INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega stirred the hornet's nest when he accused political parties of bribing officials of the commission and security agencies to rig elections. He is right; we know some politicians engage in desperate moves to win elections. But Jega needs to do more by ensnaring corrupt politicians, writes Vincent Obia.
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission Professor Attahiru Jega is seen by many Nigerians as someone who says his mind without paltering with the truth. He commands a lot of respect in civil society, and within government circles, he is seen as a trusted public servant. But Jega's ostensibly cagey remarks about the conduct of political parties in the country during elections have stirred up the hornet's nest.
On Monday in Abuja, Jega alleged that, "Political parties budget to bribe security and INEC officials. This is a very serious challenge to our democracy." He spoke at a roundtable on Party Politics in Nigeria, Lobbying, the Lobbyist and the Legislature, organised by the National Institute for Legislative Studies.
The INEC chairman said the political parties were largely lacking in fiscal and bureaucratic accountability, saying they have "a predilection to cutting corners." Jega stopped short of revealing the bitter truth about party politics in the country. He delved into a highly controversial issue and he has attracted a lot of public attention.
By those remarks, the INEC chairman might have intended to teach a moral lesson to the politicians, especially, leaders of the political parties. He is not known for vain display or making arguments reposed on false analogy. Many Nigerians believe he knew what he was talking and had the facts to back his allegation. But his unwillingness to give detailed information about the parties involved in the alleged attempt to corrupt the election management system has pitted him against the society to which he owes his reputation. The allegation he has made about the political parties and election bribery is an open secret that has seemed to be given further validation by the institution at the heart of the electoral process.
Expectedly, all the political parties are claiming innocence over the question of commercialisation of elections and they are throwing the burden of proof back at Jega. The opposition parties are saying they do not have the capacity to influence INEC and the security agents, saying the ruling Peoples Democratic Party is the obvious culprit. And PDP is challenging the INEC chairman to name those he had in mind while making the poll bribery allegation.
National Publicity Secretary of Congress for Progressive Change Rotimi Fashakin was quoted as saying, "Jega knows clearly that PDP, the ruling party, that ensured his appointment, is the major culprit in this despicable and utterly reprehensible act.
"INEC, very altruistically, has always worked in a way to undermine the interest of other parties."
The PDP National Publicity Secretary Olisa Metu said, "We heard what the INEC chairman said some political parties bribe INEC officials to help rig or influence elections. But our response to this is that the INEC chairman should be honourable enough to mention the names of the political parties involved."
Indeed, many may argue Jega owes the country an unavoidable obligation to come clean on the question of political parties or their leaders that have tried to bribe electoral and security officers. They would say part of what he swore to do when he was appointed INEC chairman in 2010 was to always deal honestly and fairly with Nigerians on matters patterning to election. But we all know Jega's allegation is true and the political parties condemning him for saying the truth are lying through their teeth. The INEC chairman can't name names without clear evidence and his preparedness to engage those named in court, as we know that even with evidence politicians would attempt to confuse the situation and contest such evidence by resorting to court suits. However, Jega needs to do more to unearth those behind the despicable act of bribing INEC. He can set up sting operations and ensnare those engaging in bribing the commission.
Beyond the moral imperative for Jega to do more lies even deeper questions of national security and institutional credibility. If Jega can confirm that the country's security agencies on which the entire election security system depends are susceptible to pecuniary manipulation, then what is the basis for any hope of free and fair elections in the land unless something is done urgently to shame the bribe-to-rig-election politicians? By his statement, the chairman of INEC has also corroborated wide suspicion that some of his men too are taking bribes to fix elections for politicians. Indeed, the commission needs to clean up itself to deliver credible elections?
These are critical questions that Jega's explanation that "this is being resisted" alone can answer. He should not feel any calm and peace about this matter until he has taken the necessary steps on behalf of the Nigerian people to shame the bribe givers and takers. The security agencies, too, ought to move in to investigate the extent of corruption of their personnel and INEC officials by politicians. The greatest triumph for democracy in any society is seeing citizens with unwavering faith in societal institutions. Jega's latest allegation is, no doubt, a negative statement for the country's electoral and security institutions. The onus is on them to reclaim their image.