take corrupt politician's money for my campaign as far

as the money is not put in my pocket†(As quoted in Vanguard Newspaper,

March 20, 2011). The most annoying aspect is that some of Ribadu's major

donors were ex-governors who were indicted for looting state treasury

under the watchful eyes of the same Ribadu. Besides, the very thought of

the opposition competing to outdo a ruling party with looted funds is not

only height of hypocrisy but also of infamy. The opposition apologists

are expected to roar back here with another excuse. They will cling on the

reigning Nigerian political value system which readily insinuates that the

opposition leaders have to find any means necessary to gain power first

before demonstrating the perceived sense of prudence. But such thinking

ought to be quashed once and for all: A simple scan of history in the

Fourth Republic profoundly reveals that the success of the opposition in

different elections across the country has never been because of superior

financial power over ruling parties. This should in no way be misconstrued

as saying that money has no role to play. None of that! In fact, money is

as important to politics as water is to fish, but there are better ways of

raising money than queuing at the domains of rogue politicians. And make

no mistake about this: The Nigerian masses may be down but they are

definitely not out. We have not yet forgotten that corrupt military

brigade that funded President Olusegun Obasanjo's elections enjoyed

immunity while he was in power. The masses still remember that President

Umaru Yar'Adua's disinclination to investigate clear cases of

corruption by his predecessor and some ex-governors is attributed to the

source of funds used in ushering him (Yar'Adua) to power. Ditto

President Goodluck Jonathan. But given that opposition leaders also accept

looted funds from government treasury, how and why should the masses then

view them as credible alternatives? The answer is that the whole world is

tired of what is going on. We are very tired and afraid that the power

struggles is to replace existing leaders with others whose visions would

not be different from those of their predecessors. Perhaps the

opposition could drop one final mundane excuse: President Jonathan would

not yield to pragmatic changes to INEC. Although recent events may prove

otherwise, but should the president dare toe that path, the opposition

should courageously boycott the 2015 elections, and the masses will and

should follow. This approach is so potent because, apart from the fact

that Jonathan would not like to end as an Abacha monocrat; continuing to

engage in elections with predetermined results is a mindless waste of

national resources. Further, unless you have not been following, Goodluck

Jonathan is very accommodating-probably the kindest president ever. He

is kind to the good-and probably kinder to the bad. But while the latter

have already capitalized to accomplish their sole objective of milking the

country dry, and without qualms; the former (particularly the opposition)

is caught moping-continuing to fail to take advantage of the unique

kindness to provide a viable alternative to the masses. Very daringly,

his humble look notwithstanding, President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan

is no man's fool. This man who went to school without shoes knows very

well that even as he truly means well for the ordinary people, and should;

the leadership crisis is tipping the critical threshold for revolution,

and the political logic of resisting change no longer favors him. Jonathan

can remember vividly that blind leadership made it possible for mere

clandestine organizations to dethrone the military power. The man can also

recall that stern opposition with unity of purpose rubbished Obasanjo's

third term ambition as well as his legacy. More poignantly, the president

is quite aware that any effort in Nigeria similar to Arab Spring will not

only doom him for life but will also gain worldwide support. Thusly, the

brother is wise enough to grasp that a change through civil opposition is

by far a safer alternative. The problem is the failure of the opposition

to read the mood of both the president and the people they are hoping to

lead. This problem is squarely a lack of a dynamic opposition party-one

that is visionary, focused, capable of differentiating itself from the

ruling party, capable of providing the desired checks and balances toward

effective national leadership; and ready, willing, and able to replace the

party in power. SKC Ogbonnia
================SKC Ogbonnia, Ph.D.
Executive ChairmanFirst Texas Energy Corporation
14133 Memorial Drive
Houston, TX 77079Office: 281-558-2233
Phone: 281-802-3449
…leading with integrity in the Oil & Gas sector