|Tuesday, March 12, 2019|
Pikesville, Maryland, USA
he 16th of February 2019 will go down as the day the Nigerian project got shut down in both the urban and rural areas like no other day in History. The impact of the announcement of the election postponement of the wee hour (3: 00 am) was profound. Everybody was thrown into a big mess as the nation was plunged into an early morning confusion, due to the unexpected postponement of a three-year long planned national elections. The life of the entire citizenry was touched and negatively affected like no other day. What an early morning 'bad gift' of what can at best be called a national disaster of a sort. Movements of persons and vehicles were restricted except for those on essential services. Businesses were shut down and it was a day like no other day ever witnessed. Unlike on rare occasions when there were disturbances, riots, local and national strikes and natural disasters, things were not this bad and never on a nationwide basis. It was a day kept holy and quiet nationally! It is unfortunate that with large sums of monies expended by governments, big and miniature political parties, individuals, big and small-scale businesses, market women, schools and students in readiness for that postponed elections across the length and breadth of Nigeria, all resources got 'wasted'.
All hopes and preparations became dashed with the unfortunate announcement by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) boss, coming a few hours before the commencement of voting. At this time the focus of the electioneering activities and struggles inter and inter party squabbles changed in all parties to the Election Umpire. The question then became why this election and why now when all the machinery of elections had been put in place by the ninety-one political parties? Why has the INEC Chairman found it convenient or expedient to stage this coupe de tat to postpone a major election only hours to its commencement, when people were resting/sleeping peacefully, hoping to wake up refreshed to face the oncoming election and fulfill their civic duties? Tension and unrest, which had hitherto reached their peaks in many localities over the campaigns got doused. Words are inadequate to describe the shock and disappointments of the shocking rescheduling of elections. The INEC boss stated that the rescheduling of elections had nothing to do with politics, security, and resources availability/inadequacy. Rather, the postponement was said by the Chairman to be due to some 'logistics issues and bad weather'. Was this deliberately planned to agree with Murphy's Law that if anything can go wrong , it would at the worst possible moment?
Everyone who was ready and psyched up to fulfill his/her civic duties had their enthusiasm deflated or temporarily dashed. Many usual social and traditional events and activities often held on Saturdays had to be rescheduled because of the election's postponement - marriages, funeral ceremonies, local occasions and family/group reunions etc. Also, a lot of money became wasted on the transportation of citizens from their distant work environments to their home towns, where they originally registered for the election and voting purposes. Nigeria certainly lost over seven billion Naira on account of this unfortunate postponement.
Many Nigerians, especially politicians have decried the postponement and called for the sack of the Umpire and Chairman of INEC. Many have attributed the postponement to; bad project management, bad performance, bad strategies, institutional failure, deliberate orchestration of failure, covert influence of the 'untouchables', fear of loosing an important election etc, etc. Whatever the real reason was, a colossal loss had been incurred by all Nigerians young or old, rich or poor, in rural and urban areas, big and small businesses as well as individuals in homes. All Nigerians are hereby consoled on the sundry colossal losses. God will repay you all with good governance in due course. May be, this bad situation visited on us is better than a disaster and catastrophe of unimaginable dimension.
An objective look at the rescheduling saga can at best be blamed on three factors in the Nigerian polity, by my own critical appraisal. First is the overloaded and overburdened INEC with the registration of Political Parties, registration of Voters, and Voter Education, etc. Second is the unprecedented and abnormal registration of 91 political parties which has created enormous extra burdens in terms of voluminous resources and materials management - packaging, collating, transportation over long distances, distribution and election venue setups. Third is the bloated and jumbo pay packets of Politicians (Legislators) which has led to the mad rush for the 'do or die' politics of the ordinary Nigerian. Most people are interested in politics because it is the most lucrative business or profession. An in-depth study of these three factors will convince one that if conscious efforts are not made to stem the trend and correct these anomalies, more damaging action than the last-minute postponement will be taken by Nigeria's elections Umpires in future, be it INEC or other Commissions or Agencies.
Before stating the details of why we are where we are, in the practice of politics in Nigeria today, it will be in order to remind ourselves about what politics means to us as a nation. It is the quickest, cheapest and surest way to amass stupendous wealth and influence with or without good education. Illiterate Nigerians are making waves and calling the shots while the very well-educated Nigerians do not have the influence or even earn enough salaries for their survival. No wonder the Academia (University Professors) coined the slogan "My take home pay cannot even take me home!" Paradoxically, a Vulcanizer with just the High School qualification, turned Legislator may be living big and riding in a chauffeur-driven latest vintage car! We are all aware of the prevalence of fake/forged educational certificates among our politicians, aren't we? That is what Nigeria has turned into, in the last few decades or so. Let us now briefly examine the three factors and suggest possible remedies which can make for progress and development of our great nation.
First, INEC as a Commission or a branch of Government, as presently set up is over-loaded and over-burdened. As presently set up, it needs to be decentralized. The statute establishing it has put more load on it, than it could comfortably carry for its success in conducting a flawless national election. The legal aspects of elections and the logistics of a successful national election in difficult terrains of Nigeria can best be imagined than experienced. If INEC were to be allowed to open up the pandora box of their daily experiences on the political process nationwide, I am sure many people will not like to work in an INEC office.
Nigerians are well aware that election postponements or re-scheduling are not new. Previous election Umpires in Nigeria had done so and heavens did not fall. The only factor which has made this postponement peculiar is its last-minute announcement, when all hands were already on deck and all resources had been mobilized by the political parties and the people (masses) who were caught off guard. The only remedy for this is for Government to decentralize the functions of INEC. Some loads it currently carries may need to be shed and reallocated to a new Agency or Commission to enable INEC concentrate on organizing flawless national elections. INEC also has to be truly independent, if we want flawless elections. As it is presently configured and run, it is far from being independent. If and when fully autonomous, that body should be able to develop an election TEMPLATE for successful elections in Nigeria. Nigeria certainly has enough manpower to develop viable templates for future elections.
