Friday 14 January 2011

Nigeria: Seeing RSVP at the PDP Primaries

The convention

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) the ruling party in Nigeria conducted their presidential primaries from yesterday through to the very early hours of this morning and it must be lauded as an historic occasion and probably a seminal event.

After all the politicking, horse-trading and whatever else our cynicism can conjure up they gathered at the great Eagle Square in Abuja, hours late but determined to ensure the business of the day was started and completed.

There were three candidates, a lady, Dr. Sarah Jubril; the former vice-president Atiku Abubakar and the sitting president Goodluck Jonathan – the stage was set for a microcosm of what one hopes would be the play out of the national elections in April 2010.

Each contestant had the opportunity to appeal, persuade or cajole their constituencies and then each delegate was given the opportunity to vote.

Protecting the vote

With 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory as constituencies, each had their accredited delegates cast their ballots secretly in ballot boxes assigned to their respective states, after this was done, initially the first 4 states were counted in alphabetical order then randomly.

The count was public, visible and audible, the boxes were for each state were brought to the enumerator’s table, the returning officer asked to certified the accredited delegates and the voting delegates and then each ballot which had handwritten names of the candidates was inspected, called out and separated into piles for each announced candidate after which the ballots were counted and tabulated.

When the last ballot was counted, all the counts were collated and the results announced; from the staging of this historic event, there was very little to dispute apart from the need to ease of voting by using tick boxes and not the writing of names which included one ballot in Arabic script and probably some speed at the job by introducing some technology.

However, this was not to take away from the occasion, it could be termed as the freest and fairest political voting activity ever done on Nigerian soil, it was transparent, open, visible and viewed globally, we all participated either physical there through the news correspondents and via social networking forums as Twitter and Facebook.

RSVP with no regrets

In the same vein, Nigerians are working to create the same quality of suffrage accompanied with free and fair elections exemplified in the Enough is Enough initiative [1] with the acronym RSVP.

This ground-breaking initiative has the ultimate goal of accountable democracy in Nigeria borne of the true will of the people being represented at local government, state and federal levels – it requires at all Nigerians participate in moving from apathy to engagement, involvement and civic responsibility – it is aspirational and should be within our grasp.

The goal is simple.

Register – Ensure you are registered where you should be and validated as a true member of the electorate.

Select – Inform yourself about the candidates vying for your votes, check their policies, their views, their goals, their motives and if given the opportunity ask the hard questions and do not fobbed off with soft answers. Most importantly, you are not for sale or to be used as bargaining chips for ulterior ends.

Vote – Go out and have a say in the selecting the people who will well represent you at all levels of government, exercise the right to seek accountability.

Protect – this is where it all begins to make sense, ensuring your voice is heard, your vote is counted and not stolen by criminal elements ready to subvert the democratic process for their rotten machinations – this is where Nigerian democracy needs to attain the label of free, fair and beyond dispute. Only we Nigerians can achieve this and enforce this, observers can only observe; Nigerians can ensure that the rules, the letter and the spirit of the elections are observed.

What we saw

Now the RSVP arrangement that the PDP Presidential primaries adopted seems to have been read RSVP backwards, there is the pre-electioneering phase of reading RSVP forwards and the post-electioneering phase of reading it backwards.

In conducting a public, visible and audible count of the votes, they Protected to the full, the will expressed by the delegates, there was no dispute about the votes cast, the numbers tallied and the ones voided, any challenge to that spectacle would have been foolhardy at best.

The secret ballots with the writing of the names of the candidates on the ballot papers meant that the delegates had to know why they were in the voting booths and had to identify clearly which ballot box their vote had to go into. The matter of whether it was a vote of conscience, conviction or compulsion is beside the point, there was no coercion at point of the exercise of their franchise, they Voted freely.

What we need

The horse-trading that went into the Selection process can be open to dispute but one thing was evident, despite Atiku Abubakar putting himself forward as the consensus candidate of the North, he lost his home state 71% to his opponent, as far as the results went on to show, Goodluck Jonathan was the consensus candidate for whatever division of Nigeria you are inclined to entertain, but as far as the national delegates of ruling party were concerned, Goodluck Jonathan commanded broad and widespread national support in the entity that is one Nigeria.

The Registration process of the delegates was fraught with powerplays and influence, that cannot be avoided, but Nigerians can prevent that situation when they go to register from tomorrow the 15th of January 2011 to the 29th of January 2011 – they should ensure they are informed of what is needed to register, ensure all the unique identifying characteristics that represent them are properly recorded and on review of the register, they should ensure their names are as they should be.

For Nigerians, it starts with registration and may this be the dawning of a new accountable democracy in this great country of ours.

God bless Nigeria!


[1] EiE NIGERIA: Register | Select | Vote | Protect

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