Opinion: It's Time to Support INEC

By Tonnie Iredia

 

Not many Nigerians have in the last 4 years criticized the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as much as this columnist. A few of the issues which influenced the posture can be recalled for ease of reference. First, Prof Attahiru Jega, chairman of the commission at his screening by the Senate, hinted that under him there would be massive voter education, aimed at bringing about attitudinal change among the citizenry. We thought the National Orientation Agency and the media would handle the assignment better.

On November 11, 2010, INEC was reported to have told the fifth Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) summit in Lagos that it had adopted the option for resolving political and pre-election disputes. We were not persuaded that it is INEC and not the Judiciary that should develop grey hairs over the settlement of election disputes. The week before, the Commission held an interactive session with traditional rulers from the South West geo-political zone to brainstorm on how to check the specter of electoral violence in Nigeria. We were of the opinion that the assignment was for the law enforcement agencies. While appreciating that as the man who has ultimate responsibility for the outcome of elections, Jega ought to avoid being disorganized by other relevant societal institutions, there was still the need to remind INEC that it has more than enough of its own part of election duties to worry about

Another area of concern was the late arrival of election personnel and materials for every election; be it nationwide or in only one state or indeed in just a single constituency. This happened during the governorship elections held in Edo and Ondo States. For the governorship election in Anambra State for instance, election materials were allegedly late to even a polling unit behind the INEC office-the operational base of the commission in Awka, the state capital.

The case of the Oguta election of June, 2013 was more scandalous because although it was held in only 4 wards for just one seat in the Imo State House of Assembly, many voters became restive after waiting in vain for several hours for the election process to commence. We also criticized INEC for spending over 4 years to produce permanent voters' cards. Most importantly, recognizing that the bane of elections in Nigeria is the use of inaccurate statistics occasioned by poorly prepared list of voters, we called on INEC severally to do something about introducing technological innovations that could sanitize the electoral process. In essence, using adversarial journalism to deal with INEC was to keep her on her toes because if she got it right, many other things will become right.

In less than a week from today, the 2015 general elections will hopefully be held. It is uncharitable to continue to adopt a fault-finding approach that may derail the process. Besides, there is so much that INEC has accomplished particularly in the last 2 years to make every patriot at this point endeavour to give her some kudos. To start with, government, especially the legislative arm has not been quite helpful. Let us recall how the legislature kept summoning Jega to answer frivolous charges. For example, on October 13 2010 the media reported a senate summons to Jega to appear before it to defend his comments about the likelihood of a delayed election process which in the opinion of some Senators could rubbish their image. Which image? Is that how to treat the head of an agency which Section 158 of our Constitution says 'shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person'? The whole smokescreen ended up with a misconceived directive by the Senate to Jega to do his job and talk less. To start with, it is ridiculous to suggest that the task of speaking on behalf of INEC is not a major function of its Chief Spokesman.

Secondly, it patronizes the obsolete colonial viewpoint that every public officer is expected to be seen but not heard. Luckily Jega was not be swayed by such contraptions because for him not to speak is a greater danger. This is because to make strategic plans for elections is wasted if the people for whom they were made are not adequately briefed on them especially those recurring issues which made us fail before. Again, although the legislature knew that the nation wanted e-voting, it deliberately used Section 52 of the Electoral Act to prohibit its use for elections.

The nation wanted Jega to computerize our electoral system and he did. At a time when several government agencies organized biometrics, INEC expended N65 only per person while the police charged N3, 500, that is, no less than 5 times the cost of that of INEC. The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) turned out to be the highest bidder; charging more than twice that of the police for its own artistic biometrics arrangement. Yet, they all did the same thing- recording names, face- recognition, fingerprints etc.

By introducing continuous biometric registration of only persons who were hitherto not registered, INEC has put a halt to the old practice of putting citizens through a re-registration exercise each time an election is near, To improve the integrity of the voting process, INEC produced permanent voters cards (PVC) with embedded chips. To avoid multiple voting and the possibility of any person using another person's voter's card, INEC brought in the card reader. The device is expected to recognize a PVC as one validly issued by the commission for the polling unit in which it is presented. It is also to verify that the holder of the PVC is the true owner before such holder can vote.

The on-going argument that elections should not hold until all PVCs have been collected is puerile because it assumes that all PVC owners are alive or around or willing to pick their cards.

If the truth must be told, it is only fair that at this turning point of our electoral history, all well meaning Nigerians should give a helping hand to Jega and his electoral body.

 

Source: Daily Trust Newspaper