DELTA RE-RUN: The blunders, and the imperfections

By NBF News
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For Professor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Delta State governorship re-run held last Thursday was an eye opener. Though, the commission, since Prof Jega came on board about six months ago had conducted some bye-elections at the senatorial and House of Representatives levels, the Delta re-run was indeed a test case.

As observed during the election, some of the arrangements put in place for the election failed. This, the commission itself, agreed. As the INEC boss himself would later admit, we encountered a lot of challenges. The election was not perfect, we have our shortcomings. The materials arrived late in most places, thus the accreditation could not start as scheduled. What we have been able to do is to make the best use of a bad situation.

Observers would readily see in the feelings of the INEC boss after going round the state to monitor the re-run that he appreciated the fact that conducting elections in Nigeria is a gargantuan task that takes more than the rhetoric of mere promises of a free and fair from the cozy of airconditioned conference room in Abuja.

In fact, the conduct of the election has thrown up a new vista in the preparations of INEC for future elections. When viewed against the background of unending assurance of readiness to use the Delta election as a test case of the ability of the new INEC under Jega to prove to the world that credible, free and fair election was possible, how the exercise went and the outcome of the exercise should take INEC back to the drawing board on how to ensure that future elections meet the expectation of the people.

At the end of the election what Jega could only boast of is 'though we didn't do well, it was an improvement over past elections.' Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of over 400 civil society organizations in Nigeria, which deployed observers in various political wards in the 25 local government areas to monitor the gubernatorial re-run in its report signed by its Chairman, Moshood Erubami and Auwa Rafsanjani, the Publicity Secretary, said INEC has by the conduct of the election set a template of hope for a new dawn though it still needs to improve on its operations especially in their preparations for the April 2011 general elections.

Even at that, many are wont to disagree with that view. From the conduct of the re-run, it was obvious that Jega did not have a balanced view of the geographical topography of the area, and underrated the politicians on how far they could go to manipulate the process to favour them.

As Prof. Jega would later told journalists, things that have been taken for granted and thought would not surface were indeed the order of the day. Cases of INEC staff being beaten blue and black, a serving senator snatching ballot boxes and circumvention of otherwise transparent gesture of making the voters register available to all the parties for a possible cross-check at the polling units became a tool of rigging as Jega confirmed that parties cut the register into parts and photocopied them to serve as voters' cards.

In the riverine areas, INEC staff were poorly equipped, a development that detracted from the credibility of the election. For instance, at the Abigborodo country home of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, in Warri North Local Government, where it takes between 15 and 20 minutes to travel on water by speed boat, from Koko, the 12 INEC staff and the corps members deployed to the community have only two life jackets to use. For this reason, some of the corpers were afraid to travel to another neighbouring community near Abigborodo for fear of drowning.

The arrival of the INEC personnel and the materials were disappointingly late virtually in all parts of the state making the accreditation to start late. Great Ogboru, the candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) actually got accredited by 2:00 pm, an exercise that should start by 9:00 am and end at noon before the commencement of the election.

The height of the disappointment by INEC on the day of the election was the failure of the voters register. INEC Chairman had said that his commission could not wait for the new registration of voters for the re-run because of time constraint but that the old one had been updated and cleaned up to meet expectations. However, the voters register became one of factors that militated against the smooth conduct of the election. Many residents clutching voters' cards were disenfranchised because their names were not found in the register.

In Sapele Local Government for instance, ward 4, units 16 and 17, out of the 94 voters with cards, only 27 could trace their names in the register. The remaining 67 could not vote. So, it happened in so many areas. Prof Jega tendered his apology to all those who didn't vote despite having their cards with them. Said he: 'We knew the register lacked credibility, what we did was to clean it up, apparently the clean-up was not through.

We are aware some voters couldnít vote even when they had their cards because their names were not in the register. We couldn't have allowed them to vote because what the law says is that your name must be in the register before you could be allowed to vote. We also did this to prevent those who did not register but came with fake voters cards. So it ís a kind of trade off.

On the balance, Prof. Jega rated the election as an improvement on past polls of that nature. However, observers would not agree totally with him because for the re-run only, over 25, 000 policemen, three times that it has ever assigned any state election, were deployed in Delta State, in addition to military personnel, and other paramilitary officers like the Road Safety and members of the Nigerian Civil and Security Defence Corps.

The election recorded late arrival of materials despite the availability of the airforce personnel to help in the distribution of materials to the riverine areas through helicopters. The INEC Chairman did monitor the election with helicopter with complimentary efforts by some INEC Commissioners, four State Resident Electoral Commissioners including the Delta State REC and his counterparts from Bayelsa, Akwa-Ibom and Edo states.

It is this development that has thrown up the issue of staggered elections. Election Monitors and observers reasoned that if the entire INEC leadership and all security personnel needed for the conduct of the about five states could be deployed for a re-run election in just one state and the result could be less than encouraging then, staggered election that will allow for proper attention and monitoring will be the appropriate option if credible election is to be achieved in April elections.

Secretary-General of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Chief Willy Ezugwu, said the INEC Chairman should address himself to the reality of what it takes to conduct elections. Yes, the staggered arrangement would not be out of place, if we are serious about credible elections in Nigeria. This is because attention, materials, logistics and personnel could be concentrated in a particular area at a point in time rather than applying the holistic approach to it at the end of which INEC would have been messed up by politicians who are well vast in the game of rigging.

The TMG said in its report: There is need for serious surgical operation to stem the tide of usual logistical obstacles on the part of INEC, a recurring problem that has made late arrival of materials and electoral officers almost a regular occurrence, as witnessed in the re-run election.

Suggesting that INEC would have to change strategy in the April elections if indeed the commission is to outsmart the politicians and record an improvement in the next elections, it stated: 'The election to some extent still showed and portrayed the politicians as having not forgotten their old tricks of ballot snatching, to secure political advantage in the electoral process, even though, they may meet with the resistance from the citizenry.'

Already, the losers in the re-run are threatening court action to have the election of the governor upturned. Observers and other stakeholders said that the INEC needs to buckle up and be more proactive; never leaving anything to chances if the coming elections are not to go the way of the past ones that have become subject of litigation, owing to anomalies.