On Saturday April 9, 2011, Nigeria finally held its twice-postponed National Assembly elections to its 109 senatorial districts (less 15 districts postponed) and 360 federal constituencies (less 50 constituencies postponed), involving about 3,500 candidates and 56 political parties, as well as 73.5 million voters in 36 states, 774 local governments, 8,808 wards and 120,000 polling units spread over nearly 1 million square kilometers of country area. In the outgoing national legislative body, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had a dominant position: 83 senators and 241 House of Representative members, give a take a number of legislators that had "crossed carpet" to and from it at various times since May 2007.
It is almost trite to write that no human endeavor is perfect; but ironically God's work is. That should tell us something.
Saturday April 2 in Nigeria's electoral history - when the entire process was cancelled due to a massive logistics snafu - was an exemplar in imperfection. However, it was some kind of a mock exam for April 9, which was also imperfect, but far less so that the earlier date. What was learnt on April 2 was used to improve on April 9, to our greatest delight - and I am certain to the relief of Jega's INEC, to the government of President Goodluck Jonathan - if not to his party - to the Nigerian people, and to our pride as a country in the comity of nations.
The lessons of April 2 and 9 also should now be used to make April 16 even more less imperfect, if the oxymoronic expression is permitted. That is adaptive learning, an essential part of total quality management (TQM).
The accredit-before-voting (Modified Open-Secret Ballot system MOBS) procedure admirably adopted by Jega's INEC, the vote-stay-and-use-phone allowance, and the announce-result-and-paste-on-site injunction make rigging in our environment not impossible but extremely difficult, and much easier to isolate glaring attempts at such rigging. For example, it makes more glaring the unfolding "drama in the Anaocha LGA of Anambra State" of the Ngige/Akunyili Anambra-Central senatorial contest, which is like the "Ido-Osi" fame of Ekiti's re-run of April 2010's Fayemi/Oni gubernatorial contest, where the effect of votes in only one town or LGA delivered late threatens to upset the whole apple-cart.
In time, the Anaocha/Ngige/Akunyili Palava shall be resolved one way or the other - and quickly too. For example, where are the audio reports? The still picture/video reports at the suspect polling units? At the suspect collation centers? No one - INEC officials, party agents, observers, etc. - took pictures or recorded audios? That would be suspicious.
Already Ngige has protested, and Akunyili has for-sworn taking a position into which she was rigged, if indeed that was the case. When you couple those outcomes with the gracious acceptance of losses by Speaker Dimeji Bankole (in Ogun State) and former Governor Oyinlola (in Osun State) to their opponents - Oyinlola contested against former House of Rep member, fellow Diasporan, university colleague and friend Prof. Sola Adeyeye - we cannot but clap for a new dawn of electoral democracy in Nigeria. Knock on wood, one expects far fewer election complaints by losing candidates and political parties this time around, far less work for election tribunals to do, and hence far less intrusion of the judiciary (and the attendant accusations of bribery of judges by candidates and their lawyers) into our political process.
But again, we must wait for the presidential election day April 16 and state elections day April 26 before we crow too much. [And by the way, if presidential re-run is not necessary, the re-run ballots already printed should be given as souvenir to 73.5 million Nigerians :-)]
In the mean-time, INEC should continue to focus, for Saturday April 16 on:
- getting all the materials to arrive within easy driving distance of their polling units on Friday;
- getting all the personnel and the materials to arrive by 7 am to all the polling units in preparation for 8 am - 12 noon accreditation and 12.30pm to whenever voting, and immediate counting, announcement and pasting of results thereafter;
- limiting accreditation per polling unit to the 300 per polling unit stipulated (personally, 500 seems more appropriate) and creating new clearly-identified polling units in the same premises for the overflow;
- ensuring that all who have valid voters register are EITHER directed properly to the correct polling unit where they should vote (if their names are not on the voters' register at the polling unit where they show up), or failing that, having their ballots declared "tendered ballots" and they be allowed to vote in specially-created ballot boxes (as allowed by the Electoral Law.) For April 16, reports of disenfranchisement MUST be far less than April 2 or 9, but we must be prepared for accusations of VOTE INFLATION if in fact this correction to the voters' register is made. [I still do not understand why candidates and political parties have not insisted on being given the official Voters' Register by INEC, but I am now suspecting that some or all of them have received it somehow sub rosa, and are secretly hoping that the other parties or candidates do not have them! :-)]
- strictly enforcing the announce-result-and-paste-on-site injunction;
- securing (by police, Army, Navy, Airforce, NCDC, etc.) all the personnel and materials from storage point to polling unit to collation centers. Provided these security personnel don't become partisan - and bullies - Nigerians would have no problems in their visible presence at election time.
Meanwhile, kudos to INEC, kudos to the Nigerian people - and to President Goodluck Jonathan for truly having a largely hands-off, non-heavy-handed attitude towards INEC! That president's attitude should continue, despite the fact that GEJ and his political handlers must be doing serious arithmetic in the Villa at this time in preparation for April 16, as opposition parties have made significant inroads into the ruling party's political turf in the National Assembly elections of April 9, and have pulled quite a number of upsets against various various personalities, "principalities and powers" in Nigeria.
And there you have it.
April 11, 2011