- Category: Bobby Udoh
- Published on Friday, 08 April 2011 09:10
- Written by Bobby Udoh
- Hits: 1970
So, for the first time in our history, elections have had to be postponed. While we must commend Prof Jega for having the courage to stop the electoral progress and accept responsibility for the failure, it must be said, the failure was so predictable.
This reflects my thinking and supports the article I featured last week on my blog titled ‘The Problem with the Nigerian Culture’. If you’ve not read it, I recommend you do. In the article, culture was defined as a body of learned human behaviour patterns common to a given human society. It is a way of life or common lifestyle of a people and it only requires the participation of the majority for it to become a culture. The minority (usually those we seek to change the culture) are seen as strange people and they face huge challenges confronting the culture.
I also stated that language, music, clothing, arts and literature are the products of a culture and not the culture itself. That means, a person may not speak the local dialect, follow the local music, art, literature and clothing but will still have the culture of that society. Culture is not learnt through her products but primarily through the human behaviour patterns learned from family and the environment.
The focus in this article is to use our recent electoral failure to reiterate that the problem we face in nation-building lies with the Nigerian culture. Until we address this, we will continue to deal with the same problems we encountered for so many years without any progress in solving them and that will obviously include the conduct of our general elections. Like Akin said above, the integrity of one man will have little or no effect.
My previous article stated that our main culture is that of indiscipline and this is manifested through various qualities. These qualities were in active display in the preparations by INEC, Government, Political Parties and Nigerians for the elections.
Poor Time Keeping: I believe this is the most visible culture and is seen in everything we do. By poor time keeping, I am referring to arriving late for an event, work or appointment and it also includes doing things last minute.
For a start, Prof Jega was sworn into office on 1st July 2010 and may have resumed duties a few days after (I couldn’t get the exact date). We brought a man out of university administration to come take over an electoral body already riddled with incompetence and allegations of corruption and asked him to organise general elections for a country with a large landscape and population. Even an association of a few hundred members requires sufficient time to plan and so, it would be an impossible task for anyone to plan elections of such a large scale in just 9 months (remember, he was originally asked to hold elections in January and that would have been 6 months). The Delta Gubernatorial rerun took place in January and must also have been too quick for him and at the same time affecting his preparation for the general elections. We asked Jega to organise elections last minute and before we complain, let’s remember this is the lifestyle of most Nigerians.
Other issues under poor time keeping includes late execution of new voters registration exercise which led to a deadline that disfranchised millions of eligible voters, late announcement of elections dates, late issuant of contracts for DDC machines and voting materials, late release of funds to Jega, late arrival of DDC machines which affected the voters registration exercise, late arrival of voting materials which resulted in the postponement of the elections, late arrival of electoral officials at polling units, lack of vehicles for electoral officials, etc.
Late arrival and last minute activities provide a platform for poor planning, poor performance, impatient & low productivity levels amongst officials (and they also become demotivated), wastage of resources and opens doors to corruption and rigging.
Lack of Thoroughness: There are two main reasons for this:
Firstly and as observed above, we leave things till last minute. When Prof Jega was given 9 months (initially 6 months) to carry out a new voters registration exercise, conduct a rerun elections in Delta State and conduct a general elections across the country, anyone will sacrifice thoroughness to achieve results. The first requirement for thoroughness is time and that is time to ensure that each process is carefully looked at and deliberated upon enough, then the implementation process is carefully undertaken with time allowance provided for, to gain feedback and make necessary adjustments. It could also have provided INEC time to do test runs on their logistics.
