(Vanguard of Sunday, April 29, 2007)
A columnist in a Nigerian newspaper was so unsettled by what we have been doing with this country that all he left in the space for his contribution was, There is nothing to say anymore. The fact is that there was so much to say that he chose not to say a thing because we never listen to what we are told we have been doing that is wrong.
We endorse praise-singers and run down those who tell us that things we say, things we do are not quite right, not quite in line with what the people who have a claim to some decent ways of doing things expect, and definitely not up to the irreducible minimum standard of behaviour taken for granted by the international community. Today, I will adopt the posture of Sam Nda Isaiah of Leadership and proclaim that there is nothing to say anymore when in spite of all that had been done to plead for fair ways of doing things; we have taken a plunge for the abyss.
But my reason for not saying anything has nothing to do with our refusing to learn the lessons that lapses in our behaviour throw up. It has to do with my unwillingness to mix groundnut soup with okro soup. You see, I am a player in this matter and although I can separate my role here and my role there, I do not believe that you will accept that I can be fair in critiquing the conduct of the elections because during the elections, I was the media/publicity chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party Campaign Organisation.
In fact a day before the presidential election, I was alarmed at the information flowing out of INEC offices. The election of Saturday April 21 had to start at 10am and end at 5pm instead of the official period of 8am – 3pm! I called the chairman of the party, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, and he told me he was in his constituency in Anambra State.
I told him there was fire on the mountain. He said I should issue a statement on his behalf. I did it, read it to him and he endorsed it to be released. This was about 5pm. There was no light in my office to fax the statement to Abuja for processing and distribution.
We had bought diesel at N120 a litre to power our generator which had been doing the work of the power holding company of Nigeria. And on this day of all days, it had packed up. And a holiday had also been declared for the reason only, as Nigerians believed, that the Supreme Court be prevented from saying whether the president had power or had no power to have his deputy removed for joining another party.
Arith took the diskette and went to Ikeja to have the statement sent by e-mail to Abuja. After battling with traffic on this Friday that was supposed to be a holiday, she left the cab she was in and hopped on a motor bike, the ubiquitous okada. She got to a cyber café only to be told that they do not have facilities for drawing material from diskettes into their system.
Meanwhile, I had gotten my son Rasheed to send the press statement through his laptop to Chukwudi in Abuja who had to download it from a cyber café. There was a long queue there, he told me, and he had to wait for his turn. And when finally he sent out the statement, the papers had all gone to bed, and the statement was useless!
It is for the record I reproduce the statement here because I really must share the embarrassment of what happened on April 21 by insisting that I have nothing to say anymore. Here is the statement: “INFORMATION has just reached us that some sensitive materials for the presidential elections are yet to arrive in the country. This embarrassing disclosure is coming from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which has the sole responsibility under our laws to prepare for, conduct and announce the results of elections.
This national assignment it has done since we returned to civil rule in 1999 with depressing degrees of ineffectiveness. It is sad and unacceptable that with so much associated with INEC in their un-abating trumpeting of their level of preparedness, a statement would emerge from their stable to the effect that some vital electoral materials are still being expected in the country less than 24 hours when they would be needed.
How is INEC going to distribute material to 36 states of the federation and Abuja and have those materials deployed to the 774 local government areas for further movement to 120,000 polling stations when the materials in question are still in the country of production less than 15 hours to the time they would be used?
The All Nigeria Peoples Party Chairman, speaking from his home in Anambra State, has condemned in very strong terms this monumental setback of our journey on the democracy highway, a journey which ought to be more smooth with every step we take but which, because of the greed of some people to sustain a regime of brutal control and corruption, has been made tiresome and accident-prone.
The ANPP refuses to accept the latest gimmick from the hats of those manipulating our electoral processes and appeals to its teaming millions to go ahead and act in accordance with the brief they have been given on the elections that are being held countrywide on Saturday, April 21, 2007.
For the avoidance of doubt, those who have been registered to vote should show up at the polling stations at 8 o’clock in the morning, stay there until they are attended to; permit of no interference with the voting by anybody who is not authorized to be there; stay in the vicinity of the polling stations until counting is done and results handed out to those who are entitled to have copies as agents of the participating parties; up follow to the collation centres in accordance with brief; stay there until collation is over and you are satisfied that what was recorded and announced at the polling centre is what is recorded at the collation centre; permit of no intrusion of whatever description, and be satisfied that what has been done is in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
The announcement of results from local governments without the knowledge of collators of such results, as happened in lots of places in 2003 shall not be accommodated. INEC stands on trial to make this tense time in Nigeria’s history a period the country did not have to be so unsettled about. This can be achieved only when what is being done is not only clear and transparent, but is seen to be so by the whole country and the world at large.”
What else can I say about the elections of April 21? What can anyone say that the whole world has not said, that most of the monitors, except INEC and other actors with vested interests, have not said? And what better picture of a global plan to undermine our democracy can we have than the figures INEC supplied in the Edo State gubernatorial elections and which Chief S. J. Ojeikere, president of Afenmai Forum analysed in the e-mail he sent to me with the title, Edo Gubernatorial Elections: The Unfolding Drama.
Edo State seems to be where the gubernatorial election has generated more heat than anywhere else in the country. Hear Ojeikere, “The total number of Registered Voters (in Edo State) is 1,344, 410. Of these 13,423 were under aged and 5,585 had multiple registration leaving a balance of 1,325,262.
This means that only 1.4% attempted to cheat. Polling booths all over the country witnessed the following features. Independent National Election Commission (INEC) officials and electoral materials arrived late; in many cases the materials were inadequate; thumb printing was used for voting and the presence of agents caused undue delays; minor attempts at smuggling in ballot papers at the scene of voting; hijacking of ballot boxes and materials either for destruction or for thumb printing in private homes for re-introduction at the collating centers; thumb printing in private homes with possible connivance by security agents and INEC officials; and violence resulting in deaths of even voters waiting on the queue.
All features listed above contributed to the sorry state of affairs and the lack of credibility in the conduct of the 14th April elections in Edo State. Some of the low percentages recorded include Akoko-Edo 0%, Etsako Central 0%, Ikpoba Okha 7.5%, Oredo 24.2% and Egor 25.4%. At the other end of the scale, we have Ovia South West 60.1%, Esan North 60.8%, Etsako East 63.6%, Igueben 67.2%, Esan South East 69.9%, Uhunmwode 71.1%, Esan Central 91.4% and Esan West 92.0%.
We thus have five local government areas with low voter turn out of between 0% ad 30% and eight local government areas, with high voter turn out, of between 60% ad 92%! Out of the18 (eighteen) local government areas in Edo State, the voter turn out in 13 (thirteen) gives room for concern. The logical answer can only be that the playing field was certainly not level. A situation where Oredo, with nearly four times the number of registered voters in Esan West, records about the same level of voters is a reflection of the different ‘strokes’ applied in the two local government areas.”
I do have nothing to say because all the monitoring groups, local and foreign, have complained about the degeneration in our practice of democracy. Since we have refused to improve on this best form of government available to man on earth today, can we not sit down and discuss what is wrong with us as Nigerians and accept to start the serious business of governing at that level we are ripe for, that level at which what we are doing is a service, not a business?
We just have to go back in time to address this matter because we are not ready for the road we have chosen to walk. One hundred million elections will produce one hundred million different ways of cheating because our motto remains to win or die. We never think of a scenario where winning may kill us. We must prevent this scenario and chat our way out of trouble by discussing what we are ripe for, and opting for it sooner than later.