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Confronting obstacles to the 2011 Elections (1)

TUESDAY, February 1, our panel gathered to discuss the elections that are due in April. The focus was on the challenges that awaited the elections. They were easy to mention, but the task was to untangle them and project how the 2011 elections can be better handled than previous ones. We faced our own challenges too which resulted in the size and composure of the panel.

The National Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, had set the previous day as the last day for the submission of names of candidates for the elections. The bedlam in Abuja kept some of our panellists there. Back in Lagos , the burial rites of Pa Anthony Enahoro was going on at the same our panelists were meeting. Again, some of our panellists were involved in the event.

From the  challenges that the voters’ registration exercise introduce to security, internal democracy in the parties, the capabilities of INEC, to the role of voters, our panellists took a holistic views of the issues that must be confronted now if the 2011 elections are to
fulfill the promises they hold.

Conference Hall in session

Preparations for the elections are unique with the unprecedented financial and legislative support INEC has enjoyed. Yet anxieties, fears, doubts, and hints of hope ran through the discussions, but the conclusions are that there is time to tackle them and it is in everyone’s interest to do so…

MODERATOR:  Issues confronting the 2011 elections Azike:  The first obstacle is the registration of voters. I am happy about the extension to the exercise because the registration of voters is the key to elections. I am not happy about the publicity for the registration exercise. Even the extension did not get the type of formal announcement I expected. There is need for more information about the exercise and the elections proper. INEC’s public enlightenment by INEC was poor. State governments worked hard to make the exercise successful. They declared public holidays to encourage people to register.

In Lagos , there were free rides in state-owned buses for those with voters’ cards. It was an incentive to encourage people to comply with their civic obligation. More public mobilisation, taking into account the time constraints, would have made the exercise more successful.

Ogbidi: There were lapses in the voters’ registration exercise.  It appears INEC did not do enough research one the number of voters to be registered. A high number of voters turn out is one of the credibility factors for an election. There was also the problem of neglecting the rural areas, where machines arrived late or were still being awaited.

Participation in registration exercise

From the way things are going, participation in the registration exercise was coercive. The announcement that the voters’ card will be a condition for accessing government services forced many to register. If they are forced to register, they will be forced too to vote, that is where the coercion.

When voters cannot exercise their franchise freely, it is then no longer a democratic election. It is important that people participate in the democratic process, but is more important that they do this freely, not out of fear of punishment. The killings and kidnappings that have been going on in different parts of the country are other factors that could drive fears into people and affect the elections.

Nnanna: INEC has done little or nothing to sensitise the public about the project from registration to election. There is inadequate information on what we are doing. INEC chairmen used to be in the media mobilising Nigerians for the exercise. I am wondering if INEC still has a public affairs department.

The general impression is that government is not ready for the elections. It is Nigerians who are mobilising themselves and that is why the process has gone on this far. Nigerians are on queue, struggling to be registered. They have put off other obligations to be registered. Some are will to pay for the registration.

The last time I saw this type of process was in the 1993 election which thee government annulled. Many Nigerians will end up not registering because government was not ready for the exercise. I foresee a situation where there could be confusion. Suggestions on how to salvage the situation are being made. There are proponents of the extension of the handover date to October 1, to provide more time to prepare for a proper election. They say the breather is necessary, otherwise a great confusion could result from elections conducted with this tight schedule.

Karibi-Whyte: I blame the media and civil society for its appraisal of Professor Attahiru Jega right from his appointment as INEC chairman.  We seemed to have placed a lot of emphasis on the man’s integrity and not on his capacity to do the job. We brought a man to do a project management job; we should have been rating him along those lines.

His integrity is a great asset, but it has little or nothing to do with the capacity of the official to do the job. Integrity was not going to be a substitute for capacity. Any project management company would have broken the exercise down to various components from registration to the elections. The break down is important for an understanding of the challenges of the exercise.

The INEC chairman asked for N87 billion, he got it. If he thought through the process, there would be a higher chance of success. The numerous requests from INEC for extensions, more money show that the organisation is thinking as it moves along. You cannot organise elections in this manner.

INEC and contractors

INEC decided to call old timers when it was time to buy machines. Everyone knows who makes the machines, but INEC opted for contractors. For the first week, nothing worked and there reasons for this. The people who were to use the machines were not trained. Nobody understood the workings of the machines, at least not those who were to use them.

The cellophane strip needed to be taken off for the machine for the fingerprints to register. Where I registered, the machine was not working because those in charge of it will not take off the strip. They thought it was meant to save the life of the machine. It was after the strip was removed on our insistence that the machine started working. There were similar examples in other places.

