The 2014 National Conference: Looking back, looking forward
Not a benign one for you and yours, and a pernicious one for others. Assuredly, we can change Nigeria into a liveable space of happy, unafraid, determined, free, loving and creative people instead of having a world that is flat, one-dimensional; a world of only one colour one kind of music, one religion or ideology, in which people have to act against their better selves in order to survive the debilities of so called market forces that have forces but no markets for jobs acceptable to honest citizens.
It is such a space that the idea of a National conference was always fishing and bidding for beyond political immediacies. It had always been rightly believed that, if skilfully convened, it could eliminate the fear of the future by different Nigerian nationalities and enhance conversational civility between diverse fractions and factions.
The short of the matter is that an unusually gifted collection of nationalities, ill-informed to a most disabling degree, without affective access to one another that truly links hearts and minds through exposure to a common morality, how could they solve simple economic problems while each is thinking of how to overcome the other’s advantages instead of going for the goal that puts all and sundry as winners? Where would empathy come from as a defining ethic to humanize dreams and put them to work for the whole society when the grandest ideals, even divine injunctions are being subverted against genuine cooperation that we all need to heal the existential plagues that our lives are becoming?
So I come to my second caveat: In accepting the invitation to deliver this lecture, I was intrigued, I must say, by it being in memory of a man whom I never met in his lifetime but whose output as a public figure I had several occasions to respond to on newspaper pages.
I shall not make any references to those occasions for reasons that will soon become obvious but I want to acknowledge the fact that it fits quite primly into the pattern of the other memorial lectures I have delivered almost as a matter of ritual in Edo State in the Fourth Republic.
The first of the lectures, the 2003 Egharevba Memorial Lecture was titled In search of Ogun – Soyinka, Nietzsche, and the Edo Century, which forms the spine of my latest collection of essays titled In search of Ogun, Soyinka In Spite of Nietzsche.
It was a celebration of the great historian of Benin, within the genre of cultural philosophy, but specifically to engage his sensational presentation of the personage of Ogun Ewuare, the fifteenth century king of Benin who gave the name Edo to his nationality.
This personage has fascinated me from the standpoint of his very secular, world-changing acumen, which makes many of our modern Governors appear like apprentice mechanics fiddling with social engineering.
Indeed, I have been enthralled by the savvy of this long-ago monarch whom many enemies described as Ogun the wicked but only in the sense in which one of our founding fathers in the 20th century was once berated for arguing that people can be forced to be free, and that those who hated being forced to go to school would sit down some day to thank their presumed traducer.
True, Ogun Ewuare burnt down and then rebuilt his city on a grand scale that attracted different occupational groups, domiciled in quarters, factory-style, as we can still see five centuries after.
It says something, very clearly, to modernity which I think requires us to develop a sense of community and a proper capacity for communal creativity and goal-orientation deserving of fixtures in the literatures for school children.
I must say, in this connection, that using Ogun Ewuare’s practice as a standard, was like setting a mood for my other memorial lectures in honour of Chief Anthony Enahoro, Justice S.O. Ighodaro, Festus Iyayi, and even the straight-out communal celebration for Ikolo Esan in November titled We must change the way we live.
In general, I have sought a Promethean profile in the lives of these great men, people of quality, who deserve to be celebrated for the purpose of fashioning a common morality to drive descriptions of the future into which we wish to move. I have, quite frankly, always been in search of such exemplars, with a code of performance that can yield more than mere business as usual.
Or to put it differently, it has been a case of looking for ways of linking creative people across time and place, across geography, professions and other existential inclinations who need to be made to see that it is because good people do not meet or engage themselves in regular conversations that their own foibles become obstacles helping the real world to defeat them in their quests for a better world. Which is why, in the case of Anthony Enahoro, it was about his youthful zeal for political and cultural advocacy, retained throughout his life.
On the other hand, I needed to show deference to Ighodaro’s impregnable sense of public service unsoiled by compromise and moral deviations. For Festus Iyayi, it was for his unfailing commitment to the cause of lifting the poor and disadvantaged, and organizing a knowledge-driven will for socio-economic liberation. I have, very heartily, identified with their exemplariness, and the high standards of public performance that future generations could miss unless roaded along inspirational lines, along the programmatic zeal of that patriarch who, so many centuries ago, challenged his people to civic creativity of a special kind.
My tack in this lecture is to take off from their reality to what Dr. Abel Guobadia did for the Women’s Health and Action Research Centre, which is why we are here. But I am absolutely intrigued by his contribution to public service as a boss of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in the Fourth Republic.
A brief engagement with the latter is actually, in my view, a fair way to enter into the theme of this lecture. I call it an entry, because anyone may be forgiven who thinks that a memorial lecture in honour of a former Chairman of an electoral commission, a man who was in the very cockpit of nurturing our nascent democracy as a manager of national elections, is a fit and proper place to discuss a national conference organized for the purpose of crafting a new constitution for Nigeria.
