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Friday, 9 September 2011



By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Since April 2nd when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wobbled and fumbled by suspending an ongoing national assembly election across the country, that Institution that has gained notoriety over many years as one of the most incompetent agencies of government in Nigeria has remained consistently in the news either for good or bad.

For the first week immediately following the abrupt suspension of the previously scheduled National Assembly election on April 2nd, and its postponement twice, the leadership of the electoral body understandably were bombarded by critics who felt betrayed by the inability of the independent national electoral commission to conduct hitch-free National Assembly Election on April 2nd after it has committed colossal amount of tax payers’ money for its preparation. Several persons and Institutions called for the sack of the chairman of the commission but the Federal government decided otherwise since according to President Goodluck Jonathan, the government was prepared to give the electoral panel the benefit of the doubt.

When on April 9th the re-scheduled National Assembly election took place in an atmosphere that was adjudged by a cross section of Nigerians as peaceful, a lot of Nigerians have poured accolades on the Independent National Electoral Commission for achieving what is regarded by some people as one of the most freest and fairest electoral contests in the political annals of Nigeria. The stage for what has now become a national or ‘mass hysteria’ by some prominent commentators who have showered appreciation to the leadership of the electoral panel started with the recruitment by the hierarchy of the electoral panel of some persons usually regarded as national leaders of the organized civil society community to offer profound reasons for why the Independent National Electoral Commission faltered by not going ahead with the April 2nd National Assembly poll.

Wikipedia the online encyclopedia said that “hysteria in its Colloquial use describes unmanageable emotional excesses. People who are hysterical often lose self-control due to an over whelming fear that may be caused by multiple events in one’s past that involved some sort of severe conflicts….” “Mass hysteria describes mass, public near-panic reactions.…”

The stage for the ongoing mass hysteria over the so-called superlative performance of Professor Jega and his officials was prepared by some suspected hired public speakers. Now some senior editors of some of Nigeria’s respected media have bought into this mass hysteria and have even written editorials which generously sought to discharge and acquit Professor Jega’s-led electoral body for the April 2nd national mistake.

Some of these civil society persons recruited by the Independent National Electoral Commission were generously featured on the prime time political programmes of television stations like the African Independent Television [AIT] and the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and they used these opportunities of appearing on these popular television channels to put up spirited defence in favour of Professor Attahiru Jega for wasting billions of tax payers’ fund in the election that ought to have taken place on April 2nd but was put off midway due to the crass incompetence and ineptitude of the officials of the electoral panel who told the nation lie on the eve of the postponed poll that all materials for the exercise were in place only for them to call off the exercise on the actual day that the election kicked off in several states of the federation.

The chairman of the electoral body blamed some of the contractors for failing to deliver result sheets to some of the 36 states of the federation even as he threatened to drag these defaulting contractors whom he concealed their names to the law enforcement agencies for appropriate judicial sanction.

As earlier stated, the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission was very smart when it called a meeting of few activists in the nation’s organized civil society and recruited some of them to mount unrelenting media campaign in support of the electoral body so as to win public support because these same persons are aware that the Nigerian public are too quick to forget and forgive official indiscretion once that defaulting institution has adopted some seemingly workable remedial action that may have addressed aspects of the initial error even when appropriate sanction have not been imposed on the indicted persons and this ensures that the circle of errors continue to limit Nigeria’s achievement of true transformation.

Most Nigerian commentators are no longer bordered about finding out how far the two key anti-graft bodies of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC]and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission (ICPC) have proceeded with the investigation and/or prosecution if any of those indicted contractors who breached their contractual terms to the nation by failing spectacularly to supply some materials like result sheets that would have been in place before the cancelled April 2nd poll.

James Borg in his book “Persuasion: the art of influencing people” wrote rightly that; “our basic human values have not changed  that much over the centuries, as it was in the era of the philosopher Aristotle over two thousand three hundred years ago who laid the ground work for successful communications”.

For Aristotle (384-322BC), persuasion was “the art of getting people to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask”.

Some of those human rights practitioners and commentators hired by the officials of the electoral body to do its bidding in convincing members of the public to take it easy with Professor Attahiru Jega told Nigerians that the action of the electoral commission in postponing the botched April 2nd National Assembly election was done in public interest because according to them, in 2007 similar situation of lack of result sheets came up but that the disgraced former chairman of the electoral commission choose to proceed with the election which gave rise to the monumental electoral fraud that characterized the 2007 poll.

