CREDIBLE ELECTION: MYTH OR REALITY?
'Talk is cheap, action is dear', was the reaction of the Secretary General of Afenifere, the Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, to repeated avowals by President Goodluck Jonathan to give to Nigerians a credible elections in 2011.
Okunrounmu was reacting to a statement by the President to make the 2011 polls credible and generally accepted to both local and international observers.
President Jonathan had on Tuesday in far-away Kampala, Uganda, vowed to conduct an election whose outcome will not be made a subject of intense legal litigation like was witnessed in 2007 elections.
Jonathan, while responding to a question on the impending polls, assured of his commitment to conduct credible election that would give no room for losers to go to court.
'We want a situation where at the end of the election, nobody will go to court because there are no reasons for him to do so. It is worrisome that an elected governor of a state still goes to court two years after the conduct of the elections, losing concentration on governance.
'Apart from spending resources on the litigation, there are inconveniences of sitting in such offices and worrying about his election. The essence of the immunity clause in our Constitution is that if a president or a governor takes oath of office, he should sit down and concentrate on his job', the President was quoted as saying.
But the 'Kampala declaration' was not the first time Jonathan would be making such vow. That line has, infact, been the new singsong for the former Bayelsa governor. However, the action of the government has not correlated with the President's utterances. But Okunrounmu, who insisted, 'he has no hope in the INEC over the 2011 polls,' added, 'there is nothing realistically speaking on the ground to suggest that the election would be free and fair; I challenge anyone that has contrary view to come up.'
The Afenifere chieftain explained that the 'first shaky step by the President was to appoint his party men into INEC and when we shouted, he dropped two of them and left the others. Is that the spirit of a man that wants to conduct free and fair election? I don't believe in all those sloganeering.' Former Deputy Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly, Niyi Akintola (SAN) who listed what he called 'ingredients of a credible election' as ' adequate voters enlightenment, credible voters' register, adequate security on election day as well as a transparent election system' asked, 'Can Jonathan honestly say all these are in place?'
He added, 'he is free to deceive those that want to be deceived, but I won't be deceived. I know that the essential ingredients for credible election are not present and it is futile to deceive ourselves. The earlier he settles down to the reality, the better for the nation.
'He can go on deceiving those that want to be deceived. He and his party know that with a credible election, they will be out of their seats. If that is not the case, why did they reject the report of the Justice Mohammed Uwais committee? If they are sure of what they are saying, they can put those recommendations in practice and they will be out of their seats by the next election.
'Again, what has he done on the issue of security? We have just about 350,000 policemen and they are to police about 150 million people who would file out the same time to over 120,000 polling units on Election Day. Has he made arrangement for the police to recruit more men so that there won't be ballot snatching on that day?', he asked.
Former governor of the old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, was also unfazed by the promise. He insisted, 'Nigerians should just prepare for the worse in 2011. How can anyone in good conscience say that the election will be fair? They are planning to go for a new election without a valid voters' register, no voter mobilization yet and no one is marketing their plans for the country. All they want to do is take short cut and I think they just put Jega there to give it a semblance of credibility. But Nigerians are not deceived. We know who is doing what and what we are likely to come up with in 2011. Jonathan can go and tell the outside world anything he likes but we know the truth.'
The immediate past President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, was also unhappy with government's continued promise of credible election when nothing is actually being done to actualize it. 'What can we say is on the ground now for an election that is coming up in January? Is it the voters' register or is it massive enlightenment on the election that is already on? There is massive voters' apathy, what had they done to correct that? There is insecurity and people are still being killed and kidnapped all over the country. Arms are everywhere in the country and he is in Uganda deceiving those people. He can say anything he likes to the people there but we at home know the truth.'
So, based on the reactions of several prominent Nigerians, it is obvious that nothing on ground supports the enthusiasm showed by the President. Even the newly appointed electoral umpire, Professor Attahiru Jega, was not so optimistic. He was full of complaints even after the electoral laws were amended and asked that they be tinkered with.
Upon the passage of the amended version of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly, an air of relief swept through the polity following the stipulation in Sections 132 and 178 in the new amendments. The sections mandate INEC to conduct elections between 120 and 150 days to the expiration of the current tenure of an office holder.
Those who hailed this new law expressed optimism that the development will provide enough time to dispense off cases at election petitions tribunal, bearing in mind that more than three years after the end of the 2007 election, election petitions are still running at some tribunal venues across the country.
The new amendment was a direct fallout of the recommendations of the Justice Uwais' Electoral Reform Committee, which had suggested that petitions should be exhausted before purported winners of elections are sworn in. This move, many believe, will also go a long way to stabilize the polity and simultaneously avert the distractions faced by incumbents as well as the legal expenses incurred by petitioners.
But while Nigerians are about to shout Hallelujah that a solution may be in the horizon in 2011, Jega raised alarm over the non-availability of the Electoral Act and adequate funding to fast track the elections. He said his commission must get at least N72 billion before the second week of August so that contracts would be awarded towards the election.
He also called attention to the need for some of the amendments to be tinkered with to allow his commission do a good job of the election. Jega said, 'Based on amendments to Sections 76(2), 116(2), 132(2) and 178(2) of the Constitution, elections must take place between 150 and 120 days to the end of tenure. Consequently, the forthcoming elections must hold between December 30, 2010 and January 29, 2011. If we take the mid-point between these two dates to give room for effective preparations and possible run-off elections, it means that the elections will take place between January 8th and 15th of 2011'.
The INEC chief added, 'It should also be noted that Section 21 of the Electoral Act makes it mandatory for claims, objections, verification, correction and final certification of the voters' register to continue until 60 days to an election. By this standard, the process is expected to end on November 9, 2010'.
Jega proceeded to raise other pertinent concerns about the election. According to him,'Given the foregoing reality, we are faced with the choice of either compiling a new voters' register in less than eight weeks or embarking on the Herculean task of 'salvaging' the existing register in 16 weeks. Either of the two presents a very difficult choice in deed. With every sense of responsibility, the commission has considered all the available options and reached the following conclusions: We as a commission will be steadfast to the constitution, which we have sworn to uphold and to existing laws guiding the activities of the commission, particularly the electoral law.
'Accordingly, we have sent a communication to the National Assembly requesting modifications to several parts of the electoral law as it considers the bill for a new Electoral Act presently before it. In that communication, we have requested for the amendment of the following: (a) Section 10 (5) of the Electoral Act – to reduce the time for the end of the registration, updating and revision of the register of voters from 120 days before an election to 60 days. This gives us an additional eight weeks, bringing the total period available to compile a new register to 16 weeks. (b) Section 21 of the Electoral Act -to reduce the time for completion of Supplementary list of voters, integration into the existing register and final certification from 60 days before the election to 30 days.
That gives us a total of 20 weeks to attempt a 'salvage' of the existing register,'.
Against the myriads of obstacles, the nation seems to have been dragged again into another round of palpitation, which pre-dated the 2007 elections. Critics are therefore bemused over the source of the President's confidence that the election whose preparation is still very shaky would be credible and acceptable to Nigerians.