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APRIL 2: INEC'S FALSE START: JEGA'S FAILURE

INEC CHAIRMAN PROFESSOR ATTAHIRU JEGA.
INEC CHAIRMAN PROFESSOR ATTAHIRU JEGA.
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The postponement of the 2011 National Assembly election is an open verdict on INEC’s complete unpreparedness for the assignment. The appropriate phrases in fact should be incompetence and institutional failure. So much hope was invested in the April 2 elections, the first in the series of elections in 2011, expectations were equally high, but it all turned out to be an anti-climax. The people wanted the election to happen, but by 12. 40 pm on D-Day, INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, with voting not having started in some parts of the country, with complaints about the non-arrival of voting materials across the country, went on air to apologise to Nigerians and announce a postponement of the election till Monday, April 4. It is so shameful. Many Nigerians would remember this as the first time since 1999 that a major general election would be postponed nationwide due to INEC’s failure. This is not good for Attahiru Jega whose appointment as INEC chair had been praised widely as a good development; it is also a bad moment for INEC, and the ammunition may well have been prepared for subsequent instability, and complete lack of confidence in the 2011 electoral process.

It will be recalled that on the eve of the April 2011 elections, Professor Attahiru Jega, the INEC chairman, issued a statement titled “We can’t afford to fail” in which he gave the impression that INEC was fully prepared. This was a notable departure from the hesitancy and diffidence that had marked his early days as INEC chair when, at every turn, he complained that he had been given a difficult assignment, that he had serious constraints of time and funding, but that he would try his best in spite of all odds. Nigeria obliged him: he got everything he wanted. The time table was changed, and the Constitution was amended accordingly. He insisted that he needed to start afresh and rebuild the INEC infrastructure and he was again obliged. Every penny he asked for, he got, including funds that went to the individual stakeholders in a group called Inter-agency security committee on the 2011 elections. The police in particular got N50 billion!

On April 1, Jega was therefore so sufficiently fired up for the task that he boasted: “I want to assure you all that INEC has worked tirelessly to put infrastructure, people, and procedures in place to make sure that we have prepared adequately in terms of logistics, the training of our staff and in terms of effective liaison with security agencies to provide security before, during and after the elections. We are very confident that the security agencies are sufficiently mobilized to ensure that there is security cover for both INEC personnel and materials and for those who will come out to exercise their right to vote.”

Jega added that INEC had about 400, 000 staff on the ground, with “an average of three officials per polling unit, plus a number of supervisory officials.” He advised that “the hope of a generation and the eyes of the world are on us. Let us all, in the name of God Almighty, ensure free, fair and credible elections.” Indeed. But eventually, it was Jega’s INEC that failed, not the people, not the political parties. The April 2011 elections are significant to Nigeria in more ways than one. This is Nigeria’s fourth general elections since 1999 when the country returned to civilian rule. It is an election in which there are serious issues of identity politics: one of the leading Presidential candidates is a minority: and there have been questions about whether or not Nigeria would allow a member of the minority group, though an incumbent, to emerge as President. The election also involves the change of personnel at many levels, resulting in widespread desperation among the politicians.

During the primaries, many candidates who lost in one party crossed to another, all insisting that they were the best candidates in the election. This has not been an election about ideas or national progress but individual ambitions, in many ways, a make or break election for Nigeria. By April 2, the elections were scheduled to hold in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, 774 Local Government Areas, 8809 wards, 120, 000 polling units, with 73, 528, 040 registered voters participating, 65% of whom are under the age of 30. INEC had announced a voting procedure, and the people were well seized of the process. One good thing about Nigerian democracy, despite the failure of the leadership elite, is that Nigerians are enthusiastic about democracy. They want change. They believe in representative democracy. Yesterday, INEC disappointed them. It does not matter what INEC does hereafter, it has damaged itself and the 2011 General elections from the outset. One political party, Action Alliance, had gone to court before April 1, to ask that the elections be postponed on the grounds that INEC was not prepared. In retrospect, Action Alliance now appears vindicated. Jega’s confidence appears misplaced, his promises have failed; Nigeria is the laughing stock of the world.

Already, election observers and monitors must have filed reports to confirm that Nigeria did not get it right on the first day of election. On April 1, Jega said “we must get it right”. Twenty four hours later, it was the same man explaining why we didn’t get it right. Indeed, we did not get it right. We gambled and failed. The simple moral lesson is that you cannot make an omelette without breaking an egg – trite but true. Nigeria failed yesterday, because as in many other things, we were not ready.

In the early hours of Saturday, April 2, I went out onto the streets to see things for myself. In many parts of Lagos, the INEC officials had not yet arrived as at 10 am. I also received phone calls from people complaining that they could not identify voting centres or that there was no accreditation in their neighbourhoods. Television ticker tapes indicated that materials meant for Abuja FCT were taken to Nassarawa. In Taraba state, INEC officials received materials meant for the Gubernatorial elections of April 16, instead of National Assembly election materials. In Delta and Edo states, there were also reports of logistics problems. I received a text message from Chief Ben Ejiogu titled “Strange List” which stated inter alia: “Amuwo Odofin polling station opposite Total Filling station. 500 voters including me can’t find their names for accreditation in 3 hours of waiting in the sun. Cheers. Ejiogu. 11. 50 hrs.” Shortly after, Kayode Ajala phoned to report that there were no INEC officials anywhere around Alagbole, Akute and Ajuwon in Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun state and that the people were getting restless. This was already after 12 noon. Within a second, there was another phone call from the Ayetoro area of Ogun state lamenting the absence of INEC officials. The fellow wrote: “olori buruku ni a won ara INEC yi o.” (These INEC officials are mad!).

