Overhaul The Way We Vote Now!

Nigeria is yet to recover from the disgraceful and shocking postponement of the National Assembly elections on Saturday. Nigerians have every right to be angry; not necessarily at Professor Jega, but at the very system that has set him up to fail. It seem very clear to keen observers that the non-arrival of sensitive materials many weeks to a planned election was an internal sabotage by the very cabal that was engaged in candidate name switching at INEC. That cabal has survived the corrupt leadership that once held sway at INEC under Professor Iwu.

While one has to admit that at least Chairman Jega has tried to be honest, he clearly was set up to fail. Honesty is not enough in a system incapable of righting itself, and where mediocrity is celebrated and abetted; this is NIGERIA, this is INEC. Even primary schools handle their class prefect elections better; or are we just too stupid? The electoral system Professor Jega was dealt was a badly designed one. The best solution is a complete and total overhaul. But will they listen or will we demand it?

I think we may have been too hard on the honest professor, because he was handed a job that was far beyond his pay grade. How can a man without an electoral act, without an honest and trained workforce, with a chaotic and antsy citizenry as well as unduly high expectations, conduct a clean election with his hands being tied behind his back, succeed? Be it as it may, the constitution and the electoral act on which Professor Jega was to conduct this election did not even get approved until December 2010. Even the original dates of the elections had to be moved to accommodate these realities.

After numerous battles in court on when and how constitutional amendments become law, and failed attempts to smuggle in padi-padi amendments into the Acts and Constitution, the country finally got a half-baked Act in January 2011. This was three and half years after the bungled 2007 election!

Even until March, the powers of INEC to fix election dates were yet to be clarified. It happened after the fact, when the real political advantage the corrupt legislators from the ruling party was already secured by a clearly unconstitutional clause in the electoral act! Somehow we are all to blame; for we got distracted with shenanigans like the health of a now dead President instead of spending valuable national time on fixing the way we vote. Civil Society and Journalists share the biggest blame for that distraction!

In the middle of these somehow, registration of voters happened as tension gripped the nation, even with extensions being granted to ensure more voters are captured. Political violence kept rising, many directed to the umpires themselves. Yet, we expect Jega to deliver? We've got to be kidding! The man is not a magician, and he has performed okay under the ugly circumstances handed to him.

But just before we take a sit back and excuse the gross incompetence of the organizers of this election (excusable as it may be…they are all still excuses), we have to dig deeper and realize the postponement was built into the system. A highly corrupt organization like INEC, with compromised Resident Electoral Commissioners chosen by a President from the most corrupt party ever known to the history of Nigeria is bound to be incompetent. In this organization, only a massive purge and redo will do the magic; anything short of such is cosmetic! Hence where the hands of Jega are tied; he can do nothing about it!

Weeks to this election, reports of saboteurs within INEC have been around. Officials were arrested with registration machines, caught while changing the voter's roll. Even the names of some candidates disappeared overnight, switched by a cabal in-house that works for paid hands and clearly were a carryover from the last administration. Even ordinary administrative secretaries within INEC undermined the power of Professor Jega and faced no repercussion. The House of INEC is corrupt and needs detoxification!

While we may end up living with this embarrassment for a long time (my Ghanaian friends will never fail to remind me, thank you very much), we can determine to prevent a guaranteed repeat. First, the very unitary constitutional approach in a federal system that mandates central control of elections is outdated. Rather a common regulator should replace the common operator - INEC.

State Independent Electoral Commission, with equal board representation by the four largest political parties in each state should rather take up the responsibility for everyday management of elections in every state. To ensure fairness, smaller parties may nominate one candidate to make it a five-member board. This commission will make personnel, structure, process and logistic arrangements for elections freeing a national regulator like INEC to do certifications and ensure compliance with federal minimum standards both before and during all elections and even up to the local council level.

This proposed system will remove the headache of logistic pitfalls presented by the vastness of our country. Indeed, the secret reason why the third republic (including June 12) elections were successful was because Professor Nwosu never had to deal with the logistic issues of distributing ballot papers like today. Indeed, "The open ballot system, which Nigeria experimented with in the Third Republic, entails voting openly by queuing up behind candidates or their posters." [1]

Whereas the open ballot system adopted in the third republic has been said to be impossible in today's feisty (as opposed to controlled) political environment and the need to maintain the secrecy of voting (as if it matters) has been emphasized, decentralizing the management and operations of elections offers the best path to minimize logistical challenges of the modified open balloting system or secret method.

Every state will then adopt the voting system that best fits their need. For example, there is no reason why Lagos state with 98% literacy, and a robust technology backbone cannot adopt electronic voting. Also, Bayelsa state with her backwaters of creeks may of course still be better served with paper ballots, while mechanical voting machines might be the way to go for others.

In the end, states will decide how best to handle their voters instead of waiting for an imaginary almighty directive from a central authority in Abuja that has clearly got no clue on how to do anything be it building roads, securing our streets, ensuring steady electricity, building durable airports or even organizing a simple election! When are we going to get wise, and get rid of these clowns at the center?

It is truly sad that in this day and age, when countries are increasingly using technology to facilitate democracy, we cancel ours because we cannot get enough papers into the hands of our voters. The national embarrassment of Nigerians continues. Also the racist convictions of our colonial masters that we are human beings incapable of governing ourselves and guiding our own future in an orderly, methodical and logical fashion continues to be reinforced by the incompetents that we call leaders!

I am shocked and ashamed, and we should start over right now. As one Governor pointed out, when are we going to stop making a fool of ourselves?


[1] http://allafrica.com/stories/200805210346.html



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