Election High Drama - The Cost of Failure

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One of our endemic social illnesses as a nation is lack of appreciation for the sometimes dire consequences of ill planning and our lack of sensitivity to timing. From the smallest act to the large significant impact activities like the elections, almost every action runs into gridlock and unnecessary delays once the success of that venture is dependent on an action taking place on Nigerian soil. In our constant state of chaos, we lament and cry out our frustrations. However, what we forget to measure is the cost of our inaction, deliberate sabotage, failures, lack of planning and sometimes sheer irresponsibility. I posit that this is what we must begin to assess because someone ought to be held accountable, but more importantly because it might just get us to appreciate the amount of damage we are responsible for when we do not act according to plan.

It is unbelievable that a country with Nigeria's status and resources cannot plan a simple election in the year 2011 so that voting materials are shipped to the appropriate destinations. For an issue like national elections, INEC should have devised a plan to deliver voting materials on time and before the elections to their destinations. It is reasonable to expect that INEC should have had some built in system of tracking the materials in place, to assure that materials have been received on time and at the right locations. There is no reason why with our resources and access to the latest sophisticated electronic media, a tracking system that uses a hybrid of human beings and technology could not be used to ascertain that there were widespread issues with the distribution of election materials in good enough time to rectify the problems. There is simply no excuse for the massive problems experienced by the voters, the aspirants and everybody who had to be inconvenienced for an election that was never to be.

The cost of INEC's inaction or lack of diligence or whatever the diagnosis may be is significant and cannot be ignored. For voters, the cost may be so much that the rescheduled elections may be nothing more than a show of die-hard party faithfuls. This outcome would indeed be unfortunate. Many advocates have invested time trying to encourage voters that their presence at the polls matters. How can one approach someone who has been slapped with the events of this weekend with the message that the system is going to work next Saturday? Many voters took time off to travel at great cost to their voting districts. Many of them would have to return to their duty stations by Monday and depending on the extent and cost of their commute, they are unlikely to be in a position to participate in elections this upcoming weekend.

For businesses, many were unable to function beginning Friday in states like Imo State (and perhaps in many more states) because banks were closed Friday and Saturday. Although the rationale for the closures can be debated, the issue remains that these institutions were closed in the name of the elections thus limiting the access of businesses and their customers to cash in a largely cash-driven economic system. On the ill-fated Saturday, all businesses were closed. How much income could have been made by businesses that were closed by the government on Saturday in the spirit of the elections is another issue in terms of the impact of a failed electoral process on the economy.

In the world of voting in Nigeria, it is my understanding that each party needs polling representatives at each polling station. In some states like Imo State, I hear that we are talking about up to 6000 polling stations. Each agent is paid about 1,000 Naira and given the Nigerian transaction system, the income is due to the agent at the close of business in cash. This means that each political party would have had to disburse at least 6 million Naira for duties never performed on Saturday because these representatives did show up at the polling stations and according to any contractual agreement have met their contractual obligations. INEC just never showed! Never mind the fact that the banks were closed beginning on Friday and these political parties would have needed sufficient prior knowledge of the bank closures to withdraw the funds to pay their cash-in-hand representatives.

The cost to INEC is even more significant. What is the cost of assuring that materials that were shipped to the wrong states are crosschecked, repackaged and sent to their appropriate destinations? What about materials that will now be completely lost because they got into the wrong hands? How many ballots and boxes fit this category? Does INEC even know? What is the cost to INEC and the Nigerian government of taking stock, reprinting and re-processing these misplaced ballots and boxes and to get it right this time around? Will INEC pay the contractors and/or staff who mishandled the distribution of materials given their obvious non-performance? If yes, would INEC also pay them for the additional service they have to provide because elections have been postponed by a week?

It is indeed unfortunate when colossal failures like what happened this weekend repeatedly mar every activity in Nigeria – small or big on a daily basis. The story of INEC's failures this past weekend is replicated daily in the lives of businesses that cannot clear their much needed materials at the ports on time because someone did not show up at work or someone does not feel very responsible. It is the everyday experience of brides whose dresses are not completed on time or their cakes not delivered without death threats. It is the story of business appointments that never take place because people got carried away at lunch or decided they needed to be away from the office and the person they were supposed to meet with can “always reschedule”. It is the same story when students cannot have timely access to their examination results in some universities because the professor could not care less. Lack of conscientiousness! Insensitivity to and lack of awareness about the consequences of our actions!! Dangerous apathetic behavior no matter the issue!!! These are the ills that we as Nigerians have cultivated into habits that materialize in our way of doing business and in our standards of living as acceptable norms. We must change our way of thinking and doing business if we are to record any meaningful progress as a society.

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Articles by Chika Nwogu