Professor Jega’s burden By Segun Ayobolu

Last Saturday’s botched and inconclusive governorship election in Anambra State raises salient fears as regards the possibilities of democratic sustainability in Nigeria. There is indeed justifiable cause for deep despair as political actors demonstrated, once again, scant regard for legal or ethical rules in their desperate bid to control state power at all costs, and irrespective of the popular will. The supposedly impartial electoral umpire, the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) descended to abysmal levels of partisanship and incompetence in its conduct of the election.

And, of course, the security agencies deployed for the exercise were not left out of the stiff competition to excel in impunity. The massive show of force particularly by the Nigeria Police was apparently no more than a gimmick, not only to create an environment conducive to the perpetration of electoral fraud, but also to suppress popular expression of discontent at an incurably and inexcusably flawed exercise.

The kind of brazen lawlessness exhibited by virtually all stakeholders in the Anambra election suggests strongly that the grave of democracy in this dispensation is already being aggressively dug and we are only grimly awaiting 2015 for the final denouement – an elaborate burial ceremony. For, if a successful and credible governorship election cannot be held in only one state, how do we hope to conduct acceptable nationwide polls in a country already substantially immersed in severe socio-economic, political and security crises?

Yet, despite the colossal setback to our democratic evolution by the Anambra governorship election fiasco, certain aspects of the exercise offer some hope that the prospects for the survival and strengthening of responsible and accountable government in the country are quite bright. Yes, the anti-democratic elements are alive, well and active in their determination to subvert the peoples will. But the popular forces, fiercely committed to upholding and protecting the will of the people are also strong and unrelenting.

For instance, a vibrant civil society represented by the various election observer groups ensured the effective monitoring of the Anambra polls. This was a key factor responsible for the exposure of the grave flaws that marred the exercise. It is thus understandable that a number of the election observers were harassed and even detained by compromised police authorities while others incurred the open hostility of INEC officials. That the majority of election observers were able to play their roles against all odds inspires hope that those intent on electoral fraud in future polls will have even more formidable obstacles on their path.

Again, the media deserves commendation for its vigilance and professionalism in the coverage of the Anambra polls. This was why telling images and stories of disenfranchised voters and compromised officials were vividly brought to millions. Impunity, criminal complicity and incompetence had no hiding place in the Anambra election thanks to the media.

Mention must also be made of the hundreds of brave women of Anambra state who severally protested their disenfranchisement and disempowerment by INEC. They were not deterred by the intimidating police presence. Not even the fumes of tear gas could break their will. It is this kind of courage and resilience that will help to consolidate democracy in Nigeria by ensuring that every vote counts and the popular will triumphs.

Now, what about the role of the embattled INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega? So much has been written and said about this. As a result of the huge fund of moral integrity and credibility he brought to the job, many expect the good Professor to perform miracles and move mountains of electoral fraud and impunity. The credible conduct of the 2011 election further raised the hope that, under Jega, it was only a matter of time before the country holds elections of the requisite international standard. Such hopes have been dashed. The degree of impunity has worsened with each subsequent election held under Jega’s watch. Something is certainly dreadfully wrong.

Some have completely written off Jega and even called for his resignation over the Anambra debacle. They contend that his robe of moral integrity is irredeemably stained. As far as they are concerned, the professor cannot extricate himself from blame for the functional inefficiency, operational mediocrity and moral laxity responsible for the current electoral gridlock in Anambra State. This column begs to differ. I believe that Jega remains a decent, competent and well- meaning patriot committed to the best interest of Nigeria.

It is as result of his essential sense of honour and intellectual honesty that Jega has admitted INEC’s responsibility for the botched polls. He has even tendered an apology to Nigerians. Can you imagine how a Maurice Iwu would have reacted in similar circumstances? He would have insisted on the sanctity of the discredited elections and even offered Nigeria’s assistance to the rest of the world on how to organise credible polls! Till date, the voluble Professor Iwu is still living in denial as regards the atrocious and utterly disgraceful 2007 elections, which he supervised. Against such irresponsible and anti-intellectual hubris, Jega’s humility is a breath of fresh air.

The question is, having summoned the courage to be humble, decent and truthful on the Anambra poll, what is the way forward for Jega and INEC towards resolving the electoral logjam in the state? It is certainly most unhelpful, immoral and insufficient for INEC to contend that no matter how tainted, the subsisting results in the botched Anambra polls can only be upturned by a court of law. Surely, Professor Jega should know that the responsibility for conducting free and fair elections rests with INEC and not the courts.

Holding so called supplementary elections in a minority of polling units when the credibility and integrity of the entire exercise has been called to question will simply not do. The supplementary results will not cure the grievous defects arising from mass disenfranchisement, questionable voters register, the late distribution of materials, poor logistics and general organisational inefficiency that marred the integrity of the election across the state.

If the electoral umpire knowingly supervised the deliberate delay or complete denial of voting materials in certain areas to the detriment of some candidates while at the same time ensuring the timely arrival of manpower and materials in selected areas to favour particular candidates, the credibility of the entire exercise across the board is incurably infected. It means the whole process was strategically planned to arrive at a predetermined outcome. There is no guarantee that the choice of electoral officers down the line and other decisions were not tainted to manipulate the process.

Just as it did in the April 2, 2011, National Assembly election, INEC can only safeguard its integrity by cancelling the entire exercise and conducting a credible and generally acceptable election in Anambra. The onus should be on those who seek to profit from an exercise acknowledged by INEC to be defective and discredited, to seek legal validation for their claim in court. As The Guardian newspaper declared in its editorial yesterday, “Having accepted responsibility for the present quagmire arising from the election, INEC has a duty to correct the identified and the hidden anomalies and sanction those responsible as appropriate. Above all, it must ensure that the election ultimately and fully reflects the genuine desire of the Anambra people”.

Even more to the point, The Punch in its editorial of Thursday, November 21, was unequivocal. In its words “As the nation grapples with yet another shoddy election, this time the Anambra State governorship poll of last Saturday, it is incumbent upon the Independent National Electoral Commission to do the right thing: summon the courage to cancel the flawed election…Decidedly, the election failed the test of credibility, which critically determines the acceptability of an electoral contest”.

This then is Professor Jega’s burden. Before him are enduring honour or a gradual descent to infamy. The choice is entirely his. At the end of the day, it does not matter who wins in Anambra as long as the process is transparent and credible.

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