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An open letter to NASS and INEC

By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE  have just emerged from a gubernatorial contest in Edo State. The election is being adjudged as free, fair and credible(?). For fear of being labelled a sadist, one is forced to join the bandwagon and admit that even if the election was not an outright success, it was perhaps a lesser failure than its forebears.

Apart from the early release of results and perhaps a fair reduction in violence and bloodshed, the Edo contest has nothing much to recommend it. The circumstance invariably puts a big burden on the National Assembly Committees on INEC to immediately demand a comprehensive report from INEC with a view to addressing some obvious pitfalls, for future advancement.

It has become the conventional wisdom that the more time INEC has to prepare for an event, the more shoddy job it does. INEC had five years and three months to prepare for the Edo contest because the gubernatorial election in the State before the last one was held on April 14, 2007.

Yet, INEC behaved in a way that seemed like it was stampeded into the election within one week: As usual, election materials were in short supply and they arrived terribly late to most polling centres, even in the heart of Benin City! Obviously, there were glaring efforts from within the Commission to frustrate the election.

Election derailment is the moral equivalent of murder because bad elections have been some of the major killers of this nation. One month is enough time to find out what has been done to all perpetrators of the evil here. This we demand.

It is a capital offence to disenfranchise people. History is instructive here. To think that minorities in America and other civilized places fought so hard, with their lives and their blood, to gain their voting right; and that this is the same God-given right that Nigerians are being denied with impunity, is rather unfortunate.

People do not realise that the denial of voting right is as grievous as the denial of the right to life. What would anyone be living for if he has no right to partake in choosing who governs him? In fact, denying anyone the opportunity to vote is akin to reducing him to a level lower than that of cows and goats for we really have no way of knowing the involvement of those lower animals in the emergence of their leaders.

In Edo State, there were deliberate attempts to manipulate and falsify the voters’ registers: many names were omitted; in some cases, photocopies of the registers were provided; and in other cases, registers had names but no photographs. In the process, hundreds of thousands of people were disenfranchised.

At the end of the day, we were left to talk of low voter turn-out, when the real voting population had been buried under those who had been criminally denied the right to vote. The perpetrators of these crimes did not come from outer space but within INEC itself. We hear that some of the crimes were even orchestrated from the INEC high command.

Why should these  people still be walking our streets in freedom while we expect improved electoral systems? The fact is that these people must now be waiting for the next round of elections. We expect the INEC report to reveal how many people have been indicted and how far the process of punishing them has gone.

It is totally unacceptable that the results from some polling booths were cancelled because of some irregularities. This was one of the ways in which people were disenfranchised. We deserve to know the people responsible for the irregularities and how far they have been brought to book. That system, which puts pickpockets and other small offenders behind bars but leaves big time criminals in total freedom is, to say the least, horrendous. The moral message it leaves behind is that big crime pays and if you must do it, do it big!

Accountability demands that we know how much was spent on the Edo election. Apart from helping in the planning of future events, a good financial audit could easily detect areas of unnecessary expenditures. People must not see election as their own windfall. We cannot continue to blindly throw money into a sinking fund without occasionally stopping to appraise what we are doing. Even in the remotest villages that are made up of total illiterates, the village heads still account to the people after major events.

The Ologbo boat mishap in which three policemen and an INEC ad hoc staff perished must not be swept under the carpet. We deserve to know why the fate of the victims was left in the hands of an ogogoro drunken driver. While it might be too much to expect INEC to procure its own speed boats, it is not too much to expect that the victims should have been equipped with life jackets. And what measures have been put in place to prevent future occurrence?

Elsewhere, we have recommended life insurance policies for people engaged in election duties.

The National Assembly must be interested to know which of its laws are working and which need further improvement. The INEC report must dig deep in such areas as: Were there issues that created peculiar problems at the election? What could have been done otherwise – were there hindrances that were created by existing laws?

All we need now is a good system in place, a system that would reward diligence and punish offenders. When there is a good system in place, any warm body can operate it. A presidential election would be like the process of enrolling students and selecting the faculty for a new institution. Who would then need a professor or a retired judge to man the system when, in fact, no one has ever been to a special school for election organisation?



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