The postponement of the elections and the poor conduct of previous elections has shown that there are no well thought out Standard Operating Procedures for conducting elections and for dealing with emergencies (like weather, violence, late arrival of materials or officials, cancellations or postponement, etc.). The result is poor communications with electoral officials on elections day, officials not sure what to do when elections are postponed (including dealing with cases where voting had occurred), INEC board not sure what to do when materials arrive late, no procedure for choosing alternative elections date, no efficient utilisation of new media (website, Twitter, Facebook, SMS) to communicate with Nigerians and many others. I find it shocking that up till this moment, no one knows when the date for a potential presidential run off will take place. Whether it happens or not, it is important to plan and publicise it, so the voting public & electoral officials can be prepared for it
The second reason for our lack of thoroughness is the little value we place on planning. As a result, we Nigerians like to do surface planning rather than in depth planning. Surface planning barely gets us by and once it does on one occasion, we apply it at every other occasion. The reality is that in several instances, emergencies will arise and it is the in depth planning that will ensure we have prepared our response to such eventuality. In addition, in depth planning encourages intense brainstorming sessions, which will ensure that new ideas/approaches are discovered and also, loopholes are identified and blocked before it becomes public.
INEC, like most Nigerians, does not undertake in depth planning for elections. This sort of planning should commence immediately the elections is over, providing at least 3 and a half years of planning. When that happens, political parties and the Nigerians electorate will become fully aware of the process involved and more importantly, become confident of the elections. It will also enable INEC officials become fully enlightened on the electoral process which will lead to better performance and less rigging.
Dependence on the power of money: This quality is usually a result of our attempt to compensate for our poor time keeping and lack of thoroughness. It is also a reflection of our lack of humility and our dishonesty & insincerity.
Here is a process that was poorly timed and poorly planned (as in the past and as usual for most Nigerians) and instead of giving sufficient time to enable thorough planning, we thought we can eliminate that problem by throwing huge money at it. Prof Jega asked for N72bn, then N89bn and later N95bn for DDC machines (& few more billions for operations) and the amount was quickly approved, we then complained because we believed the amount given to him should have ensured a smooth electoral process. Even N1trn would have not have delivered a smooth elections.
It is good to have sufficient funds for a project but that should never replace the need to give sufficient time that will enable sufficient planning. I think our lack of humility caused this dependence on the power of money. After all, we believe we are giants of Africa and a very rich nation and whatever money is required, we have enough to cover it. If we are humble enough, we will discover, we are not the giants of Africa (besides our population) and we are currently not a rich nation (yes, we are rich in potential but poor in wealth).
When we become humble, we will stop depending on money to solve our problems. As much as money is important, ideas will always come first and we must place that above money.
Wastage: This is a quality of our culture closely linked to our dependence on the power of money, poor time keeping and lack of thoroughness. If we estimate how much money has been spent by INEC (over N100bn), Police (over N15bn), security agencies and each state governments in preparation for this elections, the total will likely be over N200bn and most of these have been wasted.
The 120,000 DDC machines have since gathered dust and it doesn’t seem like they will be used in the near future (could most of them have been resold to the public?). Also, most of the agencies have statutory allocations which if properly managed would not have required the huge additional amounts. The police for example usually receive huge additional allocation for elections preparations and this has not reduced election violence nor has it improved police logistical capacity. Yet, this is on top of their usual statutory allocation.
A key outcome of wastage is that it breeds corruption and corruption is not only caused by people who want to steal but a culture that encourages wastage. The huge amounts of money wasted have not disappeared into thin air but have gone into pockets of Nigerians and most of these looting would have been eliminated through a thorough planning and with sufficient time provided.
It is quite pitiful when we consider that government is complaining about lack of funds to provide basic infrastructures (like first class road network & steady power supply). In fact, the current government has been borrowing a lot and the 2011 budget is deficit based.
Before we complain, we must remember this is a culture that is also inherent in the majority of us.
Disobeying rules & procedures: In cases where INEC staff, support staff (youth corpers) and security agencies has been informed on what the procedures are, it is common to see them ignore the rule & procedures and do what they think it’s convenient. They refuse to acknowledge that the rules were put in place to ensure a smooth process.
Some of the disobedience is due to lack of proper staff training but most is due to our culture of doing things out of convenience and not out of obeying the rules. Ours is a culture that does not appreciate & respect the importance of a rule or procedure and even the law, unless there is threat of being caught.
