I am one of the millions of Nigerians who really wanted the elections to hold as scheduled. At least, if only to possibly douse the pervasive mood of fear and uncertainty in the land. I was therefore very disappointed when the postponement was announced. It broke my heart. I am, however, not unmindful of the security reasons given for the shift in the dates as security is a vital component of the aggregating factors that give credibility and legitimacy to the electoral process. I have agonised about the reputational damage this postponement has done to the image of the country as it portrays us as a never-ready and never-serious people to the outside world. However, I am also not unmindful of the outcry that has trailed the manner and extent of the distribution of the Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs) across the country, with many potential voters making several rounds to INEC designated centres, only to be told their cards were either not ready or referred to other centres, which in turn also referred them to other areas. Unfortunately, these people have not been able to get their PVCs due to no fault of theirs, but INEC’s shoddy arrangements and poor planning.
The mere fact that 26 million registered voters were yet to collect their cards was enough to raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the mandate that would have resulted from the February 14 vote, had it gone ahead. It is easy for many to wave this off on the grounds that not every registered voter votes in an election, but that will amount to putting primacy on the destination and not the journey. I must say here that Nigerians must strive and never lose sight of building an all-inclusive participatory process, instead of one that excludes 34 per cent of registered voters.
Emerging facts have since revealed INEC’s utter lack of preparedness for the 2015 general election, as Attahiru Jega, the INEC Chairman, was preparing Nigeria for another electoral fraud/crises. The security grounds proved a fortuitous cover for his own personal failings and outright betrayal of the people’s trust. It is noteworthy that he had four whole years for preparation, yet it seems all the while he was preparing the ground for a major election fiasco.
Contrary to his “INEC is ready” posture to the public, which many Nigerians and members of the international community have taken; Dodgy Jega’s INEC was ill-prepared to hold credible, free and fair election. As a matter of fact, going by what is filtering out; the electoral umpire was facing a mountain of challenges which were essentially self-imposed.
Going by Jega’s own admission in his prepared presentation to National Council of State, he was actually asking for more time to enable INEC perfect the processes for the election to hold. In other words, Jega was telling the Council why the February 14 date he had fixed one whole year to the election was no longer feasible. This was a direct opposite of the impression he had created in the minds of the public and what he later told Nigerians as reason for the postponement. Now hear him in his presentation to the Council of State: “Timelines have been missed in respect of the supply/delivery of some of the non-sensitive materials to states… We could do with more days of especially hands-on training for POs and APOs.” Then, he proceeded to actually request more time: “A bit more time of additional preparedness would enable us improve and perfect the current level of preparedness.”
From what has now been revealed of the shoddy preparation by Jega, there is no way INEC would have conducted an election that is anywhere near free, fair and credible. So, why was Jega misinforming Nigerians and the international community about his readiness? As at 8th February, 2015, about a week to the election, INEC, it has emerged, had not printed voters’ registers, training manuals for 700,000 ad hoc staff and presiding officers; outside the fact that INEC was yet to distribute 26 million PVCs to registered voters.
Furthermore, most states were yet to get card readers and those that had were facing mounting challenges, as the card readers malfunctioned when being test run and so were unable to give accurate reading of the cards. Some rejected the cards outright while the ink distributed to some states was fake and yet to be replaced.
As at 8th February, most of the statistics of collected cards released by INEC have been found to be false and made-up figures. Further investigations have also revealed that the presidential ballot papers that were to be used for the February 14th election were printed abroad and were not expected in the country until the night of Thursday February 12, just two days to the election. How would INEC have distributed these materials all over this vast country with all its geographical complexities on Friday and hold election on Saturday when even the full complement of the ballot papers wouldn’t have arrived the country? With all these challenges, Jega went on to deceive Nigerians that he was ready to hold the election. Could he really have held a free, fair and credible election under these circumstances? I, for one, don’t see how he could have achieved that except he had a grand sinister plan of his own. Looking at the pattern of the distribution of PVCs, one is tempted to believe that Jega was working to an answer.
This suspicion is further buttressed by a news story published in Leadership Newspapers, 15 February titled: Controversy Trails INEC’s Claims on PVC Distribution in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The report essentially put a lie to INEC’s PVCs distribution statistics. Leadership reported: “Against the claims of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that it has achieved close to hundred per cent in the contentious distribution of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), especially in the volatile north-east states, findings by the newspaper have picked holes in such claims.
