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Published On: Sun, Sep 28th, 2014

Jega and the polling unit conundrum

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By Kayode Ojo

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, has landed himself in hot water. Coming off the remarkable successes of the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections, Jega misjudged the mood in the country and proposed the creation of 30,027 additional polling units, with a lopsided distribution of 21,615 in the North and a mere 8,412 in the South of the country. Of course, many Nigerians of Southern extraction are rightly enraged as they suspect that, in proposing the new polling units, Jega is acting out a Northern script to rig the 2015 general elections.

One of the more coherent objectors to Jega’s new polling units is the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA). In a number of public publications, the group is demanding Jega’s resignation for “obvious inclination to ethnic chauvinism and protectionism.” The SNPA also say they are opposed to the process of creating the new polling units “as it lacks any fundamental basis.”Considering that Jega hitherto enjoyed widespread respect and significant goodwill, the call for his resignation by a group whose chieftains include former Vice President Alex Ekwueme and South-South Leader Chief Edwin Clark deserves careful scrutiny. This is more so as Jega, if rather belatedly, has defended himself, saying: “For the avoidance of doubt, the Commission has not yet created the additional polling units. It has simply approved the framework and guidelines to facilitate the creation of these additional polling units by the Resident Electoral Commissioners and the state officers of INEC.”

Be that as it may, the SNPA is still insisting on Jega’s resignation. According to the group, Jega’s explanations are “Characteristic of an unrepentant, arrogant, insensitive and impervious dictator.” The SNPA further argues that: “Contrary to the averment of Prof. Jega that no polling unit has been created and allocated, it is reported (Nigerian Pilot of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, pp.16) that the Resident Electoral Commissioner of Zamfara State, a state whose registered voters has been grossly depleted by half as a result of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) [emphasis by SNPA] has already inaugurated a Committee to distribute Jega’s additional 1,163 polling units for the state.”

What is most striking in this issue is that Jega himself has conceded that, following the use of AFIS, the total number of registered voters in the country has actually reduced. In his words: “At the end of the general registration of voters in 2011, the Commission announced that the data of 73. 5 million eligible voters had been captured – warts and all; that is, including the records of multiple (Emphasis: not “ghost”) registrants. At the conclusion of data de-duplication with the Automated Fingerprint Identification Software (AFIS), by which cases of multiple registrations were eliminated, the figure came down to 70,383,427 registered voters.”

In view of Jega’s own submission, it is only logical to question the need for additional polling units when the total number of registered voters in the country is now actually lower than it was before AFIS. This is where the whole matter takes a befuddling and somewhat sinister turn. The post-AFIS reduction of registered voters is at the heart of the commonsensical and ethical conundrum which Jega faces in his irrational yearning to create new polling units. At this juncture, any discerning mind begins to wonder if in reality Jega is not guilty of the “ethnic chauvinism and protectionism” he has been accused of. For, on the face of it, Jega’s desire to increase polling units in the country — and disproportionately favour the North by an alarming margin while doing so — flies in the face of sound reasoning and shows a shocking disconnection with reality when the INEC chairman himself reports a lower number of registered voters after the AFIS cleanup.

Furthermore, it is pertinent to once more recall that Jega recently received kudos from the majority of Nigerians for holding credible gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states. In both instances, no single complaint was reported about overcrowding at the polling units, one of the spurious reasons Jega has tardily advanced for proposing additional polling units. Considering his stature and position, Jega would have fared better if he had simply owned up to his error rather than offer such an untenable explanation for his gaffe.

The question now is: what needs to be done? With only a few months to go before the electioneering season of 2015 is well under way, it is simply not realistic or prudent to go shopping for a new INEC chairman now. For that reason, the best cause of action is for Jega to apologise to the Nigerian people for his misguided attempt to compromise the 2015 elections before a single vote has been cast. More importantly, he should jettison the idea of new polling units while the status quo ante must be retained.

As a professor who taught many students for many years prior to his appointment, Jega is no doubt aware that a teacher may teach his students remarkably well throughout his career, but what almost always comes to define the teacher — and what many students reminisce about at school reunions — is the single, spectacular error the teacher may have made in class. Jega has had a worthwhile tenure thus far at INEC. He should not mar his legacy with a colossal blunder that not only smacks of regional bigotry but may very well derail the 2015 general elections as well as throw the country into chaos.

Kayode Oj via linkedin.

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