Sunday 22 April 2007

Commending the civic Nigerian

Arise, O Compatriots

First, I must commend ordinary Nigerians, for their longsuffering, unquenchable hope, infectious optimism and sense of civil duty.

The vote was arranged and despite the rotten lack of preparation and planning that would outrage any paying customer, they went out to their local polling stations queued up, waited and eventually some got served, they voted and moved on, they had done their part.

The next level of optimism is in expecting that single vote to count along with all other legitimate votes to produce the for majority will of the people, that person that has ministered the prospective best for Nigeria or the probably aspiration to improving the lot of Nigerians.

I got a feel of this expectation and hope when I spoke to my mum yesterday morning, she was half-hoping her vote would count and half-worried that whatever counts would not produce a mandate accountable to Nigerians, such that the elected once in office would go out to line their pockets as those before them.

The coverage

The BBC and CNN gave considerable coverage to the elections in Nigeria all through the day and I had a suspicious feeling that this was as a result of the shameless gaffe of the Chairman of the INEC when he let out on Friday that the ballot papers were still in South Africa.

It is interesting to note that Nigeria seemingly does not have the kind of facilities secure enough to produce sensitive ballot papers keep those under wraps till needed, for a country that has such a large number of law enforcement agents and armed forces, one would have thought; first a secret location for the activity would be found, then a rotation of personnel would keep the place secure.

However, one might surmise that those personnel could have been persuaded to turn a blind eye to highly place miscreants who want to steal the ballots, though printing the ballots in South Africa would only have put that out of sight of poor resourced bandits.

The wayward ballot

As the day began we heard about a failed attempt to blow up the INEC headquarters with a petrol tanker; I do not know the layout of the area, but one would wonder how such an important building could have be erected in such a vulnerable place at the foot of an incline. Ijebuman has a very interesting take on why the attack was not successful - it would have funny if it were not so tragic, said Chxta; it would have been tragic if it were not so funny, said I.

The ballot papers did arrive in Nigeria at 16:00 on Friday and there began the frenzy to get the ballots out to the polling stations which were to open 2 hours late. INEC even suggested the Air Force might to called upon to help get the papers out to the nether regions, well they should not have been on standby, they should have been engaged in the logistics process as a sure run.

However, a BBC correspondent only had to go to a polling station on the outskirts of Abuja to find that the papers had not arrived hours after the station were supposed to be open.

When some voters learnt that the ballot papers provided who not go round the number of registered voters, they went into a rampage, one of the violent reactions resulted in the death of a few policemen.

Forbearance and patience is giving way to frustration and that gets taken out on hapless officials who have to stretch resources to accommodate the criminal failings of the centre.

All lights come from CNN

When the vote ended, the shame of it all was exposed with an innocuous news item on CNN, the ballot enumerators were seemingly counting in the dark and the lights from CNN were used to help them do the tallies - Why? The most critical infrastructure problem in Nigeria which is the distribution of electricity had failed at a point where Nigeria's great democracy was being exposed to the world.

In secondary school we had lanterns for nights when the light were out, the enumerators could have been given high luminosity lanterns - the quip the the followed the report highlighted the long trail of un-preparedness that the Chairman of INEC would eventually come out to declare a success.

One Ambassador Young appeared on CNN in an interview and tried to equate the irregularities in Nigeria with happenings in Florida 2000 and Georgia, the interviewer did not buy any of that trash.

Religious men or men of integrity

This brings me another issue, about the vote and the progress of democracy. When I called home the undercurrent I received in terms of who people would vote for was that everyone wanted to vote for a godly man.

In fact, it was not so much a godly man because that is a representation of character but religious men, people who wear their religion on their sleeves, whose every waking word includes God vouching for their every deed but whose reality is probably a deceitful lip-service that counts for too much in Nigeria.

It occurred to me that what we really need are men of integrity, honest, truthful and with a sense of responsibility and duty regardless of if they go to Church everyday, pray at the mosque 10 times a day or make chicken sacrifices to animist gods in the deepest jungles.

Basically, religion does not make an honest man, however, if it forms the basis of the principles that guide a man of integrity that is fine. Unfortunately, a lot of religious people would be voted for and if there be a man if integrity amongst them, hopefully that person also has a deep sense of responsibility to know that it is call to serve the people.

Nobody is building Rome again

Rome was not built in a day we hear, time and again, my question is who is trying to build Rome again? That Rome has come and gone and new Rome exists hopefully built on the lessons of the Romes of the past.

In the same vein, nobody goes about reinventing the wheel; we take the same principle and apply to the unsophisticated push cart, the bicycle or expensive automobile.

Why is it that when it comes to democracy in Nigeria we cannot take lessons from other democracies and brains from the conduct of elections even in places like South Africa and Ghana, probably India or the new democracies of Eastern Europe, perhaps the young democracies of Spain and Portugal?

I left out America, Australia, Canada and the UK because the countries mentioned have hardly practiced democracy from more than 60 years, in fact, most have been doing so in the last 10 to 30 years.

Using the experiences of others

It is not as if we do not utilise the best technologies in our banks and business or use the best gadgets to make life easier in Nigeria, at least during the voter registration exercise some bloggers commented about the use of fingerprint technologies.

If for our individual and business good we adopt all these methods, process, procedures and technologies why should the most important common good of Nigeria be left to expectations of poor performance and everyone subscribe to the excuses rather than a clear determination to do things right having learnt lessons and acquired expertise from those who have done it successfully before?

We cannot continue to rely on the hopeful miracle of everything turning out right when adequate planning can do a lot to ensuring that everything does turn out right.

Meanwhile we wait for the legitimate count of the votes, but if 24 instead of 25 presidential hopefuls appear on the ballot papers, we would be doing this again very soon - If the keeps bottle anger permanently corked is another matter entirely.

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