By BEN AGANDE, Abuja
Staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, are in a sort of frenzy in the run- up to the elections. For a commission that has promised Nigerians free, fair and credible election after several failed attempts at raising the bar of electoral excellence, the approach to the polls which some analysts have dubbed a litmus test for the chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, must be taken with all seriousness.
Since his assumption of office, Jega has never left anyone in doubt about his determination and commitment to ensure that things are done differently – and, might we add, for the better. From the National Assembly, to his meeting with civil society organisations and political parties, the INEC boss has almost always managed to convince critics that his words are his bond. So, even when the voter-registration which cost the country a princely N86 billion was tottering on the brink of failure, the measured and unhurried explanation by the electoral umpire provided a balm that propelled more Nigerians to troop out in their millions to register for the elections when the exercise was extended by a week.
With the release of the final figure for the number of Nigerians who registered to vote in the elections, the commission may have demonstrated through words that its stated commitment a transparent election is no fluke.
According to the figure released by the INEC chairman, 73,528,040 Nigerians registered to take part in the election with Lagos State having the highest number of registered voters with 6,108,069, followed by Kano State with 5,270,297. President Goodluck Jonathan’s Bayelsa State got the least number of registered voters at 591,870 followed by Ekiti State with 764,720.
Other details contained in the records released by the INEC chairman indicated that the commission recorded 870,612 duplicates during the collation of the final figures with Niger State giving the highest duplicates of 142,040, while the FCT got the least with 953. With the release of the final figure of the registered voters spread in 119,973 polling registration centres nationwide, INEC appears set to conduct the most credible election in Nigeria’s history.
Explaining the preparedness of INEC for the elections, Jega promised that every step was being taken to ensure that all loopholes were plugged to ensure that it delivered on its promises.
At a meeting with leaders of the political parties, he said each of the polling units across the country had been given specific coding systems – this is aimed at limiting the possibility of rigging or making it virtually impossible.
The INEC boss explained that the ballot papers, the form and shape of which he has kept close to his chest, would have different colour codes for different constituencies to forestall multiple voting and complement the efforts to make the modified open ballot voting system efficient.
The commission’s director of operations, Mr. Okey Ndeche, who joined the INEC chairman to shed light on the preparations for the elections, said the types of sophisticated indelible inks to be used on voters’ fingers during accreditation and voting would ensure that, unlike in previous elections, such inks would not be deleted by fraud-conscious voters to perpetrate fraud.
Ndeche stated that electoral officials, security personnel and logistics vehicles would be camped in various local government areas on the night preceding each of the elections while surveillance systems to be used in monitoring INEC staff and potential electoral offenders would be much better than Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems.
To overcome the challenge of depending on local governments to move the commission’s materials, Jega said INEC will acquire additional 100 Hilux four-wheel drive vehicles to add to the over 500 it had already acquired to ensure that at least one operational vehicle is available in each of the 774 local government areas while the navy and the air force would be involved to ensure effective delivery of all materials in a safe and timely manner in difficult and challenging terrains.
With the detailed plan put in place by Jega to ensure that the elections beginning from Saturday are not only free and fair but credible, a little cooperation from the political class would go a long way in ensuring that Nigeria transits from the despicable status of a country incapable of conducting a credible election to one that would be a reference point to other African countries that look up to her for leadership and guidance not only in electoral matters but in other issues of good governance and transparent leadership.
In 1999, 2003 and 2007, the late Ephraim Akpata, Abel Guobadia and Maurice Iwu, in that order, gave Nigerians elections and each, in that order, was considered worse than any preceding it.