The political power of the people takes the centre stage at the polls. While early eras pursued giving voting power to the people, subsequent eras had pursued the orderliness and proper conduct of such exercise of civic rights. And even till today, improvements on the modalities continue to be the focus everywhere. In the developed world, registration requirements have eased since the 1960s. An eligible individual may now register to vote by simply mailing a postcard to the state election board. The 1993 US federal "Motor-Voter" Act required states to make such postcards available in motor vehicle, public assistance, and military recruitment offices. American legislators hoped that easing burdens on voters could reverse discouraging trends in voting participation. This is necessary to achieve the founding principle of democracy which is to give power to the electorate ÔÇô the voters.
Nigerian voters throughout the nation's sad tales-filled history had consistently made known their desire to be the architect of the destiny of the nation. Such instances include the numerous Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) strikes during the Sanni Abacha tyrannical regime; large turnouts at the various Campaign for Democracy (CD) and NADECO rallies during the military era; and impressive massive national mobilization for the annulled 1993 General Elections. These attest to the fact that Nigerians long to be the main focus of the nation's democracy. But while all parties in the developed world often work together to ensure incidences that disenfranchise citizens from exercising their democratic rights are eschewed in all ramifications, the Nigerian political class is only interested in getting power with little or no regard for the transparency and reliability of the electioneering process.
The sad status of Nigeria's electioneering process is best appreciated when an independent review of the process is done. The president appoints the electoral chairman and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) solely depends on the government for funding, approval and survival. At the state level, governors openly liaise with resident electoral commissioners. In some states of the federation, the governors "support" the commission with funds and provision of certain infrastructures. They sometimes take it to the extent that the welfare of the State Independent Electoral Commission becomes a top priority of the state government, which the rank and file of INEC is happy about. These government efforts do not go unnoticed and unappreciated by the commission, hence the commission's various activities become suspicious in the eyes of the opposition, media, monitoring groups and the Nigerian masses.
The former INEC boss - Prof Maurice Iwu, is another typical case study on the widely acclaimed ever-flourishing harmonious INEC-PDP working relationship that continually hinders the progress of democracy in Nigeria. Despite the numerous outcries that brought the commission to local and foreign disrepute, he bagged national awards from the government and its arms, a gesture that implied that he had the backing of the incumbent powers to take steps which further highlighted the assertion that he is acting PDP's scripts.
Although he promised Nigerians a free and fair election, Prof Jega seems to be walking the ingenious path of his predecessor by taking actions that suggests that he is allying with the presidency. These Jega steps are best understood when a non-partisan review of the on-going voters' registration is done.
One of such numerous Jega Steps is the disregard of the "free and fair" adjective that comes before "elections". "Free and fair" means that every Nigerian has equal right, and no head is bigger than the other. This clause covers the voters and the aspirants which according to the popular view of democratically organized elections, must be treated equally. But in Jega's INEC, this is not so.
When President Goodluck Jonathan flew to his hometown to register on the first day of the registration exercise, we were surprised to see the INEC chairman with him right in his village in Bayelsa, "officially" performing the voter's registration process for Mr President ÔÇô a candidate in the forthcoming elections. The assignment that is not in any of the numerous (now confusing) twice-a-year revised editions of the Nigerian Constitution brings the "fair" aspect of the forthcoming General Elections under Jega to extensive criticism.
If he intends to be "free and fair", why didn't he present himself to conduct the same voter's registration process for other candidates including Dele Momodu, Nuhu Ribadu, Chris Nwaokobia, Buhari and the rest? This miscalculation cum misjudgement of the learned prof gives an idea of where his loyalty is; and sufficient enough to convince many Nigerians that the forthcoming general elections have a slimmer-than-slim chance of being free and fair.
INEC's malfunctioning equipment further hints us of the melodrama that will certainly characterize the April general elections. The Nigerian Constitution clearly states that "individuals that are eighteen years and above are eligible to vote" but INEC's DDC machines, especially the fingerprint scanner, is helping INEC, PDP or whoever fears the collective power of the Nigerian public to screen out a major sizeable chunk of the Nigerian nation ÔÇô those with coarse palms. Whoever brought and bought the idea deserves a PDP government's National Award for being so brilliant, intelligent and innovative.
The larger proportion of the Nigerian people is occupied by the poor. And no thanks to the insensitive actions of past and present Nigerian governments, the unchecked rising unemployment rate and the desperate quest for any means of survival had compelled many Nigerians ÔÇô both old and young ÔÇô to go for hard menial jobs that harden the hands, especially the fingertips. Nigeria has millions of mechanics, vulcanizers, carpenters, artisans, craftsmen, bricklayers, and other professionals whose hands are expected to be very hard considering the nature of their jobs. We cannot leave out the old and the middle-aged women that handle steamy hot pots with bare-hands which is an ancient tradition with the resultant effect of hardening their palms. The incidence of hard palms in Nigeria is best appreciated when one considers the fact that a former president belongs to this special group of Nigerians. Hence any serious unbiased thoughtful and insightful electoral chairman will put such category of Nigerians into consideration when procuring electoral machines.