We all remember during the voter’s registration exercise where several people were registered without thumbprint because of problems with the scanner. Of course, the duration of the registration exercise did put pressure on INEC staff and the Nigerian electorate to register within stipulated time even though it meant ignoring a key element of the process. But the staff would have prioritised thumb printing (the complete procedure) above registering people by half measure if we had a culture of sticking to the rule.
We see people who stick to the law, rules & procedures as inflexible, rigid and unsociable and sometimes, we even call them wicked people. We fail to realise that the law, rules & procedures are there to create & sustain a habit or culture that will ensure excellent performance within that environment. Once they are broken, problem immediately arises and sometimes, this is not immediately obvious.
In places where accreditation and voting took place, there were several reports of people voting immediately after accreditation but it was well publicised that accreditation was from 8am – 12noon and voting from 12.30pm. The rule was ignored and it would have been possible for someone to vote in one polling unit and then move to another polling unit to vote again. This is what the rule was set up to avoid.
Blame others: It was pleasing to see Prof Jega immediately stop a process that was quickly degenerating into a farce, even with the potential damage to his integrity. But it is even more pleasing to see him accept responsibility for the failure and yet we know, it is the Nigerian culture that led to the failure of the process. There is nothing he or the best Nigerian would have done with the time provided and the situation he met on the ground.
Prof Jega does need to accept responsibility for the late issuant of voting material contracts but it’s not only him that needs to accept responsibility. The government who appointed him late; the INEC officials who had been there long enough (some for too long) to know that with missing election materials the process had to be postponed; the Nigerians contractors who knew the national significant of the contract but still delayed; the political parties who have distracted INEC with too many legal cases and intra party conflicts; and even the Nigerian electorates for putting an overwhelming demand on one man.
We are seeing an increase in the number of Nigerians accepting responsibility for issues affecting our nation but there are still in the minority. Without accepting responsibility, we cannot own the problem and become motivated to think & act creatively to solve our problems.
I personally believe with more Nigerians becoming responsibility, we will see more Nigerians come up with innovative ideas on how we can conducts elections in Nigeria, in a way to fits our peculiar needs and terrain. The success or failure of our nation affects all of us and so, we need to take responsibility even for issues that are not directly our fault.
Dishonesty & Insincerity: The typical Nigerian exhibits dishonesty and insincerity as a lifestyle. I am going to be harsh on Prof Jega and rightfully so because he knew the electoral materials had not arrived on Friday 1st April but he assured the nation that everything was set for the elections. For now, it is not as bad as during Iwu’s tenure where it was normal for results to be announced for elections that had not taken place.
It is important to have honesty and sincerity on display by Nigerians as that would help eliminate most of the problems we create as a result.
Honesty also reduces the high level of rumour mongering we see in our nation. Not only that, it helps manage expectation and ensures proper communication to all those connected with a process. In this case, the sincerity of the INEC Chairman would have resulted in the elections being shifted to a day when all materials had arrived in the country and in their right locations. This would have eliminated the apathy created now amongst the people and the demoralised staff of INEC.
Honesty also leads to transparency and transparency leads to trust. There are many other issues that INEC has not been honest about and when Nigerians feel they have been insincere and honesty, the lose trust in the agency and the electoral process.
In conclusion, I reiterate that the problems confronting INEC in her efforts to organise successful elections in Nigeria are the same problems affecting attempts to build Nigeria into a developed nation. Change is required in & through Nigerians and not in INEC as an institution.
There is an urgent need for us to accept that this prevailing culture in our society must change. For change to occur, we must own the problem by accepting responsibility and then rise up with courage to implement innovative ideas that will give us credible elections, credible candidates, credible political parties, credible political leadership and a credible followership. These factors will all combine to give us a developed Nigeria.
Bobby Udoh is a nation-building evangelist, passionate blogger, impact public speaker, trainer and change agent. Read more articles on his weekly blog – http://nationarise.wordpress.com/