We cannot expect magic in the elections. Some of the people deployed for the registration have never touched a computer. They were not trained and we expected them to carry out a seamless exercise, it could not have worked.

INEC is out of its depth. We have to salvage the situation by asking Jega to call in professionals who can help him.
There is no difference from when Professor Maurice Iwu was in INEC. Only the head and a few Resident Electoral Commissioners were changed. There will be no change in INEC, no now, not ever, unless we look beyond Jega. Election management is a project and it should have been done with professionals.

Computers that are being used, with all the noise made about them, are no connected to a common server. Multiple registrations are taking place, something that would have been avoidable if the machines were linked. INEC will the next few weeks trying to sieve through the registrations to detect multiple registrations.

A good aspect of the machine is that you cannot keep manipulating the system. I hope it remains that way. INEC needs to start massive enlightenment campaign. INEC does not speak to anyone; there is no deliberate effort to reach the people without whom the process will not succeed.

Oparadike: Elections have different components – registration, party primaries (internal democracy), security, campaigns and the voting at the main elections.

It is only in Nigeria that I know that registration of voters is a rushed job. In other places once, when you are of age you register in your local government office. There is no time bar. This process takes away the tension generated around elections with registration of voters. People are going to their villages to register. It is a sad commentary that in 2011 people go to their villages to register. The reason is simple – you cannot be voted for where you live, which is the root cause of the problem in Jos. Those who expect privileges in Jos do not extend the same privilege to others in their own locations.

Routine affair

Registration of voters should be a routine affair. It should not be a rushed thing that people have to be granted public holidays at great expense to the economy. We should be working for that day where people should be part of the political process where they live and pay tax. This is important for freeing the country from issues that arise from how people are treated in eth different parts of the country they reside.

Party primaries are a throw back to the past. In some places, it was worse. The theatre at Eagles Square (where the President won his party primaries), to the public was transparent and fair, but the job was done elsewhere.

The parties that working to save us from Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, did not even bother with any primaries or anything democratic in their selection of candidates for the elections. Lagos was a typical example of what some of the parties did. Without the threat of a possible uprising in Lagos , Governor Babatunde Fashola, with his performance, would not have been given a chance to ruin for a second term. The party had other ideas and it was a party, like many others, where the leaders decide for the party.

When will our nomination processes be initiated by the people and anchored by the people? At elections, we vote for people to represent us. How can the people representing us be the ones electing themselves and informing us? When the primaries are the skewed processes they have become, the people lose the first important step in the selection of their representatives. Democracy is a way of life not just elections.

The political parties that want to save us from the tyranny of PDP must practise internal democracy. It will be a good beginning.

My greatest worry is security. Even if we get everything right, security remains an important issue. I am worried about seeing the signals that led to 1965. Many people are beating the drums of ethnicity, zoning and religion. When are we going to have a Nigerian president, instead of zonal president?

The security situation might get worse as there many disenchanted politicians who have lost out in the process and could show their displeasure. They have money, our money, which they stole. They can use their resources to cause trouble.

The type of political processes we have are like 419, which is no longer viable. It is only in politics that you can practise 419, by gaining access to the treasury and allocating the resources as you please.

Flawed nomination processes

We must speak out about the processes to see that they are corrected. When a nomination process is flawed, scripts changed midway, the products of the process, as candidates in the elections will not be democratic.

Now it is the party leaders who decide, not the party members, not the people. We have heard party leaders telling people to leave the party if they disagree with the leader; it is no longer democracy.

Uwazurike: I will look at four issues that I think are obstacles to the free and fair elections Nigerians expect.

Violence is increasing in some parts of the country; it is the type of violence that can be used to disrupt the elections. If there is enough crisis, it gives the perpetrators of the crisis the opportunity to question the process. The intention could be to get the violence to spread, that on its own will be a problem that will make elections difficult in those places and create credibility issues for the elections.

To give credence to the security problem, some of these people are calling for state of emergency. They are aware of the tensions that arise from a state of emergency in one State, not to talk of where three or more States are involved. Conflicts in Jos, for instance, began as ethnic disagreements. They became religious, then political. Now they are a combination of the three. The threat is no longer for the immediate vicinity of the conflicts. The whole country is threatened.

Judicial orders against elections

Another obstacle is judicial orders against elections, reckless orders that some courts are giving. I call some of these orders judicial politics. Some people are in court and the court issues orders based on personal affidavit. The judge makes orders to stop another candidate based on this order. The attitude is, if it is not me or my candidate, no other candidate will be fielded.

