Monday, August 9, 2010

Nigeria's next elections will occur in January 2011 and candidates are making their intentions known. Tinkering with the nation's electoral law and amendments to the Constitution, however, created a situation where there are less than six months for pre-election preparations. As can be expected, this short period of time is creating complications for Nigeria's election body, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC). Given the rampant fraud of the last election, a review of the voter register proved that a new one must be created. As a result, INEC announced that it needs at least N74 billion to not only create a new register and train 360,000 personnel, but to conduct federal and state-government elections in less than six months. Considering the dire situation at hand, one would think that Nigeria's legislators would get serious and do what is needed to smoothen the task INEC faces in conducting what President Jonathan has repeatedly promised will be free, fair and credible elections. Instead, Nigeria's legislators remain on their holiday and once again are proving that they are not servants of the people and care little about credible elections.

Becoming a seated political office holder is a do-or-die affair in Nigeria because the stakes are incredibly high. Not only are politicians very well paid, but they wield influence and can use that influence to gain money from individuals, businesses and organizations needing their assistance. As such, the fight to win a political seat far too often involves outright bribes, intimidation and other illegal schemes. It can also become very violent. Nigeria's police force chastened politicians for stockpiling weapons in anticipation of 2011 elections and authorities announced that the nation's bomb squad would be deployed at ports to prevent the importation of explosive devices by politicians arming themselves to the teeth. With these techniques for 'winning' elections, it is no surprise that politicians do not feel accountable to their constituents and spend their time in office (whenever they actually show up) bettering their self interest instead of passing laws that will benefit the majority of Nigerians. This fact is exemplified by the continuing lack of consistent electricity, poor education, bad roads and other problems that require the attention of politicians for solution.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that these same legislators remain on holiday even though INEC announced that it needs N74 billion by August 11th in order to carry out it's mandate. The Senate, which controls the purse strings, will not return from vacation until August 10th to formally discuss INEC's monetary needs. 

If ever there was a time to do away with all of Nigeria's legislators, the time would be now. These men and women have repeatedly proven that they care very little about their duties as public servants. That is, of course, because they do not depend on the constituents to come to power and thus, need not be accountable to them. The result of such an insult is that more than a decade since Nigeria opted for democracy, the democratic system of government is failing to empower the people and enable them to participate in the creation of a better country. Alternately, citizens are prisoners in their own country. A country brimming with potential and yet, overwhelmed with poverty as approximately 90% live on less than $2 a day.
The one thing that Goodluck Jonathan promised when he was sworn President to replace the departed Umar Yar'Adua was that he would ensure credible elections. Clearly, that will be impossible as the Senate is unwilling to determine, in a timely manner, how much INEC will get to conduct elections. Credible elections are essential so that the election season will not, once again, throw Nigeria into chaos as was the case during the last polling period where violence and numerous overturned results made a further mockery of Nigeria's electoral system. 

And yet, Jonathan, the very President that staked his short term on the promise of better elections, seemingly sits by and watches the Senate insult the intelligence of Nigerians seeking the basics - an electoral system that is fair and that will move the nation one step closer to a true Nigerian democracy that allows as many, regardless of class, sex, religion or ethnicity to participate in the nation's future. Jonathan's silence could be interpreted as a hesitance to challenge the very Senators who played a key role in his ascension to the Presidency

It is also possible that Jonathan's silence on the Senate's insolence is because he would be a direct beneficiary of ill-planned and disorganized elections. Although he is yet to formally announce his candidacy, most observers believe that he intends to run. Similarly, the non-acting Senate and other legislators would equally benefit from an under-funded INEC as these men and women have the money necessary to disregard the laws, adopt corrupt measures and weaken their opposition.

After waiting for an unreasonably long time to get a new INEC Chair, amended electoral laws and a modified constitution, Nigerians are once again forced to wait for their representatives to do their job. In this case - properly finance the election body so it may carry out elections in a short period of time and under urgent circumstances. There is no doubt that legislators must address the reasonableness of the amount requested. But, rather than attend to this matter with the focus and determination needed for a situation of such importance, Nigeria's Senate remains on holiday and the President, who like the legislators, will benefit from the lackadaisical approach, is silent on issue. This is a damning indictment on Goodluck Jonathan who, despite his promises, is falling short of his promise to improve Nigeria's democratic systems. It is not too late for him and Nigeria's leaders to do what is right. In the meantime, Nigerians cannot wait for these same politicians to wake up and do what is right, nor can they expect foreign governments to intercede. Nigerians must demand that their representatives actually commit to democracy. The 2011 elections will determine whether or not Nigeria can ever get this 'dance with democracy' right. Failure to do so will damn the country to a mock-democratic system that will be inherently autocratic and likely detrimental to citizens who already have little input on matters. Now is the time to get things right. Somehow.

From the Archives:
- Nigeria's Electoral Act & Election Problems

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