27 March 2014

Nigeria: Between Jega and the Errant Parties


A recent comment by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, that all political parties were guilty of embarking on premature campaigns across the country was an eye opener of sorts. This comment, in our view, points to the fact that when it comes to taking responsibility and instilling discipline in the process, Jega still has a long way to go. That should worry Nigerians who look u p to INEC to deliver free and fair elections in Ekiti and Osun States this year and during the 2015 general election.

It is noteworthy that Jega made the assertion to defend INEC's deafening silence in the wake of a surreptitious nationwide campaign undertaken by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Instead of applying the law governing campaigns and electioneering to call the party to order, Professor Jega would rather make excuses for failure to assert INEC authority by resorting to the standard Nigerian excuse: "everybody is doing it!"

The Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) clearly states the time frame required by political parties and their candidates to begin election campaign.

The import of the law is that no party or individuals should be engaged in any forms of campaign for now. In our view, that law itself is obnoxious and does not keep faith with the finest tenets of democracy. It is a piece of legislation that we should do away with. However, to the extent that it remains in our statutes book, it is the duty of INEC to enforce compliance. That, unfortunately, INEC failed to do and hence resorted to rationalising its seeming powerlessness by accusing all the political parties of breaching the said law.

It is indeed exasperating that Professor Jega would blame all the political parties at a time PDP was the guilty party with its not-so-subtle electioneering campaign in the guise of receiving decampees from the opposition--with President Goodluck Jonathan leading the charge. If INEC cannot call the party to order, it should not have made any blanket statement as a cover up for its failings.

We must reiterate the fact that Jega came to his job highly recommended. With sterling credentials as an academic and a social critic, Jega, when he was first appointed, was seen as a breath of fresh air in the infected pool left by his predecessor, Professor Maurice Iwu. Jega, everyone had hoped, was the right person needed to clean up the Augean stable. Four years down the line, it would seem that Jega has borrowed all the tricks from previous infamous election chiefs.

We believe that Jega has expended much of his capital and enormous goodwill in the last two years and he should know that the elections in Ekiti and Osun states later this year will be for him a litmus test for which Nigerians will not take excuses. Against the background that the last gubernatorial election in Anambra State was bungled, even if the INEC chairman continues to parrot the line that "only one local government was affected", Nigerians are running out of patience and faith in the electoral process that are regularly marred by late arrival of material, actions or even inaction of corrupt electoral officers, logistic issues and other malaise.

Even when the commission has been heavily funded, records do not indicate that the value of the elections conducted under Jega's watch has matched such heavy investments. To worsen matters, Nigerians are not even getting reassured by Jega's constant mea culpas. He must do something drastic to at least redeem INEC's current low ratings in the estimation of most Nigerians. That is the most he can do now before the people come to conclude that the conduct of credible elections is just beyond his metier.

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