OPTIMISMS about vast changes the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, would ensure, do not reflect an understanding of the challenges of Nigeriaâ€™s electoral process.
They are at best a celebration of the removal of the former INEC Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, who was hated enough to be at the centre of the electoral confusion organised on a regular basis since 1999. Iwuâ€™s removal is thought a major move to sanitise elections in Nigeria without taking into considerations factors that have made Nigerian elections contentious since Nigerians started organising them in 1964.
Civil society organisations and Labour, are more likely to accept Jega who cut his teeth in agitations, leading the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, during the military era.
Those who are impressed with his appointment expect that he would come to the job with the same feistiness that he showed in ASUUâ€™s encounters with the military.
Personal leadership example would be important for INEC to make the sort of progress that Nigerians expect in expecting that votes count.
Where INECâ€™s daunting job starts is in tackling a system that disfranchises people through registration of voters. That exercise for the 2011 elections is already two months behind schedule.
Jega and the other electoral commissioners are welcome to a thankless job where every contestant declares himself a winner even before the votes are cast. The imperatives of a new order in INEC demand that the Electoral Act prescribes punishments that are implemented for electoral offenders.
It is absurd, for instance, that millions of taxpayersâ€™ money is expended in the prosecution of cases of electoral malpractice, some of which result in the courts upturning the results of the elections.
We would have expected that those involved in the malpractice, usually rigging, would also be punished as a deterrent to others. Nothing of the sort happens.
The verdict is such that there are guilty partners in the matter, but outside removing the one who earlier won the election, nobody is punished for the rigging that installed him.
When politicians know that there are no punishments for rigging, they are motivated to rig.
Politicians are a big problem. They want to win, no matter what it costs. With their enormous resources, politicians take over security matters at elections. It is easy for them to contaminate the electoral process.
Will the change in the leadership of INEC change the attitude of politicians towards winning elections? Is there any deterrent for those who rig?
The other challenge deals with the independence of INEC. Even with the best efforts of the Chairman and his commissioners, INEC still depends on logistics from government for its operations. Prompt release of funds to INEC remains an issue, sometimes causing delays in implementing its schedule faithfully.
It is a big mistake to think Jega would be an elixir to the nationâ€™s electoral challenges. Electoral fraud would cease when politicians stop making an enterprise of rigging and those who rig are severely punished.