26 December 2012

Nigeria: Jega - Whither INEC and Effective Communication?

The tendencies of modern democratic processes to produce the wrong calibre of people to lead, lead to the extreme cynical views held by proponents of the so-called vulgar pluralists' branch of the public choice theorists' school. Vulgar pluralism regards the political process as an arena of pure greed, in which self-interested voters, self-aggrandizing politicians, and self-seeking interest groups meet to do business. Although this thinking resonates within the advanced democracies, many Nigeria's are increasingly subscribing to this school of thought. And, not surprisingly, proponents of this school quickly and easily point to the popular quotes from Lord Acton about power as being influenced by this pessimistic view. It was he, Lord Acton, who said "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Despite its inherent structural and other associated problems with churning out the wrong calibre of leadership, participatory democracy remains, largely, the popular means of electing political leaders in most nations of the world today. If we are to reject or disrespect the democratic institutions as we have them today and throw up our hands in disgust at the flaws of the political process, as the vulgar pluralists would like us to, we are unlikely to improve matters. This is why all rational and patriotic citizens of this country need to pay attention to the activities of the institution saddled with the responsibility of managing our electoral process-the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). And it is for precisely the same reason that INEC needs to put its act together to give Nigerians an election that is free and fair anytime. And to achieve this INEC needs to put in place a robust strategic plan in place, completed with effective communication component.

A strategic plan that will, in clear terms, spells out the vision, mission and objectives of the Commission and prioritised activities that will lead to successful general elections in the year 2015 and beyond. And more importantly, even though, often given less than adequate priority, a communication component that will sell the vision and mission and create the needed trust the Commission leadership needs in the hearts of Nigerians. In the next five months the winners from the 2011 general elections will be half way through their terms. And already signs of political permutations are now visible across the political landscape.

Recent happenings at INEC, particularly the deregistration of 28 political parties, have put the Commission in the media and public spotlight. And as a result many of the Commission's plans have come to the knowledge of the public. For instance, Prof. Attahiru Mohammed Jega, the Chairman of INEC, has told Nigerians that there ar: constituency delineation and continuous voters' registration. It gladdens the heart that the chairman underscored the place of public sensitization in the commission's key programmes, like the constituency delineation. He said "what we intend to do is to ensure that we do this very systematically, very scientifically with involvement of all stakeholders, with sensitization of the public in order to reduce the controversy..."

INEC needs to be more proactive in its communication strategy. The place of communication in INEC's strategic plan of delivering free and fair elections come 2015 cannot be over emphasized. It is communication activities that, if well handled, will create the needed awareness and trust by Nigerians in INEC to buy-in into its programmes, such as voter registration. It is the same communication strategy that will provide readymade answers to questions Nigerians may have for INEC on where it is coming from, where it is right now and where it is heading to. In his many interviews with the press, the INEC Chairman, often talks of lesson learnt from the 2011 elections, and recent ones held in some states - Edo and Ondo - adjudged as most successful. He needs to come to the public with those lessons and how he intends to use them in future. He also partook in other countries electoral processes - Ghana and Sierra-Leone of late - he needs to share with Nigerians the international best practices there is today in the conduct of elections. These will surely build the confidence in Nigerians that the leadership in INEC is not afraid of change. And what is strategy if not doing things differently from the way one used to? Factoring the lessons learnt and the international best practice experiences acquired by INEC, it should surprise every Nigerian come 2015 with spectacular conduct of elections in the nation's history.

The image of the chairman hangs precariously in the balance. His successful conduct of the 2015 elections, having tested the waters with 2011 one, will undoubtedly deliver his image as intact as he came into the Commission with. He was an achiever - a value based one. His antecedents all point to that - both in his days as President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and more recently as the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano. His relentless fight for the rights and privileges of the academic staff and the proper funding of the universities gave the powers that be at the time sleepless nights. And when he was saddled with ultimate responsibility of managing his University he performed creditably well. He laid the foundation of the physical transformation the University is undergoing at the moment and his management style protected his tenure from undue controversies and senior management staff squabbles that often grind universities in Nigeria to standstill.

Prof. Attahiru Jega described himself as an "incurable optimist". To me, that is the first ingredient for successful innovation - a CEO who believes in and conveys optimism in his organisation. What other ingredients the Political Science Professor needs to complete the improvement of INEC is committing adequate resources to programme execution - what is worth doing is worth doing well. Next is assembling or fashioning out corrupt free, dedicated and well motivated team ready to share and act on the vision and values of conducting free and fair elections.

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