The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, was reported to have been confronted with a disturbing fact when he appeared before the National Conference Committee on Political Parties and Electoral Matters on May 13, 2014. The fact was that the commission’s Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines were being sold in the open markets both in Nigeria and the neighbouring Niger Republic. To prove the point, Jega was shown a DDC machine battery bought in the open market and having an INEC logo on it. The INEC chairman was unable to give a definite response. He simply hazarded a guess that the machines might have got to the open market through the state governments to which the commission had sold them. He then promised to conduct an investigation into the matter.
That INEC machines have been finding their way into wrong hands should be a source of worry. The fact that the machines are on sale in the open market should be an embarrassment. In the run-up to the 2007 elections, the commission’s registration machines were found in the homes of certain chieftains of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). That discovery served as one of the early indications that the elections could end up as a fiasco. To the consternation of well-meaning and right-thinking Nigerians, nothing was done about it. What should have been viewed as a serious offence and visited with appropriate sanctions was lackadaisically handled and swept under the carpet. The subsequent perversion of the entire electoral process produced a predetermined result that diminished Nigeria’s integrity in the comity of democratic countries.
Professor Jega’s impressive antecedents accounted largely for the considerable goodwill he enjoyed on his appointment as Nigeria’s chief electoral umpire. The 2011 election, which was his baptism of fire on the hot seat, was not a roaring success. Nigerians, all the same, appreciated the average performance not because there were no cases of irregularities but because the conduct of the polls was not characterised by the brazen manipulations witnessed in 2007. The general expectation was that INEC would learn from the 2011 experience and ensure a progressive improvement in election administration. While we are not unaware that it is ingrained in Nigerian politicians to condemn any election they have not won, the fact remains that many of their criticisms of the elections conducted in Edo, Ondo and Anambra states were valid. The recurring logistical problems in isolated state elections are indefensible. The case of sabotage from within that occurred during the Anambra election underscores the need for INEC to carry out a thorough-going reorganisation that will rid the commission of undesirable elements.
It should be obvious to Professor Jega and members of his management that INEC already has enough on its plate. With 2015 a matter of months away, the commission should be preoccupied with preparations that will enable it to acquit itself creditably in the conduct of the polls. The present political configuration should serve as a pointer to a fierce and close contest in a country in which election losers do all in their power to raise as much dust as they can to convince the entire world that they were rigged out. There is no doubt that the major political contenders will go for broke and devise strategies and stratagems to outflank their opponents. This is why INEC should come up with proactive measures that will enable it to neutralise the schemes and machinations of desperate politicians.
INEC should regard the discovery of its DDC machines in the open market as a serious issue that should be handled with utmost urgency. That the machines might have found their way to the open market through some state governments to which they were sold is an untenable alibi. Jega should tell Nigerians what informed the sale of the machines, procured for the use of the electoral commission, to some state governments. If the machines can be found in the open market, what is the assurance that they are not already in the hands of politicians. How sure can INEC be that fictitious names have not been fed into some of these machines so that they can be surreptitiously brought to the polling centres on election days?
The list of registered voters was a major issue in the mismanagement of the 2007 elections. It was also the voters’ list that put a big question mark on the credibility of the Anambra State election. This is why Jega has to speed up his investigation into the serious matter of INEC machines in the open market and apprise Nigerians of his findings. The commission should do everything in its power to avoid anything that can sully its reputation as 2015 draws closer. Our hope is that Jega, through the performance of INEC under his watch, will make the shameful era of Professor Maurice Iwu look like a distant past. He can only do this by establishing an irreducible minimum in the standard of election management.