Nigeria's election commission, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) pledged to register 70 million eligible voters within a two week period. That period was to end on Saturday, January 29th. But as of that date, people across Nigeria were still seeking registration centers with equipment that worked. Sadly, this registration exercise and the incidents that occurred during the period looked like a farce and call into question the upcoming elections in April 2011.
ORIGINAL REGISTRATION PERIOD
Originally, the voter registration drive was to last from January 15th until the 29th. However, in the first day of registration, only 250,000 people were registered and by the second day of the exercise, it became clear that things were going poorly.
During that time, all manner of matters arose. From registration officials threatening and then calling off a strike over non-payment, to the recovery of stolen registration equipment in Kebbi and Plateau states, all sorts happened. Two women got into fisticuffs over who was to register in Abuja and at least one election official was brutally killed in Jos fighting. And, in-spite of all the money spent on equipment, only 30 million people were registered by January 30th. This was revealed by INEC's Chairman, Attahiru Jega, when summoned before the Senate to explain registration problems.
The National Assembly ultimately extended the voter registration period by an additional four weeks after Jega made a request. To do this both houses of the National Assembly amended Section 9(5) of the Electoral Act to read,
"The Registration of voters, updating and revision of the register of voters under this section shall stop not later than 30 days before any election covered by this Act".Although Nigeria has spent the most money on any voter registration project in the world, Jega also asked for an additional N6.6 million to pay for one additional week of registration. If approved, the 2011 registration exercise would have cost three times more than that conducted in 2006. At that time, N37 billion was spent to create a shoddy register for even shoddier elections, as compared to the N96 billion to be spent for the current and questionable register.
MY HUMBLE THOUGHTS
I always tell my children, who are 3, 5 and 6 in age, that it is crucial to do things well the first time around. I emphasize that putting their everything into their work and chores is essential so they need not return to fix anything missed initially.
I cannot help but think that INEC and indeed, Nigeria's leaders would do well to heed that message. It is unacceptable that every time Nigeria's officials set out on a project, be it on the small or large scale, they undoubtedly fail to complete it smoothly. I could mention any manner of programs that have left much to be desired and sadly, this voter registration campaign is but one of a string of failures that reinforce that officials, even those of the independent kind are not up to the challenge of successfully leading Nigeria.
No one need remind me that no person or institution is perfect and that mistakes or problems are bound to occur with any project. However, in the case of the voter registration, the comedy of errors began long ago and blame can be apportioned to many.
For one thing, the recommendations for the reform of the electoral act were submitted in December 2008. Unfortunately, the Yar'Adua administration, of which current President Jonathan was the Vice President, ignored the recommendations and did nothing but make grandiose statements about it. It took Yar'Adua's death in 2010 to propel the document before the National Assembly which then took far too long to complete the formalization of a modified Electoral Act within a reasonable amount of time. The reason for this stemmed from politicians angling to make the act as undemocratic as possible with attempts to kill political competition. And even Jonathan tried to mess with the new Electoral Act before it was finalized. He wanted to influence when and how party primaries would take place with an eye towards improving his already golden chances.
And INEC failed to prepare or anticipate many of the problems it faced. The need for computer power chords being one of them. Now, with all the problems experienced during the 2011 registration period, the register that will be created will lack credibility. As such, even with all the time and money spent, a whopping N96 million (making this the most expensive such exercise in the world), there still will be no guarantee that another register will be needed come the next elections. That will only mean more money and given Nigeria's corruption issues, another opportunity for officials of all ilk to make illicit money off the people's sweat and blood.
With all these requests for money, I cannot help but think that being in control or having access to the election-purse is now the quickest way to make money in Nigeria. Though, becoming a member of the National Assembly remains in the running. One must consider that no matter how much money is requested to prevent the disenfranchisement of voters, the money will be allocated. This creates a situation rife for corruption. After all, which politician wants to be blamed for not providing the money needed to conduct free and fair elections? Sadly, as one can see, INEC failed to prepare adequately and politicians knowingly took their time instead of completing the new act, thus compounding an already complex matter - election period and preparation in Nigeria.
Jega boldly made the following statement when questioned by the Senate about the registration problems:
While that is nice to know, it is more important that he, and other parties, focus on ensuring that the April elections run a lot more smoothly than the voter registration. Jega cannot console himself by telling the world that Nigeria's exercise has gone better than that of Bangladesh and Kenya. Those countries did not spend the money Nigeria has spent. And, given that elections are split up over three days, there is plenty of room for significant problems. As things stand, the elections will face many challenges because the voter register will be questioned for it's validity. Thus, INEC must do everything above and beyond its means to lessen the problems that will surface come April. And, everyone must not do anything to deliberately cause failure. If not, the farce will continue.
Also, read the #Jegasays post from Akin's blog here.