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By Nick Dazang
16 December 2021   |   3:35 am
It was supposed, at best, to be a sabbatical or a tour of duty of a maximum of four years. Instead, it ended up in a sojourn of 18 years.

INEC booth

It was supposed, at best, to be a sabbatical or a tour of duty of a maximum of four years. Instead, it ended up in a sojourn of 18 years. It was supposed to be a short lived experience, especially given the rather low esteem in which I had held the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Truth be told, I was one of its most virulent critics. I used to view the Commission dimly as grossly inept and a cesspool of corruption. In fact, in 2002, and preparatory to the conduct of the 2003 general elections, the Community Action For Popular Participation (CAPP), in its more luminous and halcyon days, gathered us at the Nana Country Home, Tudun Wada, Jos, to reflect on our electoral laws and how they impacted on our then nascent democracy project. I led the charge in making a mincemeat of some of the laws and in upbraiding INEC in the most vitriolic fashion.
It was therefore an irony of the most profound variety that I was co-opted into the Commission in 2004. Many of my colleagues and friends were bewildered. Others felt betrayed. A bigwig of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) attributed my co-option and that of sundry others into government as a canny and shrewd way to silence the vocal opposition to the then government of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Though I was not co-opted at the highest echelon as a board member or policy maker, I was nonetheless determined to add value and make a difference. My determination was immediately spurred by the many devoted, honest and talented staff I was honoured to meet at the Commission. Unsung and uncelebrated, they worked under challenging circumstances. The Commission was expected to meet the high yearnings and expectations of Nigerians and members of the international community for free, fair and credible elections. Yet, the conditions for doing so hardly existed. An obtuse political class excelled in stultifying and circumscribing the Commission. And though it relies on a legion of stakeholders to carry out its mandate, the Commission had to find recourse in moral suasion and plaintive appeals to patriotism. Its position is sometimes so helpless that it reminds one of the famous commiseration Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery made to General Dwight Eisenhower. After his tour of duty as Allied Supreme Commander, Eisenhower was elected President of the United States. Montgomery was said to have remarked: “Now you’ll give an order and nobody will carry it out.”

It was this challenging circumstance and the fact that the Commission had become a graveyard for hard-earned reputations and the need to change the narrative for the better that made me a convert and transformed me into one of its ardent advocates.

Eighteen years after, whether I have added value to the Commission, and by extension, to my beloved country or not, is a judgement left for my compatriots. It will amount to hubris and immodesty of the most inordinate kind to write an examination and to proceed to evaluate oneself. What is key is that 18 years after, I have by God’s grace, arrived at another milestone and defining moment. On 17th of November 2021, I was 60 years old. I had become a Senior Citizen and formally exited the Commission.

Exiting the Commission should mark a new beginning, a renaissance of sorts and a time to dream new dreams. As C.S. Lewis once reminded us, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream”. While one was at the Commission, the most sublime or intellectually tasking pieces one wrote were in the realm of reports, communiques and occasional chapter contributions to official publications. These were humdrum tasks based on templates that rarely gave room for creativity. Compared with the latitude one gets in doing an Op-Ed, an editorial or a feature article, the pieces aforementioned are simply doggerel. Memos and communiques are bereft of the occasional risks Reporters take by pontificating, playing God or pricking the ballooning arrogance of power wielders. Memos, apart from consigning you to a template, render you rusty and deny you the proficiency and near perfection that come with regular writing for the Media.

In spite of these downsides, one has gained, not a few insights into how government “thinks” and works. Though the Commission is an Election Management Body (EMB) that prides itself on its constitutionally guaranteed independence, and once in a while it tries to assert it, the facts remain that: its activities are governed by the Civil Service Rules, with its governance structure deferring to the Offices of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. The executive and legislative branches have suzerainty over the Commission. The legislative branch oversights the Commission through its two committees in the Senate and House of Representatives. Also, the fact that the President appoints the Chairman of the Commission and other Commissioners, National and Resident, speaks volumes about the independence of the Commission.

One of my consolations is that after observing at close range at least four Commissions and partaking actively in their activities, one can claim some measure of punditry in electoral matters. But perhaps what is more important and uplifting is for one to reconnect with his constituency by occasionally intervening and commenting on the conduct of public affairs in the country and to do so unencumbered by civil service rules.

When Nigerians fought for the enthronement of democracy, their expectations were that they would express themselves robustly, forge consensus and common ground on thorny issues and, as a matter of course, receive good governance. Alas, those who fought for democracy have been mercilessly driven to the margins, if not wholly excluded from power. Not only has the democratic space been occupied by charlatans and opportunists, good governance has beaten a retreat. On the ascendancy is the foisting of unspeakable hardship and destitution on the Nigerian people and the most vigorous mismanagement of their diversity.

Security, which we once took for granted has become a precious commodity. In little less than seven years, our lives have taken such a woeful turn that even Thomas Hobbes in his glory would have lacked the words to describe them. Life in Nigeria is not only nasty, short and brutish, it is a hell for the majority. Charity, compassion, fellow feeling and generosity of spirit have been replaced with mindless nepotism, vengeance, small mindedness and avarice. Whole communities have been brazenly excluded from governance or targeted for genocide and extinction. To refrain from intervening in these dire circumstances is to be complicit. Edmund Burke puts it more succinctly: “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing as they must if they believe they can do nothing. There is nothing worse because the council of despair is declaration of irresponsibility; it is Pilate washing his hands.”

One is urged on by my many compatriots and colleagues who, week in and week out, devote their energies to deliver homilies/sermons in their columns, platforms and on their pulpits. Apart from my contemporaries who exert themselves, one is inspired and galvanized by my senior colleagues such as Dan Agbese, Ray Ekpu, Sonala Olumhense, Yakubu Mohammed, Olatunji Dare etc. who continue to exhort us to keep to the narrow and high road. One is strengthened by the examples of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, General T.Y. Danjuma, the late Obadiah Mailafia and Junaid Mohammed and indeed several others in Civil Society who have spoken truth to power and stood up to be counted as true patriots. But for their valiant interventions the nation would have precipitously plummeted to its depths.

We must join this vanguard to hold the powers that be to account and to insist that they deliver good governance to the Nigerian people. It is for this writer a new beginning. To parody that great man of letters, Chinua Achebe, it is yet morning on creation day. Yes, it is yet morning on advocacy day.

Dazang, immediate past Director, Voter Education and Publicity, INEC.