These clever by half commentators never told Nigerians that their pay master – the officials of the electoral panel addressed a press conference twenty four hours before the botched April 2nd poll whereby he assured Nigerians that all the materials for the exercise were in place. These hired speakers also failed to tell the Nigerians public that several billions have already been wasted by the electoral commission by the singular incompetent act of suspending the April 2nd 2011 national Assembly poll. These recruited public speakers who appeared severally on the national television to defend the electoral body did not tell Nigerians how much the postponement cost the nation’s economy because all business activities in public and private sectors were shut on April 2nd, Nigeria’s land borders were closed down by the federal government for the elections thus forcing all economic activities in most parts of the country to come to a grinding halt.

Now that Nigeria is witnessing a national hysteria in praise of what some persons have already called ‘superlative’ performance by Professor Jega even before the conduct of the April 26th governorship poll in more than two third of the 36 states, it is clear that the spin doctors hired by the electoral panel have largely succeeded in inducing a national sense of collective amnesia. This trend is dangerous because if critical questions are not asked how then do we achieve progress?

Aristotle had rightly argued that to be persuasive, three different attributes must be manifested by the persuasive speakers and these are ethos or ethical character and reputation; pathos, that is emotional appeal and thirdly, logos, that is logic. These public speakers hired by the Independent National Electoral Commission in the wake of the monumental public show of shame occasioned by the April 2nd botched election manifested these three attributes because most of them were perceived as persons of integrity, who essentially played on public emotion by seeking to remind Nigerians that Professor Attahiru Jega cancelled the elections on April 2nd because he did not want to repeat the mistake made by the immediate past chairman Professor Maurice Iwu who is considered ‘public enemy’ number one for carrying out one of the worst electoral fraud (2007 election) that Nigeria has ever witnessed.

These pro-Jega speakers also generously made use of logical arguments to seek to persuade Nigerians to forgive Professor Jega and when the April 9th re-scheduled election took place in an atmosphere that can generally be regarded as peaceful (even though Nigeria was excessively militarized during the April 9th poll] Nigerians appear to have forgotten the past national error committed by the same electoral panel.

Amid the growing cacophony of the national hysteria over what some people has hastily branded  as ‘superlative performance’ of the electoral body, we must indeed embark on a national dialogue on how best to reform our electoral system to make it possible for the electoral panel to establish its own state of the art printing press so as to save Nigerians the needless colossal amounts of public funds it has spent so far in printing some of these ballot papers and sensitive election materials outside the shores of Nigeria. Critical questions should also be asked on the perceived abuses of political campaign funding regulations and laws by political office seekers as have happened in the ongoing elections without the independent National Electoral Commission doing anything effective to punish defaulters.

Nigerians also should engage in constructive dialogue to work out effective mechanism for organizing elections without necessarily shutting down the nation’s economy or creating the impression that Nigeria is in a state of war going by the unprecedented militarization of the public space during elections.

Nigeria also need to have a national data base whereby all relevant biometrics of genuine voters be stored and  retrieved on demand by relevant government agencies to carry out such important national duties like general elections. Is it not about time that the electoral process is fashioned in such a way that once a potential voter registers his/her biometrics, he can vote wherever he/she is, not minding where exactly he/she registered his biometrics? If Nigeria had indeed spent a fortune properly in building what Professor Jega and his officials called national electronic voters’ register, why is it not possible for any Nigerian whose biometrics are captured, to also exercise his/her franchise wherever he finds himself/herself during election time since the data capturing machine can easily detect multiple or under-age voting? These malpractices of votes’ buying, multiple and under-age voting took place in grand scale across the country during these elections, why this national hysteria then? As an election observer I witnessed all these malpractices.                                                

I think Nigeria is still a long way to achieving our desired credible, transparent, free and fair polls except Nigerians are prepared to free themselves from momentary national or mass hysteria and resolve to solve our multidimensional challenges around the area of effective electoral reforms.

·                    Emmanuel Onwubiko is with Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria; Suite A37, Maitama office Complex, F.H.A Maitama, Abuja.


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