It is so bad, because ex parte application is the easiest way to create problems and hold the election to ransom. The election is a constitutional matter that the judge must respect. Our laws say no court can grants orders to stop the election.

I am also concerned about the do or die attitude of politicians. If I am not there or my representative nobody will be there, that is how the minds of politicians work. We have seen thugs in action. There have been parallel party congresses and some who failed to have things their way destroyed voters’ registration  machines. There is a time limit within which the election should hold. It could be the ploy of some to ensure that the deadlines are missed so that they can question the process. Some of legal processes being used to hamper the elections are injustice to the people and abuse of the judicial process.

INEC has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Did INEC not use computers four years ago? The only difference being added to this registration is the fingerprints. The same contractors supplied these machines. The only problem appears to be the installed soft wares.

The training needed to be hands on with the same equipment in use to ensure that the users know what to do. They did only a few days’ training and the people were deployed. At the registration points, they were fiddling with the machines, trying to figure out how to use them. The queues thinned out as people left in frustration. In some parts of the country, they have not even started registration. The period of registration is by law, but everything should be done to ensure that as many as are qualified and willing are registered.

If someone challenges the extension as illegal, I expect that a judge can use the principal of eminent domain to resolve the matter in favour of the registration.  Things are changing rapidly. A woman shot dead in Abuja (31 January) when her driver made a turn in front of bank. The police and military authorities rushed out to contain the riot that ensued. Those who are insisting things must go their way can mobilise crowds to do their will.

What changed in INEC that everyone is behaving as if we are starting afresh?

Creating of new problems

Only a few commissioners and the chairman left yet all the other commissioners are still there and they are carrying on as if they never knew what registration is. If you turn 18 next week, you cannot vote in the elections because the registration would have closed, yet it will be at least two months to the elections. I am only asking God to save us.

Each new chairman threw out what others did. He starts afresh creating new problems and solving ones he met there. Iwu did it and Jega is doing the same thing. Others before them acted the same way. They never see INEC as an institution where you offer your service for the sustenance of the system.

Violence may be going on at the current because the President is a gentleman and may not use maximum force. Those who caused trouble during the time of Sani Abacha paid the price. Abacha sent army to fight the Maitatsine riot in Yola. People are taking advantage of the President’s gentleness.

Are there any other issues that are peculiar to the 2011 elections?

Oparadike: This is the first election where zoning is taking a centre stage in the manner it has become the only issue in the campaigns. It is an incendiary issue that should not have been raised to this level. Jonathan’s campaign seemed to have lost the argument, after spending so much effort justifying zoning. It must be this realisation that is making the campaign tie its messages to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and promising to run for only one term. If it had made the argument was made earlier, zoning would not have assumed the dangerous dimensions that have developed from it in the course of justifying it.

Parochial use of zoning

When the parties are through with their candidates, we should have a close look at zoning and abolish zoning. If zoning is ever to be adopted, it should be for all Nigerians, not a PDP affair that lends itself to further parochial use.

I understand that zoning is for fairness, to protect the weak, should it be a mediation effort, a sort of atonement for inadequacies of the past. If it is the argument, it should start with zones that have been denied positions, treated unfairly and it is not difficult to know where those zones are.

When we ended up with two presidential candidates in 1999, the understanding was that zoning  used to allow the Yorubas  the presidency in compensation for the lost June 1993 presidential election that claimed Moshood Abiola’s life. From then, zoning should have progress to other zones that have been similarly hurt.

Should zoning be between North-South, or among the six zonal structures? What stops the top groups from the North-South from monopolising the position if it is simply a North-South affair? The North West and South West are the strongest zones, get the rest of Nigeria to fall in line, whether under civilian or military regimes. Under the guise of zoning, people can stoke the flames of religion. An army of hungry and uneducated people can be mobilised under religion, tribe and language.

Nnanna:  For the first time we are deploying the biometric machine to register voters. What we are compiling is a database that if well preserved will lessen the challenges of future registrations as those registering now should not register again. The registration is not as easy as it seems. Even in India where it has been in use for 20 years, it took some time for them to get used to the machine. India manufactures the machines through state companies to have control of the data and from them from external influence. The data from registration of voters are considered of national security implication in India .

There was inadequate time to plan the exercise that is why we are having the problems.

Another peculiarity is that for the first time, the National Assembly is amending the laws as we run through the processes. The National Assembly has not been shy of sessions to take care of the financial and time demands of INEC.

