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How competent is Jega’s INEC? asks Olusegun Adeniyi

By News Express on 21/11/2013

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If the morning shows the day, as they say, then the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) urgently needs help otherwise we would end up with a fiasco by the next election cycle. Indeed, given what transpired in the course of the Anambra State gubernatorial elections last weekend, many Nigerians are already losing faith in the capacity of INEC to conduct hitch-free elections in 2015. But the tell-tale signs have been there all along, only that we have refused to pay attention. Whatever may be Professor Attahiru Jega’s pedigree before he was saddled with the INEC job, facts on the ground remain that the history of elections under him has not been so edifying.

Only few people ever get a second chance to make a first impression but as INEC Chairman, Professor Jega was allowed to conduct the 2011 presidential election at second attempt after bungling the first one with all the attendant cost. Perhaps because the result conformed to popular expectations, the focus of Nigerians centred on the post-election violence in a section of the country, without much attention paid to the glaring inadequacies of that period—including the inconclusive elections in Imo (gubernatorial), Anambra (senatorial) and several other federal and state constituencies, which required further mop-up exercises.

However, the first major test came for INEC on July 14 last year when the Edo State gubernatorial election was held. In several of the polling centres, not only did materials arrive late or in some cases insufficient, many prospective voters were disenfranchised, following the omission of their names from the voters’ register. Such was the level of confusion that a visibly angry Governor Adams Oshiomhole said of INEC on that memorable day: “If accreditation is to stop by 12 noon yet it is after 11 am now and there are no materials in some polling booths, it then means Prof. Attahiru Jega and INEC have no plans to conduct election. The whole idea is to frustrate the people so that they will not be able to vote, and they will declare a fake result. Prof Jega and INEC have been an embarrassment to the nation...INEC is the weakest link in the Nigeria democratic chain...”

Again, at the end of the day, the result conformed to popular expectation so it was easy for INEC to get away with what was evidently a shoddy election. The same thing happened in Ondo State a few months later when the incumbent Governor Olusegun Mimiko was re-elected. Since the outcome was also generally expected, nobody paid attention to the logistical nightmares that created a flawed process. Yet the Appeal Court judgment on the election delivered on July 1 this year categorically stated that INEC conducted the Ondo State gubernatorial polls with a compromised voters’ register even though the same court dismissed the petition of the defeated PDP candidate as “a pre-election matter”.

However, the Anambra State election fiasco has exposed INEC simply because they could not “wobble and fumble” to produce a result as they always managed to do, leaving the courts and tribunals to sort out the rest. Even while we may accuse the PDP candidate, Mr. Tony Nwoye, of sour grapes for describing the election as “a monumental fraud and embarrassment to democracy”, how does one defend this?: “I didn’t vote and my father also didn’t vote because our names and the names of many other voters were missing in my ward, which has more than 500 registered voters,” Nwoye said. Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident as many prospective voters across the state were denied their rights to vote due to INEC’s ineptitude.

It is noteworthy that for the election, INEC deployed a total number of 12,622 election officials (permanent and ad hoc), comprising one returning officer; 21 local government collation officers; 326 registration area collation officers; 326 supervising presiding officers; 120 registration area (RA) supervisors; 4,608 presiding officers (NYSC/FTI); and 6,851 assistant presiding officers. INEC also deployed 15 Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) from other states; six National Commissioners – and 120 Registration Area (RA) cluster supervisors. Yet even with such enormous manpower and thousands of policemen, soldiers and personnel of other security agencies, they still ended up with an inconclusive election!

With the mismanagement of the voters register (which should never have happened if the commission took its job seriously), many prospective voters were left stranded while INEC officials seemed clueless as to what to do. The experience of the former News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) managing director, Dr. Nwabu Mgbemena, who was on Sunday prevented from voting in the re-scheduled election in Idemili North, tells a compelling story: “When I got to this polling unit located within St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Obosi, I approached the INEC presiding officer, who said my name was not in the register. Later, the officer said my name had been located in the register and that I should come forward to be accredited. As this was going on, I saw the INEC national commissioner walk in and approach me over the issue. After explaining to him and showing him the card from the INEC office in Ogidi, he walked up to the presiding officer and simply told them not to allow me to vote. When I asked him why, he said INEC Law says nobody should vote without a voter’s card. I am totally disappointed and ashamed that these are the crop of officials running the affairs of this nation.”

I have read many online postings in recent days by people calling for the return of Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the former National Electoral Commission (NEC) Chairman, who conducted the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election. Even when you can detect a hint of sarcasm in some of the postings, it is also a fact that we have never had an electoral umpire with the enthusiasm, creativity and charisma of Nwosu. At different times between 1989 and 1993, he conducted the local government, gubernatorial as well as state and national assemblies’ elections. In all these elections where the processes were even done manually, names did not disappear from voters’ registers while people voted and the votes were counted “without wuruwuru and magomago”, as he dramatically decreed.

While I am not one of those who look back to the past for solution to simple problems, it is indisputable that Prof. Nwosu proved so conclusively that it is possible to hold elections in our country without the sordid drama of disenfranchising willing voters. The critical job of INEC is managing the logistics of men and materials and it is not rocket science as Prof. Nwosu taught us at a time he didn’t have the luxury of the current advancement in communication (mobile phones, internet, etc.) What that means in effect is that Prof. Jega has no excuse for the glaring lapses that have dogged his elections and he should take responsibility for the failures.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I do not subscribe to all the conspiracy theories concerning the Anambra election just as I am of the opinion that if it was properly conducted the outcome might not have been different. But INEC should be worried about their penchant for “supplementary elections” which has a way of eroding the credibility of the eventual result declared. Whatever decision the commission eventually takes to resolve what has now become a logjam in Anambra State, the unfortunate saga has put a big question mark on the competence of Jega and his men while there are now serious doubts as to whether INEC, as presently constituted, can indeed superintend a credible general election for Nigeria in 2015.

•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. He can be reached via olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

Source News Express

Posted 21/11/2013 1:31:29 PM

 

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