For years, maybe forever, his biggest success has been, and might continue to be Nigeria’s biggest electoral failure. But from 1pm on Saturday, Prof Maurice Iwu could walk on the streets of his hometown in Imo state a proud man. He has every reason to pomp champagne and have a good laugh after watching and listening to his highly revered successor–Prof Atahiru Jega–announce on international, national and local TVs, radios, websites and blogospheres the rebranded INEC’s “highly regretted” inability to go ahead with what is supposed to be the easiest-of-all-elections in Nigeria considering the fact that most Nigerians are not interested in the National Assembly elections. When the Times journalist confronted the electoral commission chairman on Nigeria’s inability to organize hitch-free elections, I was embittered as a true Nigerian. But come to think of it, she has a point. And Maurice, for now, is discharged and acquitted. Now I understand why he got a national award. He didn’t chicken out like apparently trembling Jega.
I would have empathized with Jega in his current dilemma, just like most online warriors; but when you consider some issues, you’ll agree with me that Jega brought this upon himself. He failed to heed the warning signs, didn’t prepare well enough, is pathologically optimistic, unaware of some pressing challenges at the polling booths, and above all, he’s not telling the whole truth. Or wetin concern Japan earthquake with Nigerian elections?
Yesterday was April Fool Day, but twenty fours later, we’re still making fool of ourselves in full public glare. When INEC’s much needed funds weren’t forthcoming, Jega spoke eloquently on the floor of the National Assembly on why money shouldn’t stand in the way of the general elections. He literally scared the lawmakers to their underwear with threatening facts of what could happen if money wasn’t released on time, or slashed. Hapless and helpless through it all, the legislators approved the funds, reviewed the constitution almost three times in a week, and allowed Jega to have his way considering the sacred nature of the responsibility he’s been saddled with – the success of which Nigerians desire more than stable electricity, peace in the Niger Delta and repaired Benin-Ore/Lagos-Ibadan express roads. It was therefore an immiscible mixture of fun and suspicion for the man who gallantly ensured that his agency got all the cash it needed to come on national TV with a Blame-it-on-me Sunday morning sermon on leadership qualities which sounded more like a desperate psychological effort to downplay public condemnation of his commission’s massive failure right at the outset.
I visited some polling stations in Ibadan on Saturday morning, hours before Jega delivered his well prepared nationally aired sorry speech. Despite the fact that INEC staffs arrived late, the process had gone underway smoothly in several places visited such that voters cried foul play when they heard that their efforts had been in futility. At Ward 8 in Ibadan North Local Government for instance, hundreds of voters at the various polling stations had cast their votes. With the turn of events, how will they believe INEC’s claim that materials just got flown in at 9am Saturday morning? They expect a better excuse.
At some polling stations, some skirmishes were observed that Jega didn’t even mention in his address. In one of the polling centers, hundreds of voters with valid INEC voting cards couldn’t find their names on the voters’ list maybe as a result of the publicized Bodija hotel’s insertion and deletion process. Also at several centers, electoral workers weren’t seen at their duty posts on time, some didn’t even show up at all! The list of problems is quite lengthy, yet Jega does not seem to be aware of, or perturbed by them. All he did was to put the blame on the contracted “vendor”. This blame trade game arouses suspicions.
When INEC’s money wasn’t released on time, Jega screamed deadlines on headlines. But why didn’t he notify us on Thursday when the electoral materials were expected to have arrived? He kept the situation off record and like he said, he “hoped” the materials would get to Nigeria on Friday. He knew that the materials weren’t available at the expiration of official hours on Friday yet he didn’t cry out loud. Now he’s gotten us on the same inglorious highly criticized threshold we were in 2007.
We might argue that Jega wants everything to be in order, but we can’t close our eyes to the starring fact that he just gave politicians an arsenal with which they can complicate and heat up the polity. One of such is the ballot paper.
The ballot paper is like WAEC’s examination question papers that are only revealed when the examination is about to start – anything short of this would result in examination leakage. Even in the midst of examination leakages, WAEC, NECO, JAMB and other examination bodies can set new questions. But when it comes to elections, especially in a country like ours with a rich replete history of political frauds, revealing the ballot papers before the election that will count is more a less a dress rehearsal for the politicians, and a priceless aid in the hands of their computer experts who are bound to print millions of copies of the ballot papers, thumbprint and distribute them even before sunset on Saturday!
I’m not a politician but I’ve heard a full description of what the ballot paper being used in Ogun state looks like, right in my room in Ibadan. And we should be rest assured that every politician has it. If the description I heard is anything to go by, designing and printing the ballot paper should be a piece of cake with the aid of Corel Draw Graphics Suite 12. Moreover, what will happen to the ballot papers and other materials that were distributed today? Are they all accounted for, or do we need to amend the constitution to get clarification? Rumors have it that the preempted confusion is the commission’s responsibility in aiding the ruling party’s “big plans” for the general elections. No one can refute the claim, not even Jega whose hands are getting soiled every second he delays the elections.
The Japan connection is another suspicion arousal. During the 2003 elections, there were SARS epidemic crisis everywhere, yet jets loaded with our electoral materials weren’t diverted elsewhere. Moreover, the earthquake and tsunami are over and Japan is rebuilding, why will Japan need our jet? Also, only terrorists hijack airplanes without prior knowledge. Hence if Japan really needed the aircraft, I believe requests would have been made ahead since the emergencies are over. Moreover, there are aircrafts elsewhere that weren’t meant for electoral assignments, what is special about this particular aircraft that Japan relief developed interest in it?
We have fleet of aircrafts available to Mr. President and Nigerian Air Force (I suppose). Had Jega talk on time, one would have been made available to him, not to mention those of prominent Nigerians who are also advocates of free and fair elections. It’s therefore clear that we weren’t told everything that happened.
This is where my fear lies for the ongoing electioneering process.
I expected political melodramas from the politicians, not from INEC, or Jega for that matter! This incidence caught everyone unawares. Never in our wildest imagination did we ever think of having our election’s credibility in question, even before the actual voting began. Our quest for credible elections had made us overlook the numerous exigencies of the Jega-led INEC since we believed that the end will surely justify the means. We trusted him to have our backs, and to ensure that everything goes smoothly. But with the incidence of Saturday, it’s clear that Jega is not a superman, and his INEC is not fault-proof; yet our request remains unchanged – we want credible elections.
While I would have loved to continue to point out the numerous dangerous implications of INEC’s Saturday misdemeanors, I cannot but agree with Joseph (an online friend) who wrote: “Let’s pray for Jega. Whatever changed Iwu to wuru wuru should not change Jega to Jaga Jaga”. In Nigerian electoral lexicons, wuru wuru means something is happening but not credible, while jaga jaga means nothing is happening at all . . . no headway.