Election postponement: Never again!
NIGERIANS may have borne the insult with admirable equanimity, even with some hope that something good would be the outcome of their long wait and delay. But let Professor Attahiru Jega and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as well as President Goodluck Jonathan and his security advisers not be in any doubt that with the postponement of the 2015 elections by six weeks, Nigerians have been mightily insulted.
The nation has been so contemptuously taken on such a merry-go-round of untold embarrassment. And never again should it happen. Nigeria went through a lot of pains before regaining her footing in democracy, 16 years ago. Any act capable of reversing the progress so far made or even alter, however slightly, the journey, be it out of incompetence of institutions or inordinate ambition of persons, is reprehensible and unacceptable.
As apprehension and fear gave way to disappointment and forlornness over the polls, the ominous uncertainty surrounding the electoral process took a turn for the worse with that six-week postponement till March 28 and April 11 by Jega, the INEC chairman. He had ascribed the delay to inadequate security cover, even as the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), had a few days earlier, suggested a possible postponement on account of INEC’s unpreparedness. Curiously, Professor Jega told the Council of State too that he needed more time but did not tell the Press that when he briefed on postponement. The outrage already expressed by Nigerians and the international community in the last few days speaks volume of the mess that the shift is and how low the credibility of INEC has descended. That mess must now be cleared with credible polls on the new dates.
But far more than anger or anything else it engendered, the sudden postponement remains an impudent assault on the collective aspirations of the Nigerian people as well as a national embarrassment considering the fact that the world was literally waiting with bated breath on Nigeria and international observers had organised and stationed themselves to monitor elections from February 14.
And, surely, it should elicit suspicion when Nigerians take time to ask a few pertinent questions: At what point did it appear to those concerned that security arrangements for the elections were inadequate? What is the implication of this scenario for the reputation of the country and of the armed forces?
Firstly, the postponement, with all its after-currents, tends to have lowered Nigerians’ ability to live down mistakes. Years of broken promises by the government and the consequent mistrust on the part of the people have tended to tighten their threshold of tolerance to such a point that Nigerians are unaccommodating, if not outright apathetic of government’s actions and directives, however genuine such may seem.
Secondly, the postponement reflects the heightened state of impunity and indecorous professional conduct in government circles. That the government could violate its hierarchy of authority, when the President’s National Security Adviser first elected to suggest a postponement to a foreign audience, hints of an imprudent display of statecraft. Pray, on whose authority and on what basis did a staff officer of the Presidency speak in that manner? Notwithstanding the situation, as the ethos of modern democracies demand, the military cannot tell the nation what it (the military) cannot do, rather it should only state its needs for carrying out the directives given it by the state. Which is what makes the excuse that the elections were postponed because of security agencies’ claim of inability to provide the said security, all the more puzzling!
The motive apart, the execution of the postponement advertises a certain violation of presidential protocol, for it exposes a communication break in the leadership chain; a faux pas that inappropriately privileges one position and undermines another. Be that as it may, those who allegedly posit security reasons as a vacillation tactics are not only expressing the helplessness of the Commander-in-Chief via the Minister of Defence, they are also breaching the command structure. All in all, the impression created is that the President is being held hostage by the service chiefs or their cohorts and that he seems to be unable to supervise the process.
This being the case, where has the present state of affairs left Nigeria? What are the prospects of the forthcoming elections? How does the nation go about this challenge?
Not only must the elections hold as rescheduled, Jega should use the opportunity to redeem his image and that of INEC by reclaiming the people’s trust. It appears that a dark cloud of mistrust now overshadows the polity and Nigerians cannot have elections when they have no trust in the electoral commission. INEC must, therefore, produce a detailed map of what it wants to do, and then tell Nigerians how it intends to do it in the remaining five weeks.
Already the security line of reasoning has been argued ineffectively to absurdity. When, in 2010, an inter-agencies committee for election security was set up, Jega was the head of that committee. So he could not have been taken unawares by the security situation of the country. If he chooses to convince Nigerians along this line of thought, then he is exploiting the precarious state of insecurity as a cover-up for INEC’s incompetence and unpreparedness. This is very unfair.
As it is true that verification of voters would require card readers, it is right to ask whether these card readers are available in sufficient numbers, and whether the electoral officers who will man the equipment have been trained. More than that, Jega ought to apologise to Nigerians for hiding under the dubious security cover to shift the elections when as it now turns out, his commission was grossly unready. INEC is still to complete the distribution of the Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVC), and has not undertaken a dry run of the process. How does he expect Nigerians to be confronted with a trial and error system of voting on Election Day? Ignoble as the election shift may be, it is evidently a gift to INEC, even though Jega refused to acknowledge this.
As for the election and post-election security, there is need for proper organisation of the security forces with a view to making each unit do its duty to Nigeria. There is need for systematic alignment of the security operations, such that all the different services and even regimental units would do their assigned job. To do this would require the emergence of committed, patriotic officers, who would marshal out a deployment plan for the election. And to contain the Boko Haram threat before, during and after the elections, Nigeria needs a tough, strong commanding officer at the helm of operations.
Now that the elections have been postponed, it is instructive that Nigerians remain committed to order and democracy, taking the development in their strides, even if with a mixture of distress and relief. Nigerians have comported themselves with utmost civility and patient forbearance. This gesture demands reciprocal action from the government and INEC.
Having got the six weeks they requested to satisfactorily conduct elections, Jega and INEC should understand that they got the six-week reprieve at an extreme cost and pain to Nigerians. The extension was obtained through a debasement of the sensibilities and an irreverent infringement on the collective psyche of Nigerians. Thus, Jega should have some respect for the people whose trust he seemed to have betrayed by this obnoxious change of gear. He should, on his personal integrity and honour, ensure that these elections hold as scheduled on March 28 and April 11, this year.
The government must also realise that the national, political and psychological cost of this postponement is high. Since his advice on the state of insecurity was adduced as reason for the postponement of the election, Col. Dasuki, having serially gone beyond his brief as an adviser to the President, should retrace his steps and recognise that he is not the chief security officer of the country. That brief is the President’s who executes it through the Minister of Defence. That office in conjunction with the Ministry of the Interior which supervises other security agencies like the Immigration, Customs, Civil Defence, and so on, should ensure total security for the elections. Dr. Jonathan as President and Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s armed forces, must, on his honour, ensure that adequate security is provided for the conduct of a free, fair and peaceful election.
By their resolve to act with a modicum of patriotism at this critical period of Nigeria’s political history, the dramatis personae can write their own names in gold and save the country the odium of failure. Should they choose to do otherwise, history will also be there to judge.
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