Death, Death and Death is everywhere. And, there is no hiding place when it knocks at the door. All mortals will taste death. It is just a matter of when it will knock at the door! I missed my contribution to this column last week largely as a result of deaths of beloved ones that occurred in quick succession last week.
Therefore, I wish to dedicate this piece to the following beloved ones who passed on last week. They are: my late uncles-in-law Alhaji Sahabi Jaredi and Alhaji Sani Shagari, my late nephew, Master Ibrahim Muh Dalhatu Zurmi and my late granny, Malama Yar Dada, and late Ms. Rukkaya Hakeem Baba Ahmed, the daughter of my good friend and colleague, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed; May their gentle souls rest in perfect peace in Aljannah Firdausi. Amen.
This piece is a continuation of my contribution towards credible elections in Nigeria in 2011 and beyond. A credible independent elections management authority is not only made up of credible human resources as a system; it also, comprises other very important sub-systems such as credible, transparent and generally acceptable voter’s register or roll, balloting or voting materials and arrangement among others.
Put differently, an independent electoral umpire without credible and transparent voters’ register, balloting system and arrangement for conduct of an electoral process or exercise is by any standard of measurement, a worthless entity and thus, lacking any iota of credibility and general acceptability by the populace. That is to say, such an electoral authority cannot be trusted to conduct a free and fair election.
The import of this preamble is supported by the fact that electoral cheating, manipulations and other malfeasances are generally perpetrated through the abuse of the voter’s roll and balloting or polling arrangement; including the use of fake ballot papers, fake ballot boxes and ballot stuffing, and use of illegal polling centers by desperate politicians and their agents in connivance with some unpatriotic electoral and security officials.
These unethical and criminal tendencies and practices are what generally marred previous electoral exercises conducted in Nigeria in the past. They are also, likely to do the same for the April 2011 general elections if stringent counter-measures against occurrence of such malfeasances are not put in place by INEC management and other stakeholders; including the international community with interest in Nigeria’s nascent electoral process.
It is the concern for transparent, effective and efficient polling arrangement and organization that would lead to credible outcomes of the scheduled April 2011 polls that this piece focuses it attention. Now that the compilation and display of voters’ register for claims and objections from the public have been successful completed, the attention of INEC is now on focused on compilation and authentication of candidates’ list for the various elective offices to be contested for in readiness for the preparation, design and production of the ballot papers and other polling materials.
However, with barely 30 days to the general elections, one major issue that seems to be given less serious attention among all the challenges facing INEC and its to-do list before the polls begin is what form and shape the ballot paper will look like and the format for the conduct of the polls as well.
I mentioned in one of my previous write-ups on the forthcoming general elections on this column that there is the need for INEC under the present management headed by Professor Attahiru Muhammad Jega to evolve innovative ways of enhancing the credibility of the polls. For instance, the polls must be simplified and made easy, effective and efficient especially for both the electoral task managers and the voters.
And, one of the several ways of simplifying the polling process is to unitize all the scheduled elections. For example, all the gubernatorial and states houses of assembly elections should be organized based upon the number of parties that have fielded candidates for gubernatorial, state and national assembly contests in each respective state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)..
This means that only the names and photographs of properly and legally fielded candidates and logos of the political parties that fielded the candidates for those elections should appear on the ballot papers for those respective elections. There is no need to print the logos of all the 63 INEC registered political parties on the ballot paper when, for example, only 5 political parties are vying for the elective posts or positions in that particular state.
Similarly, the presidential poll should also follow the same format. For example, if only 10 political parties fielded candidates for the presidential race, the presidential ballot paper should contain only the names and photogra phs of the 10 candidate and logos of the 10 political parties that are participating in the presidential poll. Printing the logos of the remaining 53 registered political parties that have not fielded presidential candidates is not necessary.
What this system of polling entails is that each of the 36 states of the federation and the FCT will have different and unique ballot papers printed for each of the elections to be conducted in that state. This is because not every registered political party is fielding candidates in each and every of the elections to be conducted in all the 36 states and the FCT. For this reason, there is the need for unitization and localization of the ballot papers in order to reflect the differential state-by-state political parties’ participation in the respective polls.
One of the beauties of this proposed decentralized ballot paper design and polling arrangement and organization is that it helps in reducing rigging opportunities in comparison with the previous order of arrangement and organization of the conduct of the polls.
However, some people may raise the issue of high cost of printing 37 different types of ballot papers for state-level polls instead of printing just one-size-fits-all type of ballot paper used in all the polls conducted in the past.
Nonetheless, a cost-benefit analysis will yield a positive result in favour of this proposed smart system of polling arrangement and organization. This system is being used in all the Western European nations and also in the United States of America (USA), Canada , and in many Asian democratic nations. Nigeria should do a reality check in order to adapt to the existing international best practice taking into consideration its local peculiarities at the same time. And, we must accept the fact that credible elections don’t come that cheap!
In conclusion therefore, INEC must insist on keeping to its deadlines for the compilation of candidates list for all the various elections to be conducted in order to have enough time to devote to the thorny issue of procurement of all the vital election materials; including printing of ballot papers etc. There is no time to waste any more, please. Last but by no means the least, I wish to join in wishing our national elder statesman, former president, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, GCFR (Turakin Sokoto) happy 86th Birthday, February 25, 2011. May Almighty Allah continue to give you excellent health. Amen.