INEC And The 2007 Elections

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INEC And The 2007 Elections

 

GUARDIAN EDITORIAL

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, October 16, 2006

 

The gap between the optimism of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct free and fair elections next year, and the practical reality of the election's success, is too yawning for comfort. This is worrisome, and raises alarm about the fate of the elections. On the one hand is Prof. Maurice Iwu, the INEC chairman who seizes every occasion to assure the whole world of his total commitment to conduct the 2007 general elections impeccably. On the other hand are the series of events that consistently point to the fact that INEC is unprepared for the elections.

 

The latest of these events is perhaps the failure of the commission's electronic voters' registration machine, during a practical demonstration at the Senate on October 10, 2006. The machine packed up after a mock registration of only 10 senators who had invited Iwu to convince them of INEC's preparedness for the elections. Prof. Iwu had blamed the machine's battery for the sudden stoppage, explaining that when fully charged, the battery was expected to last about eight hours.

 

We believe it is only natural for the Senators to subsequently question the suitability of the machine for the voters' registration exercise, as some of them did. If at all the machines are prone to stopping in the heat of the exercise, INEC should have ensured that such failure did not manifest at a demonstration before national lawmakers. If the batteries were not fully charged at the time, what are the guarantees that they would be fully charged when they are used during the elections?

 

The INEC chairman had sought to reassure everyone that the system failure before the Senate would not occur on the field, as back-up batteries and a charging system would be provided to ensure smooth operation. Nothing, however, prevented INEC from bringing such back-up package to the Senate's floor, to demonstrate its seriousness about the elections. The commission's failure of the practical test may in fact buttress the general reservation about the use of electronic gadgets in any aspect of the elections.

Barely a week earlier, Iwu had raised alarm that INEC's N20 billion was trapped in the Central Bank of Nigeria . Speaking to newsmen at the opening ceremony of a media workshop, the INEC boss said that although the commission followed due process for the appropriation and the release of the N20 billion, the fund was trapped in the Central Bank. In the circumstance, cheques issued for the procurement of vital materials for the conduct of voters' registration exercise bounced.

 

In what has become his characteristic optimism, Iwu declared that despite the hitch, the commission is resolute in its intention to conduct the elections. According to him, INEC has a fall-back option and has made alternative arrangements to procure materials for the exercise. By INEC's schedule, voters' registration was to have commenced on October 7, in special areas in Taraba and Adamawa states, the new Bakassi, the riverine areas of Lagos and Ondo states as well as Warri, among others.

The exercise in these areas was to last two weeks, after which it would be extended to other parts of the country from October 21 to November 30. The list will then be displayed for review, while the final list would be published on February 14, next year. Incidentally, Iwu advertised this schedule recently, only for the commission to inexplicably back out and instead, announce a new commencement date. Clearly, Iwu's voice is not matching INEC's action.

 

While promising to conduct "free, fair and credible elections come 2007", despite the commission's bounced cheque, Iwu had again stressed that "we will still go ahead with the elections as planned, even if it means Nigerians raising up their hands on the election days". He virtually hinted that the withholding of INEC's funds by the Central Bank is curious. He insisted, however, that he would only speak about the controversy after May 29, 2007, because INEC does not want any distraction.

 

This is not an assuring strategy, particularly amid uncertainties in the political terrain, coupled with absence of evidence to support INEC's seriousness. The commission cannot function without funds. If indeed government has made the funds available and this is trapped in the Central Bank, the nation wants to know exactly what happened. Iwu should therefore, not keep silent on a matter of such magnitude.

 

Moreover, the Central Bank appears not to be aware of INEC's dilemma concerning the supposedly trapped funds. The bank's head of Corporate Affairs, Mr. Festus Odoko expressed surprise at the suggestion that the Central Bank might have refused to pay its customer. He explained that only N5.442 billion was allocated INEC by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, and that the amount is to be paid from the third quarter allocation "when funded".

 

Nothing can better confirm INEC's ill-preparedness for next year's elections than this verbal altercation. Iwu's determination to conduct the elections without financial support is theatrical. His assertion that Nigerians would be prepared to raise their hands is a mockery of the seriousness with which the 2007 elections ought to be approached. Nonetheless, as the Central Bank spokesman wondered, why couldn't Iwu approach the bank's governor, or director of banking operations to whom the INEC chieftain had access, if the commission had difficulty in cashing money?

 

The bouncing of a cheque is a crime. Where it involves the apex bank and custodian of the country's monetary policy, it constitutes a grievous offence. We are, therefore, not amused that Iwu is portraying such a critical matter in a comical light. Coming at a time when the whole country expects the machinery of elections to be moving at full steam, INEC's attitude is questionable.

 

Time has come for the commission, and indeed the Federal Government to convince the nation of the sincerity of their plans to conduct the 2007 elections. No less a person than the President ought to be driving this process through visible policy and clear reassurance of the public. The absence of such a leading light in the preparation for the elections, further worsens the uncertainty and apprehension that has become rife with public. Too many things are happening, or not happening, to reasonably sustain a suspicion of sabotage, or a hidden agenda. By now, someone should have explained the huge disparity in Iwu's estimate of INEC funds and the figures confirmed by the Central Bank. The leaders of INEC should be reminded that Nigerians are earnestly yearning for the next elections. They will not accept excuses for a truncation of their desire.

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