Despite the frenetic nature of campaign shows and advertisement war being carried out by political parties, the debate making the round, over whether or not the election should take place as scheduled, is an ominous revelation of what the days ahead hold. It is a calculated outcome of a dangerous gambit by certain quarters of the political class to either act some well-orchestrated script, or to disingenuously second-guess the lack of preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to carry out the forthcoming elections. For whatever purpose this deliberate uncertainty is meant to serve, it suggests a raging battle for the soul of Nigeria.
The National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), while speaking on Nigeria’s insecurity to participants at the Chatham House, a London think tank, might not have envisaged a derailment when he canvassed the postponement of the forthcoming February 14 election to enable the INEC distribute over 30 million outstanding Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to registered voters. Although his advice was unwisely conveyed in a feigned admonition before a foreign audience, and in a foreign land, the controversy it has generated is suggestive of the anxiety in the land over the forthcoming elections. Dasuki’s advice is clearly at variance with the position of the INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who for the umpteenth time has assured Nigerians that there is no going back on February 14, which is a few days’ time from now.
But is Jega, with his team, ready at all? Since 2012, a year after the 2011 elections, INEC has tried to convince Nigerians that the 2015 elections would be much better that the previous ones. Having claimed to have learnt bitter lessons from the 2011 elections, INEC had come to the realisation that a truly free and fair election depended on credible voters’ card. Enter the Permanent Voters Card. Concerning the PVCs, Jega told Nigerians three years ago that INEC would commence distribution in early 2013. When 2013 came, the INEC chairman announced again that the PVCs would be ready by the end of 2013. The foot-dragging entered 2014, and INEC fixed distribution for June and September, even though people did not begin to get the PVCs until December. Now, there are over 30 million PVCs awaiting distribution.
When other complications beyond the distribution of 30 million PVCs are considered, it becomes imaginable what magic would be performed for a hitch-free election. Amongst other things, INEC would have to grapple with logistics such as codifying and serial-numbering of documents, and list of voters which must be signed by representatives of parties. It will also have to contend with the fact that the propensity to rig election is higher than before, and that the present crop of politicians are no different. Above all, it must recognise the fact that the election, with its scheduled date and modus operandi, has been internationally publicised. As such, there seems to be no going back. This is ‘Catch 22’ number 1.
It is also pertinent that Nigerians, politicians and the electorate consider the situation they would have to contend with in the election. Firstly, it is a fact that the situation in certain parts of the country does not augur well for a free and fair election. Such areas, particularly in the North East, have been tightened up to engender fear. Even the European Union Election Observer Mission, cognisant of the security situation in the region, has refrained from deploying observers there, notwithstanding INEC’s resolve to conduct elections in that trouble zone. Whilst the Federal Government is under pains of abnegation of its duties if it does not ensure that elections are conducted in all parts of the country, conducting election in a circumstance in which three states are excised is a surrender of the nation’s sovereignty. Either way, it is another ‘Catch 22’.
Besides, there are thorny issues that need to be resolved before the elections. Beyond the cacophony of empty promises being relayed at campaigns, politicians would need to sit down and discuss the Chibok girls, to iron out the modalities to push Boko Haram out of the country, and to take frantic steps to address the creeping politicisation of the army. Will an election that fails to give prior attention to these issues be conclusive? Will it be said to represent Nigeria? Will a situation of a non-release of an election result not be far worse than that of a non-election?
As it stands, Dasuki’s statement has given vent to the possibility of other schools of thought about Nigeria’s present circumstance. Should there be any attempt to postpone the February elections, it is likely that there may be no election at all, or that only the presidential election will hold. Such thoughts are portentous signals and a recipe for unfathomable political strife.
What these possible scenarios foretell is that, the forthcoming elections transcend the intentions of the contestants and their parties. What Nigerians are dealing with now is the soul of Nigeria. Therefore, if there is any intention to derail the electoral process, those nursing such intentions had better be warned.
If INEC claims everything is in order, then election must hold with PVCs and even temporary voter cards. The tardiness and dilly-dallying must be addressed, for we are running out of time. Moreover, the tension now is so thick that its palpitation vibrates beyond our shores. It is not for nothing that the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, came to admonish Nigerian politicians about the consequences of a violence-prone election. That a U.S. government official would lecture our politicians on the conduct of our national affairs is not only unprecedented, but also a sad reminder of how suspicious our politicians have become and how low the credibility of the electoral process is descending.
In the face of this ominous uncertainty, INEC must allay the fears of Nigerians. It must speak to Nigerians about whatever problems it is encountering at this moment. If, as it claims, election would hold as scheduled, then it must do everything possible to get things working so that PVCs get to the people. There is no reason why voters without PVC should not first obtain it at the same voting centre, on election day, prior to casting their ballot. If this fails, the Temporary Voters’ Card should be permitted for use. The Federal Government may also consider declaring a work-free day to enable people collect their PVCs. To dialogue with Nigerians about goings on in the commission, INEC should consider holding a press conference everyday with a view to updating Nigerians on progress made until the day of the election.