Monday, 4 April 2011

Nigeria: In Support of Attahiru Jega of INEC

This is an opinion piece that brings together a number of issues and events concerning service and politics in Nigeria.

The call to service

The postponement of the Nigerian elections might have been quite embarrassing but one needs to dig below the surface to the workings of INEC, beyond the reactionary calls for the resignation of its chairman to see what we are up against.

This is not the first time that a well-renowned, respected and reputable Nigerian has been called to take on a dysfunctional national organisation and found that the system in place is immune to any change that might fit with the aspirations of the new leader and the ideals that might have informed the person to take on such an onerous role.

There is every likelihood that the existing system would at first attempt to subsume and assimilate the new entrant, but if that fails the new entrant relying on lieutenants not of their choosing may be fraught at every step with difficulties in getting their agenda working.

Reputations at stake

One typical instance was that of Professor Adenike Grange who as a health practitioner was held in the highest esteem globally when she was appointed as the Minister of Health. There is every possibility that she would have had done amazing things for Nigeria’s moribund healthcare delivery system with failing hospitals, high maternal mortality and the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately, she never really got to leave her mark but found herself fighting for her reputation less than a year into her tenure when a directive from the Presidency to return funds to the Treasury was ignored as her lieutenants shared out the largesse as Christmas bonuses taking the lion’s share for themselves.

She no doubt tried to isolate herself from the “business as usual” setting of her ministry but as the most senior political appointee with responsibility for running that ministry she got swept away in the enveloping maelstrom, her integrity suffering a great battering.

A corrupt enterprise so foul

Now, at INEC, I will not be surprised that INEC under Professor Iwu the erstwhile chairman was endemically corrupt to the core, the system seethed with every rotten boil of incompetence, it single-handedly impugned the name of Nigeria in the global scene on matters of democracy and the conduct of elections that we never had a voice out of overwhelming shame to help resolve the electoral crises in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

For a country that has prided itself in being the giant of Africa by reason of population, resources, potential and means, we are so deafeningly silent it was more than an embarrassment, we writhed and squirmed as we watched fellow Africans use our poor example of rotten elections as a template for theirs.

It was this organisation that Professor Attahiru Jega was called to lead in June 2010 with elections previously scheduled to run in January 2011. He had to hit the ground running with literally no time to radically reform, restructure or remould the institution he had inherited to fit the promise of free, fair and credible elections that he most desperately wants to deliver to Nigerians.

The job to hand

He first had to convince our National Assembly that holding elections in January were a completely unrealistic goal if credible elections were to be expected. Until he got the go-ahead to run the elections in April he had the job of creating a new voters register and publishing an electoral timetable.

It was quite evident that the original timeframe for January was completely impracticable at best and it presaged elections that would make those of 2007 look almost acceptable.

One can only speculate about the political capital that was expended in getting the elections moved to April by those whose comforts of remuneration in our National Assembly would have preferred to be returned whilst allowing others to take the blame for flawed elections.

Nigeria is at best of times a logistically handicapped country, with unreliable infrastructure and systems oiled with corruption and graft. Getting anything done for altruistic purposes as a matter of good professional conduct might be nigh impossible but people still attempt to wade through the swamp infested with leeches and grafters who deign to collect all the way to the expected outcomes.

Professor Attahiru Jega already had the poisoned chalice; we could only hope that his immune system harboured the antidote as he drank from it.

Changes, not superficial

In 9 months, at great cost which we should not forget but within that timeframe he has had the Electoral Act modified, rescheduled the electoral timetable, registered over 73 million Nigerians to vote and is about to conduct elections that change a great deal of what we were used to.

The registration with 10 fingerprints was to eliminate multiple registrations of which almost 800,000 were found and some of the culprits are being prosecuted.

INEC usually employed public service staff who could be co-opted into electoral malpractice locally, this time it was the National Youth Service Corps called to service of their nation with the knowledge that they have no local affiliations to be easily employed in delivering crooked elections.

The tendering process for equipment and materials that many of the INEC staff might have thought would be a source to corrupt enrichment was quite transparent and somewhat put out of their reach that a good few INEC bigwigs would have been miffed.

In another quest for credible elections, as one news story suggests Professor Jega was planning to have eminent Nigerians announce the results; this would have eliminated the possibility of Regional Electoral Commissioners being able to cook up figures that get announced and set off a whole series of litigations and electoral malpractice tribunals to deal with discrepancies between results on the ground and those announced.

Such eminent Nigerians would probably have asked to see the complete paper trail and chain of custody through to the tallying and collation process before putting their names to such an activity.

Give this man a chance

I believe Professor Jega was doing the best with the cards he was dealt and I would not be surprised if false assurances he got from his reports about capability and readiness were done to thwart the process, embarrass him and probably bring him to heel so that he gets with the system or he is compelled in exasperation to resign.

In my view, Professor Jega should not resign but with the resolution that he has given to tackle this issue of elections do everything he needs to do deliver credible elections with the support of every well-meaning Nigerian.

In two Twitter messages yesterday from the @INECNigeria account after the announcement to postpone the elections again, another announcement was made summoning all INEC seniors to the headquarters in Abuja on Tuesday.

INEC has summoned all state RECs, Directors of ICT, and Directors of Operations to the INEC Headquarters. This summons is for a review of logistics and lapses that accounted for the postponement of the elections. This meeting is on Tuesday.

Maybe heads would roll

Summons are a much stronger word than invites, I doubt Professor Jega is planning for a love-in, rather, some people would get a stern telling-off with the risk of being exposed as one of those whose activities are inimical to the progress of Nigeria.

One would hope that heads would roll because certain RECs have been let go of, some redeployed and even a Director of ICT was involved in some illegalities.

INEC could not in the timeframe of Professor Jega’s appointment and impeding elections have undergone a radical root and branch transformation but I trust what the chairman can do, he will do to ensure that these elections do not go sour on his watch.

I believe Professor Attahiru Jega deserves our unstinting support in taming the INEC beast that has been tasked with delivering the finery of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria in 2011.


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