At any rate, there is no way of discussing how to create selectorates, or why we could not build up an electorate for the purpose of raising or recruiting leaders to craft such a constitution, without thinking of an electoral commission that subsists on muddling through.
Its organization, its minders, in and out office, alive or not, deserve more than a rite of attention if only because how we know and engage such people, as performers in our annals, can determine how much we can correct of the self-forgetting that is the bane of our history.
In this connection, I am enthused by the fact that Dr. Abel Guobadia did not just do his job and go home. As I have noted, he wrote a book, Reflections of a Nigerian Electoral Umpire, a testimony to his hard experience which can be taken as social capital, crucial to appreciating, navigating and mastering the contentious territory that elections and electioneering have always been in our pursuit of democratic goals.
It is good to know that he who stood in the very cockpit to pilot the electioneering binge in our nascent democracy did not just tell stories about the Independent National Electoral commission but proposes ways to reform the organization. Which is why, for me, it is important to go into it. Some of his experiences can be fleshed from proposals that he makes, such as his demand for a new INEC, informed by the recommendations of the Electoral Review committee, with a new register of voters to eliminate the “many bogus and strange names” of earlier exercises.
Ten years after Guobadia’s exit as Chairman of INEC, the organization is still battling to have the permanent voters’ register that he made a commitment to, and had carried to an advanced stage before the end of his term. It does matter that we continue to his look at his charge. We need to re-appraise its value as a necessary feature of the integrity of an electoral commission. This could be a good way to prime the efforts of the current Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, as he confronts the problems of the 2015 General elections and beyond.
In this regard, one great problem Guobadia notes for special appraisal is the common practice in INEC of subordinating “highly qualified and highly-rated experienced staff” to or replacing them with “ill-equipped favoured lower level staff and hurriedly recruited staff of doubtful political leaning and with no prior training for their new job”.
In an era, of do or die politics, which had damaged the possibilities of reforms and left so many issues to be treated with levity and licence, it is understandable that he should have worried about this and the standards that could give integrity to the organization.
The hard reality is that, the predilection of the political bosses to intervene through zanny personnel deployments, had made it trite to haggle over the pre-requisites for free and fair elections while all the formalities of standard bureaucracies were being made hostage to sheer political alchemies.
The INEC that Guobadia presents to us is one in which the political bosses could and actually changed all ten of thirteen members of the Board, in one fell swoop, without minding that incoming members would be too green to know their left from their right. It was done in a manner that suggested a lack of interest in the institutionalization of structures and programmes. Once the old members were gone, the new simply had to muddle through or bungle it.
These days, as we witness the giddy movements towards the 2015 General Elections, it is apposite that we have an opportunity to gather for one whose role in this contentious territory can still be weighed in to see how far and how well we are travelling. Sometimes, as we see genuine conversations becoming truly impossible, and shouting matches in the name of electioneering overcoming the civic space, with no one listening to no one in the jam of the social media, it is some bonus point for our communal health that we can have time for some honest interaction while truth goes falling as a banal casualty on the rostrum. Don’t get me wrong. I do not imply as some people are proposing that it is darkness visible. Not for our country. The need to honour a man like Abel Guobadia whose most advertised public role centred on a most modern institution, an electoral commission, a means for recruiting leaders who may continue to deploy knowledge or ignorance as their disposition lets them, simply ought to be a means of engaging the issues that challenge our country to do better.
For instance, the ongoing, hullabaloo over the non-availability of Permanent Voter’s Card, PVC, under Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC in the 2015 elections, may well be viewed not only from the standpoint of putting a dampener on the process of searching for transparency in the 2015 General Elections, but re-engineering the organization.
The questions arise. Why couldn’t PVCs have arrived two years before the elections so that corrections and revisions would go on apace for a whole year before the election year. If such untoward things can happen under Jega, who has a well-earned reputation for integrity, where lies the salvation for Nigeria? It matters to ask because just when we were all about to start celebrating a change for the better under Professor Jega at INEC, newspaper adverts started flying which revealed that all the principal officers at the Independent National Electoral Commission: were appointed against the prescribed principles minded by the Federal Character Commission. It caused an uproar which had not quite died down when it was made public that additional polling booths shared in a lopsided manner between North and South were slated as part of the preparation for the 2015 General Elections.
INEC has very wisely put a lid on the matter. But it gives the impression of padding; mere padding with the presumption always bobbing up to the surface that there is in Nigerian politics a psychological wrench based on a structural mismatch between different parts of the country, especially between North and South which stands in the way of wholesome behaviour and which must be healed for Nigeria to achieve her full undoubted potential.
