Published on April 8th, 2011 | by Olumide2
Jega’s Unenviable Task
As the already-postponed-twice National Assembly elections draw near, I want to wish Professor Attahiru Jega a great dose of good luck (no pun intended) because he is very likely to need it.
How do you single-handedly change a system that is stubbornly resistant to change? How do you adjust the lifestyles and thought patterns of one hundred and fifty million people in just a few months? How do you deliver free and fair elections to people, majority of whom, would rather have it rigged? If you doubt that, just follow discussions on Nigerian forums and you would be stunned at the lengths of illegality to which people would go in showing support for their candidates. Or talk to the not-so-educated in the market places and you would be surprised at what they would be willing to do for a few thousands of Naira. In the first case, ask the average Nigerian for why he is voting for whosoever he is voting for and you will hear things like- “he is from my tribe”, “he cant’t lose, so why should I waste my vote”, “he is corrupt and only corrupt people can rule Nigeria”…
But I am already deviating from the real purpose of my post. I wish to commend Jega on his boldness so far. If it had been another professor whose name comes readilly to mind, we would have gone ahead with the elections without ballot papers and results would have been generated… It takes courage for a man to face an entire nation and say, “Sorry, things didn’t work out well”. Even with the colossal waste of billions of Naira, I am willing to turn a blind eye and issue a commendation to the professor whose name is still associated with integrity… Again I am deviating.
Okay. To the real thing. As a serving youth corper, I participated in the registration exercise. I also decided to participate in the elections as a presiding officer. I was shocked when some of my colleagues asked me if I was also ‘blessed’at my polling unit last Saturday. After making enquiries, I discovered that the ‘blessing’was a gift of 10, 000 Naira being distributed to all polling officers and their assistants. Even the security agents had their share. Wait a minute- I didn’t say all the polling officers in a unit would share N10, 000. I meant that the Presiding Officer would be given N10, 000 (I’m not sure of the amount allocated to the others but I think each person gets 10, 000 Naira also). That is how it has been allocated to ALL the polling units in our area. Apparently, I am NOT referring to INEC’s pay. I am referring to allocations by a political party (that is already synonymous with bribery) to help manipulate elections in their favour. Believe me, even with an open-secret ballot system, there are still a few loopholes that can be taken advantage of. Just by the way, opposition parties are making similar advances (except that they don’t seem to be able to outspend the big boys).
Was I shocked to hear that? Oh no! But I was shocked to learn that virtually everyone is interested in the money. Many are praying that the ‘blessing’ still comes tomorrow and throughout the elections. It’s a chance to make free money! Are they bothered about their consciences? Oh no“Everybody is doing it, even those at the top”. How about the fear of being caught? “How can you be caught when even the policemen in your unit have their share? Besides, you have to be smart and use the right loopholes. No one has to suspect a thing”. How about the fact that they are cheating on the next generation by gratifying themselves now? “Hey, these elections will still be rigged with or without me. So why not eat my share of the national cake?”. And there is always the standard line that closes the argument, “if you don’t coperate with them, they can get violent and introduce guns. So you might as well be their friend and do it for the cash”. Sound logic, or so it seems.
Jega might be having hypertension at the top to change things. But he can’t replace all the INEC staff- many of whom should be given chieftaincy titles in corruption. He can’t do anything about the Nigerian Police- oh, those ones deserve a PhD in corruption. He can’t change the current governments- both at the state and federal levels- so he is subject to all manners of pressures. He can’t change the opposition parties that who are complaining about everything but are just as willing to snatch votes or pay for them if given the chance. He can’t change the youth corpers (who, by the way, you can’t entirely blame because most of us grew up knowing corruption to be a national culture). He can’t change the artisans who are willing thugs for a change of clothing and a paltry amount of money.
Am I saying that Jega can’t change Nigeria? No. I am saying that Jega needs us- you and me- to stand for our fatherland. He has given us hope that things can still be right. WE are the ones to actualize that hope. My appeal is to all of us to join in the fight by refusing to be bribed, by refusing to be intimidated and finally, by spreading the news of change. Jega needs us. Nigeria needs you and me.