The midterm elections where some Congressmen and Governors get elected in the United States has been ongoing for a few days now and it is coming to a close already. Analysts are predicting that a few seats will be snatched from incumbent Republicans and vice versa as Democrats have mobilised en-masse for a voting drive and campaign aimed at increasing voter turnout. That is the example a nation like the United States sets for other democracies.
All the results are yet to turn in, but it is quite possible that some things swing. This is an omen and foreshadowing at least, for Nigeria’s incoming elections- a sign that changes along set political lines will happen. So it is a good time to test our own preparedness here, too, regarding INEC and the voting public.
For INEC, it is a whole lot of mixed signals. The INEC budget is not even fully redeemed as it has had to go through a series of delaying approvals by the National Assembly. Even the federal government did not have the full remittance ready in government as they have had to request it from a special funds account with the approval of the National Assembly. One wonders if a broke government is really ready to fund a credible election.
Citizen readiness, however, is never a given. It has been known that voter turnout does depend on the activities, events and zeal in the days towards elections and how well it can drive voter engagement by election day.
Pre-2015 elections, there had been enough media buzz to put former INEC boss, Professor Attahiru Jega, on his toes. At the end of the elections, Jega became somewhat of a hero of the entire elections with the way he oversaw that everything was handled carefully. Can we say the same of Professor Yakubu or alternately grade him using Professor Jega as a yardstick? Only time can vindicate him.
His recent appearance in the news having a secret meeting with the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Moro, was criticized by several quarters as uncalled for and it reeks of the incumbent party’s desperate plans to remain in power. He did not seem to help matters much as a comment insinuating that even if the reviewed electoral bill is signed into law, it will not have an overbearing effect on the 2019 polls, was attributed to him. Such a comment by an electoral umpire only shows that he is someone not disposed to being adaptable to the evolving circumstances of Nigeria’s political climate.
Nevertheless, the display of the voter’s list at polling units across the country is laudable and one showing transparency. In fact, the electoral chief announced again recently that up to 300,000 names have been struck out of the voter’s list as the commission rejigs and filters out ghosts and the dead from INEC’s database.
Now that we have a total of 63 presidential candidates contesting for the presidency and many more across different levels of political office, we can rest assured that the level of political participation by the citizenry is being upgraded, even if not deserving yet of celebrations.
A good time to ask the question: if Nigerians are ready to go to the polls, is INEC and the numerous ad-hoc which they will be engaging to assist their full-time staff ready to conduct a free and fair poll comparable to the acclaimed 1993 and 2015 polls? The onus rests on INEC to convince the people in that regard.