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Femi Owolabi: Fighting corruption and how I offered my fueled generator to INEC


Femi Owolabi: Fighting corruption and how I offered my fueled generator to INEC

by Femi Owolabi

In preparation for the February 2015 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, a few months ago, began a fresh voters’ registration exercise. Ad-hoc INEC staff were dispersed to various Polling Units, PUs, for the exercise. INEC had also announced that those who registered in 2011 and are yet to get a permanent voter’s card, PVC—mostly, those whose names didn’t appear on the list pasted at the Pus– should re-register. In a recent speech, however, Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola had condemned this incompetency on INEC’s part. If the Coca-cola Company produces 1.7 billon bottles of coke on daily basis, why, after four years, INEC is unable to produce 70 million plastic cards? Fashola asked.

From my constituency in Onipanu/Mushin/Fadeyi area of Lagos, I observed as things went with INEC. It is so unfortunate how things have become in Nigeria. On the kickoff day, the INEC officials didn’t get to my PU until 1pm. I asked one of them why they came late, and he told me that they weren’t ‘settled’ on time at the INEC office. The queue they met was intimidating, and I wondered how many people they would be able to attend to that day. A few hours into the registration, their rickety generator ran out of fuel. I watched the INEC officials as they grumbled, planning on packing their things to leave. I offered my fueled generator and they sluggishly got back to work. Again, they were unable to print the temporary cards that ought to be readily available after a person completes the registration. The ink in the printer had dried up, they complained. I arranged for a printer– from a nearby Business Center– whose ink could only produce black and white print. And then, again, the INEC officials didn’t come with a laminating machine, as against the 2011 exercise where temporary cards issued were laminated immediately at the registration point by the INEC officials. The Business Center, hence, began to charge N100 to laminate each person’s card. Since lamination wasn’t compulsory, many went, happily even, with their bare black and white temporary voter’s card.

Throughout the registration days, I provided INEC with a fueled generator and helped with other logistics, one of which was—because they were short of personnel– the holding of the white cloth used as background when capturing the face of a registrant.

Once, I had thought; what if, like others did, I told the INEC officials that, I provide my own electricity, water, security, and you want me to also buy fuel for INEC to register as a voter? Tufia!

The truth? A lot would have discouragingly returned to their houses. I overheard a few people saying, na by force to vote?

Friends, that is one of the supposedly reliable institutions in Nigeria. That in 2011, INEC had printers and lamination machines, and in 2014, they are short of these things, should suffice to show how bad things had become in the past five years. We shouldn’t talk about our hospitals where there are no oxygen, the power sector, education and others.

I have watched how a few people, in desperate attempts, try to show us what the present government has done.  I tell them that if indeed this government has done well, why not go relax and allow his ‘good works’ see him reelected? Shouldn’t that be enough? Why is the song– as we sang for competent leaders then in school– not, Bi o tie dibo, oti wole (Even if you don’t contest, you have won)? On a thread on Facebook, someone commented that those in support of this government should pray that their lives are governed the way Nigeria is presently governed. That, till now, remains a difficult prayer. In their closet, I am sure they struggle with this idea of publicly supporting an incompetent government.

But, what does it take to be a competent president? Very simple!

A competent president, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, since April 2014 that more than two hundred school girls were stolen in Chibok, would have flown into that town. And flanked by his Chief of Defense Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff, National Security Advisor, and Inspector General of Police, he would address a Press Conference from Chibok, assuring the nation, in firm tones, that the girls would be rescued. Recently, there was an attack in Pakistan and the Pakistani Prime Minister visited the location immediately. Upon his visit, the Army carried out at least ten air-strikes, targeting the attackers. That is a serious Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces! If the president had visited Chibok with his service chiefs who come along with battalions on air and land, this would have sent a strong signal to the abductors that the president meant business. It doesn’t just work, sitting down in Abuja and signing press releases to ‘condemn’ every other attack and abduction.

A competent president, at the slightest revelation of a missing $20b from the country’s oil company, would have asked the supervising minister to step aside while things are investigated. In sane societies though, the minister won’t even wait for the president’s order before he or she, in the face of such scandal, takes a leave of absence from office.

I speak on behalf of myself and a few friends; if Mr. President had acted on only these two things I cited above, he wouldn’t struggle to get our overwhelming support.

My sympathies, as it is, lie with the opposition party whose candidate, at the moment, enjoys considerable support from many [frustrated] Nigerians. I agree with the popular argument, that, albeit, the candidate of the opposition party is not the best, he seems preferable than the one who has underperformed in almost six years that he has been there.

Many times, supporters of this present government ask if there’s anything the candidate of the opposition party would do apart from fighting corruption. The only thing in his manifesto is I want to fight corruption, I want to fight corruption, they try to mimic him.

I ask, is corruption not the major problem with Nigeria? And, is fighting it not enough an agenda/manifesto?

We see the National Budget every year, the billions of naira that go into various ministries for capital projects and all. What happened to the over N70b RELEASED to INEC that they don’t have enough printers and lamination machines? What happened to the billions RELEASED to Defense Ministry that our soldiers in Borno withdraw from the battlefield because they aren’t adequately equipped?

In a recent interview with the running mate to the opposition’s candidate, he said that the moment people know that there would be consequences for corruption, they will be modified. Nothing is truer than this!

– Follow this writer on Twitter: @fEMIoWOLABI

Thinker|Writer|Engineer|Art&Culture Critic|Father|Lover|Socio-Political Commentator|Deacon|Believes that a life without beans&dodo is a miserable existence.

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