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INEC and the 2011 elections in Nigeria

Last week, the INEC chairman spoke the minds of many discerning Nigerians, and observers across the globe: it is unreasonable to expect to plan and hold national elections within the three months stipulated. Or perhaps it should be said that elections can in fact hold, but free and fair elections, still a phenomenon in Nigerian politics are impossible in such a short period.

Of course, while Mr. Attahiru Jega was busy with this announcement, his principal, President Goodluck Jonathan, was putting final touches to his campaign launch, gathering thousands of Nigerians from across the country to outdo his primary rival in a show of strength as he declared for office. Without doubt, Mr. Jonathan was not one of those who saw a landmine waiting ahead with the elections scheduled for January.

There are actually two ways to look this. The first would be to take a cynic’s stance and wonder why an electoral commission chairman who first announced these dates has turned around to ask for an extension, calling to question his grasp of the breadth of his assignment. On the other hand however, and this is where we stand, one could endorse this call and cautiously praise Attahiru Jega and his team for taking a different path and being honest about the dangers of carrying on with business as usual.

The commission said clearly that it would need more time to conduct next year’s elections, following from its frequent complaints that the Electoral Act doesn’t allow it enough time and space to do a good job.

A statement by Paul Kaigama, the Commission’s secretary said, “Having examined the Commission’s detailed Action Plan for the voter registration and elections, the retreat noted that the timeline for the implementation of this plan is very tight.” Indeed, about five weeks to the advertised kickoff of voter registration, the commission is yet to officially name the IT firms that are to provide the 120,000 units of Direct Data Capture Machines, needed for the exercise.

The issue is simple: failing to plan, to use a cliché, is planning to fail. That much is clear everywhere else but here, where our federal government took its time releasing the funds the commission needed and the president allowed himself the luxury of three weeks to assent to the new Electoral Act, yet promised fair elections.

And sadly, an electorate used to an intransigent, unimaginative leadership swallowed this implausibility and looked up to God. As with our sports teams so with our politics. We pray and wish that our national flag bearers will outshine other teams on the playing fields of the world when they are grossly under prepared and deserve no such trophies. But Nigeria is not a game.

We shouldn’t have allowed this administration to railroad the country into an election a scant four weeks after emerging from a six month constitutional crisis that kept the country paralysed, and the rest of the world goggle eyed,

just so that politicians could focus on their one reason for being – grabbing the spoils of office. We should have resisted yet another move towards offering us mediocre polls and stagnating the progress of our national development and democracy.

Thankfully, the man on whose head the responsibility lies has taken a clear eyed look at the issues on the ground and succeeded in doing what some of his predecessors never could, which would account in some part for why past elections were so flawed. Even when faced with clear bobby traps as well as abundant evidence of impossibility, they marched on nonetheless – either to keep their jobs or because they really didn’t appreciate the challenges associated with planning elections for a country of 150 million.

Now that the INEC chairman, who still enjoys goodwill as a man of some integrity, has given legitimacy to this matter, it is incumbent on Nigerians to seize upon this admission and pile whatever pressure we can to make sure that the elections we get this time are worth their weight in paper.

INEC has identified the biggest impediment to the success of its plans. The commission has promised to obtain advice on how to constitutionally get an extension of time to enable it conduct reasonably fair elections.

Nigerians need to pay attention to this. Let’s not be blindsided by promises that we have heard many times before. There are at the moment no visible plan’s to match the president’s promise of fair elections with action. We must take charge of our nation’s destiny, ourselves.