Professor Jega soon confirmed the basis of the people’s anger when he openly admitted the failure of INEC and offered an apology. According to him, only one state in the entire Federation did not have problems with the process. For Jega, it was a pathetic outing, and no one should be surprised that there are calls already that he should resign forthwith. I think he should still be given the benefit of the doubt although there are very serious questions that he should address.

One, what exactly was the basis of his confidence on the eve of the first round of elections? He had boasted that INEC was ready. Was that meant to be an April Fool’s joke? Yesterday, he said one vendor/contractor did not make voting materials available until 9 am on Saturday April 2. The vendor’s plane was allegedly affected by the developments in Japan. What developments? And if Jega knew about the delay by 6 pm on Friday, why didn’t he call off the election then? If the failure to supply materials was an issue, he should have called off the election on Friday, not Saturday. Two, why didn’t he name the negligent contractor as part of his commitment to transparency? Who is this so-called vendor? And who is the incompetent Director of Logistics in INEC? It will be recalled that this same excuse about a contractor not delivering materials on time was tendered as excuse for the initial hiccups with the registration exercise. INEC knowing this to be possible, and having the advantage of emotional memory in that regard, should have been better prepared.

Three, Jega found a way of smuggling God into the matter when he said “Man proposes; God disposes.” Well, except that this is not about God. INEC’s failure is entirely man-made. Jega should stop blaming God. Four, the National Assembly election has been postponed till Monday, April 4. What is it that has not been done by April 2 that will be sorted out by April 4, with the weekend in-between? Where is the guarantee that INEC officials will arrive on time and that the distribution of materials will not be mixed up? What is the guarantee also that INEC will be able to sort out what it could not organize, for more than seven months, within 48 hours? Why not have the National Assembly elections on April 9, along with the presidential elections? Jega said there was no place where voting had taken place, but that is not true! And did INEC consult all the political parties before postponing the April 2 election?

There are persons who have argued that it is a sign of courage for the INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega to openly admit the failure of the institution that he leads. There are others who insist that Jega must resign his appointment as INEC chair and thus, eat the humble pie. I think Jega is confused. He may mean well, but he has absolutely no clue and he has been insincere with us. Twenty four hours after we were told all was well, INEC was unable to deploy materials and staff, raising questions about the country’s capacity to manage complex and challenging processes. Jega himself was so embarrassed that he did not want to take questions from the media. Eventually, he accommodated four questions when the correspondents protested. He needs to be told that he will probably spend the rest of his life answering questions about what exactly happened for, mark my words, there are bound to be many theories from the opposition parties, civil society, the media, and the community of election observers and monitors about what exactly happened on the D-Day that wasn’t. Jega must also learn not to bring God into this matter. It wasn’t God that stopped the contractor from supplying materials. And what is this really?

If a vendor/contractor is to be blamed, why were there not enough materials and efficient deployment in Abuja, where INEC has its headquarters? Why is Abuja not the place where everything was available? Jega has no admissible excuses to offer. What is the big deal about the deployment of election materials? In this same country, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the National Examinations Council (NECO) and the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) organize at least two examinations in a year, and those exams take place in all parts of Nigeria, including hamlets. The exams not only start and end at the same time, the materials and the officials are all available at the same time. There may have been issues with these exams, but their regularity and the efficiency of administration if not the results, indicate that it is possible to organize security-related events on a large scale in this country. It is INEC as a specific institution that has failed. Shouldn’t we draft a combination of WAEC, NECO, and JAMB to handle this election?

Imagine the cost, and the attendant waste. For yesterday’s failed election for example, the Federal Government had to shut down the country’s land borders. The NCAA also cancelled all domestic flights. Movement was restricted, compelling people to stay at home. Even after the election was cancelled, people were afraid to go out of their homes. The police deployed about 240, 000 officials, the Security and Civil Defence Corps, 220, 000 officials, the National Orientation Agency, 3, 000 of its staff, the Nigerian Army, Immigrations, NDLEA, Customs, Federal Road Safety Commission, the State Security Services, among others also had their men on the streets. Effectively, the country was locked down; in real terms the Federal Government declared a state of emergency in the country. In developed countries, elections are held without the disruption of economic and social activities; a calculation of the cost of Nigeria’s lock down on April 2 would indicate a huge loss. To think that all that happened on April 2 was a waste and that further cost will be incurred on Monday, April 4, in a make-up process, shows how Nigeria holds its own people in contempt. There are many personal costs involved. Many Nigerians travelled back home from abroad in order to cast their votes. Nigerians within Nigeria travelled to their states and villages hoping to return to their places of abode on Sunday. They have just been told to hold on. Such persons will be inconsolable; even more so will be owners of businesses whose workers and customers will have to stay away for a second day just because we can’t get it right in Nigeria.

This country makes difficult demands on its people and it is why the price of yesterday’s failure may be complete skepticism about eventual outcomes. For Nigeria, it is yet another case of paradise postponed! In a parliamentary government, this is enough to lead to the collapse of a sitting government. It is also a tragedy that on a day that Nigerians should be thinking about the country and its future, they derived more excitement watching English Premier League matches involving Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea! We call for an investigation into the reasons leading to the failure of the April 2 scheduled elections, and condign punishment for all guilty parties who took the country for a ride and exposed us all to such ridicule.

Written by Reuben Abati.

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