By Josef Omorotionwan
THIS writer belongs to the first generation of educated people in his family. In retrospect, it is now clear that we did not encourage our old father enough to do what he was already doing very well.
Otherwise, he would have long possessed a large reservoir of his collector’s items – cards and more cards, both voters’ and party membership.
Even where the cards had changed colour considerably because they were stored away in a calabash near the fire place, the old man had no problem identifying the party membership cards as they bore the relevant details: They were at various times in Zik’s party, which had the cock as its symbol, as contrasted with Awo’s palm tree. We were soon able to assist in identifying the current voters’ cards and there was therefore no need to seek outsiders’ help in picking out the relevant cards on election day.
The cards were many and that left the impression that they had always been in the habit of approaching every election as if the world was just beginning afresh. Just imagine how much we are now throwing into a single exercise of registering ourselves to go and vote.
And this is how it has always been. At the theoretical level, there has always been a very robust argument in favour of good voters’ register. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu almost got trapped on the wrong side of the argument, when he said that INEC’s bill for the registration was on the high side. His colleagues shut him up.
He should have realised that “no amount is too much to spend in the nation’s quest for electoral transparency towards ensuring that Nigerians’ genuine votes count in 2011”.
In his time, the Professor of pharmacology, Maureen (oops, Maurice) made a very strong submission to the effect that a flawed register that would lead to disastrous consequences far outweighs any production cost. And behold, his register was neither flawed nor disastrous, remember?
It succeeded beyond measure as it captured many of our people in the Diaspora – the Mohammed Allis, the Mike Tysons, the Barack Obamas and the rest of them. Wao!
This time around, no body wanted to be caught on the wrong side of history. Everyone sat up. Both the National Assembly and the Executive branch of government took two crucial actions almost in a single day: As the Electoral Act 2010 was being signed, the supplementary appropriation of N87 billion was being credited to INEC’s account, quick, quick.
It is now clear to all the stakeholders that all casualties of war do not necessarily occur in the battle field. We must abhor the direct loss of lives as well as the opportunities to meaningfully wage battle against electoral defects in this country, if we must move forward. Our intentions are very good but the battle has not even started. There are still many rivers to cross.
INEC has just released a time table, which indicates that the elections proper will kick-start with the national and state assemblies on January 8, 2011 and end with the presidential election on January 15, 2011.
This time-table is based on the assumption that all is well with INEC but we all know that all is not yet well. We have not lost sight of the fact that we are still in court over whether the President should assent to the First Amendment to the 1999 Constitution or not. An aspect of the court’s decision here could throw the entire time-table off balance.
Our Judiciary is not helping matters much, either. Elsewhere in the more civilized democracies, this type of constitutional interpretation is given very accelerated hearing and disposed off, possibly within 48 hours but not in Nigeria where the Judiciary still prides itself that a few days to the end of their four year tenures, the contestants who felt cheated in the April 2007 elections still have their cases limping between the Elections Petitions Tribunals and the almighty Appeal Courts. Who will ask them?
Evidently, the Nigerian Judiciary is living in a world of its own. It is only in an election year that we suddenly remember that any electoral reform, which does not include the reform of the Judiciary, is like a train without an engine. At this age where the rest of the world is going beyond digital, it is only in this part of the world that we still have Judges sentenced to the hard labour of recording court proceedings and judgements in long hand.
If we were to get serious for once and devote an amount even substantially less than N87 billion to the reform of our courts, we are sure that not only would our election cases not be abandoned in the deep freezer sometimes for upwards of four years, we should also have paved way for the cure to the awaiting trial syndrome in our courts. Above all, we would have a Judiciary that can separate electoral offenders from pick pockets and other petty thieves. Apparently, what we have now are half measures for solutions to nagging problems.
Who is really stampeding us into making more unpardonable mistakes? We want to know. Even granting that all is well between INEC and the law, vis-à-vis the controversy surrounding the constitutional amendment, by the just released time table, INEC is already walking the tightropes.
Here, a combined reading of Sections 10 (5) and 21 of the Electoral Act, 2010 is necessary. Section 10 (5) of the Electoral Act stipulates that registration of voters, updating and revision of the register of voters must end 120 days before an election. We know one Madam who would have snatched the microphone from the legislators when they were enacting this law.
Why should they be using must, must, must? Any way, the important issue of registration of voters, which has not even started now, should end by September 8, 2010, just a few days from now, for the National and State Assemblies elections to hold on January 8, 2011.
However, Section 21 of the new Electoral Act provides for an ample injury time. It is by the grace of this section that claims, objections, verification, correction and final certification of the Voters’ Register can continue until 60 days before an election. What this means is that we are embarking on this important exercise purely on injury time.
It will be very interesting to know how many wrong steps we are entitled to in the entire process. We have already used up some of the chances. As an instance, Section 31 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 demands that the notice of an election must be issued 150 days prior to that election.
What this means is that the notice for the January 8, 2011 elections should have been issued since August 11, 2010! Well, with Divine help, we may soon get to the point where it may not be necessary to continue to look at the forest, particularly when we shall see what we have done with the woods.
At least, we are already used to the Doctrine of Necessity. A good one issued at the appropriate time will atone for all the defaults. There is hope that even if all the elections do not hold in January 2011, God can still make a way for us.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. We have a system that has been able to throw up a good material. From the euphoria and popular acclaim that have greeted the appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega as the INEC boss, one is almost certain that no other method of selection would have produced a better Chairman. We have no quarrel with the top.
At the level of the National Commissioners, a few reservations were raised and they were promptly corrected. We hear that a heavy baggage of liabilities of some sycophantic staff, which Iwu wanted to foist on INEC on the eve of his departure, has been dismantled. That’s credibility building. But that should not be all.
INEC should know that its success is the Nation’s success. What this means is that INEC should quickly develop zero tolerance for rotten eggs. After all, one rotten egg can destroy the entire basket. We are worried that some people who belong to the prisons are still walking our streets as free men. And they are still allowed to hold the Aces to our elections.
We could as well go and look for Anini (remember the criminal king pin who shook Benin City to its very foundation in the 1980s) and Lamidi Adedibu (who had a personal registration centre in his Ibadan abode) to come and hold sway as Resident Electoral Commissioners in some of our most important States?
Why not? Such could induce the freest and the fairest elections but we are quickly reminded that where they create a credibility gap, their results will not be accepted. So, in the final analysis, we still need the three elements: free, fair and credible. It can’t be done otherwise.