Chairman of Nigeria’s election management body, Professor Attahiru Jega, is one man whose job many would not envy. On his shoulders rests the task of ensuring the country smoothly transits from one civilian government to another through the conduct of free, fair, credible and acceptable elections.
Upon his appointment on June 8, 2010 and confirmation by the Senate five days after, pro-Jega commentators saturated the media with preachments about his credentials as a lecturer, unionist and a man whose integrity is laminated, jealousy protected and immune from the national viral disease of corruption.
Hewn with these superlatives and baked in the pan of Mr Integrity, Jega quickly settled down to the task of clearing the Augean Stables left in office by his predecessor, Professor Maurice Iwu, who was variously vilified for shoddy election conduct and whose removal from office was greeted with commendation. On account of Jega’s perceived high integrity quotient, his goodwill account with Nigerians remained in active health even when he called off midway, the National Assembly elections in 2011. He cited the need to guarantee the integrity of the election as the main reason for the development. Mixed reactions greeted that decision.
While some chided him for not handling logistics challenge very well and allowing same mar the election, others reasoned it was a better decision and spoke volumes of Jega’s honesty about his job as an electoral umpire. At the end of the 2011 elections, warm accolades were heaped on Jega and his team for a job well done. They were hailed for restoring public trust in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
It is believed and rightly so, that, having made a substantial success of the 2011 polls, INEC under Jega’s watch will do better in 2015. He himself has vowed to make the elections beginning this weekend better than the last ones. However, one matter has refused to disappear from the radar of public commentary as far as these elections are concerned. It is the introduction of smart card readers which Jega has said will enhance the integrity of the election by detecting cloned permanent voter cards presented by unscrupulous elements at polling units.
To sensitise the public about the goodness of the innovation, Jega has conducted a mock accreditation in 12 states drawn from the six geo-political zones. The result of that examination has not been excellent. The cards did not work in the designated polling units in Ebonyi, one of the guinea pig states for the test. INEC had to reschedule the exercise in the state. The test-running of the machines has raised a lot pertinent questions and Jega’s responses to them have not been convincing. One of such is that a student may pass a mock examination and fail the real McCoy.
Concerning mock testing, there is the feeling that this is not the real thing in people. Nigerians are quick to turn other countries, especially West African countries bordering us as reference group when issues of development are being debated. For instance, Ghana is the benchmark for Nigeria on the issue of electricity supply. Ghanaians are frequently mentioned as a people who enjoy 24 hours of uninterrupted electricity. When I read about companies closing shops in Lagos and moving down to Ghana on account of inclement business climate in Nigeria, I believed the Ghana story. But I was shocked in faraway London about four months ago when I met two Ghanaians working at one of the branches of Barclays’ bank at Prince’s Square, Westminster. We were discussing Africa and so Nigeria and Ghana naturally featured prominent in the discussion. I told them how many Nigerians envy them in the area of uninterrupted electricity supply. I was stunned when my interlocutors replied that it is nothing but a fairy tale, that electricity supply is very poor in Ghana, though good in certain segments of the urban set up. One of them had just returned from Ghana two months before our encounter.
On the issue of card readers, Ghana has also come as a reference country. Granted, the card reader technology was used for election in Ghana. It was called the biometric verification machines in Ghana. The total demographic strength of Ghana is 25 million, according to its 2012 census figure. The total number of votes in the presidential election of that country was 10.7 million. Do Nigerians know that a good number of these machines broke down on the day of Ghana’s election on Friday, December 7 and many voters were not able to vote on that day? Do Nigerians know that the poll had to be extended to Saturday, December 8?
The fears being expressed in some quarters against the effectiveness of the card readers are justified if viewed against the background of how the Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCMs) malfunctioned in 2011 and led to the extension of voter registration for months. Why didn’t INEC deploy these card readers for Ekiti and Osun states governorship elections to actually test the strength and weaknesses of it? At least, INEC had four years to prepare for these elections. Jega has said election will be rerun on Sunday in areas where replacements could not be got for the machines. But what happens if such cases are so common across the zones? Will he postpone the election midway as he did in 2011? Will he abandon the use of card readers in the course of the polls? Will he say “After all, the same thing happened in Ghana and heaven did not fall?”