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For the Survival of our Nation!
By: Sly Edaghese

Published February 17th, 2015


The entire nation seems to be heading inexorably towards the cliff. Unless there's an urgent shift in direction we all shall live to retell Chinua Achebe's "There was a Country."

It's never a thing of joy to think of one own country rolling down the cliff. But we cannot but talk about these things if only those piloting the 'ship of state' would hear and take caution.  Remember that in 2011 a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, in his book titled “Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink,” predicted that the nation would not survive beyond 2015. Specifically the ambassador had said that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015. Even last August, John Campbell still stood by his prediction; he reiterated that Nigeria would not exist beyond 2015!  

I had cause here most recently, in an article I titled "Buhari, Jonathan and Revolution," to decry our politicians' 'do or die' attitude to elections. They take elections, I wrote, like war, where the ends justifies the means. I specifically noted with concern that: "looking at the combative posturing of the two frontrunners in the coming election, namely, Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent president, and General Mohammadu Buhari, a former military head of state, the battle looks very portentous, like the epic battle of the mythological titans." And I wondered if we were "not unwittingly preparing the ground for the fulfilment of the apocalypse year" that John Campell had predicted for us.


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Early this week the INEC Chairman, Professor Jega, announced to a bewildered nation that his Commission had shifted the dates of the elections that were scheduled for 14 and 28 of this month to March 28 and April 11, respectively. His reasons, couched in double-speak, were most unconvincing. He spoke as one with a gun held to his head. The same way he spoke two days or so earlier at the Federal Executive Council meeting where he was invited to state his own side of the proposed election shift. His lips were unsteady. You could see that the man was labouring under a heavy burden. That was certainly not the smooth-talking, self-confident Professor Jega we all knew and admired. He had become like an empty shell of his true self. He started shaking all over like a man afflicted with a mild stroke. Obviously, Jega was in a dilemma. You could see it  all over him. He wanted to tell all the truth he knew about the situation of things on ground; yes, he wanted the whole world to know that his Commission was more than ready to keep to the scheduled timetable for the elections. But he couldn't find his voice to speak the whole truth. His tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth. He knew that even though he's the Chairman of INEC, somebody put him there and the same person could remove him if he tried to exercise too much 'Independent.' Forget about the 'I'(Independent) that begins the word INEC. The all time truth-he that pays the piper dictates the tune-remains forever valid. So, not to roughen any feather or draw the irk of government, Jega decided to be a team player and settled for half-truth. That however didn't mean that Jega would be unmindful of his reputation and present a self-damaging report of his Commission! No, no; not Professor Jega, let a hundred guns be held to his scull! He knew his life didn't begin at INEC and certainly is not going to end there! A true professor that he, Jega took a middle-of-the road approach as he explained to the world what led to the shifting of the elections. He didn't blame himself nor the federal government for her undue influence over the unfolding episode, which everyone already knew. The PDP, for some time now, had been clamouring for a shift in the election dates, accusing Jega of favouring the main opposition party, APC, in terms PVCs distributions. The first to moot the idea of shifting the elections was the National Security Adviser, retired Col. Sambo Mohammed Dasuki. About three weeks ago or thereabout, while addressing a gathering at Chatham House in London, Dasuki asked INEC to postpone the elections, saying such a shift would allow the electoral body to properly prepare for the elections particularly as it related to the distribution of PVCS.

As I said, even though Jega had his facts and figures with him and was sure of his Commission's readiness to go ahead with the election as scheduled, he spoke from both sides of his mouth as he gave reasons for the postponement. Though that wasn't good enough for a man of his status, at least he let it be known that INEC was ready to go ahead with the elections but for some issues beyond the Commission's power!  In fact, as icing on the cake, Jega added that the Commission was more ready than she was in 2011 when INEC conducted one of Nigeria's most celebrated elections which ushered in the Jonathan  administration!

