“Shambolic and a mockery” – those are the words used to describe the recently concluded PDP primaries for the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Yes, no need to ask, it was the losers who described it as a sham and I am pretty sure that those who won think it was a wonderfully managed process. So far the news from the other parties is the same – chaotic, badly organized, not enough materials, holding delegates hostage, using fake delegates and on and on…and this is only the primaries. Some of the primaries went on through out the night and into the morning; no wonder there are not more women involved in politics. And this is not taking the violence, the assassinations, the bomb blasts and the maiming into consideration. Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs want to take back his indignation over Ambassador John Campbell’s prognosis that Nigeria’s democracy is not likely to survive the 2011 elections?
No one needs to be a prophet or a seer to tell that these elections are heading straight for the edge of a cliff and unless something changes quickly, we are all going to topple over and fall. My first inkling that these elections were not going to be different from past elections was the decision of INEC to ‘delegate’ the voter education campaign to the National Orientation Agency. Who? Exactly. Never heard of or from them before.
Every election is about administration. It is about keeping tracking, monitoring, accounting, checking and cross checking, timing, counting, verifying, delivering, checking and cross checking; it is about project management and somehow we just can’t seem to get elections right on any level. One definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Sort of like the way people in Kwara State keep selling their votes to the Sarakis’ for the short term gain of filling their stomachs for a few months (or however long a bag of rice lasts) and wondering why their State is barely developed save a few roundabouts and lots of banks.
It is this type of madness that keeps the Nigerian executive arm in the reiterative trap of hiring judges or academics as Chairmen of the Independent National Electoral Commission despite the sad track record of past chairmen in managing elections. Section 14 of the Third Schedule of the old 1999 Constitution is silent on any requirement apart from insisting that the Chairman must be no younger than 50 years old. So what is it about the responsibilities of the Chairman of INEC that makes judges and professors the ideal match? Are judges good at mobilizing? At keeping track of minute details such as the large number of polling booths and matching this to the voter registration centers and the number of people registered at each center and how that translates into the number of ballot papers each center needs? Are professors skilled at managing the political process? (Okay, there is so much rivalry and backbiting in academia that they just might be suited for this part of the job) Can a professor manage a large field force of over 1000 employees not including the contractors vying for jobs, the civil servants in his employment who are bent on doing things their ‘own way’ and the hundreds of volunteers and civil society organisations? I don’t think so. So why do we keep getting them to manage our electoral process? Because corruption is so engrained in our psyche we think the key to efficient and fair elections are so-called incorruptible men. Not so. Everyone is corruptible; we just need those who hold an extremely non negotiable high premium to their conscience. We need Field Marshalls and Generals, trained in the art of war campaigns and strategy, who know how to mobilize their battalions and make sure the ammunition is where it is supposed to be and the troops have their equipment and are primed to go.
This time last week, with only five days to the start of the voters’ registration process, the same registration process we are sacrificing a month of our children’s education for, we still had no idea where we were to go to get registered. The radio airways were silent, the newspapers bereft of any relevant information and not even a flyer was bobbing aimlessly in the wind. What are the arrangements? How long, approximately, would it take each person to register? What was the average wait time at each center? Did we need any identification to get registered?
On INEC’s website, under the menu on the left, ‘Publications’ has a link to “Registration Areas Nationwide’. The title is misleading. The link takes you to a Portable Document Format (PDF) file which lists the Wards under each Local Government without providing any addresses e.g., for Abia North Local Government some of the Wards are Osusu I, Osusu II etc. Let me put this in perspective using Eti Osa Local Government which has Victoria Island I and Victoria Island II. Now where on earth is the actual registration taking place within VI? Is it at Bar Beach? Or at Bonny Camp? Way to go INEC, now let’s see how long it will take to break down this information and actually provide addresses. In the meantime…wasn’t one of the reasons primary and secondary schools were closed because school buildings were going to be used? Then why is it so hard to share the address of these schools with us?
Professor Jega insisted that Nigeria needed to compile a new voters register because the entire basis of a free and fair election rested on this. If the preparations for the registration so far are anything to go by, with missing, stolen, now not stolen data capturing machines and the lack of basic information about the registration process then we can expect a shambolic mockery of elections in 2011.
We need to stop being so disorganised in our affairs and accept that if we do not stop doing things the ‘Nigerian’ way we are never going to move forward. There is still a little time to pull things around and stop acting mad – doing the same things over and over again and insanely thinking ‘e go better’. It is never going to get better if something does not change…so we are hopeful, waiting and watching.
Jan. 12, 2011