Professor Jega’s reported denial that he threatened to resign if the PDP-led federal government of President Jonathan were to put undue pressure on him and the INEC cannot be reassuring to Nigerians. The INEC chairman’s statement that he will remain in his position and bear the consequences of any failure on his part is no consolation at all if, at the end of the day, the INEC really inflicts yet another electoral debacle on the nation.
Professor Jega ought to be told that in the final analysis, the matter of delivering credible elections is beyond the ambit of individual egos. It is not about Jega per se but about the destiny of a people and the processes that enable that collective destiny to materialize and prosper. Of what use would Attahiru Jega’s after-the- fact mea culpa be to a people confronted with another rigging spree? Jega’s denial does beg the question: At what point will he consider resignation as a moral or cautionary option? And what about the people in all that? Surely, in the face of brazen illegalities, resignation or no resignation on the part of the electoral umpire, the citizenry would be duty-bound to initiate processes, including, of course, mass protests, that counter or render null and void those illegalities.
Nobody is saying that the INEC chairman should cut loose at the slightest hint of trouble. That would be irresponsible, wouldn’t it? But it would also be grossly irresponsible were Professor Jega to submit to the kind of orchestrated banditry that was the hall mark of the roguish tenure of the man he replaced. What every decent citizen wants are clean and transparent elections. If, at some point, unwarranted pressure is exerted on the INEC to produce unwholesome results, Jega cannot in good conscience remain there as a figure head. He would have no choice but resign. To do otherwise would be akin to aiding treasonable conduct. By resigning, he would be taking the moral and just stand that he would not be part of the organized lawlessness and impunity that have so far denied Nigeria and Nigerians the wealth of functioning institutions as well as infrastructural development in all the strategic sectors of the economy.
For a while, when we heard that Jega had served what was tantamount to a warning to those who have so brazenly trampled on our legitimate aspirations since 1999, we heaved a collective sigh of relief. It was good for the image of the chairman and that of the outfit he leads. The man’s tough words, some would say uncommon courage, might even rekindle faith in a dispirited citizenry still grappling with the negative consequences of the banditry and mayhem that were unleashed by the former INEC boss and his political masters on Nigerian democracy, so we thought. Nevertheless, Jega and the INEC deserve to be reminded of some of the key concerns the people of this country have concerning the INEC and especially its role in the unfolding campaigns for elective positions this year. Jega must know that the problems plaguing the INEC today are not just those of political interference by the government of the day in the operations of the electoral body.
Political interference or not, the INEC is confronted with the awesome task of preserving the sanctity of its mandate through a diligent and transparent application of the charter establishing it. Put differently, Nigerians want to know if, as it is presently constituted, the INEC can supervise an electoral process that objectively commands the respect of the people. They want Jega and the INEC to actually do what is expected of them.
There is no doubt that Professor Jega is a man of integrity. But he will need more than that to make a success out of the INEC. At this point in time, the verdict seems unfavourable, perhaps vaguely damning, for both Professor Jega and his INEC. They appear to be failing in their responsibility to help provide a credible electoral process whose outcomes can be said to be a true reflection of the sovereign will of the Nigerian people. To make matters worse, under Jega, many believe that the INEC is still doing the bidding of the governing party in Abuja by helping it (the PDP), by omission or commission, have its way in the 2011 elections. Amongst other factors, the contentious gubernatorial re-run election in Delta State, INEC’s lukewarm attitude toward the rancorous and flagrantly undemocratic primaries and its sloppy handling of the on-going voter registration exercise have greatly contributed to this perception on the part of the public.
Let’s temporarily forget the hype about Professor Jega’s past achievements as a principled university don. Today, in his capacity as the chairman of the institution that is charged with the organization of elections, Professor Jega is battling, not just to salvage the image of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) which became synonymous with dishonesty and tampering with votes in accordance with a rigging scheme that favoured mostly the PDP of the ex-tyrant, Olusegun Obasanjo, but also, to prevent his reputation from suffering serious damage as a result of his perceived inadequacies as the head of the electoral body.
