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Nigeria and credible elections in 2011

Since he assumed office as Nigeria’s President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has maximised every opportunity at his disposal to express his administration’s determination to conduct credible election in 2011. But will this move succeed? Charles Ajunwa asks

The planned conduct of a credible election in 2011 seems to be President Goodluck Jonathan’s major challenge. To underscore the seeming importance of this exercise to the president, it has become his government’s article of faith.  Jonathan has consistently used every opportunity within his reach both within and outside Nigeria to reiterate his administration’s preparedness to ensure credible and transparent polls in 2011.

At last two week’s inauguration of the newly reconstituted Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the chairmanship of Professor Attahiru Jega at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Jonathan gave insight into how he hopes to achieve a credible election in 2011.

The president began by disclosing that the 2011 election will provide the country with the opportunity to re-invent itself by ensuring that elected officers emerge through free, fair and transparent processes adding that the time to start rebuilding the country through a good electoral process is now. Jega succeeds Professor Maurice Iwu, said to have conducted the worst election in Nigeria during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Jonathan was quick to add that most Nigerians believe that Nigeria’s electoral crisis is the reason for its underdevelopment and lack of confidence in those who  govern them. He called on Nigerians to do away with arbitrariness in the system which he said is holding the country to ransom.

Turning to Jega, Jonathan who described the scholar as a good man, charged the new INEC boss to use his radical background to bring about positive changes at INEC and simultaneously conduct a credible election that Nigerians will be proud of. He also informed him  that the whole world was looking up to him to restore dignity to Nigeria’s electoral system.

“I was quite excited when one newspaper described you as a radical and I’m happy that a radical is going to INEC to do positive things. Make sure that you don’t compromise that belief. Luckily, you are a professor of high repute. Your students are all watching you, whether you will stand by the principle you have been talking (about) in the classroom. Your colleagues that you have left (behind) are also watching you.

“I therefore expect Jega and his able team to meet the high standards that Nigerians and the rest of the world expect from them.This assignment is one of the most important jobs in our country and our citizens are keenly interested in its outcome. It is true that legitimacy is one of the fundamental building blocks that compel governments to accountability,”Jonathan said.

Apart from expectations from Jega and his team, Jonathan noted that the success or otherwise of the electoral body rests squarely on all Nigerians. According to him, people must act responsibly towards the electoral umpire with the rules and regulations of the game well obeyed. Jonathan went a step further to sound a note of warning to the effect that electoral misconduct would not be tolerated no matter the status or the political party of individuals involved.

But Jega who seemed not to be rattled by Jonathan’s long sermon, pledged that INEC under his headship would discharge its responsibility to the best of its abilities. A confident Jega who described his appointment as the greatest challenge of his life, boldly challeged Jonathan not to interfere in his job.

However, analysts believe that Jega’s open appeal to the president was meant to send a strong signal to the president that it will not be business as usual in INEC. They also interpreted it to mean that the Presidency was being categorically told to allow INEC to discharge its constitutional duty of conducting elections.

Hear Jega: “Mr. President, we know very well that this assignment given to us is an enormous and profoundly challenging one. Nigerians have great expectations on credible, free and fair election in 2011 and the whole world looks up to us to bring this about. I wish to assure you that we will work tirelessly to actualise this aspiration. We shall, by the grace of God, take adequate steps to ensure free, fair and credible election in 2011.

“We will work efficiently and effectively to ensure that all eligible voters are properly registered and properly enlightened on how to discharge their civic duties and we will ensure that each and every vote counts during elections. We will work as closely as the laws allow with political parties to institutionalise internal democracy in their affairs and responsible conduct in inter-party relations. We shall also work hard to ensure violence-free elections,” Jega promised.

Further, he said: “We trust that Mr. President, from all he has said and done, is fully committed to bringinging about free and fair election and we trust that Mr. President will work hard to guarantee our impartiality and neutrality as an independent electoral commission. May I therefore call upon all other heads of government agencies, especially the Police and security agencies, the Armed Forces and the judiciary, to please give us maximum co-operation in the discharge of our constitutional and legal mandate,” Jega added.

To succeed in his new assignment, Jega solicited support from all stakeholders for the electoral process.“I also solicit goodwill, support, co-operation and assistance of all stakeholders within our country and all friends of Nigeria and its development partners globally,” he stated.

