We will begin by examining the positions of two groups of people who think that it is a waste of time to go out to register for the forthcoming elections. The first are those who ‘strongly’ believe that there may be no elections that will usher in a new democratic apparatus in May 2007. This group believes that all of the shenanigans in our democratic climate portend that the exercise is a boju-boju, the more-you-look-the-less-see experiment. They see the election chairman, Maurice Iwu, as the sublime example of a marionette moving awkwardly in whatsoever direction and saying whatever has been put in his mouth by the unseen hands of a skilled ventriloquist. They also cite the growing, very palpable tension in the land, and the tendency to declare a state of emergency at any given opportunity as evidence of gravitation towards a state of anarchy – the beneficiary being the Executive. The other part of their stand that I don’t subscribe to is that the tension being generated in the land before the elections in 2007 is sponsored or doctored. I don’t believe in that conspiracy theory judging by the fact that there is even a lot of in-fighting in the PDP that may not be that easy to adjudge as a script written, produced and directed by the think-tank of the PDP.
Now to the second group who do not see any good reason why anyone in his right senses should go anywhere within a thousand meters to the registration booths. Their one argument is that within the past seven years or more, Nigerians have been constantly fooled into believing that abandoning their means of livelihood and going to queue up in that heat for hours is part of their civic responsibility to their country. They argue that going to queue for hours on end (sometimes blackmailed that that registration exercise would be a parameter and an incentive to/for employment), is a waste of productive man-hours for the benefit of seedy and ungrateful politicians and members of their immediate families. So why should we all go out in the scorching sun or the cold because we deliberately want to inflict these people upon ourselves? When they get to the precincts of power, they hardly believe in us anymore and they carry themselves so arrogantly, as if we begged them with our votes to come represent us. But of course that is what this group has argued – that by going out to register because we want to vote these people in power, we unwittingly place ourselves at the receiving end of the whole process.
I heard of all of these but I dismissed them as the arguments of those who are yet to understand that democracy in itself is not the answer to our problems as Nigerians. The problem is in the comprehension of what Abe Lincoln meant in the Gettysburg Address, when he talked about a ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people…’ By any mention of the word ‘people’ in that phrase, Lincoln referred to a certain spirit that inhabited quality people who could use the power of the ballot to effect a change in the quality of the lives of the people who believed in them. And you and I, we know full well today that the one common denominator in our democratic environment is the paucity of these quality people whose personal charisma and nobility of ideals could compel us to brave the heat and the cold to register and vote them to power. Pundits here recommend that if we boycott the registration exercise, that may well send the message home to these seedy politicians that we are sick and tired of their antics.
Yesterday, (mostly out of the curiosity of a cat) I came out to see what it would cost me to register to vote for a bunch of people who have that natural propensity to speak in double entendres, in innuendos. It was here I understood the arguments of the pundits in the first and second paragraphs of this discourse and why the resonant din concerning the impracticability of the electronic voter cum registration exercise had died down considerably. At the registration station, what you see on ground is an electric device that records your semi-CV with your fingerprint, takes an instant portrait of you with a mini-camera attached to the electronic device and printed out in what looks like an identity card. I stood on that queue for more than two hours patiently waiting my turn in a queue populated more by most of our people who could not tell their right from their left. At last it was my turn. Believe it or not, that was when the batteries of these electronic devices ran down. And because I had something else profitable to attend to, I had to abandon the whole of the exercise for next time.
It was while I walked away from the registration booth that the thought struck home that this was going to be the most manipulatable exercise in the history of elections in Nigeria. First, the machine I saw on ground is one that any average politician can have and operate from the comforts of his master’s bedroom if he chooses. So, why we all stand there in the rain and in the sun waiting to perform our so-called civic duties, the smart alecs would be somewhere else perfecting their plan to clinch power at very minimal cost to themselves. All they would do is produce and reproduce as many bogey registrants as they want, in anticipation of D-day. What is it that would stop a politician who has a do-or-die mentality from organizing his own registration exercise and come up with as many voter registration ID cards as he wants? Two, the machine depends almost absolutely on power supply in this environment of ours that is not power-supply friendly. Why is it that INEC intends to come up with a database that is at least seventy percent reliable by relying on the most unreliable of our public utilities?
There is a vital factor that makes any election credible and that one factor is that whatever it is that is put on ground to make that election credible must be absolutely transparent. That we once had this other instance in the past in which a credible and transparent election was truncated by IBB is not a good excuse that that open-ballot system cannot work today. Instead of the uncertain electronically run process of collating the relevant data that is the first step in the election process, I suggest that it is still not too late for theProf to save us from the embarrassment of a failed election by returning to the open-ballot.