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Sam Nda-Isaiah: Elections: It’s now time to save Nigeria


Sam Nda-Isaiah: Elections: It’s now time to save Nigeria

by Sam Nda-Isaiah

Any sane Nigerian should be frustrated with elections by now. Anambra is only one state, yet INEC couldn’t even do an average job. And we are not even getting better. Smaller African countries have gone far beyond this trash. I don’t know any other African country where this happens. Not even Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Professor Attahiru Jega asserted his independence when he went ahead to register both the APC and the PDM as new political parties against the wishes of some of the powers that be. Just when the world was beginning to see him in very respectable colours, this happened. What a letdown!

I do not care about the arguments for both sides. The loser in the Anambra election is Professor Jega fair and square, and, personally, I find this very sad. How many second chances does a man need?

President Jonathan worked against his own PDP to ensure victory for the APGA candidate. This was his own personal deal with Peter Obi who was the first politician to endorse him for the 2015 re-election. The president also wanted to ensure that the APC candidate did not emerge second so that the presidentially contrived APGA victory would not be annulled in the courts as had been skilfully done by the opposition in the past. In the end, I was surprised that Jega allowed himself to be messed up again. It is important for Professor Jega to know it is his own history that is being written in all this. Last week, the debate heightened as to who was worse, Jega or Iwu?

But I remain a fervent optimist. I always see a silver lining in every cloud. Jega has let it be known that he accepts that the process has been bungled. I do not know exactly how that helps, but I will want to repeat an abridged version of a write-up I did sometime ago to see how that helps the INEC chairman. It is important to know, however, that we are playing with fire.

Yes, Let’s Talk About Elections

First published April 2, 2012

 …In preparing for the critical 2015 general elections, we must look towards Ghana. The fact that Ghana’s electoral system and traditions have caught the imagination of the world and is adjudged among the best is not an accident. People in Jega’s shoes in Ghana work honestly and assiduously to make it so. If Ghanaians currently think their country is the regional leader in West Africa, it will be very hard to begrudge them. They have openly declared that they do not want to be like Nigeria. Let us look at a few points why Ghana’s democracy and elections are superior to the sham we have here.

First, the electoral act is developed by the Electoral Commission of Ghana and presented to political parties that have members in the National Assembly to critique. They deliberate on it and all agree before it is passed on to the National Assembly for ratification. There are no hidden agenda and nothing is hidden from any party or from the general public.

Second, it is the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) that discusses and agrees on the details of a ballot paper including designs and colours. The design and colours are different for elections into different offices. In awarding contracts for the printing of ballot papers, the Ghanaian electoral commission calls for an open tender where political parties and civil society organisations are involved in all processes of the contract awards. And when contracts are awarded for the printing of sensitive election materials, all political parties send their agents to the press where the printing is done. The printing is carried out strictly in the presence of all the agents.

All the party agents in Ghana take the records of all the serial numbers of ballot papers and the exact quantities. That is why Ghana election materials are distributed a month before elections and the electoral commission’s workers can carry the materials home. On election day, all the political parties and their agents already have the serial numbers and the quantities of the ballot papers. As I have mentioned, the distribution of the election materials is done one month to the election day, not on the day of election as we see in Nigeria or, in the case of Jega, after the election has started.

Very importantly, on the day of the election, all security agents posted for election duties are under the control and command of the head of the electoral commission and the zonal electoral commissioners who also effect their postings. During their election assignments, the policemen would not be under the command or control of the commissioner of police, inspector-general of police, or even the president, who, at that point, is considered partisan and an interested party. Also, no security agent posted on election duties is allowed to carry arms in Ghana. People are free to vote without fear or intimidation from any quarter including the state, since everything is done transparently.

If an area is suspected to be a flashpoint, armed mobile policemen would be stationed at the divisional headquarters. And, even with that, they can move only with the clear directive of the head of the electoral commission.

All elections are conducted on the same day, not like the fraudulent arrangement we have here that has been deliberately designed to make election rigging easier. The Ghanaian electoral commission has a first-line charge in its revenue allocation and does not in any way deal with the president of Ghana as far as revenue is concerned. A lot of donor agencies and foreign countries make donations to the electoral commission. When that happens, like every other thing about elections, it is done transparently. The amount donated is subtracted from the budget and the electoral commission collects only the balance from the country’s treasury.

The condition of service of electoral commissioners is same as those of Supreme Court judges and they continue to collect their full salaries even after they have retired. And they can only be removed by a resolution of two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly which no party in Ghana controls. That must be why, since the early 1990s, only very few have left the commission until they attained the mandatory retirement age. Nobody complains of unfairness or injustice in Ghana. That is why there is no acrimony. There is peace and the country is making good progress. And that’s also why several wealthy Nigerians are moving to Ghana and making the peaceful, crime-free and clean country their new home.

For their next elections, Ghana intends to use the direct data-capturing machines. With that, voters can vote at any polling station in any part of the country as long as their fingers and details have been captured in the system. The machines use only batteries and not electricity. With that, people would be able to monitor the pattern of voting for each candidate while the election is going on and the president-elect would be announced immediately elections close all over the country. Just like we see in the United States and other developed democracies.

The least Nigerians expect in 2015 is to be at par with Ghana on this matter of elections. Nigerians have clearly reached their limit as far as this simple matter of elections is concerned. I still think Jega can achieve it, if he looks himself in the mirror and tells himself the truth. He also needs to start preparing immediately. That is why I was very worried that he was still defending what everyone knew as the facts in his response to my column.

Ghana has proved that a credible election is not rocket science. And even if it is, we have more rocket scientists in Nigeria than Ghana can ever dream of producing. What we lack, and the Ghanaians have in abundance, are honesty, a sense of justice, an abiding love for country over self and – the greatest of them all – the fear of God. Unless you are one of those who believe that we must go through the Jerry Rawlings treatment like Ghana before we come to our senses. The world shall be watching Jega in 2015!


Budget 2014: There’s No Money!

Instead of bickering over benchmarks, the more germane question the senators and reps should be asking President Jonathan is how he is going to run the country next year. And the question is obviously a no-brainer because, the way he is currently funding the operations of the Nigerian state with the nation’s savings and reserves, you do not need a prophet to tell you that there will be no money to run the affairs of our nation next year. Oil theft, which reached an industrial scale on President Jonathan’s watch, has left the country broke. If President Jonathan exhausts the Excess Crude Account and other reserves, and the industrial-scale oil theft, which he has absolutely been unable to do anything about (some think deliberately), continues, then, your guess would be as good as mine regarding the fate of our country. But what I find incredibly funny about this president and all those around him is that he not only wants to drag us through this mire till 2015, but also – if Nigerians don’t stop him – continue this way till 2019. By then, there would be no Nigeria. Well, maybe, that’s the plan.

 – This Best Outside Opinion was written by Sam Nda-Isaiah/Leadership

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