An officer of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps currently serving in Imo state recently sent the following message to me:
“Mr Adepoju, it’s about this useless INEC registration and NSCDC. Can you believe that after 3 straight weeks of that strenuous exercise, they gave us 1k today! A security personnel. I don’t know if it’s what INEC gave or if it’s my people that “ate” it. But which ever it is, I think it’s inhuman. We ate, transported ourselves, plus the time (morning to evening without shift).
What do you think I should do to them? They won’t go free ooh! If they don’t need us, let them tell us!
I’m really pissed off!”
To say the least, something is wrong or at best, amiss. The officer and his colleagues, who were given one thousand naira each, are annoyed. And I guess they won’t dare to protest since they’ve heard and learnt lessons from the story of the twenty eight soldiers – including four women, who took to the streets in south-western Ondo state in July 2008 waving leafy branches and singing Liberian war songs (I guess). But instead of investigating and addressing the anomaly responsible for the demonstration, the Nigerian troops who held a protest over pay were tried in a military court and were sentenced to life in jail for mutiny. It was a period of national disgrace for Nigeria. Three years short of four months later, we are at the verge of yet another similar disdainful disgrace that has nothing to do with military laws, but with the security of our democracy.
I hold the various Nigerian military and paramilitary organizations in high esteem hence I refuse to join the bandwagons that criticize their ethos. Instead, I would focus my ballpoint pen on that which concerns our democracy, conduct of free and fair elections, security of lives and properties and hitch-free handover of power to the next administration. In this case, it’s the INEC with special emphases on the commission’s funnily bizarre modes of operation, its stupendous finances and frugal expenses.
When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Prof Attahiru Jega tabled an alarming budget of eighty nine billion naira to conduct the forthcoming 2011 elections before the federal government, a lot of Nigerians (including yours sincerely) felt that the sum was too much to be expended on elections alone. In fact, one of the leaders of the expensive-to-run National Assembly, Senator Ike Ekweremadu said it was “on the high side given the levels of poverty in the country.” The chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, however explained that almost fifty per cent of the amount will be used for voter registration while the rest will be used on voter education, logistics, staff training, and allowances. He had his way since he got almost every kobo the commission asked for, with an extra ten billion naira for the additional week of voter registration. But in return, almost everything he promised remains virtual and pressure is beginning to build up as we enter the last month before the general elections.
In an assessment of the voter registration exercise (available at http://www.cp-africa.com/2011/01/21/opinion-2011-nigerian-voters-registration-assessment-rough-thorny-journey-inec/), I mentioned several loopholes in Jega’s self professed fault proof intact INEC’s intellectual repository. In an earlier article entitled “How Will Jega Handle Touts and Hooligans”, I also mentioned what ought to be the major concern of INEC and every Nigerian – security. But as we count weeks and days before April general elections, it seems as if all my words and those of fellow writers didn’t feed right into the electoral boss’ natural innuendo. This is further corroborated by the NSCDC officer’s message.
An inquiry into the allegations revealed that the situation is the same across the federation as NSCDC officers frowned and grumbled as they queued to collect Jega’s one thousand naira note as remuneration for their three-week morning-till-night national exercise. In some states however, the state governments were magnanimous. They reportedly added as high as one thousand five hundred naira to what the INEC provided for the security officers at the end of the exercise. These developments raise some pertinent issues that should not be overlooked.
The first question on my mind is: what perfect thing has INEC done with the fat cheques it got from the federal government in a period when other countries of the world are just recovering from financial recession?
It is clear that the executive and legislature had washed their hands off possible failure in the forthcoming general elections by not creating any financial bottlenecks and constitutional difficulties, respectively, for Jega and his team to contend with. In a rather unusual and quite historic manner, the constitution was reviewed twice in a week to satisfy Jega and his team (a subject of discussion on another day). Also, the president wrote copiously to the National Assembly, appealing to them to pass INEC’s budget without unnecessary addition, subtraction or division. And in yet another rare moment, Prof Jega addressed the National Assembly, literally scaring honourable members of the house with “facts and prophecies” of what could happen if requested funds are not made available to the commission. But what has he done exceptionally with the funds so far?
His state-of-the-art “Chinko” machines disenfranchised many Nigerians from registering; several ad hoc staffs (National Youth Service Corps members) were reportedly unpaid for the additional week of voter registration. Apart from the pin-hole cameras, low battery and less sensitive fingerprinting machines, the voter registration that was professed to have gulped about fifty per cent of the entire budget was more or less an appetizer before the main course.
Professor Jega has already told everyone that electronic voting is not an option; hence resources ought to be available to ensure that other aspects of the electoral process are well taken care of. One of such is security of lives and properties. It’s a literary fact and gospel truth that Nigerians will not turn out en masse to vote if their security is not ensured hence one of the top priorities of the commission should be to ensure that the polling booths and other INEC centres are safe, secure and adequately fortified against hooligans’ intrusion. Furthermore, the Jega-led INEC is expected to ensure that the security officers are well compensated to guard against a scenario where they’ll monetize their uniforms to augment Jega’s widow’s might.
Furthermore, the “I” in “INEC” stands for “independence”. Independence in my dictionary means “freedom from dependence on or control by another person, organization, or state”. But the current spate in states where some state governments are adding “something” to the allowance of security operatives on electoral assignments clearly removes “independent” from INEC. When a state government begins to pay security operatives for electoral assignments, the integrity and fairness of such security organization becomes a subject of extensive questioning.
Nigerian politicians are like the Biblical lions in I Peter 5 : 8 who are lurking
around, seeking whom to devour. With their too-good-to-be-true gestures and overtures, they often seek to control those that see them as benefactors and every one who at one time or the other, had benefitted from their “magnanimity” and well calculated generous donations. In simple English, there is no free lunch with Nigerian politicians. And every support they give as an investment which must bear fruits sooner or later.
Jega promised a free and fair election, but the state governors who have access to state resources already have an edge over the opposition by doling out money to security operatives that worked for INEC. One thousand five hundred naira might be negligible and of low value, but the meaning of such generous gesture surpasses pecuniary issues. This is a nation where policemen kill for just twenty naira. By elementary mathematical calculation, a stress-free one thousand five hundred naira is a guarantee of about seventy five innocent lives. Nigerian voters are aware of the growing security concerns as we approach the elections. They are not ignorant of the stockpiled ammunitions and assorted weapons that are kept towards the polls. The various bomb explosions at the slightest provocation are indications to the fact that security is not ensured in Nigeria. Who will defend his or her vote when assorted weapons are aimed, and missiles are fired?
Although security is the saddled responsibility of the various security agents, INEC’s various promises concerning the forthcoming elections will not come to pass with the current spate of security lapses. Thus it becomes the commission’s major concern to see to the attainment of optimum security level as the election beckons. One of such ways is to outbid the moneybag politicians who are hell-bent on paying security officers to work for them, or look the other way while their hooligans snatch and snuff ballot boxes.
The presidency and National Assembly expedited actions on the commission’s requests. And judging by the billions of Dollars that INEC got, every person that works with the commission ought to be handsomely rewarded for them to work at the highest efficiency. But this is not the case as grumbles and murmurs are now synonymous with working with INEC. Prof Jega’s INEC needs a change of heart. They should think and spend like Nigerian politicians because it’s only that way that they can combat their antics and overcome their money backed pretences.