Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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Check out the names and careers of those who presided over electoral matters in Nigeria before now: Eyo Esua, eminent teacher and trade unionist; Michael Ani, a civil servant who served with distinction and went into retirement; Victor Ovie-Whiskey, upright and non-partisan Chief Judge of the old Bendel State; Eme Awa, eminent professor of Political Science; Humphrey Nwosu , eminent Professor of political science; Prof. Okon Uya a distinguished professor of history; Sumner Dagogo Jack, a celebrated professor of Medicine in the United States; Justice Ephraim Akpata, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Sir Abel Guobadia, administrator, diplomat and retired public servant, Professor Maurice Iwu, a professor of pharmacognosy .
Each of these people came to head INEC after an unblemished, stainless career. But it looks like there is something of a jinx in the INEC chair. Their careers were shattered at INEC.
This explains partly why I did not share in the global jubilation that followed the nomination of Prof Attahiru Jega as Chairman INEC by President Goodluck Jonathan on June 8 2010.
The jubilation was justified on the antecedents of the political science professor. As the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU in the early 90’s, he led a spirited fight against the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida. He went on to carve an image for himself as an intellectual committed to ethics and morality. Enviable qualities you may say, but not enough to have a good job done at INEC, I thought.
In the run up to the 2011 elections, it became clear even to Jega that a good name and good intentions were not enough for his task. For instance 24 hours to ballot time, INEC announced that it could not conduct elections into 15 senatorial and 48 House of Representatives constituencies across the country because it was still battling to print ballot papers! Thus began Jegas election saga with endless stories about ‘come today come tomorrow for electoral materials.’ Not an impressive start but certainly a simple explanation of the difference between grand theory and simple practice.
The election soon took off after the false starts and I soon developed real fears about the future of Nigeria. I cannot remember the exact words I used, but my senior colleague, Abdulkarim Albashir keeps reminding me of my words in this column in 2011 that the elections of that year would take us back to 1914. In my estimation, that is what it did: North vs South. The proposal to create additional polling units in the country last year brought out this point. The Southern Peoples Assembly came out with a belligerent and inflammatory statement pointedly identifying Prof Jega and Dr Yakubu as “architects of this voodoo and arbitrary” creation and allocation of polling units.
In their strident words: “the people of Southern Nigeria and indeed the Southern Nigerian Peoples Assembly view this invidious act as a script perfected for Professor Jega to implement, in continuation of the well known hegemonic agenda, by well-known enemies of our hard won democracy. The people of Southern Nigeria are not only appalled but strongly reject Prof Jegas claims and averment, whatever may have motivated this very callous, insensitive, desperate, oppressive and inconsonant decision to give the North a clear political advantage over the South contrary to the reality on the ground.”
In reaction, Prof. Jega addressed a press conference at which he listed six reasons to explain why INEC’s decision to embark on the exercise were not “whimsical” as claimed by its traducers. These he gave as: “decongesting overcrowded polling units and dispersing voters as evenly as possible; locating polling units more effectively within commuting distances of voters, given that movement is usually restricted on Election Day; relocating the polling units in front of private houses, and such unsuitable places, to public buildings or where this is not possible, to public open spaces where tents can be provided; locating the polling units inside classrooms or such other suitable enclosures, in line with international best practices; splitting the polling units such that they have an average of 500 registered voters; and creating additional polling units to cater for the splitting of large polling units as well as new settlements not serviced by existing polling units.”
Contrally to the claims by the leaders of the Southern Peoples Assembly that Jega had “whimsically” created and allocated 30,000 new polling units, the INEC boss revealed that no such units had been created. All that has happened so far is that INEC has approved the framework and guidelines to facilitate the creation of these additional units. This was done in collaboration with the Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation which produced maps and scientific basis for the practical exercise ahead.
Polling units (Jega explained) constitute a mere structural arrangement to ease the access of voters to the ballot box. They have nothing to do with determining the preferences of voters in making their electoral choices. In fact the places we are putting in place will bring polling units out to places where they can be accessed more easily – not only by voters, but by polling agents of political parties and election observers as well. This will enhance, rather than detract from the integrity of the exercise.”
I left the venue of the press conference convinced that INEC under Jega had stopped the tendency of pitching the north against the south. I was also convinced that his approach was scientific and not “whimsical”. It was in that belief that I wrote ‘Jega Has Come of Age’, published September 15 last year. To my utter disbelief, INEC announced a few days after the publication of my column that its program of new polling units which I so stoutly defended had been abandoned – officially. I asked myself if the people in INEC believe in nothing? Are they spineless or something?
And now this vexed issue of the Presidential poll; to be or not to be in two weeks time? Dasuki Sambo the National Security Adviser (NSA) says INEC cannot distribute the papers in the time left. My little understanding of the job description of the NSA is that he has all information on national security matters. To the extent that some people are threatening to levy war on Nigeria over this particular election makes it very much a security event. The office of the NSA is a serious office and it will be a tragedy if it becomes a rumour mongering square and the NSA himself a mere rumour peddler.
Jega on the other hand says we should disregard Sambo and that come February 14, he is ready. I find it difficult to swallow his bait. Twice he has promised and twice he failed me. What if we turn up on the 14th and the same Jega, as he has done before tells us to go home? The times we are in call for a strong chairman like Ani who braved through the 12/2/3 wahala at INEC. This is not the time for a confused and vacillating man like Ovie Whiskey who mismanaged the 1983 election and led us to an avoidable coup.
Editor’s note: This column, our readers, must have noticed, did not appear for nearly 4 weeks. This was because the writer, Emmanuel Yawe, was hospitalized all of that period. Today we’re happy he is back.