By Tonnie Iredia
Some people imagine that the 2011elections would be successful because of the calibre of the present INEC. They have a point. But if Jega’s team follows the ‘jack of all trade’ posture of its predecessors, then we have cause to fear.
In 2009, the media reported that Iwu’s INEC was seeking alternative means of resolving electoral disputes. On November 11, 2010, INEC was reported to have told the fifth Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) summit in Lagos that it had adopted the option for resolving political and pre-election disputes.
The next day, the INEC Chairman himself assured the Justice Uwais-led Eminent Peoples Negotiation and Conflict Management Group that his Commission would partner with the group to achieve an alternative dispute resolution to conflicts that may arise after polls. Obviously, INEC is anxious about the settlement of election disputes. It has also developed grey hairs over the enforcement of electoral law.
The week before, the Commission moved into Ibadan to hold an interactive session with traditional rulers from the South- West geo-political zone to brainstorm on how to check the specter of electoral violence in Nigeria.
Earlier at his screening by the Senate, the INEC Chairman reportedly hinted that under him there would be massive voter- education, aimed at bringing about attitudinal change among the citizenry. Jega’s anxiety is probably due to the fact that as the man who has ultimate responsibility for the outcome of elections, he does not want any institution to make him fail.
Jega is not doing anything new. Our electoral bodies have always practically done everything about elections- a posture that evolved during the military era when they were empowered not only to register political parties but also to draw up their manifestoes and constitutions. Indeed, they could disqualify contestants through the media, a few hours to voting without giving reasons for their decisions.
Since then, they have sought to be the ‘supervisor’ of every matter related to elections.
For example, they often organise workshops for the police on the electoral law as if the police force with its many colleges does not know how to organise manpower development for its personnel? There was, in fact, a time when a person to be arrested over an electoral offence was to be determined by an electoral officer.
Who then would direct the arrest of the electoral officer where he is the offender? Are we suggesting that when an offence concerns elections, the police lose their capability to apprehend and arrest an offender?
The problem with this meddlesome posture is that it has come to make most Nigerians wrongly believe that the electoral body is the only administrator of elections.
Accordingly, other societal institutions that have roles to play in elections perform their duties casually. The common feature of shortage of policemen to escort election personnel and materials is apt here. As for the nomination of candidates, political parties which are in charge of it have woefully performed it over the years.
While party primaries to select flag- bearers have always been rancorous, the parties are notorious for illegally substituting their candidates as PDP did in the case of Amaechi and Araruame for the 2007 Governorship elections in Rivers and Imo states respectively.
From what we have said so far, it is obvious that the different bodies which have roles to play in elections do not play their parts well and because we do not place our searchlight on each of them, we tend to attribute the poor performance of one to the other or indeed, to the electoral body. Hence, we can neither identify the real cause of a failure in our electoral process nor can we differentiate it from the symptom. In other words, the problem will subsist and persist.
Painfully, the problems posed by the poor performances of different relevant institutions in election matters are hardly greater than the contributory negligence of our electoral bodies. Because the latter have been unable to produce a credible register of voters after more than12 attempts, they always use inaccurate statistics to organise elections. Secondly arrangements for the movement of election personnel and materials are always shoddy.
There is usually no provision transport-wise for taking ballot boxes and the voting materials from the offices of the Electoral Commission to the polling stations and back. As a result, the world now watches on satellite TV, election personnel in Nigeria who move from one location to another with their ballot boxes on their heads.
Thirdly, the situation in a typical polling station on voting day is always deplorable. The presiding officers are not only always inadequate; they also always have little knowledge of the processes and procedures of their assignment. In addition, election materials are always in short supply and they usually arrive late at the centres only to make room for malpractices. . I recall that as an election monitor, during the 1999 elections, there was no polling booth in any of the 14 voting centres I visited in Onitsha, Anambra State. In fact, three of the centres were located in open petrol stations on Limca Road in the city. I hear that till date, the situation has not changed. Where are the Polling booths which are usually budgeted for? It is thus not uncharitable to remind INEC that it has more than enough of its own part of election duties to worry about.
We, therefore, appeal to INEC to first play its own part well; second, not to interfere in the duties of other bodies and third, as the main actor, to coordinate the entire process so to attain a unity of direction for the purpose of achieving the desired objective.
The latter is not the same thing as to help anyone to play its part. We said some weeks back that INEC as a referee should not be summoned by the players of the game. Today we are saying that a referee does not coach the teams in a game. What is not the duty of INEC cannot become hers because she is anxious to succeed.
If she does, she would be diverted from her functions which unfortunately have never been better handled than those of the bodies she always seeks to help. Indeed, the solution to the incompetence of one body does not lie in another less equipped one taking over the job. In the case of conflicts after polls, for instance, INEC is “Functus Officio”.
Everywhere, each societal institution justifies its existence. Those that cannot are usually reorganised. In Britain, people post their ballot because their post office is made to work.
Let us make our institutions work- Political Parties should nominate their candidates; National Orientation Agency should undertake voter- education; Police should enforce electoral law; Judiciary should settle election disputes. INEC should handle logistics and coordinate the entire election process so that we can institutionalise the conduct of elections in Nigeria.