Moreover, the Nigerian Constitution mentioned age as the major disqualifying criterion hence the electoral commission shouldn't have insidiously add its own in the name of using "advanced technologies". Furthermore, Nigeria's famous democratic dispensation was the June 12 unforgettable elections when Nigerians, especially those with the hardest palms in human history, trouped out en masse to speak with their votes. But almost twenty years later, the Jega-led INEC is indirectly telling Nigerians that only those with soft hands can vote. And in Nigeria, this group is dominated by the rich.
I've visited several registration centres and I can authoritatively say that the special treatment that was given to President Olusegun Obasanjo is unavailable to the real Nigerians. In one of such centres in Ibadan, a young man who had similar problem with Zinox's fingerprint capturing device was unable to be registered. All he got was a manicure/pedicure advice from the female youth corps member.
When INEC requested for the scary sum of money, many Nigerians expected an-equipment-per-voter arrangement, but the paucity of machines and the uneven distribution of the registration centres are enough reasons to call on EFCC.
In Oyo state, for instance, an entire rural ward didn't have a DDC machine and it took the intervention of the prominent PDP member from the area for INEC to produce a machine for the ward, while a federal parastatal has two DDC machines within its four walls.
The quality of the machines should attract ICPC and EFCC in any serious country. I use an hp mini notebook to "write" my articles. It has a battery life of 7 hours, and an in-built high resolutions webcam. The system costs less than $350 in Nigeria. The accessories that would be needed should be the printer and fingerprint capture device. For a project as huge as INEC's voters' registration, the manufacturer could be contacted to produce units with longer battery life (I've heard of 10 hours). But trust Naija (apologies to Prof Dora), the machines were manufactured by Zinox, a Nigerian company. This is not what Jega promised. Also, Nigerians should not be surprised in April, considering the fact that INEC now has a strong alibi in the young men and women of the NYSC who are painstakingly serving their fatherland.
According to media reports, the electoral commission described the youth corps members as illiterates and unable to operate the equipment. If this is the song that commission wants to sing during the proper elections, I don't think Nigerians will be that gullible. Who bought the machines? INEC. Who is to blame for the short battery life? INEC. Who trained the operators? INEC. Who approved the various malfunctioning machines and "inferior" fingerprint capture machines? INEC. Who decided to mobilize NYSC members for the exercise? INEC.
The agency had several re-run elections to test its preparedness for the major exercise; Jega came on national TV to say all is well; the agency got the money it asked for to organize the best elections for Nigeria and the ambiguous National Assembly did approve it; hence it becomes ludicrous and utterly absurd for the "independent body" to blame the young men in khaki uniforms for the misfortunes and failures of the on-goingÔÇôthough at snail speedÔÇôexercise.
On the first day of registration, my queue ticket number was 104, the next day, I got 150. On Monday, the number rose to 223 and on Wednesday, my queue ticket number was 654. While I languish over the slow pace of the project, I can't claim to be ignorant of the ecstasy and breeze of hope that is blowing in the Nigerian polity. Few years ago, Nigerians were unperturbed and unconcerned about the daily running of the nation; all that individuals were concerned with was their individual well being. But over the years, government's wrongs actions had greatly affected the quality of life of the Nigerian people. And in the forthcoming election, they seem poised to make the necessary change.
Maybe the government is up to some of its funny games, or the INEC is trying to cut the workload; the fact is that many Nigerians are being disenfranchised. After five days of the process, no centre has registered more than five hundred voters, yet more Nigerians want to be part of this particular election.
My mum is a good Christian. She loath Nigerian stealing politicians but prefers to support the nation with prayers. But on Monday morning, she requested to be taken to the registration centre to get her voter's ID card. Her mission is simple, she wants to vote someone out. The euphoria is the same all over the nation and politicians are sampling the populace's opinions whether it's in their favour, or the tables are getting turned. The younger generations that weren't around when we had the famous June 12 Presidential Elections crave to have a re-enactment of the day Nigerians from Jos to Lagos, Maiduguri to Owerri unanimously trouped out en masse to have their voice heard. This is the right time for us to get it right as a nation and show the world that we are born again. But if the current voter's registration programme is anything to go by, the stage is set for a monumental failure. The architect this time won't be IBB; it is the umpire itself ÔÇô the INEC.