POOR Attahiru Jega! The distinguished Professor of political science and Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is once again in the dock. Indeed, the first salvo against Jega in the court of public opinion is that he is biased. Those who say that Jega is biased cite his now aborted plot to create 30,000 polling booths eighty per cent of which would have been located in the North as evidence of his ploy to give his side of the country an edge over the rest of the country. Another charge against Jega is to the effect that the umpire has kowtowed to pressure from the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to disenfranchise voters who are seen to be sympathetic to President Goodluck Jonathan and his ruling Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP). The story making the rounds in Lagos is that INEC, in solidarity with APC, has denied the Igbo who constitute more than 46 per cent of the population in Lagos the Permanent Voter Card (PVC).
According to fillers from the nation’s commercial headquarters, INEC has asked Lagosians to go get their PVCs from the 20 local government areas and the 37 local council development areas created by its immediate past governor, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is currently the national leader of the APC. According to The Guardian of Thursday February 5, 2013, “There are sordid tales of woe from many Lagos residents and environs, four days after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) extended the deadline for the collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to Sunday February 8, 2015 as they troop out to their various registration centers to collect their PVCs without success. For those residents, the collection of their cards, a prerequisite for casting their votes in the February 14 general elections has either been deliberately made difficult by some individuals for selfish reasons or a deliberate plot to smear INEC’s image and efforts towards superintending a successful election.”
In the usually conservative orientations of the paper, its report was very correct but not very elaborate enough to give its readers the benefit of forming their opinions on this very topical issue at the apogee of our national discourse. A more detailed report would have included the fact that almost one hundred percent of those facing the logic of being disenfranchised in Lagos much against the tenets of the Electoral Act, are Nigerians of South East and South South origin, an aspect of political persecution. How the PVCs got o the hands of APC political jobbers must be investigated right away. It is benumbing that INEC stooped so low as to hand over the distribution of PVCs to politicians who ask the electorate to thumb print before they are given the voter cards in Lagos. The reader should read about the plight of prospective registered voters from the South east and South south who are resident in Lagos in the February 8 edition of The Niche On Sunday. More alarming is the fact that without adequate preparation, INEC told the world that it was ready for the elections.
How ready is INEC for elections when more than 20 million prospective registered voters are yet to get their voter cards? How prepared is it when even its 700,000 ad hoc staff are yet to be trained and the training manuals yet to be released? Why try to blackmail Jonathan and the military with the half-truth that it is postponing the elections because of insecurity in the North-east when it is obvious that it failed to do its work well? Why the hoopla over shift in election date when it is certain that INEC is not ready for the exercise? The Electoral Act states clearly that elections could be held at least not less than 30 days to the hand over date. What this means is that INEC has the mandate to shift any election to a date not exceeding April 26. Apart from politicising the PVCs distribution in Lagos, Kaduna and Kano, the initial refusal of the Prof. Attahiru Jega- led electoral body to shift forward the date of the elections inspite of its obvious shortcomings was the height of impunity. In a more serious and fundamental sense, Jega must explain to Nigerians why and how the distribution of the PVCs suddenly become the sole responsibility of the APC.
I refuse to see this as a manifestation of the much-talked-about elite conspiracy against Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Iam inclined to say here that my joy springs from the fact that Nigerians have now come to the realization that democracy is better than dictatorship. The President’s Spartan outing in his campaign rallies across the country to confirm his transformational strides and his overwhelming endorsement by various interest groups across the country is a huge testimony to the fact that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is once again coasting to victory in the Presidential and National Assembly elections. The rallies depicted Jonathan’s persona, his exuding energy, dogged political savvy, unprecedented achievements in all sectors of the economy and commitment to the Nigerian project. What some of us are saying is that we have come to the stage in our political development when every Nigerian must adhere to the tenets of democracy. No matter your commitment, real or imagined, to the fight against corruption, no matter your plan to curb insurgency in the land, if you don’t adhere to the principles of the rule of law you will end up promoting more corruption and insecurity in the country. What we must first address in our country is the culture of impunity which has degenerated to a rhythm of lawlessness. It is a season of high-profile inanities!
This culture of impunity is alien to the African setting. It is an authoritarian and totalitarian culture which was instituted by the military in our country. General Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate and his supporters who are apologetic to this culture of impunity, are still threatening fire and brimstone if there is any further postponement of the elections. They are trying to criminalise the Federal government and the Nigerian military for what is clearly the shortcomings of INEC. Is the military and government to blame for the failure of INEC to distribute the 23 million PVCs to registered voters? Are they to blame for the failure of INEC to produce enough training materials for the elections? Are they to blame for INEC’s inability to conduct training and simulation exercises for the over 700,000 ad hoc staff on the Card Readers and other necessary aspects of the election and deploy enough Card Readers to the states? Are the military and government to blame for INEC’s inability to deploy new and functional printing machines to the 36 states and the FCT to print voters registers or revisit the PVCs contracts where the contractor for the software production is holding three others to ransom? Do we expect INEC to sweep all these facts under the carpet, go ahead to conduct elections and in the end cook up figures as authentic results? What constitute free, fair and credible elections? INEC should apologize to Nigerians and save us from hysteria in this season of high-profile inanities.
•Mr. Amor, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.