On June 1st, 2010, the Acting Chairman of Nigeria's electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), announced that the body is not ready for the upcoming 2011 elections. For a country like Nigeria, such a pronouncement is damning, particularly as Nigeria's last elections in 2007 were characterized by heavy rigging and irregularities. Furthermore, given the recent dramatic political changes that occurred in the wake of former President Yar'Adua's absence and death, the 2011 polling season was gearing up to be arguably the most important political event of all time for Nigerians. Unfortunately, this confession from INEC is not surprising considering recent events affecting the Commission. But while INEC might avoid the blame for its lack of preparedness, this announcement could spell serious trouble not just for the Nigerian electorate, but for the Jonathan administration and a possible candidacy, if he were to seek the Presidency. The circumstances that forced this announcement could lead to a coup d'etat of the sort Nigerians have never seen and must not be allowed to happen if a truly representative Nigerian democracy is ever to take root.
INEC MIGHT NOT BE TO BLAME
Traditionally, INEC and it's former Chairman, Maurice Iwu, have been the main object of blame for most things wrong with Nigeria's electoral system. And, for years, many civil groups and even ordinary individuals called for his sacking and/or resignation. Iwu was finally removed from INEC on April 28th, 2010 in a move that signaled to many President Jonathan's commitment to ensuring a free and fair electoral process in 2010. However, since removing Iwu, no replacement Chairperson has been named, effectively leaving the Commission rudderless. Unlike his predecessor, Jonathan must be congratulated for publicly supporting all the recommendations made by the Electoral Reform Committee. Nevertheless, given the sickness, absence and eventual death of late President Yar'Adua, much of the amendments to the Electoral Act have taken place very close to the upcoming elections. In fact, a complete and modified Electoral Act remains elusive as both houses of the National Assembly continue to reconcile their respective changes to the document. As a consequence, there is still no clear date for when Presidential elections will occur. Nigeria's 2011 presidential, which will be its most important, could take place as early as December 2010 (in less than 6 months) or January 2011. These dates are much closer than the previously expected, pre-amended Electoral Act date of May 2011. In fact, INEC's Acting Chairman, Solomon Soyebi, specifically stated that
"there is no electoral law to guide the election."Furthermore, Soyebi pointed out that there is not enough time to get ready for the polls, that the Commission only has 97,000 out of the required 120,000 polling units needed for smooth voting and,
"INEC right now needs five million ballot papers for the 2011 election and it requires a minimum of five months to be prepared, adding that with independent candidates it could be more. In fact, we may even print booklet."These realities illustrate that there is a growing confusion in the electoral law arena that can be tied to parties other than INEC. The Commission cannot print the names of all political aspirants if the deadline for submission of these names is non-existent as a result of a still to be completed Electoral Act, for instance. This, and the other problems, remove much of the blame from INEC, and deposits it at the feet of the nation's legislators and unfortunately (because it is never fair to speak ill of the dead), the late President and his advisers.
POLITICIANS MIGHT PREVENT ELECTIONS
This INEC-confession begs the question of whether the elections will happen? If, as Soyebi noted that there remains no electoral law as at 6 months before the earliest date elections could begin, there is the unfortunate possibility that elections might not take place. This is because completion of the amendments to the Electoral Act is dependent on a National Assembly that would be served well if elections were postponed. A later date for elections means more time for incumbent Senators and members of the House to remain in power, raise campaign money and frustrate the efforts of challengers. While this would be impossible in most democracies, because Nigerian politicians typically do not rely on voters for their position, depending instead on political godfathers, rigging and the use of their status to thwart opposition, it is very possible that the continued delay in the amendment of the Electoral Act could be dragged out. This is a possibility that Nigerians must not allow to come to pass as any undue delay in the time it takes for a new election would only increase the risk of politicians, with little or no commitment to the interests of the people, remaining in power.
WHAT ABOUT JONATHAN'S PROMISE OF FREE & FAIR ELECTIONS?
Upon his swearing in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly committed his administration to guaranteeing free elections in 2011. Unfortunately, the fact that INEC confessed to being ill-prepared for the upcoming polls will frustrate Jonathan's ability to achieve this goal. Nigerian elections have historically been challenged vehemently by whatever parties walked away as losers. The Election Tribunals from the 2007 elections were forced to throw out many a poll result and the Ekiti elections of May 2009 only reinforced the 'fight to the death' mentality of politicians when it comes to winning gubernatorial seats. However, the Anambra gubernatorial elections of February 2010, though marred by problems, were concluded with the losers acquiescing to the pronounced winner in a peaceful act that is not commonplace in Nigerian politics. Since then there have been at least two other elections in the country that were equally peaceful in comparison to the previously tense contests.
Despite some evidence that elections can be concluded with relative peace, INEC's confession will be an additional reason for many to question the results of any eventual polls. It will be forced to defend itself in a way that it might not have if it had not admitted its unpreparedness and been ready for the polls. The elections will have to take place whenever the Electoral Act specifies, and if by then INEC is still not ready, as will likely be the case, this will likely decrease what little credibility the Commission has left. Additionally, if Jonathan were to run for President, an option that is a possibility but subject to his formal announcement, a win for him would be burdened by the additional element of a weak INEC. That will only serve to prevent Nigeria from making any gains on the democratic front and will increase disillusion amongst the electorate about democracy and its role in improving the lives of citizens.
EVERY PROBLEM IS AN OPPORTUNITY
Nevertheless, despite the obvious problems that INEC's announcement presents, the situation could have a silver lining. Civil society and others could use this announcement, plus the possibility of a politician-led 'coup', to rally the masses towards demanding more answers from INEC, the National Assembly and the President about what plans are on the table to limit disenfranchisement and a return to fraudulent elections. This would take the country one step further towards creating a system of political accountability, which is sorely lacking at the moment. Nigerian leaders usually do not feel the need to engage with the people, but a matter such as this - an undue and unacceptable delay in the people's right to choose their representatives - could also be the opportunity certain ingenious leaders need to engage directly with the people and show support for their need for well planned, orderly elections. Jonathan's objective of free and fair elections are not impossible to achieve, but it would require him focusing on placing the needed pressure on the necessary actors who continue to hold up the Electoral Act and other materials needed by INEC to efficiently and effectively carry out it's responsibilities.
Nigerians must be very cautious over the next few weeks because their ability to vote for new representatives is not yet guaranteed. Further delay by the National Assembly will create a perfect storm. In this case, a non-violent, non-military coup where supposedly democratic politicians hold the nation hostage by preventing citizens from voting by a means other than ballot box rigging, paying for votes, violence and pure muffling of the people's voice. Hopefully, Jonathan's goal of free and fair elections are still a possibility. But to achieve that objective, Nigerians themselves will have to prevent the subjugation of their democratic right to determine their own future.
From The Archives:
- Iwu Is No Longer INEC Chairman
- Is Iwu The INEC Chairman
- Is Yar'Adua Committed To Democracy? (Electoral Reform Committee's reviews)
- Nigeria's New Kingmakers