On the 22nd of March at a consultative dialogue with the NBA, the INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega said: ‘For INEC, I can say categorically and convincingly that we are ready for the election, the question should be, are the lawyers and politicians ready?’ 11 days later, he has to eat his words: ‘…in order to maintain the integrity of the elections and retain effective overall control of the process, the Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly elections to Monday, April 4, 2011. I appeal to all Nigerians for their understanding in this difficult situation.’ Coming the day after April Fools’ Day, it seemed like an expensive joke. It wasn’t a joke, but it certainly was expensive. It has taken Nigeria nearly N150 billion ($1 billion)and a 2 month extension to get to this point as the elections were initially to hold in February to give more time to settle electoral disputes which may arise. The main issue was the lack of EC8A and EC8A (1) forms without which results cannot be recorded. Transportation of officials and materials was also a major issue throughout the country.
If problems could be solved by throwing money at them alone, much of Nigeria’s problems would be over. Instead, today’s failure (because that is what it is) when the eyes of whole world were focused on us (well, those that aren’t focused on Libya, Japan, Ivory Coast) is merely the latest and most dramatic failure of another government institution in this country. Indeed, it is easy to go for Jega’s jugular right now, but his acceptance of responsibility for today’s debacle is one of very few positives to draw on. It’s also easy to forget that he has inherited an electoral body made in the image of Maurice Iwu, a machine seemingly built to rig, which gave us one of the worst elections in any democratic country, anywhere, ever. I doubt we would have gotten a similar statement from Prof. Iwu had he still been chairman. We would have gotten cooked up results instead. Jega has said in the past that INEC needs to be reformed but you can’t undo 5 years of Iwu in less than 1 year.
This is however scant consolation to the millions who turned out to vote today, trying to make their voices heard. At least, they have another chance to participate in an exercise that while extremely costly, still has the chance for a minimum of credibility. Spare a thought also for the ad-hoc staff, who can’t just walk away from a polling booth after a false start. I am one of them. They bear the brunt of INEC’s logistic shambles in many ways, especially in terms of transportation to and from ward collation centres, polling units and the various INEC offices in the local governments. Many of the youth corpers in my ward had to walk to their units carrying election materials. Many also walked back. As I speak, not a kobo has been given any of my colleagues. No, it is not about money. It’s about taking care of those who do the dirty work. Hundreds of young people spent the night in and around local government HQs across Nigeria. Some slept on mats, some spent the night at guest houses, and some didn’t sleep.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the impressive use of twitter and other tools for reporting on the elections. Those reports were the first signs that things were going wrong across the country. We also saw those tools used to spread falsehood, most notable of which was the BBM broadcast that said both AC and ACN were on the ballot, both with the broom sign. I promptly refuted this on my own twitter page. The only way to counter such false information is by finding out and disseminating the truth.
So, it seems we will gather on Monday to do it all again. I personally think it’s too soon. I don’t know how possible it is to get result sheets to over 100,000 polling units in less than 48 hours, and the transportation issues remain. The party agents and ad-hoc staff will need to be paid. I’ll suggest that the National Assembly and Presidential elections hold together. I don’t know all the factors the INEC Chairman has to consider, but I’m sure he will take the right decision. No matter how difficult.
The price Nigeria is paying during this election cycle to get credible elections is a steep one. I am not alone in hoping that it is all worth it in the end.