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 panellists 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.
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…
THE problem is responsible for non-payment of NYSC members in some States. The names submitted to the banks for payment are different from the names of those doing the work.
A place like Warri with adjoining islands will keep expanding. It is not voodoo. There must be population increases and demographic changes. How did INEC plan for these? In Lagos , we have seen the same demographic changes in the increasing relocation of people to new areas around Ajah and Epe.
That we are just teaching NYSC people how to use computers at this stage tells a lot about the quality of education our higher institutions offer.
The world questions everything we do – our education, our manufactured goods. I hope it will not question our elections again in 2011.
Nnanna: I see many people not being registered like what we saw during the governorship election in Anambra when people could not vote. People could be frustrated and leave if they cannot stand the hassles of waiting to register. Some may find out that their 10 fingers will not be captured and they will find that out later, maybe on election day. Those who are 18 after the closure and constitutionally entitled to vote will be out. Continuous registration should be the way out, so that people who do not meet the age requirement can still be registered for subsequent elections. The current system of registration will be out of the way.
Uwazurike: Continuous registration can be done through the National Population Commission, and National Planning Commission working with INEC. I registered after the national identity card had been completed. I walked into the National Identity Card office and they registered me. The same thing can be done with registration of voters without setting up this expensive bureaucracy.
Karibi-Whyte: There are places where we claim there are two million people and at the election, only about 100,000 people vote. Anambra had 1.9 million eligible voters and only about 300,000 people voted during the governorship election, more than 80 percent of the people were disfranchised. We may have a repeat of the same situation in these elections. INEC has said that if the 10 fingers not captured, the registration is void.
Issues on voting day
People are only finding out this and most of these people are not aware if their registration meets the requirements. These would be issues on voting day.
Azike: The public needs to know that if their fingers are not fully captured they are not on the register.
Will the processes produce better elections?
Azike: I do not think that parties that are incapable of producing candidates in accordance with the constitutions of their parties will play fair against other parties. If you are unfair to your brothers, how will you view other opponents. The signals are not good at all. We have seen leaders of major political parties asking people to leave if they will not subscribe to autocracy, which is a contravention of their constitution.
Their constitutions seem to be documents that are veneers to get registration as parties. The parties are like witches and wizards that meet in a concave and decide what they want to do, according to my friend Mike Ozekhome. Bafarawa, former Governor of Sokoto State, was frustrated from contesting the primaries for the presidency in the Action Congress of Nigeria. The much-vilified PDP is still better than the other parties. In PDP, a governor uses sheer terror to send other delegates away to produce a party executive that is of his own making, but at least he stages an election.
On a national plane, PDP’s transparency is unmatched. In each State, there are peculiarities, but it tries to follow some procedures for primaries. Other parties have not raised the bar.
I do not have much hope that things will be better. You cannot be fair when competing against your enemy.
Oparadike: Party leaders do not know they are shooting themselves in the feet when they make impositions. With good candidates, a part is like a manufacturer of good products. There are problems because parties are imposing unmarketable candidates who they have to budgets millions of Naira to sell to the voters.
In Lagos , if ACN had made the mistake of dropping Fashola, it would have created room for another party to make electoral in road into the State. I have seen things he has done in four years and I am expecting him to do more. Imagine what Lagos would have done if it is oil producing. Lagos may have a lot of money from internally generated revenue, but it shows initiative.
Recognising the candidate
If you generate money and use it to provide services the party should recognise the candidate. Parties shop for standard-bearers elsewhere. They may not be party members, they may not be interested in politics, but they are brought to the party to use their expertise to make things work.
Azike: My father was invited to be a local government chairman in Lagos .
Oparadike: Today, bad people are imposed on the parties by the godfathers. It is difficult to deliver a bad product. We had it in National Republican Convention when Bashir Tofa was chosen against Abiola.
When I asked people to vote for Tofa, they reminded me that Abiola helped with their town hall. Sylvester Ugo was Tofa’s running mate. His people voted against him, telling him that Abiola, a Muslim, gave them money for their church.
If the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, had good sense, it should have chosen an Abiola that cut against ethnicity and religion for the 1983 presidential election. Everyone knew him and what he was doing for people across the country.
Azike: With his personality, he could fly a Muslim-Muslim ticket. He was the biggest donor to my university club.
Uwazurike: I am looking at the news that Muhammadu Buhari has picked a South West man where Obasanjo is from. It shows absolute lack of respect for other zones from the South. Tunde Bakare is good, but he is not a politician. Even from a political point of view, he is not a politician and does not have a structure.
The Governor Shekarau in ANPP picked a mate (John Odigie-Oyegun) from Benin . Ribadu is not a politician that could explain his choice. I think I can say the same about Buhari. Abiola challenged Shagari in 1981. Abiola picked Babagana Kingibe who has a structure. We have serious contenders and passengers in the race, they are showing themselves with their choices. How the various parties conducted their primaries is a factor in these choices. As it is what we have are endorsements, which is why we do not have many court cases challenging the choices in the primaries.
