Nigeria’s Disconcerting Electoral Cycles: Here We Go Again!, By Dele Agekameh
The postponement will cost some more than others, but we are all equally stained by the stigma of never getting it right the first time, of unnecessary delays and the domino effect of African time that may have been started by the same political parties now calling foul and demanding the head of the INEC chair.
The postponement of the elections this past weekend was a sad confirmation of the fears of many Nigerians; that electoral activity in this country is cursed by the same hand of mediocrity that has stained all aspects of life in Nigeria. For months, weeks and days before the original date set for the elections, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was resolute in his assurances that INEC was ready to go, and that all areas had been covered. Going by the excuses that poured out from INEC after the dirty deed had been done on Saturday, it seemed that no contingency arrangement had been made for the “logistical” issues that arose.
Everyone would agree that “bad weather” should not feature on a list of things likely to derail preparations for a major national event that has technically been in the works since the last elections in 2015. Not only that, alleged acts of sabotage, which likely led to fires in INEC’s offices in Abia, Anambra and Plateau States, are said to have also contributed to the postponement, according to INEC. From the different statements emanating from INEC officials, the explanations point to an overriding desire by the Commission for all election activities to begin at the same time of 8 a.m. throughout the country, which would not have been possible last Saturday. Whether Nigerians are even now confident that this will happen on February 23, is another matter entirely.
Unsurprisingly, there have been accusations thrown from one political party to the other, and the leadership of INEC has not been spared in the blame throwing. For sure, Professor Yakubu has to take the lion share of the blame, as the decision to postpone, and all issues leading to it, are areas within his responsibility, which were not met. Faced with having staggered elections commencing at different times in different cities or outright postponement within hours to the exercise, INEC chose the latter, after arrangements had been made by people and businesses to accommodate the exercise. The action has now set a trend of unbroken election postponements since 2011 elections.
Without being unduly critical, the quality of decision making at the highest levels of government in Nigeria always leaves one grimacing, out of sheer horror. The political parties showed lack of adequate planning when they could not meet deadlines set in the INEC timetable for the elections. Many of the lists of candidates from the parties were submitted later than directed, and the avalanche of court cases which followed, with the attendant drama at that level, also bit into the limited preparation time for INEC to get ballot papers ready for the 70 odd political parties participating in the elections. The sheer number of parties registered and cleared to contest is another issue that needs to be discussed.
If we were practicing true democracy in the established traditions of the developed countries we so eagerly want to emulate, then the quality of our party politics would be sophisticated enough for politicians to recognise the incredulity of registering mushroom parties at every opportunity, just to make a political point. In advanced democracies, politicians get ahead in established political parties with the force of their arguments and the profundity of their vision, coupled with an ability to sell these to the wider membership of the party and, by extension, the entire population. In Nigeria, we suffer from a dearth of options in an otherwise bountiful pool of shabby mushroom parties and unknown candidates who have no appetite for the grand scheming of the bigger parties.
Can one, for instance, imagine adopting a fixed date for every election, with our weak systems and mediocre commissions? In the United States of America, elections are held on the first Tuesday after November 1 in an election year. It is a matter of law, fuelled by confidence in a working system that guarantees the delivery of materials, inspite of weather conditions. In fact, the date itself is said to have been thought out to accommodate the more agrarian population of the U.S., and the long journeys that some have to make to their respective county centres, which could begin from the preceding Sunday. It was not a random date chosen, but one that takes weather, harvest and many issues of “logistics” into consideration. So also, in the United Kingdom, elections into the House of Commons are done, every five years, on the first Thursday of May, although allowances are made for snap votes, in the event of a no-confidence vote on a government.
That there is controversy surrounding the elections is no surprise. Neither is it a surprise that there has been a postponement. What will be really surprising is if the process continues, as re-arranged, with little or no incident. The frayed nerves of Nigerians have endured a lot in the past, and we can surely endure one more week of suspense…
Because of politics and other factors that remove from our overall efficiency as a truly independent country, we are nowhere close to setting a date for our elections by law. To begin with, many lawful dates are already being dishonoured, like the deadline for adoption of the budget for a new fiscal year at the federal level and in many states. There is just a crippling disregard for time that leads to tangible losses, as in this case. Many statistics have emerged about the cost of Saturday’s postponement to the government and to private business. The director general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce puts these costs at $1.5 billion, while renowned economist, Bismark Rewane, estimates it closer to $10 billion. But, of course, we can’t even get into a conversation about how to offset those costs. We barely got anything in the way of an apology, as it is.
The harm is in the indifference that the decision seemed to communicate. Indifference to hardship caused and expenses incurred by private citizens and the public purse. Some even say it is a new way of embezzling money and making sure that every kobo assigned for the elections disappears in a maze of logistical costs. Sensitive materials already deployed have supposedly been called back, and this recall will be at extra costs to what was projected. On the whole, it just casts suspicion on everything that happens from here onwards. If the one solace to be had is that people will be all the more watchful, then we will take it and run with it.
It is a fact that not everyone had the chance to obtain their Permanent Voters Cards before the window allowed for collection closed. If the delay had allowed for the continuation of card collection, then it may have been easier to bear. However, the delay appears to be of no benefit to the electorate, except for the unguaranteed “satisfaction” of possibly starting voting at roughly the same time countrywide. We have long been known to major in the minor in Nigeria. If the card readers are functioning as they should, and all INEC systems are sufficiently tamper proof, it shouldn’t matter terribly whether the elections are staggered across the states or not.
That there is controversy surrounding the elections is no surprise. Neither is it a surprise that there has been a postponement. What will be really surprising is if the process continues, as re-arranged, with little or no incident. The frayed nerves of Nigerians have endured a lot in the past, and we can surely endure one more week of suspense in the ever playing drama of Nigerian society and politics. The postponement will cost some more than others, but we are all equally stained by the stigma of never getting it right the first time, of unnecessary delays and the domino effect of African time that may have been started by the same political parties now calling foul and demanding the head of the INEC chair.
Our already complicated electoral system is being affected by the lack of vision of our over 70 presidential hopefuls, most of who lack the finesse to form sensible alliances. Instead, they complicate the electoral process with their numbers and ridiculously large ballot papers that do not present more than a few real choices. INEC, and all the political parties, should take this blame.
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