By Joef Omorotionmwan
THE deferment of the Edo State governorship election from Saturday, September 10, 2016 to Wednesday, September 28, 2016 gives us space for a little introspection into our election cycle.
But for the deferment, we would have by now been totally immersed in the analysis of the results of the polls. In Nigeria, election has become the only pre-occupation that engages everybody, including the mass of our unemployed youths.
The election cycle begins with the registration of voters during which political parties struggle to out-register one another. In the rural areas, village heads co-operate fully in the registration exercise. During the registration period, farm roads are closed to inhabitants, including migrant workers, until they have been registered.
The data capture and biometrics that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, now has covers a limited range of one Local Government Area. This defect explains the massive incidence of unclaimed Permanent Voters’ Cards, PVCs, in most cases, more than 50% of the cards are unclaimed because by the time the PVCs are ready, the migrant workers have moved on to other places. And at the time of election, still less than 50% of those who collected their PVCs turn out to vote.
The time has come to expand the scope of the voters’ cards so that in a general election, a card issued at Oghada can be used to vote at Birnin Kudu
Authorities are very liberal in granting public holidays and time-off for people to go for registration; and the collection of temporary and permanent voters’ cards without the slightest regard to the massive loss in man-hour and the concomitant effect on the nation’s economy.
Election in Nigeria is war by another name. The simple process of primaries in which political parties select their candidates has been promoted to the level of real combats that soon spill over to the rest of society. The effect of that bread-winner who is shot at the venue of the primary election is felt by all the family members. And worse still, from the primaries, politicians migrate to the courts and they overheat the entire polity.
The 2015 combat is still fresh in our memories. Close to two years after, we have lost count of the number of people that died; others have been forgotten in various hospital wards; and many of the electoral cases are still lingering in our courts.
A few months ago, the battle ground shifted to Kogi State. It was battle-royale. After periods of indecision and inconclusiveness, we got a hanging result out of the place; and the combatants are still on their way to the Supreme Court!
Then came the battle for the soul of Bayelsa State. The rest is now history. So soon, no one is talking of the souls of innocent citizens that perished in that State.
In Edo State, one did not need to be a sooth-sayer to predict that a postponement of the governorship election would come – following the trend of indecision and inconclusiveness that flowed from the 2015 general elections as well as the Kogi and Bayelsa imbroglios.
In Edo State today, and for the next one month perhaps, we have close to 30,000 policemen; equal number of other paramilitary personnel put together; 10,000 combat-ready soldiers and so on – running round the entire place, wasting away. This same scenario has been playing out in every state where we had a hanging election.
There is a rough estimate that the up-keep of these personnel gulps some N10 million daily; and nobody is talking about that. It only means, however, that in Nigeria, the business of election has clearly overtaken the business of development. In fact, if we invested a small fraction of the efforts we put in futile elections into development, we would not be where we are today.
The elections are hurting us in every direction. See how our school and business calendars have been totally disrupted? But for the postponement of the Edo governorship poll under the familiar guise of security threats, you can imagine the fate of those Edo youths who were already set on the path of permanent destruction as their WAEC papers had fallen on the same day with the election. It is instructive that the WAEC examinations will still be on by the election date. Nothing has changed.
As soon as the Edo election is over, everybody will migrate to the courts for final determination. Then it will be time to shift the battle-field to Ondo State. By the time we are through with Ondo State, it will be time to begin the 2019 election cycle.
Right now, the Federal Government has concluded plans to set up a 20-member panel to review existing electoral laws and past reports on electoral reforms, including that of the Justice Muhammad Uwais National Electoral Committee.
We have no quarrel with whatever Committee the Federal Government wants to set up. But certain issues must constantly agitate our minds: First, for how long shall we continue to waste colossal sums organising elections that are not better than the preceding ones? Secondly, why is it that recommendations by Committees set up to investigate what went wrong at elections are hardly implemented?
We must move forward. There is no running away from the carrot and stick approach. For too long, electoral crimes and their perpetrators have been handled with kid gloves. Let our change begin from here.
Never again shall we have the reports of investigation committees gathering dust in our offices. We must make it mandatory for government to consider and issue White Paper on the reports of investigation committees within 90 days of the submission of such reports.
We have found that this is the total difference between Nigeria and other nations that are similarly situated. The ten countries, including Nigeria, with the largest population in the world are China, India, United States of America, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia and Japan. All these countries, except Nigeria, hold credible elections that stand the test of time. Must we remain different?