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Lessons from India

By Ochereome Nnanna

WAY back in the middle of March 2010, talk of replacing the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu at the end of his tenure in June this was not one of the hot issues in the news.

Fresh out of the Anambra State governorship election, which the Commission’s usual critics rated as generally reflective of the wishes of the electorate in spite of the flaws of the voters register, calculations within the Commission were that replacing the Chairman at this point -13  months to the next general election – was no longer feasible. It was felt that a new helmsman would not have enough time to prepare for the next election. Secondly, the electoral reforms which need constitution amendment are far from being concluded at the National Assembly.

Emboldened by the auguries that seemed to be tilted in the favour of Professor Iwu, the Commission called a three-day conference of stakeholders at the International Conference Centre, Abuja on Tuesday March 16, 2010. During that opening day, Professor Iwu unveiled an elaborate timetable and schedule of activities for the general election which, according to it, would start with the review of the voters register on April 26, 2010.

For the conference proper, as usual, important personalities drawn from all over the country and beyond were invited. Among those who attended were newfound governor friends of the Commission, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State and Sir Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State.

These days any political party that wins at the expense of the ruling PDP becomes friendly with Professor Iwu’s INEC. However, the most intriguing contribution (because of the lessons it had for our democracy) was made  by an Electoral Commissioner of India, Mr S. Y. Quraishi, who represented the Chief Electoral Commissioner of the world’s largest democracy, Mr Navin Chawla.

Chawla’s final tenure is expiring at about the same time that Iwu’s five-year tenure comes to a close in three month’s time. However, unlike in Nigeria, where it is yet to be ascertained whether Iwu would be reappointed, the Indians already know who would replace Chawla; and that person is Quraishi. If Iwu is to be replaced, it is almost certain that his successor would not come from among the few remaining commissioners in the INEC Board because that would seem like old wine in old wineskin.

Orderly succession, which avails the benefit of experience and learning from mistakes, is one of the lessons of Indian democracy Nigeria has to learn. The appointment of Iwu from within the Board of the INEC to replace Dr Abel Guobadia in 2005 had seemed like orderly succession, but many commentators had already made up their minds that Iwu was a mailed fist of PDP who was selected by President Obasanjo at the instance of Mr Andy Uba, the elder brother of Chris Uba, who Obasanjo crowned as the “godfather” of Anambra, nay South East politics.

The wide-ranging disapproval of the 2007 general elections did little to show that the speculations were wrong. And so, the orderly succession we practised in 2005 did not seem to bring about any improvement in the processes as it does in India and other saner democratic climes.

According to Quraishi, the chief executive of India (the Prime Minister) appoints the country’s electoral umpires (commissioners). But once the appointment is approved by the parliament, they are totally independent, non-partisan and accountable to the public and the media.

But in Nigeria, the president appointing these electoral officials amounts to hiring the services of the piper and therefore being entitled to call the tunes. In any case, the commissioners are required to be card carrying members of political parties! That is why the Uwais report, which suggests that the president should no longer appoint them, enjoys the support of a large majority of well meaning Nigerian.

Thirdly, India’s democracy now runs on a digital electronic voting machine (EVM). Manual voting is no longer feasible. India has a whopping 714 million registered voters – about five times the population of Nigeria! The “wonder machine of Indian democracy” was first put into service in 1982 amidst controversies and difficulties among illiterate voters and dwellers of remote areas.

However, with determination to succeed and adjustments made, the machine’s success led to its being deployed in 687,402 polling stations in 2004. Within 22 years of steady progress, the machine now ensures accurate voting and counting, no risk of invalid votes and avoidance of high level of paper work.

It is easy to carry, does not depend on public power supply and is excellent for remote locations. Above all, it is an indigenous technology of India with security features certified and guaranteed by the Indian state security establishment. Clearly, Mr Quraishi was an excellent salesman for the made-in-India EVM.

The question is whether we are interested in learning anything from the Indian democracy? Have we learnt from Ghanaian democracy after sending observers to its elections and inviting its electoral chief, Mr Afari-Gyan (who has delivered three excellent transitional polls) to tell us about it? Have we learned from our own excellent June 12, 1993 elections? Will the electoral reforms change anything? Are we interested in genuine democracy?

Unless we search our minds and give sincere responses to these questions, we would still be looking for answers four years from now. We would be seeking the ouster of the next electoral chief and we would be calling successful electoral officers from around the world to come and teach the lessons we are not interested in learning.


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