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LET'S SAY NO TO STAGGERED ELECTIONS

By NBF News

In this electioneering period when all kinds of aspirants, including those who can't guarantee a win even in their nuclear families, not to talk of their streets or wards, are jostling for political space, one man who will see dreams and ambitions realised, and hope turned to hopelessness, is Professor Attahiru Jega, the grey-bearded chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

Sure, Jega, as a person, holds only a vote. He is not the electorate that will ensure victory for the candidates at the polls, but as the nation's chief electoral umpire, his actions and inactions, acts of commission or omission, will determine the fate of candidates and our nation's political future.

If, as he has promised, elections are free, fair and credible, Jega will get showered with hugs and bathed with roses, but if it goes the other way, he can expect to be greeted with hisses and curses and pelted with stones, verbal stones. The choice is his to make. So far, I must quickly add, he has been on the right track, even though we can only judge the outcome of his work at the end of the day( polls). So far also, he has, to my mind, said and done the right things. Well, not entirely all the right things not being infallible.

He was right when he cried out that until the funds(N87bn) needed by the electoral agency to conduct elections were released, he couldn't guarantee a credible exercise. He was also right when he gave the assurance of a total review of the fraudulent voters' register which had been manipulated to a predetermined end since the advent of the current civilian dispensation. He was right again when he called for a shift in the date of the general polls for its clumsy timelines. And for the electoral agency's upholding of the primacy of party primaries as against hitherto practice of imposition, Jega scored the bull's eye. But, he is regrettably wrong in the INEC's touted plan of utilising the staggered elections method in the forthcoming polls.

Staggered elections, in my humble view, can only lead to staggered rigging. Staggered elections are costly, cumbersome, convoluted and rigging friendly.

First, by staggering the elections, which means presidential, gubernatorial, national and states assemblies, and other elections holding at different dates, it implies that elections into various offices will span weeks instead of a single day. This also implies that electoral fficials and voters moving from one zone to the other to conduct or take part in the polls. In a country ravaged by poverty, how will INEC guard against voter apathy?

How do you convince a man to go seven times to his village, state or wherever he has registered to cast his vote in the different elections? In a country where many Nigerians are finding it difficult to feed, who bears the burden of mobilising the voters to his point of registration on election day? If a political party picks the bill, has that gesture not compromised the voter ab initio? Even those who would have wanted to be independent minded would either stay away on election day or buckle under the undue pressures of candidates and parties.

In a country littered with deplorable and horrible gullies called roads, with gruesome accidents everywhere, how do we cope with the challenge of mass movement of citizens for a week or more, during the elections? Can we afford to waste innocent lives all because of staggered elections? In the final analysis, staggering the 2011 elections, will not reflect the correct preferences of the electorate. The bandwagon effect which will be a natural spin off of the exercise will only arm bigger parties in its bully of the opposition or smaller parties. The winner will keep winning even if it rigs the election, while the weak, smaller parties will suffer unfair serial defeats.

In the case of Nigeria where we have the octopus PDP rigging machineset to roar in all states and the centre, staggering the elections is a free ticket to the party to do what it knows best, and it will simply be explained away as winning magic or landslide. The type we saw in 2003 in the South-West, Edo and Ondo States, but for the judiciary which salvaged the situation in Edo and Ondo. But if all the elections are held the same day, chances of rigging are slimmer. Just as in the highly successful option A4 method in 1993, holding elections same day, same time for all the positions despite its challenges of logistics, will ensure a transparent and credible exercise. The logistics issues could be tackled if INEC efficiently mobilise its staff and materials, including security apparatchik. It's not magic, but simple, methodical planning.

If we want the 2011 polls to succeed, Nigerians must say No to staggered elections for some of the reasons enumerated above. Jega, as pointed out earlier, must also realise (I am sure he does) that he is on trial as far as the elections are concerned. More than any other electoral umpire, he has enjoyed the most support and unquantifiable goodwill before and since he came on board.

