If we are to believe Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, preparations for the much anticipated April 2011 election is almost concluded. Though, for obvious reasons, Jega had not disclosed the killer punch he intends to employ to break the yoke of persistent electoral fraud, which has almost marred the electoral process since the past twelve years of the wobbly democracy we had been saddled with, I think we have to grant him the full benefits of the doubt to deliver a hugely credible election.
Something tells me Jega is serious and may deliver what comes nearer to the 1993 election. Something buoys my confidence in his capacity to ensure that he does not end up in the darkened footnotes of history, as most of his predecessors have done. Something tells me that Jega is a man that means his words and walks his talks and is only circumscribed by the defiant bottlenecks that have been generously laundered on our electoral paths to ensure it remains eternally malleable to the whims and idiosyncrasies of those in power.
Even as my faith in Jega and those of several other Nigerians were shaken by the annoying manner the voters registration was handled and its curious outcome, many still want to tag on with Jega with the hope that he will compensate with a stellar performance in the coming election. Many Nigerians are still peeved by the logistic shortfalls that marred the registration process. Many are still angry about the clearly incompetent and unconvincing manner INEC went about the detection of those that engaged in multiple registration. Many still doubt the final figures INEC released after the registration exercise. Many are still raging that INEC has been wobbly in addressing the many reported cases of compromise in the registration process. Many are still wondering why INEC cannot use the Direct Data Capture machines it used during the registration in the main election. There are allegations of collusion of INEC staff with some government officials to tamper with the registration details and the sordid case that just got busted in Oyo is a typical example. There is still the pending allegation that the top deck of the present INEC is the same old, compromised lots that have presided over farcical elections in the past.
But then, I am still confident that Jega will deliver. I don’t know what is pushing this optimism but it is there, despite the many imperfections that have trailed his outing so far. I have the feeling that he is committed to ensuring that we walk away from the messy paths of shambolic elections this April. I can comfortably state that I don’t know the magic wand he wants to use. I don’t know the decisive factor he wants to bring to bear on this election. That is left to him and his God but I still thrust him to do the needful and thereby etch his name permanently in gold. He shouldn’t worry about how the people judge him once he had done his best and his best should be able to reflect in the outcome of the election. He should not walk away with the impression that the people are dunces who do not know what they want. Once Nigerians see a credible, free and fair election, they will certainly know. He shouldn’t worry his head if the people judge him right. The people will know when he is right. He should not feel he can just juggle anything and deliver as free and fair election because Nigerians will know when he had not performed. So he is in a tight corner and is indulging in a game where he must deliver and seen to have delivered.
That said, it is heartening to know that Jega wants to adopt the Modified Open Secret Ballot system that was used in the much touted June 12, 1993 election. That is a good idea but he must brass the tacks and firm the girdle to ensure the system is not taken away from his hands by the desperate politicians who are prattling all over the place now with huge pall of blood trailing them. They can do anything to take the process away from Jega so he should be on his guard. Jega has to work more on the police and other security agencies to dispel fears of partisanship and if he should guarantee that, then he can go to sleep. As has been shown by the partisan interest the police have shown in previous elections and how they have consistently been at the beck and call of governments in power at respective areas, en route this election, there is no guarantee that they will stay faithful to the order to shred themselves of unholy attachment to those in power during election. Jega must stick to his rules and guidelines. If he has said that anywhere there was violence, election results would be cancelled, he must stick to that, irrespective of whose ox is gored. He should not start bending the rules for favoured politicians or parties but must be firm and decisive, confident in the fact that he is working for the interests of Nigerian people and not people in power. That way he would not only be saving the electoral process, but etching his name in the indelible pages of Nigerian history.
To help Jega deliver with his preferred Modified Open Secret Ballot System, I am advancing the following suggestions that can help imbue credibility in the coming elections.
· INEC must deploy one credible permanent observer or monitor to each of the 120,000 polling units in each of the three elections and he must sign the result sheets before results could be announced.
· Jega must ensure that accreditation starts simultaneously in all the 120, 000 polling units in the country so he must do all to deploy all needed materials in time for the 8.00am start off time.
· If it is not late, I advise that Jega use a special code for all election materials to each of the polling units and such code must be known to him and his top staff alone.
· On no account should accreditation continue after the mid day deadline and after accreditation, an open audit should reveal the number of accredited voters at any polling unit before voting.
· Voting should commence, after all the accredited voters have formed a queue and close at the specified time in all the 120,000 polling units.
· Sorting and Counting of votes must be open, in the presence of voters, party agents and election observers.
· Results must be openly declared for the notice of everybody and certified true copies of election results must be signed by all party agents and observers and handed over to each of them at the polling center and a copy pasted for public viewing.
· The certified results should be final and not subject to change.
· It will be the joint responsibility of the electoral officers and the observer to point out incidences of violence capable of disrupting the freeness and fairness of election at each unit and where such is the case, INEC should so cancel such affected units.
· The essence is that results should be final at the polling units and as such, any contrary results from the ward, local government, state or federal collation centers that did not tally with the aggregate from the units within the given constituency.
· To prevent instances where impostors sign for other political parties, INEC should request from all the parties the lists of their agents, details, signatures and finger prints.
Note: As I was concluding this article, I observed that INEC has already decided on some of these suggestions, which is a laudable development but it must remain firm to enforce them because there are bound to be pressures on it to bend once the election starts.
Again, given these modifications and with the GSM and improved communication system, there is no reason why election results, even of the presidency cannot be known at the close of each working day. But then, simultaneous start off is important in this regard. What it will take to know election results is the aggregation of certified results from all the polling booths within a given constituency.
If Jega can do these, get the police and security agencies to work impartially, respect his own rules and unleash his secret devices, I don’t see why we won’t have a credible election next month. But then, we heard even firmer assurances from Maurice Iwu before the last howling scam in 2007 so what will separate Jega’s effort from Iwu’s effort is the teeth he gives his words. He should encourage the people to protect their votes and take actions to firm this up. He should be committed to being with the people and he should try to be fair to all for his credibility rating to soar.
I want Jega to deliver and I pray he does. I wish him God’s speed as we wait to see at the other side of the Rubicon. If he succeeds in helping Nigerians across this deadly electoral Rubicon, he can be guaranteed an eternal place in the golden urn of Nigeria. If he fails, let him prepare for a life battle to salvage his name and image. For this, Maurice Iwu can offer great tutorials.
Peter Claver Oparah.
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