When the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega announced sometimes last year that all the national elections would be held in April 2011, some expressed reservation if the process would not be jokes while the results would turn out to be April Fool’s gimmicks. The first election was then announced to start on April 2, 2011 to elect legislators to the National Assembly.
Professor Jega and his team do not look like pranksters. At least their antecedents were exemplary of serious and principled personalities who could not engage in fooling others or allow themselves to be fooled by circumstances. Surprisingly a day after the April fool, (precisely April 2, 2011) an announcement was made mid-afternoon that jolted everybody including foreigners.
Nigerians believed the notorious April Fool’s day had passed and they went out with high expectations to actively exercise their franchise. The electorates trooped out in large numbers; the queues in some places were unprecedented; media were so excited and overwhelmed with developments as the unfolded; political observers and activists were in top gear with latest gadgets to monitor the elections. Like the revolutions taking place in the Arab World for positive change in the system, Nigerians were so passionate and conscious of the inalienable right to determine who should represent them; they sacrifice everything in order to make a success of the first outing of the general elections. Alas… It was not April fool day but what happened that day was similar to April Fool’s jokes and disappointments.
The election by midday had been postponed.
Before the D-day, the modern technology, especially the internet and mobile phones, had played crucial roles in reawakening public consciousness on the need to electing credible and sincere leaders to manage the affairs of the country. The social media and text messages are the tools that have continued to give the electorate regular updates from reliable sources.
The folly and antics of some political gladiators including the behind the scene hanky-panky during campaigns were literally exposed. The political debates and campaign blogs further showed the strength and weaknesses of some candidates.
The Presidential debate for instance, attended by three respected presidential candidates: General Muhammad Buhari of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau of All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and Nuhu Ribadu of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) further equipped and empowered Nigerians to have the right perceptions of the contenders. The solo Presidential debate which President Goodluck Jonathan attended as the only candidate also plays a role in assessing and reexamining our leaders. Infact the debates truly differentiated the leaders that are eloquent, intelligent and visionary who have the ability to solve the myriads of problems bedeviling the nation from the pretenders and stooges who mimicked leadership without substance to justify their claims of potentialities.
Therefore with the candidates ready, the electorates fully prepared to vote and observers well-equipped to monitor the election on that fateful Saturday April 2, 2011, the cancellation and subsequent postponement of the elections dashed the hopes of many voters. While majority are reading many meanings into the incident, the fact still remain that the top leadership of INEC could be sincere but should not take chances from sabotages that could taint their integrity.
While apologizing for postponing the general elections across the Federation Professor Attahiru Jega blamed the “unprecedented late arrival of result sheets” as the reason. He accused unspecified vendors for the late arrival of the materials which only reached Abuja at 9am on Saturday. He equally stated that the vendors also blamed the Tsunami disaster in Japan for compelling them to divert the supply of the electoral result sheets. The INEC Boss expressed his confidence that there would be no further delays to the process because all electoral material have now arrived in the country.
President Goodluck Jonathan said that he was “in full support” of the INEC chairman, adding that “the country and the electoral body are totally committed to ensuring that they conduct credible elections.” Similar sentiments have been expressed by serious president candidates including General Buhari of CPC, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP and Mr. Nuhu Ribadu of CAN.
As much as we should have confidence in the ability of Jega and his team to deliver and that the first mistake was inevitable due to the reason of a natural disaster in Japan, any other attempt or attempted attempt to postpone any future election would create doubts in the minds of the electorate if actually the election in this month are not April fool pranks for subsequent elections in future months.
The electoral body should ensure that it prosecutes individuals and groups that attempt to play with our collective intelligence through unjustifiable excuses at this period. of the past while all should give the INEC the benefit of doubt to conduct free and fair elections that would usher in a true democracy that is devoid of rigging and manipulation.
We only hope that subsequent actions from INEC would not lend towards the fear of Abraham Lincoln who said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
This article was originally published in April 2010 in some print media including the Economic Confidential, the Punch, Sunday Tribune, Thisday, Leadership and People’s Daily