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2011 polls, two time-tables and democracy: Let the race begin?

*Why the parties are in shambles

By Jide Ajani,
Deputy Editor

At a time when the Nigeria polity is in a state of flux, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has announced a provisional time table for next year’s elections.  Expectedly, there are hoops and hays.  But this report will show why all may not be well with the key actors for whom the time table has been announced just as it also defines the limits and limitations as well as the challenges of any electoral body that would conduct the elections next year.

2011 is bound to be a turpsy-turvy election year in Nigeria.
The reasons for this are as legion as the personalities that would shape the polity next year at the polls.

Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, rolled out a tentative time-table for next year’s general elections (see box: Time Table).  At the presentation and stakeholders meeting which took place last week in Abuja, INEC  chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, explained the steps the commission intends to take with a view to ensuring free and fair elections next year (see box: Our Plans For 2011, by Maurice Iwu). At  press, the Nigerian polity is equally tentative. And that is where the problem lies.

In a society where planning is made to suffer huge discounts, it is quite interesting.

The Role of Amendments

INEC has rolled out an election time-table that attempts to take care of any eventuality.
That is, the eventuality of the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act 2006 and the 1999 Constitution  being seen through.

For the House of Representatives which held a public hearing three weeks ago, the bills for amendment were already in the second reading.

The hearing was specifically on two bills. One of the bills deals with amendment of sections 76(2); 116(2), 132(2); and 178(2) of the 1999 Constitution to alter periods of election in Nigeria.  The bills provide for elections to hold six months before swearing-in of winners.
The other bill is for the amendment of sections 145 and 146 on one hand, and sections 190 and 191 on the other related matters.

There were presentations and the kernel of the arguments appeared plausible on all fronts.

The Issues

The main issues revolve  round holding elections at least six months before the expiration of the tenure of executive office holders and how long litigations arising from the same elections should last.

The Senate is also about presenting the report of its committee on constitution amendment to the committee of the whole house. But the knotty issue remains whether or not the proposed amendments would be carried through before next year’s elections.  And that was why INEC presented an either-or time table to take care of any eventuality.

Clamour for Reforms
However, apart from the proposed amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act, there are some areas of reforms that Nigerians are clamouring for.  Even INEC seems to have jumped on the same wave-length of reforms.  Although INEC has tried in its own way to engage some reforms, Nigerians, particularly those sold to the position of the opposition politicians, are insisting that the first primary area of reform which they hope would transform the polity would be the issue of who appoints the chairman of the electoral body.  Many believe and, therefore, insist that an INEC chairman not appointed by the executive arm of government would be less likely influenced by that same arm of government.  They also insist that funds for the commission should be made a first line charge. But the corollary here is that there is yet a water-tight remedy for Nigerian public office holders not to misbehave or be seen as misbehaving.

Gore Vidal, the seminal American writer, captured the problem succinctly when he noted that “in theory the only moral foundation of government is the consent of the people”, but the key question that trails that common notion remains “which people”?

And that is actually where the problem lies. Although Acting President Goodluck  Jonathan has sent a copy of the Mohammed Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms to the National Assembly unedited, for expedited work, some are asking whether the persons in the National Assembly are disposed to actualizing the provisions of the Uwais Report.

The Uwais Committee report form the kernel of any meaningful reform project in the polity.  But many are skeptical that the National Assembly would make anything meaningful out of the report since virtually all the members are beneficiaries (and may remain beneficiaries) of the system the report seeks to correct.

But can this be done before the elections of next year?

How Are The Political Parties?
The ruling PDP, pummeled by the opprobrium arising from the health challenges of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, is merely making aggressive noises regarding its role as the primus political party in the country.  State governors in the party have ceased operating on the same page.  The three in-laws of Yar’Adua and the rump of his loyalists made up of the recently sacked ministers are holding a faction of the PDP.  Some state governors fully loyal to former President Olusegun Obasanjo are holding their own faction.

A few individuals loyal to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar are still in PDP.  Some governors and a sizeable number of influential people in the party who are looking for an elixir see in Jonathan the face of new hope for the party and, therefore, also form a faction.  Then there are those whose own interest merely lies in being part of the larger action that PDP has come to symbolize.  The thread which holds the PDP umbrella together has worn thin. Yet, the umbrella holds.

Then there is the seeming fantasy of a mega political party that would confront the PDP.
The dream of its sponsors remains largely a dream.  Just last week, Muhammadu Buhari, a leg in the tripod, declared that he had joined the Citizens Progressive Congress, CPC, effectively sending the signal that he may have stopped dreaming of a mega agenda.

