Editorials in journalism practice are traditionally known or appreciated as articles or commentaries authored to express the opinion of an editor, the publisher, the station or network on any issue that is considered to be of tremendous import to society. This explains why the authors of editorials must exhibit responsibility and profound knowledge of what they are writing on in order not to send wrong signals to readers or listeners.
The Punch editorial of Thursday, September 23, 2010 betrays a telling inability on the part of the author to embrace this hallowed principle of Journalism practice. By describing INEC’s preparations for 2011 national polls as “ shoddy”, the newspaper has given itself away as lacking profound understanding of what is going on in the Independent National Electoral Commission as it prepares in earnest for the impending voters’ registration exercise and the 2011 General Elections. I should not be understood as holding brief for the elections management body. Nevertheless, INEC, I fervently believe, deserves our support and encouragement: support which it so much needs in order to deliver on its mandate of delivering to Nigerians free, fair and credible elections.It is therefore completely out of place to characterize what the Commission has so far done in terms of its preparations towards 2011 as shoddy without any reasonable explanation except for the fact that INEC has yet given information on whether or not the DDC machines have arrived and whether or not a public holiday would be declared “in order to capture as many voters as possible”.
In fact, the propriety of this verdict to me is vitiated when one appreciates the fact that the mandate for declaring public holidays is not INEC’s. Regrettably, this, in the opinion of this editorial, is what has amounted to shoddy preparations. This reasoning, I make bold say, verges on the warped if not preposterous.I have therefore elected to rejoined not so much for the love I have for INEC, but for the patriotic duty of helping Nigerians to understand the circumstances which compelled this electoral umpire to request for additional time to enable a perfect job. This request, though simple and innocuous, has been seriously misrepresented by this editorial through its portrayal of INEC as lacking the capacity for a clearly thought out 2011 road map. Very far from the truth, I hasten to say.
The decision of the Commission to seek extension of time was not taken whimsically; it was taken after a careful scrutiny of the time table it made public some weeks back: a timetable which release was compelled by the Electoral Act, 2010. While retreating in Amber Hotel, Tinapa, Cross River State, it became clear to the INEC family that the timeline for the implementation of its detailed Action Plan was extremely tight. Although the plan was painstakingly drawn up in strict conformity with the Electoral Act 2010 and the 1999 Constitution as amended, the impossibility of implementation became so glaring that a consensus as to the need to ask for more time formed the thrust of the communiqué that was released at the end of the retreat. Interestingly, while the Commission was agonizing on the issue of a very tight time frame, most registered political parties were also experiencing the same pains, wondering how the time lines for their internal party activities, imposed by the INEC time table, could be implemented.
During their meeting with the Commission penultimate week, the political parties shared INEC’s sentiments which it expressed as the raison d’être for the seeking extension of time. Acting in unison and more so against the backdrop of the absolute need to give Nigerians free, fair and credible elections, come 2011, the political parties endorsed INEC’s request with a pledge to lobby the appropriate authorities to oblige her.
But even before the release of this time schedule of activities, INEC had consistently drawn the attention of Nigerians to the time constraints imposed on her by the extant laws. This was done without prejudice to its commitment to obey these laws. But laws, they say, are made for man and not the other way round. The situation as it was , prior to the request, would have enslaved INEC and the most critical stakeholders in the electoral process and this would have ineluctably resulted to some crash-landing if not arrested.
Rather than characterize this lofty action as unusual, INEC should be applauded for its sincerity of purpose, bearing in mind that the request it has made cannot by any stretch be described as “ambivalent” “double speak” or “an exercise in deception”.
Beside, the changes being sought are not as needless as the editorial seems to suggest as there is nothing about them that constitutes a set back to the flurry of activities already begun by the political parties. If any thing, the political parties have by this sought extension of time, been given some breathing space to plan effectively for eventual delivery of their primaries.This explains why the unsolicited advocacy of The Punch newspaper qualifies for a seriously misplaced advocacy.
Agreed, democracy in Nigeria may have been perverted at various times by the manipulative activities of the political class, as well as the yet to be proven partisanship of past electoral umpires. However, Prof. Jega’s INEC, going by the transparent steps it has so far taken to deliver on its mandate, should not be cast in this negative mould. Its request for time shift does not constitute a recipe for anarchy neither does it hold any potential for undermining the May 29, 2011 handover date as the editorial has feared. The date as the Commission has repeatedly stated, remains sacrosanct.
INEC’s thesis therefore has been that it is feasible to conduct national elections in January next year but this feasibility has some risks. It is a feasibility which, according to Professor Jega, has been appreciated within the context of the much needed visibility which a pilot requires in order to achieve perfect landing. From all indications, the visibility offered her by the Electoral Act, 2010 and the amended 1999 Constitution, the INEC boss has repeatedly averred, is extremely poor and holds grave implications for a perfect landing.The Commission, he argues, would have been happier if this visibility were to be within a distance of one kilometer. This, regrettably, is not the case. INEC’s visibility as at now is “just a couple of metres” to the ground. Landing is possible but the risks are many.
It is therefore pertinent that these risks should be minimized by allowing the Commission the leeway to take measures that would ensure perfect delivery of the job at hand. And if the Commission gets the time extension it wants, it would deliver the upcoming elections in such a felicitous manner as would uphold the hand over date of May 29, 2011. This much is what INEC is promising Nigerians and we must give them benefits of the doubt.
In keeping with its covenant with Nigerians therefore, INEC’s commitment to a frank and transparent process built around the need to meet their yearnings and aspirations for free, fair and credible elections appears to be unshaken. Viewed against this backdrop, the request for time shift should be appreciated as an effort at protecting the integrity of the process by ensuring that the right things are not only done but done rightly.
On the issue of the award of contracts for the supply of direct data capture machines (DDCs) over which the editorial has tried to make much capital, it might be appropriate to explain here that the process, the Commission has assured, would be completed soon and Nigerians would be communicated as appropriate. We should therefore not split any hairs over this matter.
That the Commission has by its policy pronouncements and actions , manifested an unswerving commitment to abide faithfully with the internationally acceptable standards of discharging its constitutional responsibilities is not in doubt. This, I have it on good authority, was what informed its procurement plans which have been undergirded by the resolve to do business with companies of international repute while information regarding these contracts, INEC has promised, will be put on its website to give full explanations to Nigerians and the international community on the transparent manner in which the processes of selecting contractors have been strictly followed. Acceptable guarantees, the Commission has assured, would also be observed while relevant organizations would be involved in doing diligence on the companies.The procurement planning effort, the Commission has further assured, is designed to minimize problems, mistakes and omissions of the past. What nevertheless is normal is time which INEC so much needs to do an excellent job.
All that needs to be done, therefore, is to support INEC’s effort in this regard. Refreshingly, both the Presidency and the National Assembly have indicated their willingness to oblige its request for extension of time. The Punch has, by its call on the National Assembly to address this issue, also thrown its weight behind INEC albeit unwittingly. We cannot thank them enough for this advocacy which has been laced with tissues of insincerity, though.
Lokoja, Kogi State.