Preparations for the coming General Elections have now reached fever-pitch levels, as Nigerians are only days away from the epochal dates. One would easily surmise that the interesting days were nigh when President Goodluck Jonathan threw caution to the winds at the commencement of his party’s presidential rallies in Lagos where he unashamedly declared that he had “directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to achieve 99.9% distribution of the permanent voter’s card (PVC) to all Nigerians”, which has now become the most essential commodity with respect to the elections. A president who has the presence of mind or moderation in such matters should be aware that it is ultra vires his powers to issue such directives, especially when he is a candidate and has more than a passing interest in the elections. What is more when the president wants ‘all Nigerians’ to receive PVC, be they eligible voter or not?
If it was not enough to exercise such gaffes, which is merely one of the many that his presidential years have strove to bequeath on a beleaguered nation of disillusioned citizens, it was quite unfortunate that a president, who lays continuous claims to unverifiable high academic qualifications, would expect such unrealistic rate of PVC distribution. To be sure, that call is asking too much by someone who should be in the know after years of milling around high political office. It is important to clarify that aiming high is not offensive in and of itself but a discerning leader of people and institutions is expected to be realistic in his expectations.
Would it have been possible to achieve Jonathan’s directive of 99.9% PVC distribution? My unabashed inclination is that even if INEC were to put in place the most efficient and effective process of registration of voters and distribution of PVCs, not everyone would be able to collect, considering that life happens continuously that deaths, relocation and unavoidable population displacements would have occurred even at short interval of time between registration and collection of the voter’s cards. I do not claim to know rate of deaths recorded in Nigeria but one would be safe to project a high figure considering how every odds are stacked against life and living in the country due to the wanton mismanagement of resources practiced consistently under Jonathan and his cohorts.
Even if there were no deaths or the death or displacement rates were negligible, there is a plethora of empirical evidence to prove that there is growing voter apathy towards elections globally. For instance, despite the brazen allocation of votes, Nigeria has only achieved its highest voter turnout of 69.08% in 2003, since 1999. This is to say that collection of PVC does not necessarily equate to participation in the elections, such that it becomes puerile to think that all PVCs must be distributed or collected before elections can hold.
Was it not in the same country where two governorship elections were held in Ekiti and Osun after only PVC distribution rates of 65.72% and 70.59% respectively were attained in both states? Is the logic of those bandying low PVC collection rate as the basis for the call for a shift in dates of elections that those elections in Ekiti and Osun were not properly conducted?
In addition, I believe it would amount to infringement on the rights of eligible voters in Nigeria to compel them to collect the PVC if they do not intend to do so. Quite unfortunately, the elections management body, being INEC, has not discharged its duties diligently despite the enormous amount of resources and supports that it has enjoyed. INEC effectively had four years to plan for this election and it seems that it is heading towards bungling the entire exercise. Else, an exercise as basic as collection or distribution of PVCs should not become rocket science for an agency that has repeatedly claimed it was ready for the elections whose dates were announced almost a year hence.
I am one of those who do not think that INEC is prepared for this election – that being my personal opinion. Well, not that I have ever thought they were ever prepared in any election. It has always been that the autopilot mode, in which they push us, cruises through the very torrential moments of passage of the electoral process. Give INEC another four years and we would still be expressing the same concerns as now. To be sure, the same last minute scurrying is replete in virtually all of our national or public life. So if the electoral body continues to maintain that it is ready for the elections, as it has done repeatedly, why would anyone, not of wicked intentions, trigger a campaign to force them to postpone, when there is no assurance that the situation would improve beyond the present level?
My modest estimates show that so far, between the election management body, political parties and their candidates and other political actors, over N200bn have been expended. This is my conservative estimates which I am sure would be much higher, if all other variables and financial heads were considered. This is tragic in the face of an economy that is in teetering on the brinks and one in which austerity measures have been proffered as the… Besides, the amount of human and time resources invested already in the campaigns should be sufficient to re-energize an economy in dire need of intervention, if strategically channeled.
Others who have chosen to blackmail us with the growing wave of insurgency in parts of the country should be pointed in the direction of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen. These countries, I believe, have far more serious security situation than we have presently, but that has not deterred them from conducting elections even in recent times. And those elections were acclaimed as free and fair, in the circumstances in which they were held. Those who want to hide their mass behind one finger can continue to wager their lucks but the illogicalities of their actions, nay intentions, are not lost on those of us who are patriotic and ready to move the nation truly forward.
We could assert many more intelligible reasons for wanting to postpone the elections, but to hinge it on low PVC distribution/collection or inadequacy of security, which is now being orchestrated even in the highest quarters of government, is mischievous, disingenuous and ill conceived.
Egghead Odewale is a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.