No INEC chairman has been given the same benefit of the doubt as Jega, largely because of his track record while piloting the affairs of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, not because he has successfully conducted any election. 2011 will show whether our hopes have been misplaced or not. Jega can't afford to fail us. That's why we must kick against this staggered nonsense. Fortunately, Jega appears to be a focused and pragmatic person. I hope he will act in the right direction on this issue. In the higher interest of the nation.

As we all know, politics and religion are passionate issues everywhere in the world. People kill and get killed over these two explosive issues. Love and hatred find passionate and desperate expressions in them. They are at the heart of human existence. With one, you get to heaven or hell; while the choice you make in the other gives you a ticket to good or horrible governance which is, in a way, another heaven or hell scenario. You can't live without them, I mean politics and religion. They are for most people, a matter of life and death. Especially in a country like Nigeria.

The number of religious and politically motivated killings are countless. Oh, add ethnic mayhem to the mix, and images of human barbecues, bodies roasted in orgies of religious and political insanity, especially during electioneering or the aftermath of the polls send shivers down the spine. Think of Jos, Bauchi, Kaduna, Zango-Kataf, Akure, Ibadan, Lagos, to mention a few, and you can't help but agree that religion and politics remain volatile time bombs in our clime. Little wonder, Karl Marx dubs religion as the opium of the masses, but politics, to me, ought to be described as the super opium. Politics drives religion, drives economy, culture, diplomacy, and indeed most things. Religion drives politics, while politics drives other things. That's why politics and religion are certainly a deadly mix. No nation fights religious and civil wars twice in its life and lives to tell the story. But do politicians ever learn? Do they ever care?

Now, our nation is on the march to 2011, and everywhere tension is already building. Presidential aspirants are already warming up and digging into their verbal armoury and pits of insults with which they have been blasting away at their opponents. Some of us are worried that these tensions don't snowball into something else, but the politicians call it politics. I wonder what kind of politics this is, when aspirant are digging into their ethnic, religious or regional enclaves? When some aspirants, by their utterances, are already questioning the unity of the nation?

All men and women of goodwill must join in the drive to compel issues-driven campaign. Not hollow, unrealisable pledges. Let's x-ray the economic blue prints of the aspirants. Let's find out how they intend to tackle health care, roads and rural infrastructure; food, water and insecurity. Their road map for greatness. That's the minimum requirement of all citizens towards the survival and growth of our nation.

…..Another look at Minister Daggash's proposed road tax

Sanusi Daggash is a former Senator and Nigeria's Minister of Works. In that position, he is a member of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, the nation's highest decision-making body. While briefing the media last Thursday, Daggash, said the federal government was planning to re-introduce a road tax policy which was suspended during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

The money realised from the road tax, said Daggash, would be utilised for the maintenance of crumbled and crumbling federal roads across the nation. Maintaining the roads, he argued, had become burdensome, to the extent that the government alone would not be able to continue to shoulder the responsibility.

THISDAY newspaper of Friday, 24 September 2010, quotes the minister as saying: 'We believe that in the near future when the issue of deregulation comes up, government will have to look at the road tax fund so that the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, will be able to carry out its mandate effectively.'

Daggash also reportedly said that with a projected annual budget requirement of N120bn to deliver on its mandate, the ministry was only able to access N40bn, which of course, is a far cry from what it needs.

The minister is right on one score: federal and indeed, many roads across the country are in dire need of repairs. The Lagos-Ore-Benin road; Onitsha-Owerri road; Aba, and many other roads in the west, east and the north certainly don't qualify to be called roads. At best, they have become veritable death traps. However, what is not right is to propose that poor, ordinary Nigerians be made to bear the burden of repairing, constructing or maintaining the roads under a proposed road tax or under any guise.

The deterioration Daggash is lamenting is a product of negligence by the federal authorities, not because funds were never made available in the past. From 1999 to date, over N300bn is believed to have been sunk into roads project, yet there has been very little to show for it. All past ministers of works must be made to account for their stewardship and explain to the people what happened to budgetary allocations to that sector. That should be the logical starting point. Not another regime of taxation. After the probe is carried out, that's when the government can then begin to talk about road tax, assuming there will be need to. For now, let that proposal have a deserved rest, Hon. Minister!