Buhari should have built a national party instead of concentrating on the States that voted against Jonathan. It is important that Nigerians know that it is important that the politics of the country should be tied to the national interest, meaning things that will see to the progress of Nigeria .
Nnanna: It has presented Nigerians with clear choices. Buhari is concentrating in the Arewa North. CPC is not in the North Central, South South, South East, even South West. He believes that picking a pastor who has not proved an electoral or any other worth will take him to victory nationally. Both Buhari and Shekarau show that they have not done their home work. They are creating open grounds for their defeat. It is unfortunate in the light of the opportunities that the opposition had have been wasted.
Azike: Unfortunately, the elections were won five months ago. It is disheartening that we are not going to have a contest. I consider it a personal loss. I had seen Buhari as a candidate of promise. If the elections were competitive, they would have put some pressure on the winner to perform. It is clear to even those who understand ABC politics that the elections are over. I had looked forward to a more robust contest and I would have pitched my tent with him, but the CPC turned out a narrow platform of the Nigerian project.
Buhari has a poor concept of the project. He believed more in his organisation, The Buhari Organisation, TBO. When he was having problems in ANPP, I expected him to invite others who had worked with him to his presidential ambition, this would have broadened the platform of the Nigerian project.
There is a missing gap in his management of men. With a six-zone structure, you cannot conceive an election project without thinking of the Igbos, without the tripod, it will not work. Have we not always said that Nigeria stood on a tripod? The least we could have done is added to the stands, not decreasing them.
What can be done to make things work better in 2011?
Karibi-Whyte: It is incumbent on all the parties to go out of their way to do the work INEC has refused to do. They have to mobilise the people, they are the most important part of this process since INEC will not do its work. People should be there to protect their votes. From the way the process is skewed, people must be vigilant, the people should be educated on things they should look out for so that they will not be disfranchised.
Voters must wait to see their votes counted, so that they know the votes are recorded in their own polling booths. All political parties must educate their people so that they know what to do when they do not see their names on the voters’ register and the things to expect.
Azike: The courts must be very careful also that they are not used as the tool to truncate the elections. The vehicle of ex-parte injunctions must be exercised with immense and judicious caution and discretion. I like what Justice Gumi of the Abuja High Court did about the application before him to stop the elections. Judges should be well advised that desperate politicians do not use them to scuttle the process. It is important that they realise that they are an important of the process that will sustain democracy.
Nnanna: During the claims and objections, the process may be worse. How will people know if they can vote until the last day? We are in a chaos that calls for all stakeholders to have a look at the situation and act.
Doctrine of necessity
I think we can call in the doctrine of necessity so that we can have a credible election, instead of a government that can be haunted in the next four years for winning an election that lacks credibility. The time of the present government should be extended to October 1.
Ogbidi: Every stakeholder should remember that the interest of this country is bigger than any other interest. Our actions should be guided by conscience and fear of God. Without a country we cannot have a government. We should be law abiding.
Uwazurike: The failure to integrate the people will make the people to see any outcome as illegitimate. In all the countries where there have been problems, the people are questioning the legitimacy of their governments. We should all close ranks to make the results from the polling booths to count. Whatever it takes to carry the people along should be done. I believe we can conduct a free and fair elections between now and April. It takes a will power to make the people count in the process.
It is not constitutionally possible to change to October 1. If there is no election by May 29 there will be a vacuum. It is only if the nation is at war and elections are not possible that the National Assembly can extend the tenure of the President by six months. Anything Jonathan does will lack credibility if he gets a tenure extension.
Yar’Adua saw the flaws in his elections and wanted legitimacy. Jega should note the uprising throughout the world and that any problems should sweep him away. I think that anyone who thinks about this country should pay attention to the events in North Africa , there is no substitute to a credible poll from free and fair elections.
Oparadike: Politicians should tune down their rhetoric. The type of religious and ethnic statements they are making can set this country on fire. Many of them take comfort in the fact that they have homes abroad. Those who own houses abroad will need to get to the airport to leave the country. They must look at what is going on in Egypt where people cannot get to the airport to leave their country.
Someone can make an inflammatory any statement he wants. It is the duty of the media to check them. When I was Editor of New Nigerian Alhaji Gumi sent a statement. I refused to publish it though the board of the newspaper insisted.
There are people who see his views as the truth. They wanted the views published and they said counter views could be published. I said I would not publish. I offered to resign instead. Journalists should have the courage to say no, even if they are paid advertisements that can set the country ablaze.
We are the people who provide the platform for these prophets of doom. Each time a republic dies, journalists suffer because we lose freedom. The politicians find their way back to those in charge and find their way back to power.
Let us have parties that invite Nigerians to bake the national cake and share it equitably. Those who invite others to eat should rather teach them how to bake the cake so there should be a larger cake to share and those who eat the cake would learn to be productive.
Moderator: Thanks very much for coming and for coming.
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