Nigerians’ interest in the success of the process has sustained the support the registration is getting. The chaos we are having is different from the challenges that past regimes in INEC had. This INEC is running against time and stumbling over issues that it seems not to have anticipated.

Oparadike: Another peculiarity of these elections is that past government were not free with money for INEC programmes.

Azike: The support this particular INEC has received from every institution in Nigeria is unprecedented. It is unbelievable that any institution can present a financial bill, without auditing, due process, it gets it the bill passed into law, and it is the full amount that was given. The National Assembly has amended the Constitution twice in order to accommodate the requirements of INEC. I think if there is need to do more, Nigerians will do it for INEC.

It shows the hunger of Nigerians for a successful election. Whatever it should take let us do it for INEC.

Registration is not rocket science. It did not occur to us suddenly. We should have planned for it. We should have had a whole dossier on the elections since we conducted the same exercises consistently since 1999. We have not taken into consideration the rural areas and their peculiar needs. Nobody ahs talked about the type of complaints we heard during the re-run governorship elections in Delta State .

How many people are being registered in those places? Nigerians are so desirous of registering that they are doing everything to ensure that the elections succeed. Unemployed people are queuing and selling their places on queues, it shows how determined Nigerians are to be registered, it is also an indication that those who have invested this much interest in registering expect that the elections should be free and fair.

Contingency in the budget

It is offensive for Jega to ask for more money for the extension. Jega should have anticipated the extension and included it in the budget, there should have contingency in the budget. When therefore we hear things like that, one is concerned about the extent of the planning for the elections.

Karibi-Whyte: Jega with all the constraints should have taken the period into consideration. He gave the impression that the problem with INEC was money. After money, he said it was no longer money but time to do the work. With due respect to his integrity, I think the man is out of his depth. In Nigerian once, one is a professor it is assumed that he can do anything. As Vice Chancellor, he was not a project manager. His inadequacies are being exposed.

I do not think that the problems are insurmountable. The peoples’ enthusiasm will ensure that we can register about 80 per cent. There will be success from the shoddy job. Registration should be a seamless process and people can register at anytime. Discarding the former voters’ register because it contained fictitious names does not make sense. After some times the names are taken out if they cannot be re-validated, or the voter’s address cannot be verified. At certain times, there must be revalidation. We should not set up an elaborate process and waste so much money each time there is an election.

Ogbidi: Other peculiarities of this exercise are closure of schools and emergence of NYSC members as the electoral officers. Civic centres in various communities should have taken care of registration centres so that we would not have shut down schools. Was there synergy among local government chairmen, Resident Electoral Commissioners and the community development agencies?

The deployment process should have been better done if all these officials were involved. The poor deployment of the machines was too obvious. They should have established the areas of needs through the population figures. This was not done with the result that in some densely populated areas, only one machines was allocated to them.

The assumptions that informed the use were that the NYSC people would be selfless and incorruptible. From reports, politicians have infiltrated them. There have strikes over lack of payment. INEC should recruit staff it should control and discipline. NYSC members take instructions from the NYSC and INEC boss. Who then determines issues of discipline?

Oparadike: By law, the registration centre is the voting point. Voting booths that are known and authorised by INEC and they are where people are being registered.

Security argument

Why close a whole school when you are registering outside or under a tree? None of the security argument made about the closure of schools is good enough.

Did we create new pooling centres?

Uwazurike: We have always had designated centres. We have never closed schools or disrupted things. You look at the demographic distribution and know new areas that need more pooling booths with the changes in population. Most INEC registration centres are will be polling booths for the elections.

Part of the lapses came from not carrying over planning from one set of leadership to the other. We had no business throwing away the former voters’ register. The planning failure is what is affecting things badly. Something is wrong with the entire set up. No INEC chairman has conducted two elections. What about the secretariat that hardly changes?

In Imo State , I heard some of the politicians brought their own people, instead of those who were trained. Names were substituted and the Governor was furious and that held up registration for days.

PARTICIPANTS:
Dagogo Karibi-Whyte, lawyer, Secretary General, South East South South Professionals
Innocent Oparadike, former Editor, New Nigerian, Imo State O Assembly
Willy Ogbidi, Fellow, Council Member, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations
Chief Goddy Uwazurike, lawyer, former Vice President, Aka Ikenga
Chief Ziggy Azike, lawyer, politician
Ochereome Nnanna, Deputy Chairman, Editorial Board
Moderator: Ikeddy Isiguzo, Chairman, Editorial Board


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