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BusinessDay

Of Dasuki’s call and INEC’s preparedness

During a lecture he delivered at London’s Chatham House on January 22, 2015, the national security adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, made what could amount to a call for the postponement of the 2015 elections. The lecture was titled “Nigeria’s Insecurity: Insurgency, Corruption, Elections, and the Management of Multiple Threats”, and he hinged the call on the fact that millions of registered or prospective voters have yet to receive their permanent voter cards or PVCs. He also noted that the constitution allows a window of 90 days to hold the elections and that the period could still be accommodated with the postponement, which would enable more interested voters to collect their PVCs and participate in the elections. He revealed that he had broached the matter with the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, and pointed out to Jega that the postponement would cost him nothing and was still within the law.

Dasuki’s reservations are summed up in his following remark regarding the PVCs, apparently directed at INEC: “If in one year you’ve distributed 30 million, I don’t see how you will distribute another 30 million in two weeks. It doesn’t make sense.”

Now, can we soberly and sincerely appraise the issues raised by Dasuki, up until the above remark, and not arrive at the conclusion that they have merit? And while the remark is an indication of Dasuki’s desire for the improvement of the distribution of the PVCs before holding the elections, it also challenges INEC to explain how it can perform in a short period of two weeks the same function it has taken one year to perform with only 50 percent success, or admit the justification of the call to postpone the elections.

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Curiously, the response from INEC, through its spokesperson, Kayode Idowu, seems to be prompted by the reflex of defiance rather than a disposition to dispassionate consideration or dialogue. This is apparent from the rather dismissive retort credited to Idowu, a reply to Dasuki’s call, to wit: “It is not a conversation of the commission’s at all. As far as we are talking now, the date is what it is.”

Indeed, INEC has scheduled the elections to start on February 14, 2015. The electoral body claims that Nigeria has 68 million registered voters and insists that every prospective voter must have a PVC in order to exercise their right to vote in the elections. The implication of this insistence is that those who wish to vote but cannot receive their PVCs from INEC, for no fault of theirs, can be justified in feeling disenfranchised in the elections.

Also, the figures provided by Dasuki merely corroborate INEC’s claims of having 60 million PVCs ready for distribution, of which it admits to having been able to deliver 30 million, or 50 percent, to their owners. This also implies that, so far as the distribution of PVCs in concerned, INEC can only boast of 50 percent preparedness to conduct the election as scheduled.

Is 50 percent preparedness good enough for such a crucial election or for any election for that matter? Can INEC, and by implication Nigeria, do better, even if that entails postponing the elections without breaching the law? These, it would seem, are the questions that prompted Dasuki’s call for the postponement and to which the call amounts to a clear “no” and “yes” answer for the first and second question, respectively.

Even for a country known for low self-expectation, I do not think its electoral body should be crowing about its preparedness in a situation that represents 50 percent readiness on its part to conduct an election, as reflected by the ratio of distributed and yet-to-be-distributed PVCs at the time Dasuki suggested postponing the elections.

The situation can be compared to an examination body claiming that it is prepared to hold an examination even as it is aware of the likelihood that it would not have examination materials like question papers and answer sheets for half of the candidates on the examination date; and that the candidates cannot sit for the examination without such materials. Without this type of analogy, it might be hard to appreciate the unrealistic nature of INEC’s proclamation of its readiness to conduct an election of which half the potential voters, numbering 30 million, will not be able to vote because they have not received their PVCs that are still in INEC’s possession, a situation that puts INEC at risk of being considered an agent of mass disenfranchisement rather than an electoral umpire that should be interested in conducting free and fair elections.

Can the conduct of such an examination be described as “free and fair”, assuming the phrase were applicable to examinations as it is to elections? Yes, it can be “free” so far as the 50 percent of the candidates denied participation by the non-provision of the necessary examination materials by the examination body decide not to act out their displeasure with their unmerited exclusion.

But to describe it as fair would be cynical. Does “fair” no longer denote equitable treatment? Is it fair to have succeeded in distributing the PVCs to only 50 percent of a fraction of the electorate while refusing to allow as much time as the law can permit to give the rest the opportunity to collect their PVCs? What is fair in holding an election in which half the electorate are at risk of being disenfranchised for no fault of theirs, even though a lawful adjustment of its date can guarantee their right to vote, or improve their chances of voting, or convince all stakeholders that sufficient effort was made to do both?

The elections are being conducted for Nigerians and not for INEC or any of the contesting candidates or political parties. And what is at issue is the interest of 30 million Nigerians who may not exercise their right to vote depending on how INEC responds to the need to issue them their PVCs before the elections and the call to postpone the elections to improve the issuance of the PVCs to such people.

INEC has a moral mandate to conduct elections that are free and fair and as robust as possible, and the robustness must be gauged by what percentage of registered voters who actually vote, with the electoral body proving itself as having shown enough commitment to accommodate as many voters as is legally possible. Can 50 percent, which represents a middling grade, stand for such robustness? If not, should INEC have responded with such glibness that characterised Idowu’s reply to the call by Dasuki whose rejection amounts to calling the bluff of reason?

That INEC considers itself prepared for the forthcoming elections while admitting to having distributed only 50 percent of the PVCs to their owners suggests a lack of regard for efficiency.