And whereas Atiku and former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, and Attahiru Bafarawa, also former  Sokoto State governor,  are still hanging in the mega party agenda, the time is so short that mobilization of supporters for the party may equally be a dream.  The consolation for the mega party is that Action Congress, AC, is rooted in Lagos State and is attempting to fully control Edo State even though it has a state governor in the latter, the party may not muster much to confront PDP at the polls.

Yet, there used to be the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, which was the number one opposition party before AC upstaged it.  Then there is the Peoples Progressive Party, PPA, which is embroiled in its own internal war.  All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, was able to re-stake its claim in the polity by winning the Anambra State governorship election  last month. In truth, the state of the parties is tenuous. But as in everything Nigerian, there is a silver lining. Jonathan may spark new life in the polity to the extent that there would be renewed hope and confidence.

Our Plans For 2011, by Maurice Iwu
Ours is a vibrant society, inhabited by some of the most enterprising, ambitious and critical minds as can be found in any part of the world. For many years, the exuberant spirit of our nation was caged by military dictatorship. Then the will of the people prevailed and democracy came to be. In the last ten years that we have had democracy, the foundation, infrastructure and norms of a new democratic order hitherto not in existence have been steadily established. But a rash of criticism essentially driven by personal ambitions and a vocal minority has tended in many instances, more so as the election year draws near, to give the impression that there has been no progress.

There is nothing wrong with being impatient with perceived shortcomings within a system. There is nothing wrong also in expressing a desire for the best practices in the society. For such tendencies to be meaningful however, they must be matched with appropriate commitment and sincerity of purpose. I dare say that it has not been exactly so from most of the quarters from which loud pitches come for best practices in Nigeria’s political and electoral system.

To borrow the profound words of China’s Mao Zedong, “Not to have a correct political orientation is like not having a soul”.

The Electoral Commission has steadily reformed itself and its operational structure over the years.   For all elections in 2011, the votes will be counted at the end of the polls in every polling centre. We are not opposed to the suggestion for the reintroduction of pre-accreditation of candidates before voting within a prescribed time-frame and counting the votes immediately after voting.  Another key reform measure which has been initiated in response to a major problem in the organization of elections in the country is the establishment of zonal stores.

Customization of ballot papers which was introduced in the 2007 elections will also be retained for 2011 elections.   Following along the same line, the Commission will also require the political parties contesting in any election to register their respective agents early enough to be accredited, and for the agents to subsequently work with officials of the Commission to take inventory of election materials and note the serial number of balloting instrument used in each area.  To further ensure the transparency and integrity of elections, the Commission initiated a policy of establishing independent election monitoring and observation boards for elections.

There is a limit to which a single institution can go to contend with an environment in which a horde of desperate, unrestrained elements are out to ensure that there is no order and that nothing works unless it will advance their political ambition. The Commission is striving against multiple odds. Such should not be the lot of an election management body.

The Commission is determined to let Nigeria’s electoral process reap the full benefit of the electronic voters register. For two distinct period before the 2011 elections therefore, the Commission will be mounting a review and revalidation of registered voters in all constituencies across the country. The first of these exercises will take place between April and July, 2010.  We have also established a National Voters Registry and two electronic data back-up centers to facilitate processing and maintenance of vital electronic information for the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
2011 elections are few months away. Our environment of election is still not what it should be. There is work to be done. Will there be internal democracy in the parties? Will the behemoths in the various political parties who see themselves as being above the law allow the choice of the majority to prevail? Will the leadership in the political parties resist the temptation to anoint and offer wide card to chosen aspirants while shutting out popular aspirants? We cannot seek to promote democracy by imposing the whims of a few over the will of the majority.

Surely, the environment of our political process requires reforms. The question is; are we all ready to subject ourselves to the necessary reforms in the electoral process? The party conventions will soon offer the world an opportunity to see how ready we all are to conform to the dictates of democracy that we preach. The rule remains one man, one vote.

Then there are other crucial issues that are still in need of attention; the place of money in our politics is one. The Commission continues to hold that unless the use of money in our politics and elections is reined in, a critical condition for a fair contest will continue to be lacking.

There is also the issue of containing electoral violence in its various forms. The Johann Kriegler at an International Roundtable on Election Standards in Geneva in 2004; “An electoral evaluation is surely much more than a two-dimensional audit of the various steps taken by an administration in preparing for and conducting an election. What is to be determined is much more value-laden, much more normative and much more context-dependent”.

Being excerpts from the welcome address by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Maurice M. Iwu, at the opening ceremony of the National Conference for Stakeholders in Nigeria’s Electoral Process. International Conference Center,  Abuja. March 16, 2010


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