The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, painted an optimistic picture of the 2015 elections in Washington DC on Monday evening, Nigerian time, saying the lessons of the 2011 elections had been learnt and new processes are now in place to make the coming elections “much more better than anything in the past.”
Mr. Jega was speaking at the Nigeria Elections Forum organized by the Africa program of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS], a leading think tank in Washington DC.
Mr. Jega gave the keynote address and spoke on the theme of preparing Nigeria for the 2015 elections.
Reforms now in place
Mr. Jega, in a very upbeat mood, spoke exuberantly of the new processes at INEC which he characterized as “reforms” that he said has paved a bright prospect to deliver a “free, fair and credible” elections in the country “because many things we were unable to do [in 2011] are now in place.”
The audience was a healthy mix of U.S. policy leaders on Africa matters, past U.S. diplomats to Nigeria, a broad spectrum of leading Washington civil society organizations, Nigerian citizens, and academics with interest on Nigeria matters.
Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at CSIS set the stage for Professor Jega getting into his presentation by speaking to his “candour, integrity, and the evidence in his leadership that an individual can create sea change in the fortunes of organizations.”
The INEC boss said with plans for the 2015 election erected on three focal planks of “adequate planning, partnership, and transparency” INEC had now put “square pegs in square holes” with regard to bridging its human resource gaps. He said INEC has continued with a vigorous program of removing multiple registration from the voters roll, while it is trying to put a redoubtable voter education and communication strategy on the rails.
Areas of concerns
Mr. Jega also doused concerns about elections not holding in the troubled North Eastern part of Nigeria, saying “as far as INEC is concerned, elections will take place everywhere in the country in 2015, that is what we are preparing for.” He, however, said he was “hoping that ongoing security operations and dialogues to restore peace in areas where emergency operations are currently apace will bear fruit.”
He also spoke of funding challenges, saying although INEC has relative financial autonomy, and that “everything we need for the 2011 was provided;” but what he characterized as “micro economic fluctuations in our jurisdiction” could mean that “what you have is not what you need.”
With the 2014 federal budget in Abuja still under decision, Mr. Jega did not say if he has all he needs, financially to be ready for the 2015 elections.
He took a swipe at the attitude of the political class, complaining that it has been difficult to wean them off their civility deficit, and their mindset which he said “is a matter of a serious concern… because for them elections are matters of do or die.”
INEC, he said, had introduced a code of conduct to help address the civic sense of politicians, saying “but this is a freely signed document.”
Starting with the elections in Ekiti and Osun States in June this year, Mr. Jega said INEC’s transparency move will include “publishing names of those who have done double registration.” He said this was a gesture of “bending backwards essentially for those who commit crimes.”
A new Electoral Act
Mr. Jega said he was concerned that the new Electoral Act had not worked its way out of the National Assembly. He told his audience that he had a December meeting with leadership of the Senate and had assurances that this would be ready before the June elections. He said the new act was necessary to come early because there was no hope that the constitutional reform process currently apace would be ready before the elections.
One major challenge before INEC, Mr. Jega said, was the problem of new constituency delimitations. He said INEC is currently mapping existing constituencies using available GIS resources; saying “but this is not likely to happen before 2015.”
Prosecution of election offenders
He said 200 election offenders have so far been prosecuted, suggesting that INEC could have done better if it had control of the investigation process. We still have to rely on the [investigation] reports of the police and we rely on the courts he said. Nevertheless, he said “this is better than anything from the past…and this is a lot we have done that gives optimism in spite of skepticism.”
Mr. Jega scorned at the mainstream media, absolving some who he admitted “are doing decent work but that most of them are used by political interests to shape agenda and political outcomes.”
He said on the whole, his prognosis of the 2015 general elections is that it will be better than the 2011 election, promising that “we will continue to raise the bar.”