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Dangers of Polling in January

We all celebrated the appointment of Professor Jega and members of the commission by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan because we saw relative sincerity…

We all celebrated the appointment of Professor Jega and members of the commission by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan because we saw relative sincerity in the age-long song of wanting to do a free, fair credible elections that the government has sung since its dual inception in May, 2007 and in April, 2010.

What Nigerians will desire to see when elections are held in the country is an atmosphere where people will freely cast their votes, go home, sleep without any fear of intimidation either on the part of ambitious political actors or their foot soldiers appearing in dangerous circumstances. In summary, we all desire that the nation shall not be pariah among others simply because of the unwillingness of its elites to subordinate themselves to the will of the people through an electoral process that is transparent and acceptable to the vast majority of the people.

One thing that we are missing as a people is the fact that organizing a credible election is not restricted or limited to free conduct on the day of elections and the aftermath. Far from that, the mechanics of credible elections is fundamentally anchored on the degree of preparations leading to such elections.

At the heart of polling on the day of an election is of course the centrality of the voter register, which must be comprehensive and sacrosanct. Why we have failed to get it right in the past and especially in 2007 was the failure of INEC to produce a voter register that met the minimum of the configuration of the Nigerian voting system.

There is a consensus across the country that the register used for the 2007 elections and those subsequent was not only flawed with irregularities but importantly lacking in character and sincerity. It is therefore safe to assume that electoral engagements since the adoption of that register were anything but credible because the very basis of polling lacked credibility.

The situation that the country finds itself in is very precarious. In fact more dangerous than all other times that we have had elections within this civil rule dispensation. Many reasons are responsible for this state of affairs. One, Nigerians have been thirsty of having credible elections. This yearning was further reinforced with the appointment of the current INEC. The meaning of this invariably is that there is a very high specter of hope that the umpires posses the integrity to meet the citizen s legitimate aspirations.

Secondly, the Nigerian people have seen the reality of representative government. This has further fuelled the insatiable desire to insist that only those who hold the mandate of the people are their tusk bearers. Thirdly, the international community has since condemned the nation’s electoral process to the dustbins of irregularities. The implication of this is that if people’s level of civilization and development in contemporary era is measured in terms of the ability of societies to hold free, fair and credible elections, then the level of Nigeria and Nigerians is far below the minimum standard that is acceptable to the human race.

It is imperative therefore that the elections in 2011 must be above the cutoff point otherwise the entire scheme of civil governance may face the wrath of the undesirable; after all, Lord Acton did say that for forms of government, let the fools contend, what is best administered is best. God forbid a regression into a past that is ugly.

I have said time and again that the degree of crime that is committed by those who rig an election is worse than the one that is committed by the soldier when he takes a gun and flush a government out of power. What the people want therefore is a good election.

Clearly we have established that you cannot have a good election no matter how much you desire it unless the process leading to the elections is conjectured with the realities of time and situation. I won’t want us to fail again. It will be a crime of a lifetime if the nation fails to get it right in 2011.

I am of the view therefore that what Nigerians should pay more time and attention on is not when the elections hold in 2011 but how the elections would hold. I know that there are cretin constitutional and legal encumbrances regarding any attempt to jack up the date of the polls away from January.

True that the Electoral Act recently signed into law by the president as well as the amended constitution have mandated that elections must hold not later and less than 160 and 120 days from the date that such office/s shall become vacant, what is needed now is for the Nigerian people to put their thinking caps to begin to evolve ways out of this deadly situation just as was recently done when some powerful cabals dreamt of flushing the late President, Umaru Yar’adua out of office before his eventual death.

I want to propose that INEC definitely need more time to produce a new voter register if only we are to avert a similar disaster that the nation did experience in the hands of Professor Maurice Iwu. Agreed that monies sought by the commission to begin and conclude the voter register has been released, authentic sources have it that for the manufacturers to be able to produce the required 120,000 machines to be used for the registration, it will take time. They are not to be procured off the shelf.

The same machines will have to be shipped down to Nigeria even if by air, then tested, distributed to the 36 states and FCT and subsequently to local government areas and to the ward and polling stations. These definitely will take a long time not to talk of the process of hiring the ad-hoc personnel that will do the registration, training them as well as dispatching them to the various places where they will be used.

This is just one step aside from the needed mobilization to be done by INEC and other government agencies on the need for people to take the registration seriously by participating and ensuring that infractions are avoided. This is significant if we are to have a voter register that is sincere and not just another compendium in the hands of politicians and political parties.

After the registration is concluded, the list must have to be made public for claims and counter claims that may arise as a result of both human and machine errors. The data across the country must also be centrally processed for the purpose of record and control before the final voter register will be ready for use in an election.

This is September for God’s sake. I don’t see anyhow all these processes can be achieved in less than four months. What this means is that it is functionally impossible to have a reliable and credible voter register before the end of the year. Without it, we will certainly not have a good election.

The implication of another flawed election will certainly be demoralizing on the integrity of the Nigerian people and further reduce the ranking of Nigeria in the comity of nations. It is our collective responsibility to tell INEC that we want good elections and if the only way we can have it is by appropriating more time than money to the commission for better planning, I think it is a minimum price for democracy.

If a poll of Nigerians is taken today on whether to go ahead and have a failed election in January  2011 or allow INEC do better preparation and give us a credible poll say in April 2011, I am very sure there will be a resounding voice in favor of April. This is what I am saying and I think it is the responsibility of the civil society groups and the citizenry to insist on adequate preparations before the elections.

As regard other maters arising from a possible shift in the election period, I believe that Nigerians are capable of debating the situation and coming up with scenarios among which one will be taken so as to save the nation the stress of this conscription that will do no one any good except those who as usual may use the situation to rig the polls in their favors.

Nigerians are tired. Let there be elections please but most desirable is when there is a good voter register and that certainly is not achievable in January 2011.

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