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MAY WE NEVER PASS THIS N74BN ROAD AGAIN

By NBF News

A lot of dust has been raised by almost all Nigerians over the pumping of a whopping N74Bn or N84Bn into the lagoon in the name of registering voters for future elections. While many including some editors have given hints on how capturing of names on the computer can be done with less than N5Bn, others have said such an amount was not capable of causing pains. Whatever the case, this amount, coming in one whole swoop, is heavy and big. It is a price we are paying for our negligence. We all knew from April 26, 2006, that we were going to the polls again in 2011. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had attempted electronic registration in 2006, but we all said it was too hasty. It was jettisoned at least for 2007.

It was assumed that as soon as the 2007 elections were over, efforts would be made to study the details of INEC's proposal on electronic registration, and if accepted, the exercise would have begun in earnest, so that the eventual electronic copy would be test-run during some re-run elections, local council elections, and mock-elections in parts of the country.

The truth is that Nigerian politicians were scared stiff in 2006 over the proposed electronic system, fearing it could destabilize their rigging formulas. In fact, a group had perfected ways of using power outage to render the electronic voting system useless so that their areas would be asked to fall back on the manual register.

Politicians went to sleep all through and this caused the delay the nation is bleeding to pay for now . Had the electronic registration system commenced soon after 2007, the cost could have been spread over about 24 months, and there would have been time to tear the cost profile to pieces and take a closer look. Now, Nigeria either accepts it wholly or should reject it. If rejected, an excuse would have been built, ab initio, for unsuccessful polls. Now, it has been accepted, and Jega is making promises on total transparency, but Nigerians demand for value for every kobo spent.

It is sad that the ailment of late president Yar'Adua keeps popping up but in a genuine democracy, these issues would have been treated despite his ailment. Nigeria is a country where the CEO is the first and last. There was no iota of delegation of tasks. There is nothing wrong, if the voters' register issue is treated even while electoral reforms were debated or while a new Act was being considered. Now, we are saddled with a take-it-or-leave-it voucher, and nobody would dare turn it down. If the truth is to be told, the amount is staggering and therefore painful, very painful.

The deputy senate president has expressed anger over the amount, but some Nigerians are saying he should not add salt to injury. Anyone in Nigeria can raise a voice against the amount, not members of the National Assembly (NASS). Many Nigerians can understand INEC's N74Bn but many will not hear about each senator collecting over N60m as quarterly allowance. In the end , senators would collect N6.6Bn in allowances in three months. The House of Representatives would collect about N24Bn within the same period of 90 days. All would be about N30Bn or about N120Bn in allowances in one year by the 469 legislators.

So, if INEC will be everywhere in Nigeria registering people, and if we are asking Attahiru Jega to assert the independence of INEC to avoid what Donald Duke is just revealing about how INEC commissioners offer the throat of the electoral umpire to governors through financial requests, then Nigerians should brace up to hear more outlandish figures. To make omelets, eggs must break. Nigerians can understand INEC's N74Bn for more than four years, but not NASS' N120Bn for allowances alone in one year. Not salaries but sidekicks, outright corruption.

Nigerians are angry that Obj's regime introduced monetization schemes which allowed lawmakers to collect huge sums in cash for such things as cars, houses, servants, dresses, etc. Now, have the lawmakers not come from behind to re-introduce most of those same facilities for which they had been paid under monetization? Are they not buying cars in the name of 'committee cars' as if committee duties were not part of legislative functions for which they had been paid cash?

It is in these deals of buying cars for members in the name of committee cars that the leadership of the House burnt its fingers …in the car-deal scandal of many billions of naira that has refused to die. Dimeji Bankole has been fighting a survival battle. He's only lucky that the entire leadership seemed to be involved and so, it has been easy to survive due to principle of collective guilt. His deputy, Nafada, has even confessed, under pressure, that he deposited the proceeds of the kickback in his account and that he paid out others. EFCC Chairman , Farida Waziri could not summon the courage to prosecute him, because it requires the approval of the number one citizen to prosecute the number four citizens like the deputy speaker. Now, Farida claimed she sent the file to the president but the president said he did not see any file.

As Nigerians, we demand that Nigeria should never be made to go through this again. Jega should collect his N74Bn but he must endeavor that it is put to great use, such that there should be no rancor over the register he would submit. This amount could easily provide water to all communities in Nigeria, it can provide light, roads, health centres, etc, to communities, if we were not doing voters register. He should deliver a credible register so that the nation would only update it yearly.

President Goodluck Jonathan should breathe down Jega's neck and ensure a good job is done. Jonathan must know that Nigerians do not believe him, on the matter of delivering credible elections.

They are right to distrust their leaders. Jonathan, just disappoint Nigerians by delivering credible elections. At least for once.

Stay upright, else, if we spend all this and nothing comes from it, be sure that Nigerians will want to stone someone on the streets. It can be done, if Jonathan chooses to stand for uprightness. This is even so , because Nigerians now know that a country like Bangladesh with the same kind of population and terrain, carried out theirs with higher capture outcome (60m) than Nigeria's of about 45m eligible voters. With less than N10Bn equivalent too. Ghana , South Africa, US and UK, all did theirs with far less.

Experts have pointed out that the N74Bn was capable of fetching a big factory of about N2Bn in each state or one cottage industry in each of the 774 local council areas in Nigeria. Others say the amount can provide adequate power (300 megawatts) to at least five states of say the north-east where Jega comes from. This is the opportunity cost we have incurred just for us to know eligible voters. The least Nigerians expect is that this amount should deliver a credible register of voters.

The danger is that if a mere attempt to properly register members of a political party such as the same ruling party that is expected to deliver a credible register is causing trouble and leading to wahala as in some states, how would Nigerians be expected to trust the same party to allow Jega's INEC to do a thorough job? Does a credible registration not start in the political parties?

The governors as usual, have intimidated Jonathan and he has chickened out of a credible process of biometric registration he initiated and flagged off. Jonathan has again veered off a road of honour, because governors who are to rig the presidential elections for him insist otherwise. This is the character of the man who we are begging to be the President of Nigeria.

Jonathan please do not be like leaders who have chosen to stand up for what is right, at one point or the other, but when faced with the great dilemma of personal versus national interest, settle for the former. Simply run from sycophants, even if their song can be sweet and alluring. They are already singing, and their song can derail any strong man. History has a place for both heroes and villains. Today, Nigerians know where history has kept IBB, Mandela, Obj, Abdulsalami Abubabakar, etc. If our votes must count, Jonathan and Jega (JJ) must make the N74Bn count.