Nigeria: The Final Act

Many Nigerians are eager to put this moment behind and look forward to other less stressful engagements. These elections, I mean preparations for them have exhausted nearly everybody and come Saturday, we hope to put these anxieties behind. From the look of things, this year’s elections might not be easily staged and resolved, because the build up has been highly contentious and combustive. There is a stockpile of political hate and mistrust, which, besides the polling proper has to be diffused somehow.

I therefore imagine that the presidential and National Assembly elections this week would be very challenging for all of us, and more for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is at the centre of it all. But there has to be an election all the same.

There had been sundry complaints over INEC’s inability to exercise precise delivery in critical areas of its activities. When INEC announced the timetable for the 2015 general elections far back January 2014, the impression was that the election management body (EMB) was deliberately giving itself and Nigerians sufficient time to roam and get things right. But when the time came for Jega to deliver on the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), there were serious issues. It was a staggered exercise that was rotated round the country in a manner that suggested the EMB was up to some tricks. First, the time allotted for voters to collect was three days that fell on a weekend.

Clearly, it was not sufficient time for voters in states like Lagos to be comprehensively attended to. Second, it emerged, whether by default or otherwise, that states where the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) predominates were poorly served, leading to the persecution theory by the opposition that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in cahoots with INEC to shortchange it. It would be recalled, that Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola could not get his PVC until he made some noise. His party leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in November 2014, cried out that INEC and the PDP had merged, just as three parties had merged to form the APC.

Hear him; “Just as we (APC) merged to form a formidable opposition party, they have merged with Jonathan to form a formidable rigging machine. This exercise is a colossal failure. INEC has the responsibility to give us a date when the exercise would start, which they did. They were the ones that picked the date. On the eve of the exercise, they announced they could only carry out the exercise in 11 Local Government Areas, out of the 20 recognised by the Federal Government.”

At that point, the APC in Lagos had lost all confidence in INEC’s capacity and integrity to conduct this election. Lagos had another argument with Jega, regarding the alleged reduction in the number of registered voters in the state from 6.2million to 4.8million. On that, the opposition said INEC had conspired to rig. “It is not acceptable, and we consider it as a rigging exercise. INEC has colluded with the presidency and the opposing party to rig the election from the data to the end.”

In between, there are still issues with the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), which again was done in a staggered format across the country. Again, the three days allotted by INEC was not enough. As we speak, many eligible voters will not vote because INEC did not capture them.

You do not need any forensic investigation to know that Jega’s insistence on the February 14 date to kick off the election would have been a recipe for disaster. Ogun State, an opposition state had not attained 50 percent of PVC collection by that date. Governor Ibikunle Amosun, had been all over the place, in and out of his campaigns, querying INEC over the state’s outstanding PVCs. As we speak, Ogun, Oyo and Lagos still record lowest PVC collection rate at 57.57, 67.89 and 65.25 respectively.

Here, we are talking about four million voters that are yet to own PVCs. And curiously, these are three opposition states, and you wonder who would have recorded more deficits if the elections had taken place on February 14. There is no likelihood that the figures could get better before D-Day, as the last window of extension expires today. Some PVCs, apparently, are still with the contractors, perhaps, somewhere in China. From these figures, which were worse as at February, didn’t it sound justified for the opposition to be up in arms against Jega? Then, you may want to ask what has changed now, that the same opposition is in warm embrace with the same Jega. Different strokes for different seasons!

Jega’s latest headache is with the plan by the Commission to use card readers to verify the PVCs that would be brought forward by voters come Saturday. On a good day, the card readers are the surest way to ensure that vote riggers do not have opportunity to ply their trade. In the past, election merchants use multiple voting and other devious means to re-write votes. Sometimes, they snatch ballots and make a mess of the works of INEC and other concerned stakeholders. But with the card readers, you cannot exchange a voter card or sell it, because the biometrics are the property of the original card owner.

The PDP, from the various accounts by its multi-pronged and multifarious campaign outlets is not very comfortable with the idea to deploy card readers. The PDP Governors’ Forum had made such point, just as the party’s presidential campaign office equally pursued similar arguments. But for us to have an inroad into the PDP mindset on the use of card reader, the account of the Vice President, Namadi Sambo could serve some purpose. According to him, the PDP is not afraid of the use of the card reader to authenticate PVC ownership. What the party is against, he said, is the possibility of something going wrong with card readers on Election Day. Hear the VP: “One thing I will tell you is that PDP is not afraid of anything, not even the card reader. We are not afraid of the card reader.

To be very honest, what we want is free and fair elections. We don’t want anything to go wrong through the use of the card reader. In Ebonyi State, the INEC commissioner there said he is going to repeat the testing and in so many other states there have been problems with the card readers, to the extent that INEC itself has introduced an incidence form. That is why we are saying, let us do this thing properly.”

Indeed, there is every need to do this thing properly. If what happened in Ebonyi on the day INEC tested the card reader were to have happened on February 14, without any warning, INEC would have harvested huge crisis across the country.

When INEC deployed Voter Capture Machines to register voters in 2010/2011 for the first time, many of the machines were bad and the batteries could not support the rigour. But with a little experience, INEC perfected that exercise. Jega and INEC ought to be grateful to all those who prevailed on him to postpone this election. If INEC had gone ahead and something unsavoury had happened, both the opposition and the ruling party would have denied Jega.

Not too long ago, this narrative advised Jega not to listen to politicians, but to put his eyes well focused on the ball. If he puts his eyes where they ought to be, he could surpass his records of 2011 and the other ones in Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun. Anambra (November 2013) was not too good because INEC staff on ground were outsmarted.

A plethora of allegations are being hauled at Jega from both the opposition and the ruling party. An inventory of these will reveal that Jega is equally loathed, depending on the side each party wakes up with, and he should not miss that point. Politicians are plebeians and prostitutes and would romance anyone who is charged with the task of election management.

More than all of that, Jega should endeavour not to be lured to play the ethnic and religious card. If he rises above that, he will also earn victory over the ethnic militias who are now demanding his forced exit. Both the movement for the Actualisation of Biafra (MASSOB) and Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and the tendencies they represent, genuine or fake, will be vanquished if Jega mounts the higher moral high ground.

I still have my fears, but Nigeria has to move on, one way or the other. Head or Tail, the electoral umpire will be highly lambasted, but so be it. Let the fallouts be settled at the courts.