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INEC: The time to speak is from now

By Tony Iredia
This piece which is essentially on how an organization should manage information is informed by the directive of the Nigerian Senate to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last week to do his work and talk less.

Our point of departure is a reiteration of the unanimous research finding by several mass communication scholars that for an organization to achieve its goals and also to survive over time, it must evolve and embrace an effective communication strategy.

The advantages derivable from the strategy can be classified into two. Firstly, it would help to establish and disseminate the goals and objectives of an organization; propagate the plans designed for the achievement of the goals; facilitate the effective coordination of the resources both human and material that are available to an entity and provide a conducive atmosphere for collaboration among a workforce.

An entity like INEC needs to do this so as to attain a unity of direction in its work as well as to ensure uniformity in its operating procedures and processes. Secondly, because no organization is an island onto itself, an effective communication strategy would place an organization in a good position to relate smoothly with its external public. This suggests that INEC must ensure effective public enlightenment on its activities.

A crucial aspect of a good communication strategy is the timely dissemination of information which prepares the people psychologically for an event. This concerns information on when an event would begin, how it would be handled and the exact role of the public in the assignment.

Another crucial aspect is what can be called a progress report in which what is made known includes the state of affairs on ground; why the execution of the event is where it is and the factors which can hinder or are already adversely affecting the progress ofthe event.

The public is also entitled to a statement which explains how and why an event ended as it did .. What this suggests is that a body like INEC must handle public enlightenment in phases bearing in mind the expedience of pre-event, progress report and post-event dimensions of publicity

Indeed, the lessons of the history of elections in Nigeria make it imperative for INEC to adopt the approach. From 1989 – 1993 for example, Nwosu did not only speak, he did so extensively with passion; he gesticulated and used his God-given nature to dramatise his public speaking on our electoral process.

Many people thought the man was unduly publicity conscious. At the end of the day, one rationale for the annulment of the June 12 1993 Presidential election which was at the time planted in an ‘editorial’ in the New Nigerian Newspaper was that following the attempt by the midnight judge to scuttle the election, Nwosu’s team did not adequately publicise its decision to hold election as planned.

The peculiar circumstance of an electoral body which in Nigeria takes ultimate responsibility for a game that is based on buck-passing should also not be lost on INEC.

Accordingly, it must speak from now till the end of the game but neither as a parrot nor as the dumb.

It should know when silence is golden. What it should avoid is a situation where its officials openly canvass a multiplicity of conflicting opinions on the same subject thereby making the commission to sing discordant tunes as the defunct FEDECO did in 1983. It must also avoid the tendency which it developed in 2007 of defending the indefensible.

That year, our election did not, in the words of the International Republican Institute’s Election Observation Delegation ‘measure up to those observed by the members of IRI’s international delegation in other countries whether in Africa, Asia, Europe or the Western Hemisphere’.

Even the main beneficiary of the event- the late President Yar’ Adua agreed that the election was flawed but our INEC insisted that it was superior to both the American election as well as our master-piece, ‘June 12’. INEC like Caesar’s wife must not only be above board but must be so seen. It cannot afford to join issues with aggrieved candidates and in the process make reckless avoidable comments.

As of today, there is nothing to show that Professor Attahiru Jega is deficient in information management having successfully led the Academic Staff Union of our Universities and as Vice Chancellor managed the complexities of students and ivory tower intrigues and pressures.

The statement by the Senate that he should do his job and talk less appears misconceived. To start with, it is ridiculous to suggest that the task of speaking on behalf of INEC is not a major function of its Chief Spokesman. Secondly, it patronizes the obsolete colonial viewpoint that every public officer is expected to be seen but not heard.

It is hoped that Jega will not be swayed by such contraptions because for him not to speak is a greater danger. This is because to make strategic plans for elections is wasted if the people for whom they were made are not adequately briefed on them especially those recurring issues which made us fail before.

As a result, Nigerians need to be briefed not just on terminal issues such as winners of elections but on other less visible segments like ‘claims and objections’ after the registration of voters. More importantly, we need to know the dangers in the horizon such as the ‘hide and seek’ as well as the ‘cat and rat’ manoeuvres which currently becloud our electoral process.

Although Jega is reported to have said that his statement for which the Senate summoned him was quoted out of context, INEC and the Senate are dissipating their energies on shadow chasing.

Is the current Electoral Act adequate and is the version or edition of the constitution on which it is based the valid one? These are the real issues of the moment. Whether or not, Jega’s statement is capable of derogating from the image (whatever that means) of the Senate is a cosmetic manner.

Even ifit were a more serious matter, our premise as we argued in this column last week is that to summon INEC and tell her how to do her work runs counter to the unambiguous provisions of Section 158 of the Constitution we know-that of 1999- that the electoral body ‘shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person’.

Perhaps with developments we may need to seek judicial pronouncement on this issue.


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