Saturday, March 28 came and eventually went well. Even when many things conspired to make the election a painful experience for Nigerians, majority of our compatriots braced all odds to exercise their franchise. From non-cooperation of card reader to weather elements and absolute logistical nightmare on the part of the independent National Electoral Commissioner (INEC), with a mixture of politicians who will not let go, Nigerians would have been forgiven if they gave up. But we did not do that; we stayed the course, and fought a good battle.
The results were still come in as I write this, and it is evident that Nigerians, and ultimately Nigeria, are the real winners. It was gratifying that Nigerians defied all odds to make their voices heard and loudly too sending a message that it would not be business as usual. However, it is a shame that in the year of the Lord 2015, the Mahmoud Jega-led INEC still failed to grasp a simple fact that the commission is basically a logistics-based organization. Perhaps INEC would have sought the services of folks who ran the GB Ollivant and PZ of old, master distributors across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria on the tricks they used in distributing their goods.
At the studio of a television station, TV Continental, where I was with others commenting on the election, it was painful when we learned that some areas had not voted as at 7pm because there were no INEC official at their polling units. I’m talking of areas in Lagos mainland easily accessible without any river or ocean to cross to get there. In a bad advertisement for journalism, the reporter who was alerted by desperate citizens who had gathered to vote only managed to take their complaints but not footage of the despondent citizens. We, however, encouraged the producer to stay on the story and ensure that INEC did the needful. It was not surprising that Jega on Sunday announced that there was no voting in 90 polling units in Lagos State and that election would be conducted in those places later.
What do we say of the haphazard distribution of materials by INEC? There were instances of INEC adhoc officials waiting for vehicles to convey them and election materials on Saturday morning? When are we going to get this right? What could have happened if the election had been held on February 14 particularly considering the way some card readers malfunctioned? I think someone just saved our country by moving the election from Valentine’s Day. The horrendous show involving President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife with respect to the card readers at Otuoke, Bayelsa State added to the list of ignominy Nigerians have faced globally over this year’s elections. By the way, how come none of the President aides deemed it fit to remind President Jonathan to remove whatever was in his mouth while talking with journalists?
Considering the fact that the world’s largest democracy, India, over a billion people, did not wait for 48 hours before announcing election results, why must Nigeria, over a hundred million people, wait till such time for results. Part of what makes us Nigerians in a way is our aversion for thorough preparation, and INEC has shown this clearly. Listening to the INEC chairman emphasizing the 48 hours timeline for results was somehow intriguing as it was apparent that the Commission did not aspire to achieve a turnaround time earlier than that. Is it not high time we considered staggering election too if our peculiarities cannot be mastered well for elections?
Possibly election will not be election in Nigeria without the horror show playing out in Rivers State nearly 48 hours after the election? It was also shocking that Jega did not address the issue adequately at the press conference he addressed on Sunday. A friend, however, gave an interesting perspective on the protest in Rivers. He said, “The rigging camp is now polarized and both sides know the tricks of the game very well.” How did INEC distribute other election materials and yet forgot to give results sheets? Nigerians deserved better than this, surely.
For Nigerians’ victory to be complete, the eventual winner must commence a healing programme immediately after being sworn in. This election has fragmented us and exposed our fault lines the more. Apart from the economy, another area that demands critical attention is the wound inflicted by the election. Beyond the usual position sharing, the incoming president must bend backwards to accommodate all citizens irrespective of how they voted. That is the way forward and it would consolidate our victory in this election.