Monday, April 04, 2011

Nigeria: The Giant of Africa, Indeed

UPDATED AT Mon Apr, 04 2011

Nigeria: The giant of Africa, indeed

Ikechukwu Amaechi ,

Nigeria is in the news again for the very wrong reason. Professor Attahiru Jega, the highly overrated Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and his co-travellers on the boulevard of incompetence chose, when all eyes were on the country, to confirm Nigeria’s “big-for-nothing” rating. We throw our weight around as the giant of Africa, yet, we are unable to perform even the simplest of tasks that less endowed countries take for granted.

I arrived London Saturday morning at about the same time accreditation of voters in the National Assembly elections started. And the buzz in town was about “Africa’s big election.” You can then imagine the disappointment when Jega cancelled the polls which had already started in some places because he suddenly realised that he had revved the engine of an electoral process that had no oil. Of course, the engine went kaput even before it started. The INEC Chairman will go down in history as an umpire who started an election without materials as critical as result sheets.

On Sunday, Joe Kibazo, a Uganda diplomat and media consultant, who was in Abuja for the Presidential debate which NN24 television organised, could not help but wonder aloud why Nigeria, “A country with some of the best brains any country in the world can boast of and huge resources finds it difficult to make the two – human and material resources – work for her.”

The INEC Chairman hinged the cancellation on “unanticipated emergency.”

According to him, “The result sheets are central to the elections and their integrity. Accordingly, in many places, our officials have not reported at the polling units, making it now difficult to implement the Modified Open Ballot Procedure that we have adopted. Not only do we have to enter the results in the sheets, the number of accredited voters is also to be entered in the result sheet. While we could have proceeded with the elections in a few States of the country, where all the materials are available, such as Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu, among others, 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.”

Some people have pleaded for understanding, applauding what they called Jega’s “rare ability to apologise for such lapses.” That can only happen in Nigeria where fools are suffered gladly.

But I refuse to hitch a ride on that hypocritical wagon because I don’t see how the man could be exonerated from this huge national embarrassment. If anything, he is the chief culprit. Worse still, he has not been honest with Nigerians. As at the time Jega issued a statement on Friday assuring Nigerians and indeed the whole world that he was set for the elections, some of the sensitive electoral materials were yet to arrive Nigeria. In fact, some only arrived on the day of the election at about 6a.m.

Even before the statement on Friday, he had already claimed in a meeting he held with editors in Abuja on Wednesday that, “We in the INEC are ready and prepared.”

If Jega was aware that most of the sensitive materials essential for the smooth conduct of the polls hadn’t arrived the country as at Friday, why was he assuring Nigerians that every arrangement had been concluded? Why didn’t he call off the elections at that stage to save the political parties and the country the huge cost of the false start? Even if we concede to him that he was sure the contractors would deliver on Saturday morning, how did he intend to distribute them for elections that were to start by 8a.m?

For instance, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in President Jonathan’s home state, Bayelsa, Edwin Nwatarali, said the materials arrived Yenagoa, the state capital, from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, at about 9.30a.m.

So, how and when did he plan to get them distributed to Yenagoa, Ogbia, Sagbama, Ekeremor, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Southern Ijaw, Nembe and Brass, the state’s eight local government councils, most of them with treacherous terrain?

Did the INEC Chairman tell the President the difficulties the Commission was having? When he attended the National Council of State meeting last week, what did he tell them? Even if he did not want to orchestrate a national hysteria by announcing publicly that he was not prepared for the polls as some people claim, he should have quietly informed those that ought to know. That he did not means that he either believed the elections could indeed be conducted without the materials or he deliberately took Nigerians for a jolly good ride.

Whichever is the case, Jega has exhibited gross irresponsibility because this goes beyond being incompetent. It is good that he apologised.

But what problem does his apology solve? Is the apology enough assurance that the worst is behind us? Nothing on the ground engenders that optimism. There is no evidence that all the sensitive materials have come in. It is good that the political parties ensured that the election timetable was adjusted but there are rumours that the contract for the presidential election ballot papers was only re-awarded on Friday. If that is true, then there is every reason to be apprehensive.

But besides Jega, if there is any reason for Nigerians to terminate PDP’s hold on power, the election fiasco of last Saturday is it. Just like the INEC Chairman, PDP, after 12 years in power, has failed the country woefully and it will be imponderable that Nigerians will contemplate rewarding such colossal failure with renewed mandate.

If a country like Nigeria cannot print sensitive but simple election materials at home, then PDP has no reason to remain in power. This election must be a referendum on the ruling party. Maybe, the party and its leaders have done their best for the country. But, truth be told, their best is not good enough and mediocrity has never lifted any nation.

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