Monday, September 20, 2010

Per a constitutional schedule, Nigeria's next polling season will take place in 2011. Due to recently made changes in the country’s Electoral Act, elections are scheduled to commence in January 2011. Despite this knowledge, there remains uncertainty. The electoral body, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) revealed that the Commission is behind schedule, and that the time schedule is the Commission's greatest challenge. And now, the Commission has announced that elections need to be postponed. Specifically, INEC will seek
"all legal avenues for the extension of time to enable the commission to deliver on the aspirations of Nigerians for a credible voters register and free, fair and credible elections. Should this happen, May 29, 2011 inauguration date must remain sacrosanct."
These and other realities indicate that Nigeria is not be ready to conduct free and fair elections. 
Certain delays contributed to the time crunch INEC now faces in conducting elections. The Electoral Act was amended in August 2010 and with approximately four months until the January polls. INEC's budget was also not approved until August 2010. Furthermore, President Jonathan signed the Electoral Act on August 20th which then enabled INEC's funds to be released. And with all those delays in mind, INEC must generate a new list of registered voters with a two week span and the names must then be verified. In order to begin registration, INEC must not only hire, but train 360,000 personnel. The Commission must also purchase new election equipment because, equipment from the last election was “donated” to other organizations, staff and/or is simply unaccounted for. Considering these facts, Jega's announcement confirms what many, including this writer believe, that more time is needed to adequately prepare for elections.
Criticism and cynicism are a natural result of the various election-related news items including INEC's need for a delay. There are those who believe that a delay would improve the ability of incumbents to rig the elections. For these people, the prospect of a delay will be unpalatable. That the Commission's chairman, Attahiru Jega, waited until now to announce that more preparation time is needed can equally be viewed with suspicion. After all, he did not just learn that a period of less than 4 months is too short to plan and conduct national elections. There are others who assert that the legislative delays, the rushed timetable and other factors are all a grand scheme to lengthen Jonathan’s stay in office. The theories know no bounds.
Considering these suspicions, it is clear that even if more time is necessary, many will differ on how long the elections should be postponed for and even if such a delay should occur at all. Despite the views, completing elections within the current time constraint will obviously be unwise. 

Unfortunately, postponing the elections could be a Herculean task. As the election period is stipulated within the Constitution, a delay might require an amendment which could take weeks or months depending on the National Assembly and state legislative bodies which must participate. If another legal instrument could be generated to act as a temporary codicil to the constitution, even that document would take time to create. It would also require legal and political wrangling to become effective. Nevertheless, now that Jega himself announced that a delay is required for credible elections, it could compel the necessary parties to find a workable solution. 

There is also the issue of the constitutional challenge that is presently in court. A judge must determine whether the amended constitution required the signature of President Jonathan, which it did not receive. The court’s decision will determine whether the amended constitution is valid, and thus permitting of a January election period. If the court decides that the amended constitution is invalid because of the missing signature, then the old constitution, which stipulates an April election season, will be valid and the elections will be pushed back. The existence of this case means that politicians can opt to simply wait out the court’s decision instead of confronting the need to make changes to postpone the election. Unfortunately, such waiting will leave INEC further unprepared and only jeopardize the credibility of elections, whenever they occur.

Regardless of whether one believes that a delay will allow for enhanced rigging or will only benefit those who created the very time constraint the nation faces, the reality is that credible elections will require adequate preparation time. With INEC's seeking to register 70 million voters and enable a majority of them to vote, the current time frame until elections is not enough to train election personnel, purchase equipment, deploy the equipment and conduct fair elections.  Whether that delay should be a month or even 6 months is unclear. What is clear is that if no delay is introduced, elections will likely be just as violent and fraudulent as in 2007. INEC and concerned Nigerians may be unable to prevent election tampering. And that possibility - a country unable to prevent fraudulent elections because it did not have enough time to do so - will potentially create one more lost opportunity for Nigeria. A lost opportunity to get things right, but most especially, a lost opportunity for citizens to actually play a role in determining their nation’s future - a birthright that has been deprived them for far too long.

From the Archives:

- Nigeria's Elections: Delays & Challenges
- INEC's Budget Approved 

Nigeria's Legislators Aren't Serious About Elections
- Nigeria's New Electoral Act & Election Problems

- Could Nigeria Become a One-Party Regime?

The Nigerian Coup Nobody Saw Coming

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