With the conclusion of today’s parliamentary election in Nigeria, there is an observed shift from the despair and disappointment of last weekend’s fiasco to a sense of hope, progress and possibility. To many, the elections may be described by any of the favourite political buzz words – Free, Fair, Credible, Transparent. With the exception of a two hour delay in some polling zones like Kaduna among others, accreditation and voting were witnessed to have commenced promptly all over, giving an overwhelming feeling of success as regards the general conduct of the elections. However, while progress was being achieved in some parts of the country, there were cases of violence and election malpractices in other locations including Maiduguri, Ughelli, Bayelsa and Owerri. Specifically, in Bayelsa, a politician was found with ballot boxes and materials in his residence, while on Friday evening, there was the report of election materials being tampered with in Owerri. A bomb exploded at a polling unit in Maiduguri leaving a number of people injured, while Ughelli witnessed some political miscreants attempting to cart away election materials, albeit unsuccessfully. Most disheartening was the diabolical bomb explosion at the INEC office in Suleija, which left some dead, and others seriously injured.
In retrospect, and relative to last Saturday’s initial attempt, we can say that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) certainly put some things right, applying the lessons learned, and demonstrating a tremendous improvement in performance. Were all the boxes ticked? Certainly not, but INEC’s performance today displayed a great deal of process improvement.
So then, is the stage set? Have we come to that point where we can say that Nigeria is on the brink of change or is it a bit too early to judge? Based on the conduct of today’s exercise, is it safe to assume that next weekend’s presidential elections will be better conducted? Is Nigeria about to shift from decades of democratic ‘selection’ to a true democratic government of the people? Will there be a re-enactment of the 1993 elections, where Nigerians trooped out to vote in what was judged to be the most credible election in our national history? Will Prof Jega deliver on his promise to ensure a free and fair election? Is the country about to witness the much-touted revolution?
Between now and Saturday 16th of April, 2011, both INEC and Nigerians at large will have seven days to determine a national response to those salient questions. If eligible voters maintain the apathy observed today in a number of polling units, then I say it’s ‘not yet uhuru’. It is understandable that many may have been discouraged by the previous weekend’s cancellation, but at no time and in no place has apathy created change. Life does not give what people deserve; it gives what people demand. It is clearly seen through the pages of history, that there is immeasurable power in one vote. It will be up to Nigerians to come out en masse on the 16th of April to exercise their civic duties. All those who registered must be at their polling units to vote and defend their vote.
INEC in its own preparation must attend first to a major issue – the voters’ register. In the coming days, it only becomes logical for INEC to immediately make the validated register available on its website, and perhaps in secure public locations nationwide. INEC must provide the means for voters to verify that their names are accurately listed in the national register of voters. There should be no repeat of the numerous complaints of registered voters not finding their names on the list with polling officers. There is only one valid voter’s register and not two. One wonders why there were reports from units stating that the voters list seen today was different from the copy used last week. The dismissal of this major issue only amounts to the eventual disenfranchisement of eligible voters. INEC, the buck stops at your shop!
The Nigerian Military and Police Force were armed and deployed all over the country to provide required security for a successful conduct of today’s elections. Where were these security agencies on Friday evening when detractors and enemies of state planted a bomb at the INEC office in Suleija, Niger State? What were they doing when a bomb went off at a polling station in Maiduguri? If change is to be birthed, security becomes a paramount requirement. Guaranteed security will definitely influence the massive turn out of voters especially at major flash points. They say the police is your friend, this is the time to show it!
As we patiently await the presidential and gubernatorial elections, one cannot deny that there is a sense of a wind of change. People voted, and waited behind to witness the counting and collation of votes; media stations ran a live coverage of the elections while it lasted, and very importantly, young people influenced the exercise with the flood of information available via twitter, facebook and blackberry messaging. Without mincing words, change is inevitable, but one just wonders if the stage is truly set.