Accordingly, Jega resumed duty last Monday and met with the staff of the commission. Apart from pledging to do his utmost best to ensure a credible, fair and free election in 2011, he also appealed for support from the international community.

“As I assume this office, with other national commissioners, personally, I will give it my best, everything possible to ensure that we respect the laws; we will remain neutral and impartial and we will do what is required of us as per the law in order to bring about free, fair and credible election in this country.

I also want to call on all our development partners to assist us in whatever way they can, so that we can ensure that all those who are registrable citizens are properly registered and also are properly enlightened so that they can discharge their responsibilities as citizens when the elections take place,”he said.

It would be recalled that Jonathan as Acting President in his acceptance speech ON February 9, this year, among other things, assured Nigerians of his government’s determination to uphold the sanctity of their electoral rights.

And after being sworn-in as the substantive President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Jonathan also reiterated his commitment to electoral reform, the fight against corruption and maintenance of peace in the Niger Delta. “Our total commitment to good governance, electoral reform and the fight against corruption would be pursued with greater vigour,” he stated.

Speaking on his commitment towards achieving credible elections in Nigeria during his recent visit to South Africa, Jonathan said his administration would lay solid foundations that would ensure that political office holders emerge through credible electoral processes in subsequent elections.

“We are determined to ensure that henceforth, no political office holder will suffer credibility issues regarding elections. From the next general election in 2011, Nigerians who will hold political offices, will be properly elected and it will be very clear to all, including international observers that they emerge through a credible process,” adding: “It is our collective responsibility to support Jega to succeed,” Jonathan said.

It would also be recalled that before the confirmation of Jega as INEC boss, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF),  had insisted that his nomination alone could not guarantee credible elections.The group said if the Federal Government continues to interfere in the activities of INEC, then the hope of having a credible election which Jonathan had promised may remain a mere wishful thinking.

ACF’s spokesman, Anthony N. Z. Sani, insisted that for INEC to achieve a free, fair and transparent election in 2011,  INEC must be allowed to exercise its maximum autonomy. ACF also stressed the need for quick release of funds to the commission to enable it prepare for the 2011 election.

“The new leadership of INEC requires more than goodwill or moral support to enable it deliver on the promise of credible elections. The speedy confirmation of nominated INEC functionaries, quick enactment of the electoral reforms and untramelled release of the needed financial resources, are also critical to the smooth conduct of credible elections in 2011. Such should therefore be in place without further delay, precisely because, for the INEC leadership, it is a race against time,” ACF said.

It is not only Nigerians that are keen on having credible polls in the country, the international community is also concerned. Against this background, the European Union (EU) recently asked Jonathan to go beyond mere talks about conducting a credible election in 2011 but to also take more practical actions that can ensure free and fair elections.
In a statement issued by EU delegation on behalf of the EU Head of Mission in Nigeria, the foreign body applauded Jonathan over the steps he has taken so far.

EU said: “Translating that top level determination into action within the short time-frame before elections will be a significant challenge, given the size of Nigeria’s multi-party democracy. The European Union is committed to supporting all efforts to address that challenge, provided that the political will of all Nigerian stakeholders is guaranteed.

“An important step has been taken in appointing a new INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) Chair and Board, which needs to be totally independent and impartial in order to gain the trust of the people. Other urgent actions are needed if adequate preparations are to be completed in time. These include the need for a clear, realistic plan and adequate budget for INEC to enable the register of 80 million voters to be overhauled.

“The European Union Heads of Mission call on all political and other leaders in Nigeria to take a prompt action to promote and ensure sound, peaceful, free and fair elections and to denounce violence. Nigeria plays a leading role in West Africa and beyond. An improvement in elections in line with internationally recognised standards will be important for the country’s international standing and would enhance democratic governance, bringing benefits for economic growth, alleviating poverty and tackling the causes of conflict,” the statement noted.

In the same vein, the outgoing United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms. Robin Renee Sanders, recently said that the United States government has every reason to believe Jonathan’s promise to conduct credible polls in 2011. According to Sanders, the US is trusting the assurance given by President Jonathan during his meeting with President Barack Obama.

But the question on the lips of many is how far can Jonathan go in the face of his multiple promises to conduct credible polls in 2011?