ONE of the most dangerous things about imagination is that one can stretch it limitlessly. Imagination abhors boundaries, what is required to extend it is the capacity of the individual to visualise the matter in contention.

Professor Attahiru Jega, and his people at the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has deployed their powers of imagination to their assignment that is running precariously behind schedule. They seem to believe that their brief is more of talking than doing.

“Let me inform you that when the new commission was put in place, there was a retreat at Obudu.

The commission’s report was studied by members of the commission and in the report there was indication that there are about 87 ways of rigging elections that were discovered and since that time INEC has been doing everything possible to block those loopholes,” Jega told a round-table in Lagos.

“The truth remains that the main trajectories of rigging elections in Nigeria have been well documented and studied and can be effectively countered. Personal integrity, improvement of resource management and development of effective strategies for combating that would combine technology, administrative measure and public monitoring will be demonstrated by INEC.”

Are elections feasible in April? When would INEC train the staff for elections when the registration machines have not been purchased? For how much longer would registration of voters remain a matter of contemplation?

Most of the concerns around elections for the moment centre on this critical point — registration of voters. INEC pretends there are no challenges here, praising a technology it has not tested and hoping the new technology will combat the 87 rigging methods INEC said it had documented.

INEC is working on sheer imagination. When would it return to reality? Is the problem the number of ways elections are rigged or INEC’s inability to do anything about the misconduct of the political parties?

Where is the internal democracy in the parties? Is INEC faithful to constitutional requirements in Section 225 that it monitors the parties and submits an annual report to the National Assembly?

Maybe INEC is unaware that rigging has started. Most top party officials are shutting out opponents through illegal congresses.

While INEC is promising free and fair elections and expect that its strategies would minimise the number of post-electoral matters at tribunals, 2011 could be the year of the most cases, many of them resulting from INEC’s inadequate attention to activities of parties.

Politicians do not wait for the polls to rig elections. We think INEC can imagine that. Technology cannot stop rigging when INEC staff who provide the support for rigging elections are not punished.

The law provides punishments for anyone involved in electoral offences, nobody is punished, and no attempt is made to locate those who rig elections. In all cases, riggers enjoy the resources of office, are asked to leave without sanctions.

A good example is the 42 months of an illegal governor in Ekiti State.
What did Segun Oni lose after being in office illegally for 42 months?  He is not the only one. Governorship cases in Anambra, Edo, Ondo, and Rivers States threw up similar situations, the only difference being in the number of months the former governors spent in office illegally.

It is not in INEC’s place to determine the duration of election cases, but elections conducted the way INEC does, with the impunity riggers enjoy, will create more problems than the 87 INEC knows.

Jega hints lightly at problems but trusts technology to assail them. “It is not our skills, knowledge and experience that will make the electoral process successful. Instead, it is our actions that will make or mar the process.

Consequently, it is our resolve in INEC to be guided by the fundamental principles enunciated in our mission statement document namely: transparency, integrity, credibility, impartiality and dedication. In a nutshell, we will be firm, fair and forthright in all we do.

We shall not do the wrong things, we shall not encourage others to do the wrong things and we shall stop those who choose to do the wrong things.

“The significance of the new software is that it will tackle many of the lingering challenges that had questioned the credibility of our voters’ register.

The system will no doubt lead to improvements in the accuracy and convenience with which the Register can be revised and updated. There are comprehensive guidelines for registrations.

“For example, the new direct data capturing machines are a clear departure from other machines used in the last registration exercise because, this time around, there are certain things that will be done to make multiple registration difficult, and also, there are sanctions for registration offences apart from the fact that the personnel that will be used will not be party agents and that will ensure that we capture a lot of people,” Jega said.

“The significance of the new software is that it will tackle many of the lingering challenges that had questioned the credibility of voters’ register. The system will no doubt lead to improvement in accuracy and convenience with which the register can be revised and updated.”

Only a few will share Jega’s optimism that technology will stop rigging. We imagine the proof of rigging would be technology-generated materials which our laws still do not recognise.

Things are fuzzier in other areas. Further delays in starting registration of voters compromise the chances that INEC should do a better job than we witnessed in the last three general elections.

We advise INEC to deploy its imagination to ensuring that it takes the first vital step — registration of voters.

It has spent months talking, it is expectedly repeating itself and it must admit that it has done little, if anything in the past few months, other than releasing an election schedule it had to withdraw because it never imagined the magnitude of its assignment.

INEC has too little time left. It cannot waste it trying to impress the public with speculations about rigging; it should simply get to work and let its work speaks for it.

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