Friday, April 8, 2011

On Eve of Nigeria’s First Election Round: It is Time to get it Right

After significant logistical missteps that sent serious concerns throughout the Nigerian electorate hoping for the first credible polls since the 1990s, the country and many of its friends around the world are hoping that the rescheduled first round elections on April 9th, 2011, get off on the right foot.

Nigeria has incredible potential. This phrase as been uttered many, many times before; it is not new. What is this potential? To be a strong democratic, economic, stable, prosperous powerhouse from which its people benefit, serving as an example for both the sub-region, and the rest of the Continent. This is the “bumper sticker” that many Nigerians want to see become the order of the day. No one doubts the importance of Nigeria and no one doubts that whatever happens in Nigeria matters to the rest of the Continent, and to its friends in the global community.

However, the cloud over the potential of this great nation has been an election culture for more than a decade, on top of the years of military rule, which has inhibited the nation’s ability to hold transparent elections. It really is time to get this right so that the Nigerian people can believe in the elected officials of their nation. It really is time to overcome the cloud of confusion, fraud, and rigging that has plagued every election since the 1990s. It really is time for Nigerians to no longer feel disenfranchised, desponded, discouraged, and disappointed because a free, fair, credible and transparent election cannot be held in the country. It is time to get it right. It is time for those involved in the election process at all levels (political parties, candidates, election workers and party agents) to do their utmost to support the efforts of the well-respected Chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) who (like many Nigerians) wants to turn the page on Nigeria’s elections of the past, and make it a new day for the country -- finally putting the naysayers and critics out of business. It is time to get it right.
This is the eve of the rescheduled round for the legislative election that should have been held on April 2, 2011, but now will hold on April 9. On the eve of this critical election, however, there are some uneasy signs and some unsettling reports adding to the overall concern about how April 9, 2011, and the rest of the series of elections will unfold, such as:

-- Will there be enough ballot papers, since ballots are being printed as Election Day approaches to cover the likely deficit since some papers were already used on April 2?

-- Will the logistical challenges regarding the distribution of election material be overcome this time? (Some unconfirmed reports imply the serious logistical snafus were a nefarious intent by some involved and/or working on the election to cast doubt on the process. There is no way to know if this is true or not, but the point is to move forward).

-- Will the ballots already used on April 2, 2011, in some states be handled properly so that they do not cast doubt on the outcome of the elections? (Reports are 6-9 of Nigeria’s 36 states did not have election materials last time).


-- Will the process be peaceful, so that Nigerians can vote in the right enabling environment? Nigerians want the right to vote; they shouldn’t have to face any violence in getting to the polls.

These are challenges. However, that being said, the popular sentiment of many Nigerians is that they want a good election; they know that it is time to get right. The back story is that April 2, 2011, has come and gone and we can all hash over what went wrong and why. But now, it is time to focus on tomorrow, it is time to get it right this time, and it is time to turn the page on the bad elections of the past. Friends of Nigeria are hoping that despite the missteps to date (and there have been many), that in the end, this country of 150 million people with incredible potential can get past the past; hold a reasonable series of election processes on April 9th, 16th, and 23rd (the current proposed election schedule); and, have election outcomes that its nationals believe in, see as transparent, and most importantly regard as credible.

The odds are not great right now. But on this election eve, all the friends of Nigeria are supporting those Nigerians who want to make this process different; who want to end the culture of voting fraud, political indiscipline, and lack of respect for the election process; and, who want the nation’s future to be different – living up to the potential that we all know is there.