• Monday, December 11, 2023
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BusinessDay

The challenge of a new voters’ registration – Jega’s options

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Wahab Haruna

Perhaps, we should accept as reality the fact that as a people we never seem to have enough time to prepare for any project or event. We cut the image of a 100 meters sprinter who begins to run after the 75 meter mark.

As expected he would come last at the event but would leave all the spectators saying that he would have done very well if only he had done the entire race with the energy and determination that he displayed in the last 25 meters. One of the ways to be a ‘good Nigerian’ today is the ability

to achieve results using the fire brigade approach – the only option left to you by the systemic failures in the environment. What if you fail? The society would not blame your incompetence but your inability to prepare. The most recent example of this reality is the employment of a foreign coach in March 2010 to lead the Super Eagles to the World cup in June 2010.

 

The new Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega is on the hot seat, up against the fire brigade approach, and everyone can see that his palms are wet from sweat. His statements while addressing a delegation of the Academic Staff Union of Universities clearly describe the options available to him as he begins the task of conducting free and fair elections in January 2011. A new voters’ register must be produced, at a cost of between N55b – N72b, in less than 8 weeks if the 2011 elections must be conducted in a free and fair manner. The alternative is to revise the current voters’ register, already discredited, within 16 weeks, and achieve about 10% success in the objective for a free and fair election. The choice of a new voters register is obvious in his statement but he requires the National Assembly to urgently amend sections 10 (5) and 21 of the electoral act as they affect the timing for the revision.

Within 24 hours of his statement the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, called on the new INEC boss to get to the job of conducting a free and fair election while assuring him of the National Assembly’s support. Also speaking from Ibadan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives is reported to have called on the Federal Government to release the needed money to INEC for a new voters’ register. These calls signal the level of understanding and cooperation that Jega might get from the National Assembly. Indeed, there has been a public outburst of apprehension as passionate reactions followed Jega’s statements. The mood among opposition politicians, professionals and the civil society is captured in the statement by Bola Tinubu that nothing short of an outright new voters’ register would be acceptable for the 2011 elections.

There is a feeling that the environment deliberately throws up fire brigade situations in order to achieve a hidden agenda, sometimes to undermine the publicly stated objectives. The National Assembly must allay this fear by working closely with the new INEC. The relevant sections of the constitution must be amended, as demanded by the civil society, to enable the production of a valid voters’ register that would serve as a template for this and future elections. The new INEC leadership must demonstrate purpose and leadership by adopting a posture that would earn the respect of the National Assembly. They must resist the temptation of playing to the gallery too often, cut out the image of a business – like patriot and partner with the National Assembly.

Another challenge facing the new INEC, according to Jega’s statement, is the acquisition and deployment of 120,000 data capturing machines between August and end of October, 2010. Three months is a short time for this daunting assignment. However, it is achievable if Jega accepts the partnership that is being offered by credible Information Technology organizations and professionals. The purpose of this nation in a matter as strategic as the 2011 general elections cannot be served by any foreign vendor or manufacturer especially in terms of equipment acquisition, deployment, support and training. INEC must learn from the experience of Iwu’s INEC who awarded the contract for the supply of data capturing machines to foreign companies and they could not perform in 6 months, forcing him to turn to local manufacturers two weeks to the deadline. Most Nigerians recall that Zinox Computers supplied over 10,000 integrated data capturing machines in 2 weeks to salvage the 2006 voters’ registration and were commended by the European Union and Nigerians. The foreign companies failed where an indigenous company triumphed even with limited time.

If Zinox could deploy over 10,000 integrated data capture machines in 2 weeks in 2006, INEC should act proactively by contacting them and few other serious local ICT companies with capacity and commence negotiation. INEC should avoid the Nigerian tendency to use every new posting to create patronage for ‘the boys’ because this was what led to the near failure of the 2006 exercise. Involvement of local companies in the exercise would help reduce unemployment and enhance transfer of skills while building enough local capacity for sustenance of development. This country must recognize the fact that there are world-class Nigerians with requisite skills and capacity. What would countries like the USA, Britain, France, India, China, Brazil, Iran, or even Bangladesh do if they found themselves in our position? Jega must have an eye on history. What impact would the N72b for the 2011 elections make on the Nigerian economy? Or would this be another source of capital flight?

Part of the problem of the voters’ registration of 2006 arose from the fact that most of the INEC officials and volunteers could not operate the data capturing equipment. In a few cases voters, who were computer literate, had to put the INEC officials through before registration could commence. It is imperative that INEC should build a training package into the contract for the supply and deployment of the data capturing machines. The timing for the exercise is so tight that only a computer literate work force can deliver on speed and accuracy.

It is worrisome that Jega’s blue print did not mention the need for voter education and mobilization. INEC under Iwu failed woefully in this respect. The voting public is a vital segment of the partnership that can yield a free and fair election in 2011. A voters’ re-orientation campaign must precede the registration exercise. The public must be educated afresh of the need for a new registration exercise, they must be told why it is not business as usual and taught to resist manipulation from unscrupulous politicians.

INEC must partner with the Ministry of Information, the civil societies, and the local media to create a new allegiance to the national ethos at the grassroots level. No election in this country can be free and fair if the politician is not denied the active connivance of opinion leaders at the grassroots. The grassroots must know that this nation demands and rewards integrity even when found in hungry people. INEC must learn and adopt the grassroots mobilization that has made the AIDS campaign a success in Nigeria. Nigerians are eager to work with INEC, the National Assembly and the Federal Executive Council are enthusiastic about free and fair elections, Jega must take advantage of the favorable disposition of the nation and carve his name in gold.