(Vanguard of Sunday, May 7, 2006)
I do not envy Maurice Iwu, INEC chairman. I did on a very small scale, at Club level, what he is to do for Nigeria next year when those we asked to ensure our welfare and security are expected to come back for an update of their brief.
The presidential candidates and their running mates, the gubernatorial candidates and their deputies, the national and state assembly aspirants will all next year be asking that they remain in office, where they are not otherwise disqualified by tenure limitation. And the man to supervise the elections is Maurice Iwu.
I say I do not envy him because of the problem I had conducting elections on April 30. The voting population was less than 50. You were qualified to vote if your indebtedness to the Club was less than N12,000. You had to be nominated and your nomination had to be supported. Voting was to be by secret ballot. But one thing I discovered when the time for the elections had come was that there was no provision for ballot papers!
I drew the attention of the departing executive of the Club to the lapse. The departing executive that had served its tenure (there are two terms of a year each in the Club) ought to have provided all that was needed to make the elections not only credible but to be seen also to be credible.
The Constitution was clear that elections to all the Club offices would be by secret ballot. Some members said there was nothing sacrosanct about secret ballot. The end result was that officers were elected and that there were no flaws in the election. We should save time by adopting a show of hands in place of the provision in the Club Constitution that elective offices should be by secret ballot.
The Electoral Commission consisting of Dr. Momodu Kassim-Momodu as assistant returning officer and my humble self-playing the role of Iwu of INEC told them firmly that we were looking at our Club Constitution and would not accept any mode not settled in the document that regulates our affairs. The suggestion was then made that if we were to avoid voting, then all officers should be returned unopposed.
That was what seemed to be happening when the president and first and second vice presidents were nominated. They were returned unopposed. Then the position of general secretary was announced and two men were nominated. The president-elect said he wanted to make a statement and we refused.
It was suggested by someone else that the President-elect had a right to decide who would work with him and we said the Club Constitution gave every member a right to contest for any position. Since no one bargained for the type of hitch we had run into, there had been no provision for ballot papers.
We asked Sunny who was hosting us at his Aja home to provide some foolscap sheets which we sliced into pieces. As the voting progressed, I watched everyone drop their piece of paper on the table in front of me. Pictures flowed across the screen of my mind as I recalled what happened in 2003 elections and in the 1993 presidential elections and what awaits us in 2007, if we will have elections.
I was at home in Edo State during the 2003 elections and I was in Lagos in June, 1993 during the presidential elections of that year. What we were doing at the Club level was closer to what happened in 1993 than what happened in 2003.
It had never been disputed that the 1993 elections were free and fair and credible, and that the 2003 elections were fraudulent and a direct denial of the people’s right to freely choose those who should rule them. We counted the votes and declared the winner of the post of secretary of the Club.
One of us said Iwu should come over to learn from me how to conduct credible elections. See what Iwu has brought to himself being INEC chairman! I conducted a club election where the rules were almost changed, where the president-elect almost imposed a secretary of his choice.
The truth is that the man after his heart won with a wide majority, but he had wanted to insist that the gentleman was the one he would be comfortable with in office. He almost forgot, so soon after he had been elected, that all other officers of the Club were elected officers of the Club, not his appointees. I felt something surge through me. Iwu would have to do at more than 11,000 places, and with a voting population of some 70 million what I was doing with only 50 colleagues in a club!
The questions started to pour in, and my heartbeat increased. What preparations are we making for 2007 if we do not want to break the disastrous record of 2003? Where is the electoral act that should provide guidelines for what is to be done? When are we going to start work on the register of voters?
We had none in 2003 or can anyone argue that we had? If we had one, where was it displayed and who complained and what happened to the complaints? How much funding is INEC going to have to prepare for and conduct elections? Have our experiences with courts not shown that all election petitions should be disposed of before those elected take office on May 29, 2007?
Or are we scheming to extend tenure through constitutional means of creating an environment in which elections cannot hold and which would make the National Assembly extend tenure of office of president for six months at a time? And where would the National Assembly meet when the fallout of not holding elections would make such meetings battlegrounds in which everything, including GSM handsets would be handy weapons?
Even more serious is what I hear Maurice Iwu is insisting on doing. Is it true that he has sworn to impose the electronic voting system even when the National Assembly says no? Can Iwu tell us to show our hands in support for or against any candidate when, say, the mode chosen by our representatives is Option A4?
Can anyone deny the claim that these machines can be programmed to achieve predetermined purposes? Can we swear that we have earned the trust of Nigerians where we disenfranchise people by forcing them out of the political party of their choice; by changing the provisions of the electoral act after the National Assembly has passed it; by writing up electoral guidelines outside the provisions of the electoral act already endorsed through presidential assent; by announcing results of elections not backed by ballot papers; by posting on the internet results of elections in Lagos before they are released; by announcing election results from local government headquarters without the knowledge and endorsement of electoral commissioners in the States?
We have messed up our electoral record beyond repair and it is in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians that no machines are brought into this country to complicate the integrity problem of INEC.
An investigator in the US published a compendium of 56 documented cases in which voting machines got it wrong. And what do the vendors tell you when they are confronted? They tell you anything but that there had been deliberate manipulations and that programmers can make mistakes which direct voting would not accommodate.
Visit the Internet and see for yourself how these machines have caused more harm than has been reported. But why have the machines been so widely acknowledged as infallible? Marketing, my countrymen, marketing.
I do not want to be Iwu for one minute. Not when he cannot be in 774 local government headquarters at the same time to supervise the outcome of elections in more than 11,000 collating centres! So in spite of his promise to go down in history as the one who conducted the freest and fairest elections Nigeria has ever had, someone out there is going to mess him up, and he will go down unsung, and unmourned. INEC is a disaster area and no one has been willing to salvage it, not if remaining un-empowered serves the purpose of the greedy ones.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 133 – 136; Lagos, 2008).