The truth is that for Jega to insist on being ready for the election while 23 million voters are yet to get their PVCs is tantamount to a conspiracy to disenfranchize a third of the electorate. The discovery that there was a gash of regional disparities in the distribution between North and South, with 80.1 percent in war-torn North East.
The shock is that the National Assembly did not think that such a disjunction was serious enough to be treated as a National emergency requiring the INEC boss to sever his relationship with the electoral process.
Worse, was the behaviour of all the former heads of state who, at the National council of state, lined up to refuse a postponement of the polling day, without a thought to the disenfranchised. It showed by what disfigurements they had landed Nigeria in the mess that made it a far cry from scandal for millions to be denied their right to vote.
Equally, so hearty have been the voluble protestations against postponement of the polls by so called progressives within and outside party circles, who think the dates fixed for the elections were more sacrosanct than the necessity to defend the enfranchisement of millions of citizens.
If census enumerators could go from door to door, why cant INEC make it an emergency deal to do exactly the same, since it was not the fault of the voters that INEC waited for the month of the elections to begin to admit that millions of the PVCs had not even been printed.
Scandal of scandals is that they managed to distribute 80.1 percent of the permanent voters cards in war-torn North East while Lagos and environs, areas in which the President had a good showing in the last elections, had less than 40 percent distribution rate. Surely, if the President had intervened before the postponement to insist on fair distribution, that would have amounted to cracking the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Even if the idiosyncracy credits that all of us owe Professor Jega for his famed integrity makes many of us ignore the evident incongruities, why would any self-respecting candidate, party supporter, or ethnic warlord, confronted by his disenfranchised followers be expected to stay complacent with the crudities of the bias in the distribution.
In order to be considered law-abiding? Evidently, before the military service chiefs intervened to insist on a postponement to enable them battle Boko Haram to a standstill, the PVC issues were already source of seething security hazards under the deceptively calm surface of a driven electoral unfairness.
The potential for an explosion in INEC’s arrogant presumption of readiness in the face of roundly evident mal-distribution, was reminding most Nigerians of the disastrous national obligation to accept figures for population censuses and registers of voters that we all know to be simply unreliable if not useless.
With sanctity removed from the figures through unhealthy haggle, surely, to assume an unwillingness by the state to stand fast for effectuation of the people’s will is the easiest part of the bargain.
Whether elections can be free and fair, in the circumstance becomes so much a matter of turning shabby context into destiny rather than a matter of the character or will of the electoral personnel.
The short of it is that we can all consensually agree that across Nigeria’s history, every electoral commission has been mired in such incongruous situations. Not even the ostentatious attention drawn to the ‘independent’ in INEC has prevented concern about the in-built subversion of its independence.
INEC, as it turns out, has common features with all the failed electoral commissions of the past, following a wearisome pattern that fits the mould of a judicial officer of minority ethnic stock servicing the agenda of a majority power bloc.
After the first Chairman, Sir Kofo Abayomi, the run began with Mr. Eyo Eyo Esua, Efik (1965), Chief Michael Ani, Efik (1979), Mr. Justice Ovie-Whiskey, Urhobo (1983), Professor Eme Awa, Igbo (1987), Professor Humphery Nwosu, Igbo (1989-93), Professor Okon Uya, Efik (1993) and Chief Sumner Dagogo-Jack, Calabar (1993-98).
In the fourth Republic, Justice Ephraim Akpata, as Chairman, this time Edo, and. Dr. Abel Guobadia, another Edo, (1999-2006) was followed by Prof. Maurice Iwu, an Igbo (2006-2010) and the breaker of the mould, the first northerner, Prof. Attahiru Jega, the incumbent since 2010.
The same mindset that was evident in the appointment of the Chairmen was displayed in the appointment of the Secretaries to the Commission, Alhaji Adamu Bawa Muazu – “geo-political” correctness followed the pattern of Alhaji Saidu Barda, Secretary to Ovie-Whiskey’s Commission who was appointed after Alhaji Lambo Gubio, a member of the newly-formed INEC under Maurice Iwu.
The pattern was not exhausted by the fact that Dr. Umaru S. Ahmadu was secretary to Prof. Eme Awa while Alhaji Aliu Umar was Secretary to Professor Humphrey Nwosu whose Chief of Logistics incidentally was Col. Mohammed Wase.
For that matter, Alhaji AbdulKadri Aliyu was Secretary to Professor Okon Uya while Alhaji Mohammed Ali was Secretary to Dagogo-Jack backed by Col. Yakubu Bako as Chief of Logistics.
One highly indicative appointment is that of Alhaji Shehu Musa, Makama Bida, secretary to the Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s NPN government, in 1979-83, a Presidential Aspirant on the platform of the National Republican Convention in 1990 and Chairman of the National Population Commission for the 1991 Census.