INEC’s Chairman during the Obasanjo tyranny , one Maurice iwu, became the object of derision – the embodiment of duplicity in the service of depraved feudal lords. Iwu proudly wore scurrility as a badge of honour. Together, he and the former dictator gave Nigeria the electoral heist of 2007, a worse re-enactment of the ‘419’ elections of 2003. The nation has never been the same ever since. Professor Jega was meant to be different. At least this has been the thinking of a great number of citizens considering the reactions by strategic segments of the society.
And Jega is indeed very much different from Iwu. The current chairman of the INEC is a far cry from his predecessor. Whereas Jega has been careful to maintain a semblance of distance between his office and the governing party, under Iwu, it was as if the latter derived mischievous pleasure from behaving like a card-carrying tout of the ruling party. Yet, INEC’s performance under Professor Jega risks having the same end-result, namely, one of failure. With Iwu, Nigerians knew exactly what to expect. With Jega, if the grim trend that is currently characterized by especially the PDP’s impunity is not halted, the nation will end up with elections like the kind that it had in 2007, except that this time around, the charade will wear a façade of louche respectability that may have the effect of blunting its rejection. And that’s one good reason why, his good intentions notwithstanding, Jega cannot afford to be seen as helping provide legitimacy to the PDP’s apparent determination to perpetuate itself through rigging that has sadly become like its second nature.
Amongst the major problems associated with the voter registration exercise that has been extended for another week, one can note the following: Depressing tales of rampantly malfunctioning Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines, the lack of expertise to run the machines, the snatching of the same ‘wonder engines ‘ by suspected party thugs, most of them allegedly belonging to the PDP and the reported collusion of INEC’s staff with unscrupulous party officials. In Niger and at least one state in the Niger Delta, not to mention a state like Benue, kingpins with strong ties to President Jonathan’s PDP have reportedly had DDC machines installed in their houses or in the proximity of the latter. The very troubling thing about this grim situation is the allegation that potential voters suspected to harbour anti-regime sentiments are being denied registration. These are criminal attempts aimed at disenfranchising substantial sections of the society. Professor Jega and the INEC must take appropriate steps to immediately put a stop to this. All eligible voters wanting to register deserve to do so. In the long-term, the electoral law should be amended to make voter registration which implies the up-dating of the electoral list a routine exercise that is not tied to election time lines.
Reacting to criticisms that he should not have stood beside Jonathan when the president went to register in his home state of Bayelsa, Jega responded that there is nothing wrong with him, as the INEC chairman, inaugurating the official commencement of the voter registration exercise in the company of the Nigerian president. Professor Jega should have added that as a putative symbol of the Nigerian State, one of the incumbent president’s official responsibilities is to help in the organization of credible elections that respect the will of the Nigerian electorate to choose its representatives. It is indeed unfortunate that Mr. President and his party openly preach democracy and the rule of law but in reality, resort to undemocratic means in order to achieve power. Hardly do they, through their actions, demonstrate that they are committed to the sacred responsibility requiring the creation of an enabling environment that throws up truly representative governments at all levels. For those who flippantly harp on the notion of incumbency, partly as an alibi to justify their support for unpopular governments, they should understand that incumbency at whatever level of governance must never be considered as being synonymous with having carte blanche for rigging or undemocratic imposition. As indicated earlier, incumbency comes with the solemn responsibility to behave in a way that clearly indicates that one respects the people’s legitimate yearnings.
Jega should consider the resignation card and be prepared to throw in the towel should the need arise. On our part, as stake holders in the Nigerian construct, we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to help the INEC and its chairman by , amongst other things, urging those who have not yet done so, to take advantage of the extension period to register to vote. Your vote is what gives you the power to effect the type of change you desire. Our interest in the elections should also mean a commitment to forcefully repudiate any unseemly designs aimed at thwarting the free expression of our respective democratic choices. We must at the same time resolve to tell the president and the National Assembly that the electoral process will continue to be incomplete until Nigerians in the Diaspora, in the manner of the truly great democracies of the world, are accorded the right to vote in national elections through the establishment of a relevant framework that enables the realization of that right. Jonathan’s PDP should rise above its NPN-like psychosis and for once do the correct thing. Dubious gestures like the recent appointment of Mr. Ojukwu’s wife as a ‘special adviser’ to the president, supposedly on Diaspora matters, only serve to underscore the cynical attitude of the current regime in Abuja regarding the superior interests of the nation.
Aonduna Tondu. ([email protected]).