Second is the registration of ninety-one (91) political parties out of the hundreds of prospective party applicants. This large number of political parties by itself, poses more than enough burden on INEC. I am not aware of any nation in the world where political parties are registered without the foresight of its implications for future electoral process, cost and eventual success. We are yet to come to terms with the great number of illiterate voters in the rural areas, who have to thumb through the 91 or so Presidential candidates or candidates for other offices to be able to select who to vote for. What a way to make a mess of the electoral process! The TIME factor in it all is what everyone should also be concerned about - time for INEC to process the elections, time for the illiterate voters to surmount the voting ordeal and electoral process, time to sort out results etc.
There is no doubt that Nigeria has to reset her parameters for party registration and limit party registration to four with the Independent Candidature option as the fifth. Ninety-one party registration is far too many! Parties must be made to indicate their values and philosophies as well as other qualities which will differentiate one from the other. By so doing the issue of people defecting from one party to another will be minimized, if not completely eradicated. As presently witnessed in Nigeria today, apples, oranges and bananas have been lumped together as a matter of convenience and expediency. Politicians have been seen to change party affiliation in strange manners - be in the East in the morning, change position to the West in the afternoon, by evening be in the North and before Midnight move to the South, wearing different identities with each shift, all in the name of freedom of choice and fundamental human rights. What a bundle of confusion and weak political institution? In Nigeria, Any Government in Power (AGIP) is the name of the game for many politicians. When people get their hands soiled (corruption-wise) they run to the Government in power to shield them from justice. What a way to make a mockery of the rule of law?
If Nigeria will get real, we need to change from our corrupt version of the Presidential system to the Parliamentary system, which is cheaper and less open to corruption, for the less kleptomaniac politicians. The mad rush for politics is doing more harm than good to our polity and INEC failure or inability to overcome some lapses can be blamed on our practice of politics of corruption.
Third is the over-bloated, jumbo salaries of politicians compared with the other professionals in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Politics will need to be redefined in Nigeria to mean SERVICE TO THE PEOPLE instead of service for me, myself, and my family. This explains why Politics has become lucrative and popular as a means of survival for many citizens as Party Chieftains, Assistants or as Thugs! The Nigerian politicians are perhaps the highest paid in the world. One then wonders why and how the Nigerian politicians have become so exceptionally blessed as to deserve the jumbo salaries they currently earn. Could they be sitting for longer hours or making more laws for the benefit of the masses rather than for themselves? Could they be practicing a more superior democracy than those who introduced them to the principles and practice of democracy? Is their practice of democracy more modern than those in other parts of the world?
Nigeria urgently needs to review the kind of crazy pay packets given to her politicians to stem the mad rush for politics which weighs too heavily on the political process. No wonder INEC had to contend with ninety-one Political parties duly registered for the 2019 elections. Nowhere in the world will you find a nation having to grapple with 91 political parties! No wonder a Nigerian Comedian said that as far as he is concerned there are only two political parties in Nigeria - APC and PDP and that other mushroom parties are just House Fellowship, Get-together, Communion Service! It is only in Nigeria where the Jumbo salaries of Legislators make it difficult for people to resist the temptation to join in the scamper for the bootie. Who wants to be poor or who cannot use such jumbo pay packets? Until some sanity is introduced to the polity, by normalizing Politicians' salaries, and making politics less lucrative, INEC or any election Umpire will continue to be overwhelmed with the unnecessary burden of oversubscribed politics for money as opposed to service to the people. The Nigerian Salaries Commission or whatever arm of Government should endeavor as a matter of urgency to bring sanity to the INSANE JUMBO PAY PACKETS of Political office holders in Nigeria.
In summary, the issue of over-burdened, over-stretched INEC needs to be addressed squarely. Its independence to date, is questionable and its modus operandi, may need to be reviewed. The appointment of Chairman may need to be revised to make the Commission truly independent. The practice of wanton registration of all sorts of political parties must be revised as a matter of urgency, otherwise by 2023 elections, hundreds of political parties will be registered and INEC will have more load on its hands even when it may have been decentralized and decongested.
The issue of insane salaries for Legislators and political office holders must be addressed to allow only those citizens who are interested in serving the people to get into politics for service, as opposed to service for personal aggrandizement. Finally, Nigeria has to address the harmonisation of our various data bases. As educated and sophisticated as we are, it is a big shame that we have found it difficult to harmonise our biodata which are scattered in different vital documents and records - National Passports, Drivers' Licenses, Bank Verification Number (BVN), National ID, Permanent Voter Card (PVC), Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Tax Certificates, etc. It is clear that Voter qualification and certification can be automatically generated instead of the time being wasted in registration and collection of (PVC) cards.
While Nigerians may claim to be still trying to feel their way through the correct practice of democracy, the attempt to domesticate our version of democracy (Home-grown Democracy) is opening us to untold ridicule among the comity of nations. Our wasteful (corrupt) ways of life present us as a set of people who lack foresight or as bad managers of our abundant treasures/resources. There seems to be need for change in many areas (as will be revealed) as the election season draws to an end, however, the following other issues need to be addressed:
Nigeria needs to wake up to the realities of the global era. The legacy we leave behind will determine what our children, next generation, portray to their colleagues in the global village. Let us reflect on these and change our outlook to national development. Arise o compatriots!