By Ogaga Ifowodo
THE other day in London, National Security Adviser Col. Sambo Dasuki called for a postponement of the February elections. I am vexed by both the call and the venue, so a word first on the latter. For news so important, you would think that Nigerians ought to be the first to know, and that it would come at the end of consultations with the electoral commission (INEC), National Assembly, and political parties, if as usual the general public is to be ignored. But I’m assuming that Nigeria’s public officials respect Nigeria’s public institutions or the Nigerian people.
If Dasuki had not gone to London, seizing the first opportunity offered by a think tank, he might have gone to Washington, DC, Ottawa, Geneva, Vienna, anywhere in Europe or America, or failing that, addressed himself to a reporter from the BBC, CNN, or The Washington Post.
According to the Financial Times of London (I won’t annoy the NSA by citing reports of his important call as rediffused by the newspapers at home), Dasuki’s argument is that INEC needs more time to distribute about half of the 68.8 million permanent voters cards yet to reach their owners. “There is nothing wrong with us delaying to ensure that everyone gets the card to vote,”Dasuki told his privileged audience. A fine sentiment. No citizen, no democrat, can quarrel with it. He went on to imply that Prof.Attahiru Jega has been lying to us. “They [INEC] are insisting they are ready when we know they are not ready,” he said. Yet, given the calamitous state of the nation—defined by a nervous anxiety over Boko Haram’s war against Nigeria, violent do-or-die politics, a free-falling naira and dwindling national economic security—it is absolutely necessary that the process leading to the election be as flawless as possible. So who can argue against delaying so that nearly half of the electorate is not disenfranchised?
Well, apparently, the not-ready-INEC, and, lo and behold, President Jonathan (though craftily)! It cannot be true, of course, that Dasuki flew off to London to embarrass his boss, that he spoke without clearance. Yet, there President Jonathan was last Sunday assuring John Kerry, America’s Secretary of State, that the elections will go on. The 29 May handover date, he said, is “sacrosanct.” (By the way, when shall we return to the true self-governance day of October 1 and banish one more shadow of military dictatorship and distortion of our history?).
But President Jonathan’s assurance does not reverse Dasuki’s call for a delay. Since the constitution permits a postponement where the election is held at least 30 days before the swearing-in, Jonathan can have his cake and eat it. As I have said, I do not believe for a minute that Dasuki was merely expressing his personal opinion. But for “the show must go on” position, we have to turn to INEC chairman Jega who has been unequivocal that the presidential and National Assembly elections will hold as scheduled. Sceptic that I am, I doubt that Dasuki could have been as discourteous as to have failed to have a chat with Jega before writing his speech and jetting off to deliver it. What all reasonable people believe is that Dasuki was flying a kite. INEC is truly not ready and would gladly welcome any delay within the law to enable it print and distribute the remaining PVCs. Not to speak of the need for INEC to test the card-readers and the electronic voting process before we all head for the polls. Nor of the skeleton— mountains of skeletons, actually, considering how many have been slaughtered and how many may well be slaughtered before voting day—in our cupboard: the undeniable fact that in the north-east under permanent siege to the armed band of Satanists and psychopaths called Boko Haram, a great number of our fellow citizens already displaced and dispossessed have by that fact been long disenfranchised. And from the look of things, many more, sadly,will be displaced, dispossessed and disenfranchised before anyone can ink her thumb and mark a ballot.
But here is why the election ought to, indeed must hold, as scheduled. Our reputation as the never-ready country has become too far concretised in our minds and in the mind of the world—notice how swiftly after Dasuki’s call Kerrycame calling—that we ought to strain every sinew to keep our promise. That reputation threatens to undo any good that might come of a delay, and to mark our national character irremediably. For a nation that cannot find enough excuses to be profligate, this is one problem on which it can justifiably spare no expense. Which is why the most important guarantee the president made to Nigeria through Kerry is this: “the government will provide all resources that are required by the INEC to ensure that the election goes smoothly.”
“FeBuhari,” the month of February has been dubbed by the army of Muhammadu Buhari’s ardent supporters. President Jonathan must be wary of turning the shortest month into “the Ides of February,” thereby making it the longest month of our most recent brutal history which started on 14 April 2014 (the Ides of April?) when the Chibok girls were abducted from their school, over 200 of them remaining, to our shame, in captivity.