Monday, April 4, 2011

The only word to describe my personal reaction to news of the recent election postponement in Nigeria is disgust. After receiving a budget that was arguably the highest ever for a similar election, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) announced on April 2nd, that previously planned National Assembly elections would be postponed. The explanation given was that necessary paperwork and materials failed to reach many voting centers around the country. Now, National Assembly elections will occur on April 9th, pushing presidential elections to the 16th and state government elections to the 23rd of April. Why INEC waited until April 2nd, which was election day, to inform the country that it was unprepared is a mystery, but it does raise very interesting questions about where power lies and the future of Nigerian democracy.


It is not a mistake that a commonly overused term in politics is "follow the money". In this case, questioning who stands to benefit from the forced election delay will allow for consideration of the more important matters at hand. It cannot be Jonathan or his party the PDP. For all the criticisms of that party, and there are many, they do not gain from this embarrassment. In fact, the postponement makes them, the party that has held so-called democratic power since 1999, appear useless. It is also important to mention that elections had begun before the postponement was announced. And in fact, elections continued in many parts of the country despite the announcement.

And Jega, who came to the INEC as a well-respected educator, could not have signed up for the embarrassment that has followed. Besides, if one is to look at previous delays by himself and INEC, they always happened prior to the event in question. Still, in any other country, a person in Jega's position would either resign or be sacked for such a glaring failure, whether it was his fault or not. Alas, Nigeria is sadly, not one of those countries.

Many northern leaders argued that Nigeria's next president had to be zoned to a northerner and their argument depended on a PDP agreement. The political party agreed to switch the presidency between the north and south every eight years. It is possible that the election postponement is tied to threats from northern elites that they would make Nigeria ungovernable if a non-northerner became president. Given that most of their attempts to prevent Jonathan from becoming president failed, these same northerners and their non-northern partners could be pulling the strings behind the scene. And now, some are working to get the current northern presidential candidates: Buhari, Ribadu and Shekarau, to agree to a northern concensus candidate that will go up against Jonathan, a southerner.

However, this mess could simply be the result of sheer incompetence on the part of INEC officials. The editors of the Vanguard newspaper, Sahara Reporters, political parties and civil society groups have publicly called for Jega's resignation. It is clear that there must be an investigation into what happened. As noted above, it is a mystery that INEC waited until the day of elections to postpone them. The commission should have known that it was not prepared at least 48 hours before the planned polls. It should have announced a delay much earlier. Sadly, the postponement did not prevent the election violence that injured many and killed at least one person.

Whether the forced delay was the result of incompetence or nameless and faceless individuals, the consequences are much larger than the mere failure to carry out National Assembly elections on time. Firstly, the forced delay destroys the credibility of INEC and by extension the person who selected the INEC head: Goodluck Jonathan. How can Nigerians trust any of these players given the failures? Consequently, the election results will hold little water and whoever wins, especially at the presidential level, will have their mandate weakened. That could lead to another ineffective president, like Yar'Adua, who commanded little to no respect or open the door for a military coup.

Secondly, the forced delay highlights that true power in Nigeria lies in the shadows. It is incredible that Jonathan, as president, would allow such an incident to happen on his watch. After all, he repeatedly made himself the guarantor of credible elections the minute he became acting president during the confusion caused by late president Yar'Adua's 2009 absence and eventual death in 2010. So, if the president of Nigeria is not competent or powerful enough to indeed guarantee credible polls, then how can he be strong enough to stand up to the challenges of the position he seeks? Worse still is that none of the so-called leaders that claim they can rule Nigeria, be they Buhari, Ribadu, Atiku, Babangida or anyone else is right for Nigeria at this time or ever. Anyone with enough sense to be of political value is not dipping their foot into the hornet's nest that is Nigerian politics.

Additionally and sadly, the delay reinforces how equally powerless citizens are that puppeteers pull the strings with little fear of a potential backlash from Nigerians. That means that Nigerians have a very long way to go before they actually matter, politically. And until that time when they decide to no longer tolerate the disrespect, ineptitude and mediocre performances of those in power, whether they be in the shadows or not, citizens will continue to suffer the consequences of Nigeria's "big men" and their actions.

Hopefully, Nigerians will find a way to wrest power away from all these characters. It makes no sense that in a country of its size and potential, a small group continue to hold people hostage. That is the only way Nigerians can ever have a chance of playing a clear and decisive role in the future of the country and their own specific lives. The responsibility for Nigeria's future and democracy lies squarely with the Nigerian people. If they want democracy, then they must effectively challenge their leaders and demand excellence from all, including themselves.

From the Archives
- Postponing Nigeria's 2011 Elections
- Nigeria 2011 Elections: Can INEC Do It?
- When will Nigerians Have Enough? (Guest post by Aloofar)

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