A serious matter of consequence in assessing the independence of the Commission is in the fact that a common political tendency could be traced in the membership of Nigeria’s electoral commissions.
Until the appointment of Jega in 2010 it had the political colour of the conservative flank made up of the NPC, UPP, NNA, NPN, NRC axis as against the more progressive AG, NCNC, NEPU, UPGA, UPN, NPP, PRP, SDP axis. What INEC lost in rigid conservative coloration, it made up for however in the regional consistency of its top hierarchy.
One remarkable feature of the pattern maintenance that has taken place in INEC is that until the appointment of Prof. Jega as Chairman in the Fourth republic, the organizing principles were fairly well threshed within a negative dictum inherited from the first Republic.
Simply, from the standpoint of the ruling party, it said: whether you vote for us or you do not vote for us, we shall win.
This was the Elder Fani-Kayode doctrine. In the Second Republic, it was reduced to the simple formula that competition in the system was between the ruling party and the military rather than the opposition, according to Adisa Akinloye.
In the Third Republic, victories won by candidates were simply annulled and party Chairmen were instructed by the military to endorse the change. In the Fourth Republic, the principle, derived from the same old rampart of impunity was argued differently.
At the beginning it was a case of if we won an election organized by the military, how could we lose an election that we ourselves shall organize as argued by Mallam Adamu Ciroma, before this non-principle was activated, virtually all Nigerian newspapers reported how a party stalwart Chris Uba from Anambra looked the President in the eye and demanded to be granted his recompense for rigging the elections in his state.
He said: “I gave INEC money and asked them to announce the results”. The gubernatorial beneficiary of that rigged election, Dr. Chris Ngige, who was present, also looked the president in the eye and said your election and my election were rigged on the same table.
“Get out of my sight”, shouted the President. And, they got out of his sight but not out of the system. There was no police intervention because it was just a family affair.
What is of significance, from my perspective in this lecture, is that irrespective of who has been INEC boss, the same informalities and impunity have been turned into a culture for managing elections.
Ten years after Abel Guobadia left INEC, the extant organizational debilities are still those of muddling things to predictable endings.
It comes from a long way off; so far away that it obliges all to realize that it is not just about the individual operative or Chairman but the surrounds, the context in which INEC itself functions.
When population figures, in acrimonious dispute, are matched to the absence of a proper register of voters, while the structure of the electoral commission itself is fraught with the rigours of ethnic and regional bias, context seriously becomes destiny.
Context here refers to the overhang of ruling party dispensers who design and enforce authoritative decisions along lines of impunity. Context impacts upon elections in gory forms that go beyond what is reported by embarrassed and sometimes enraged international observers who do not need to imagine it but can see that ballot boxes get stolen, and underage children vote and results are announced from booths where no polling took place.
As Abel Guobadia has presented them, the gross informalities that overtake the bureaucracy at the electoral commission ensure a depressing picture; all efforts to set INEC free, as recommended by the Uwais commission, are blunted by ruling party and regional warlords at state and Federal levels.
Every effort to streamline the process of voting through the use of DNA technology, or data capture machines or even the grander pursuit of an Identity Card system to cover the whole country has ended in disappointment.
After expending so much money, the machines are abandoned. As it was in 1962, so it has remained in supposedly more enlightened times. For anyone with cursory familiarity with Nigeria’s history, it is this, the predictability of failure for virtually every such historical project aimed at changing the story of Nigeria, that has induced the campaigns not just for institutional but constitutional change.
Events have made it so obvious that, beyond the possibility that Professor Jega can carry out his revolution of the Permanent Voter’s card, only a complete overhaul of the system through constitutional re-engineering will pass.
There is for instance absolute necessity to ensure a funding pattern for INEC to remove the excuse of poor scheduling such as led to postponement of polling days in 2011 after they were due and has created the same crisis of dates in 2015. In the latter case, the mal-distribution of permanent voters cards, PVCs, leading to the disenfranchisement of 23 million, more than a third of the voters at the point of postponement is like a coup against the electorate.
The sad and shocking part is that all of Nigeria’s former Heads of States at the National Council of States, and a host of supposedly radical civil society organizations, lined up against postponement, making it seem as if the fixed dates were sacrosanct but the disenfranchisement of a third of the electorate was piece of cake.
To have claimed to be ready several times before the calamity of disenfranchisement was exposed puts Professor Jega in the invidious position of someone determined to rig the election against the electorate.
It is compounded by the fact that war-torn North East had 80.1 distribution rate as against 38 percent for a Lagos at peace, the largest national constituency, not to mention the queer North/South divide in the volume of distribution that proves the fears of those who have accused him of fixing an ethnic and regional echelon around himself at INEC to bias the whole electoral process.
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