Now seeing Jega's reluctance to take the blame for the election shift, as he continued to reel out hard facts to prove his Commission's readiness to go ahead with the election, Dasuki stepped in and pulled the rug from under his feet. Along with all the Service Chiefs, Dasuki let the 'boasting' electoral boss to realize that there's a crucial component of the election that he was ignoring: Security! Yes, security! Hearing that, Jega was deflated.

Now hear the excerpts from his defence before the Council of state meeting, two or three days after which he announced the postponement of the elections:

"Section 20 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) requires that INEC prepares and publishes a Register of Voters 30 days before the date scheduled for the elections. We have prepared the Register of Voters for the elections, which we published on January 13, 2015, within the legally prescribed timeframe. 

We have made copies of this register available to all the registered political parties. The certified and published Register has 68,833,476 registered voters.

Indeed, the printing of the PDF hard copies of the Register of Voters to be used for the elections in polling units and voting points has commenced in virtually all the states. 

Initial challenges, caused by late delivery of new printers, which delayed commencement in some states, have since been overcome.

"Production and distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards:

 The Electoral Act 2010 (as Amended) (See sections 16 and 49(1)) requires that INEC issue permanent voter cards (PVCs) to voters, which they have to present to the presiding officer at the polling unit on the day of the election. INEC has endeavoured to produce PVCs for all the voters on the Register.

As of Monday, February 2, 2015, the total number of PVCs for the 36 states and FCT, which have been produced, delivered and taken to them for distribution to voters is 66,323,850 or 96 per cent of the total...

"From the preceding review of the state of preparedness of INEC, in respect of matters under its control, it is clear that in spite of the discernable challenges, things are not as bad as they have been made to appear in recent media coverage and public discourses. We are doing our best under very difficult circumstances.

In determining whether or not INEC is adequately prepared to conduct the February 2015 elections, as scheduled, we should separate what is under the control of the commission and what is outside its control. For the things under the commission’s control, our accomplishments are to such a degree that we can conduct the election, in spite of the identifiable challenges. 

Compared with the 2011 general elections, for instance, our systems are definitely more robust now. Among others, we have a greatly improved register of voters, having removed over 4 million multiple registrants; voters will use PVCs; and accreditation, using Card Readers, will reduce the likelihood of fraud. 

Consequently, although our state of preparedness may not be 100 per cent or perfect, and although a bit more time of additional preparation would enable us improve and perfect the current level of preparedness, we believed that we are ready for the elections as planned.

However, we also believe that it is necessary to take into context the things outside the control of the commission, such as the attitude of politicians, political parties, candidates and voters, and significantly, security for election personnel, materials and voters, especially in areas under insurgency, which only the appropriate authorities can definitely speak on. 

No matter the extent of our readiness, if there are serious security concerns, the successful conduct of free, fair, credible and peaceful elections would be greatly jeopardised. 

INEC has been working with these authorities, especially under the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), but our concerns have not been assuaged. I am sure that this august body will also be apprised of the security situation for the elections by the responsible authorities." 

Now the clincher: "Yesterday, for example," concludes Jega, "we received a letter from the office of the NSA, informing us of recent developments in 4 of the Northeast States, stating that safety and security cannot be guaranteed during the proposed election period, adducing reasons why this is so, and strongly advising that INEC considers rescheduling the elections by at least 6 weeks, within the provisions of the electoral legal framework, and within which time span it is hoped to restore sufficient normalcy for elections to hold. 

This is a new development that INEC cannot certainly ignore or take lightly.

I thank you for the opportunity to provide this briefing."

Now what do we expect of Jega's fate in the next couple of weeks? The PDP have said that they don't trust him and some have even called either for his sack or for his arrest or both. Jega on his part had said he hasn't done anything that would warrant his resignation or his sack. Jonathan thinks so too and has denied ever having it in his mind to  sake Jega. Now that the main reason for shifting the pools for six weeks is to enable the military to "clean up the three states," in the North-East, namely, Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe,  presently under constant attacks of the violent Boko Haram set, what happens at the end of the day if the area remains without peace? The government has to be very careful the way they answer this question.

    

Sly Edaghese is based in Lagos.


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