A Dangerous Dating Game with Elections By Simon Kolawole

So the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) decided to postpone the 2015 elections with just seven days to go? What a shame. Since January 2014 — more than a year ago — when INEC released the timetable, officials of the commission had consistently assured Nigerians that they were ready for the elections. When issues arose about the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), INEC said everything would be sorted out. When matters concerning the internally displaced persons were tabled, INEC told us we should go to sleep with both eyes closed. When questions were asked about the security situation in the north-east, INEC said it was a piece of cake.

Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), the national security adviser, however, sent disturbing signals last month at the Chatham House, London, when he said he had advised INEC to shift the polls because of the chaos over the biometric cards. He said with nearly 30 million cards yet to be distributed, there was a risk of disenfranchising Nigerians. Since he set the balling rolling, we have been kicking it all about. The All Progressives Congress (APC) has been kicking against it. Some newly formed groups have been marching in support. Rumours and theories began to flood the airwaves that there was a plot to postpone the elections. I was silently praying that this would not happen.

To be sure, I do not totally dismiss the grounds for which INEC decided to shift the polls. For one, I think Nigerians need to collect their cards and not be disenfranchised. There are millions of affected people out there who would love to vote. However, in truth, who says everybody must get their PVC before we hold elections? If we have to keep to this reason, we would never hold elections. There would always be millions of uncollected PVCs. It is for us to determine the threshold of collection that we can live with. We cannot go on and on waiting for people to collect their PVCs if they don’t want to. Most of the cards are there. It is their problem if they don’t want to collect them.

I also do not disagree that proper logistics should be in place so that Nigerians will not get to the polling units only to, for instance, discover that the card readers are not working and they can therefore not vote. We are notorious for our poor organisational skills. Names are always missing from the register or some materials are not properly printed. However, hasn’t INEC been assuring us all along that all was set? I can’t count how many times INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, has been telling us to Keep Calm and Believe that every dot had been connected. In an interview in the latest edition of Abuja-based Metropole, he still assured us INEC was good to go.

I do not disagree with INEC over the security issue. I have always argued, privately, that democracy is not worth the blood of anybody. Some of the countries we celebrate as poster boys of development today did not achieve their status because of elections. Singapore, South Korea and UAE were not role models in democracies. Even most Western countries were monarchies at various stages in their history. While I believe in democracy with all of my heart, I favour safety before ballot. So I do not, in theory, disagree with INEC over the security issue. However, why is this issue coming up just now? Hasn’t INEC been carrying the security agencies along in its plans?

Let’s be honest about this: there is something INEC is not telling us. You cannot be telling us you are fully ready for election, only to wake up suddenly and change your mind. There is a missing link. There are reports that Jega was practically forced by the security chiefs to move the elections with a threat not to be part of the February dates. Their reason is that Nigeria is currently carrying out intensive military operations in the north-east in conjunction with neighbouring countries to root out Boko Haram. Our security resources will thus be stretched if the elections hold as scheduled. They will therefore not be part of the security arrangements for the elections, they reportedly said.

Well, I am not against crushing Boko Haram by any means necessary. I am in support of anything that will chase away that reproach from our land. I would, however, say that it is impossible to put a time scale on military operations. For all you care, we may keep bombarding Boko Haram for the next one year without rooting them out. We are talking about terrorists who specialise in guerrilla tactics. Recent reports indicate that Boko Haram has about 6,000 fighters who are spread all over the forests and rural areas of several north-eastern states. The more we say we have killed them, the more they keep coming at us.

What am I saying? We can never be sure Boko Haram would be routed in the next six weeks — or even before May 29. After all, in 2001, US President George W. Bush declared the war in Afghanistan a success after just 10 days of bombardment — but this is 2015 and the war is far from over. It is impossible to put a timescale on warfare. Fighting Boko Haram intensively for the next six weeks does not come with a stamp of guaranteed victory. So what happens in six weeks if the war is still raging? Are we going to move the elections again? What happens if, after rooting out Boko Haram, the Niger Delta militants resume operations? Are we going to move the elections again?

There are serious suspicions in the opposition camp that the polls shift is intended to favour President Goodluck Jonathan. According to this theory, it is meant to slow down the momentum of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate. It is alleged that it will allow Jonathan to catch his breath and re-strategise to regain lost grounds. If this is true, then it is a dangerous game. It could go either way. It could make APC gather even more momentum. In fact, Jonathan may even lose more supporters if the Boko Haram war goes wrong and the economic crunch bites harder. There is no guarantee of anything, trust me.

My understanding of the dynamics of this election is that most people have already made up their minds who they want to vote for. I don’t see Jonathan benefitting significantly from any shift in dates. Those who have decided to vote against Jonathan are not likely to change their minds even if Abubakar Shekau is captured alive and the Chibok schoolgirls are rescued. And those who will never vote for Buhari will not change their minds even if Jonathan is unable to end Boko Haram. I may be wrong, of course, but that is the conclusion I have come to after debating intensely with pro-Buhari and pro-Jonathan camps in the last six weeks. Minds are decidedly made up.

In conclusion, I would restate that while I do not dispute the fact that things have to be in order before we conduct the 2015 elections — and, thankfully, the shift does not have any impact on the May 29 swearing-in date — it is too politically explosive to be changing dates now. Rather than reduce tension, it will further raise it. I just hope we know what we are doing.

And Four
Other Things…

PVC PROGRESS

Of the 68m registered voters, 45m have collected their permanent voters cards (PVCs) — about 66%. The 23m that are yet to collect theirs is quite a significant number, but what can we do if they refuse to pick up their cards? We cannot wait for them forever. Moreover, 45m may be the actual figure of those who are really interested in voting. Don’t forget that voter turn-out is usually a little above 50%. My guess is that the remaining 23m will not vote even if they eventually pick their cards. Don’t take me too seriously, but I may be right. Apathy.

PVC INTEREST
According to INEC figures, some states are recording high percentage of PVC collection rate while others are not. In Kaduna, for instance, 87% of registered voters have collected their PVCs. Lagos, on the other hand, has recorded only 38% collection. Even though Lagos has 5.9m registered voters, only 2.2m have their PVCs now, compared to Kano where 3.1m have their cards despite having the second most populated voting register. Is there any reason some states are more interested in the voter’s cards than others? Or could it be that INEC is more efficient in some states? Curious.

PIRATE ALLEY
So unfortunate that Nigeria has gained another unwanted reputation. Our coast is now regarded as the deadliest in the world, taking the dubious title from Somalia where its pirates used to hold the world title. A pirate attack during the week killed a crewman on a super tanker off our coast, which is now dubbed “pirate alley”. The 2 million barrel carrier was attacked on its way to one of our oil terminals. The ship’s Greek deputy captain was killed. Three crew members were taken hostage. There are times you desperately wish Nigeria would be in the news for something good. Shame.

AFRICA’S SHAME
Isn’t it an embarrassment that in 2015, African football is still in the dark ages? Rather than being celebrated for bringing new ideas into global football, the Africa Cup of Nations, which ends today with a final match between Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, has been a study in disgrace. The semi-final match between host Equatorial Guinea and Ghana was disrupted by missile-trying fans. Police fired tear gas. For a long period, nobody was in charge. Tunisia has refused to apologise for accusing CAF of bias after poor official by a referee — who has now been banned for six months. Disgrace.