“In Borno and Yobe states, where INEC said it has achieved between 70 to 80 per cent of the entire distribution of PVCs, hundreds of prospective voters still lay claim to the fact that they have not been issued their PVCs. In some cases, officials of INEC, who are taking part in the distribution of the PVCs, had admitted that many of the cards still lay in their custody unclaimed. In the two states, there also were disturbing cases of either theft of PVCs or cases of some persons collecting them on behalf of others without due authorisation.
“When the newspaper conducted a check around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, where for now, about 65 per cent of the state’s potential voters were not likely to cast their votes due to the influx of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs); it was discovered that INEC may have exaggerated its claims because thousands of prospective voters are still lamenting the ugly tales of not being told when their cards would be made available to them.
“One thing that was very instructive about the lack of PVCs in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC) was the case of Maisandari ward which is unarguably one of the largest in Nigeria. Those who know the state very well would attest to the fact that Maisandari ward, which is larger than some local government areas in the state, has been the decider of most elections in the state.
“Our reporter was informed by various aggrieved would-be voters in this massive electoral ward that more than half of them have not obtained their PVCs. Abba Shehu, a private security officer and resident of Maisandari, alleged that out of the about 140 polling units that made up the ward, only about nine units had some of their PVCs brought to them.
“There is anger in Maisandari and if care is not taken, no voting will take place here if INEC fails to provide us with our PVCs”, said Shehu, who revealed that voters are already mobilising themselves for a mass protest over the problem. I am from Maisandari Ward and my polling unit is the Lagos House polling unit, and I can tell you that no single person in this unit has collected his PVC; in fact no single INEC official has come to tell us when it will come; the only thing they kept telling us any time we went to their office, is that they would soon arrive Maiduguri from Abuja. We will not take the laws into our hands, but we will make sure we go to court and stop any process that threatens to disenfranchise us. We cannot sit down and just watch being denied opportunity to elect those whom we want to represent us. Yahaya Garba, an automobile mechanic, who said he had registered at Lawan Jidda polling unit in Ngomari Street of Maisandari Ward, also decried not being given his PVC after days of visit to the polling unit. All of us that registered at Lawan Jidda polling centre are yet to be given our PVCs. Each time we go to the Bulama’s house to enquire, no one tells you why ours are not provided, but we kept hearing news in the media that the PVCs have been brought and made available. We hope someone somewhere is not playing pranks with our cards,” he said.
“Mallam Muhammed Abbas Gava, an official of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, and one of the local coordinators for the collection of PVCs in Moduganari Street under Maisandari Ward, also confirmed this, saying: ‘Out of the over 100 polling units that exist in our Ward, only nine (9) units have so far received their PVCs. My unit’s name is Bulama Bukar and none of us has gotten anything; we really don’t know what is going on.’
“Gava also confirmed that even in Shuwari/Moduganari, which is made up of 25 polling units, only one unit got theirs, which is Moduganari maternity clinic unit; all the remaining 24 units are yet to take delivery of their PVCs.”
Most of the prospective voters in Maisandari raised doubts about the claims of INEC that it has distributed over 80 per cent of the PVC requirement for the state. Some of the residents are wondering how that could be achieved within a very short time and under the circumstances in which the state finds itself presently.
“Many of them have argued that it couldn’t have been possible to accept the figure being peddled by INEC on the distribution of the PVCs. According to them, the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State had claimed well over 2,000 lives. Besides that, we know thousands of people have been forced to flee Maiduguri and other parts of Borno State due to the ongoing Boko Haram conflict; such persons won’t come back to collect their PVCs; so how did INEC come about its percentage figure? asked Muhammed Uba, a resident of Maiduguri.”
This is the situation across the country and yet Jega was set to conduct the election going by his voodoo PVC distribution statistics. Investigations have revealed that most of the PVCs are in the hands of party agents who distribute them as they wish. So, INEC’s statistics of collection is clearly bogus and fraudulent. The question is: why are PVCs in the hands of party officials who can manipulate the distribution to their advantage? Could this be the reason why so many people are yet to get their PVCs despite several trips to different pick-up centres? It is regrettable that after four whole years of the last presidential election, and one full year of preparation for 2015, lessons learned from the last experience have not guided Jega in his actions. We hope that our dodgy Jega won’t yet again bungle the now rescheduled elections on account of poor preparation.
I am however opposed to calls for Jega’s sack. Such a move will backfire spectacularly, give credence to some suspicions already fouling the atmosphere and make a hero out of a clearly poor and incompetent administrator with history of election postponements. Let us all be on guard and make sure this dodgy professor doesn’t throw this country into needless crisis.