We want free and fair elections but let’s not oversimplify it because the task ahead is tough.
A lot has been written and said about our thirst for free and fair elections. As flawed as it may have been, the June 12, 1993 presidential election remains a reference point. However, the foundation for the success of that day was not laid on June 11, 1993. Now that Prof. Maurice Iwu has finally left the office of Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission and Prof. Attahiru Jega has taken office, we must all acknowledge that the leadership of INEC is only but one of other fundamentals for free and fair elections. Credible elections also depend on the attitude of our politicians and the electorate, the competitiveness of the process, the collusion of the security agencies and the responsibility index of the electoral body.
Many reasonable Nigerians regard Election Day as just another holiday and choose to remain at home on that day. In the rural areas, they would simply leave their homes as early as 4 a.m. to attend to the affairs of the belly because they do not want to go and vote for “you people to steal all our money”. Others will just cast their ballot and return home to do “other more important things”. This is the atmosphere that encourages the bad amongst our politicians and political operatives to manufacture the votes required to win. In some instances, these category of people disrupt the voting process if they suspect that the day could be a bad one at the office. In other cases in point, their irrational exuberance to satisfy Oga leads them to churn out results even before the cock crows on the day of voting. One thing that is most distasteful is that oftentimes times, the culprit political parties could actually have won the elections, fair and square, if the same resources deployed for rigging are diverted to rigorous campaigns instead.
Secondly, competitiveness will in itself imbue a better electoral process in an informed society. To even attempt to win an election, say a national election, a political party must have enough manpower to deploy at least 120,000 committed party agents to all the polling booths in Nigeria on voting day. How many political parties in Nigeria have the wherewithal to deliver this most fundamental of election monitoring? During the elections of 2007, only the PDP had party agents in my polling booth! So we need more serious political parties and we can get them. Then, there is the role of the security agencies. Enough said.
Finally, we have to look at the responsibility index of the electoral body itself. The Chairman is only but one man or woman. The main task of conducting free and fair elections lies in the hands and integrity of 36 Resident Electoral Commissioners in the states, 774 Electoral Officers in the Local Government Areas and thousands of staff of the electoral body scattered across the length and breadth of the country. Yes, the Chairman must motivate them to do it right but they should also motivate themselves for the common good. Even the task of updating (and correcting) the voters’ register which is central to the conduct of such elections is a massive exercise.
June 12 happened because, over the course of six years, the transition programme of the General Babangida administration had two big political parties with relatively equal strength, a credible voters’ register, a NEC Chairman that used the powers of oratory and the media to build an electoral body with patriotically motivated staff and a government with little or no interest in the winners and losers (and therefore no incentive to unleash the Army and the police on hapless voters). By the time we got there, June 12 that is, it was becoming a norm for our votes to count and be counted.
Sadly, the outlook for that June 12 encore is not very rosy at the present times due to the logistics nightmare of such an operation (much like organizing the Olympics, as a friend described it). But the INEC Chairman has come into office with a lot of goodwill from Nigerians. However, I fear that he may not be able to perform the magic of six years in six months. But like most Nigerians, I wish him all the best because we have great expectations.