In his opinion, it is not just a question of replacing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, but getting a critical mass to come out to vote and ensuring that votes count.
The Guardian today delivers excerpts of his extempore speech:
“LET me start this way. Professor Maurice Iwu is truly an enigma; he enjoyed the limelight. He enjoyed all the attacks, thrown and meted at him, he remained undaunted. I think, he belongs to the school of thought that believes that bad publicity is better than no publicity. So, even though he was being attacked and scolded and all sorts of things were said about him, he didn’t shy away from even going to the United States and talking to Nigerians in the Diaspora about his work, he didn’t shy away from it. I was told he organized a rally to ensure that he will come back to do the work he was appointed to.
Why do I call him an enigma? The truth is, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission has little or no bearing on the success of elections, that’s the truth. To me, it’s actually immaterial because he is head of the administration he takes the brunt. The best he can do is perhaps, draw up a blueprint but the implementation of that blueprint is outside his control. So, if elections are rigged in say -Taraba State- we don’t do that stuff in Cross Rivers State (laughter),
Every one looks at Iwu and he proudly says we did this or that. Hogwash!
Let me now take you through the process of an election. We have a hundred and twenty thousand booths in Nigeria. At the hierarchy, you have the Chairman of INEC, then you have the zonal Commissioners, then you have the Resident Electoral Commissioners and they are the heads in every state the zone as the name implies; we have six zones in Nigeria, so you have six of them. Then you have the Resident Electoral Commissioners and there are 36 of them of course, and Abuja. Then for each local government, you have an electoral officer. Beyond that you have a hundred and twenty thousand polling booths, headed by presiding officers. The people think that at the end of the elections, the PDP would just decide who wins and who doesn’t and announces the results. I think the process is a bit more sophisticated than that.
This is what happens; the Resident Electoral Commissioner is usually from another state. The electoral officers, they move around. They are usually from that state, but for the conduct of elections itself, you would probably move from Cross River to Akwa Ibom or to Abia, but these musical chairs don’t mean nothing.
When the Resident Electoral Commissioner comes before the elections are conducted- of course when he comes to the state, usually, he has no accommodation; monies have not been released for the running or conduct of the elections and all that because we always start late. He pays a courtesy call on the governor. It’s usually a televised event you know, and of course he says all the right things. ‘Your Excellency, I am here to ensure that we have free and fair elections and I will require your support.’
Now, at that courtesy call, most governors, at least I did, will invite the Commissioner of Police because he is part of the action and he sits there.
After the courtesy call, the Resident Electoral Commissioner now moves in for a one-on-one with the governor the says, “Your Excellency, since I came, I’ve been staying in this hotel, there is no accommodation for me and even my vehicle is broken down and the last Commissioner didn’t leave the vehicle, so if you could help me settle down quickly;’ and the governor says, ‘Chief of Staff, where is the Chief of Staff here?’ And the Chief of Staff appears. Governor says: ‘Please ensure that the REC is accommodated–put him in the Presidential lodge, allot two cars to him, I give you seven days to get this done. Then the relationship has started; I am going to share some of these things with you so that we don’t leave here with any illusions. A lot of us, folks who have gone through an election or have been elected for one thing or another, see groups like Save Nigeria Group (SNG), the CLP as woolly-eye dreamers, you have to come down to the backsides, since I am now a hybrid between both. I want to bring you both down to backsides. Let me take you down to what happens so that you can change it because if you don’t change it, we here won’t suffer but I think of our children will.
We the elite, I am one of them, we send our kids to the best schools around the World, when they come back they are misfits, they cannot fit in and so ultimately we are designing a system that would destroy us in the end.
Let me take our minds back to Somalia. Somalia is mono-religious, mono-ethnic; they only have clans (but) they have one tribe. What has happened there? It’s a failed state because the elite in Somalia were so disconnected from the people that once they had some money, they buy houses in England, Washington and all those places; they were not investing, putting their best foot forward and I think that was what Pastor Bakare was talking about. If you want to be in a contest, you put your best foot forward; at the end of the day, there was such a disconnect that even till today, they cannot bridge it. Let me tell you, the last recognized President of Somalia is buried in Lagos- Siad Barre.
We are multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-problematic. The reason why most people worry about us is if we explode, who will contain us? Let me also say this, I know what I am saying now is an aside, I will go back to the elections. When we conducted the census in 2006 or so, the raw figures said we were over two hundred million; when they went and processed the figures it came down to 140million.
When you look at those figures and compare to those we had in 1991 at a growth rate of 2.1 or something like that, it is really just an extrapolation, because we were too embarrassed to admit our true numbers. If we get it wrong, we will fail like Somalia; in Somalia, half of them are in Kenya, Ethiopia, and a few are in Europe here and there; who will contain us in all of West Africa and Central Africa and for that it is imperative not just for ourselves but for the rest of the continent that we get it right.
Now, back to the elections, once that relationship has been established between the governor and the REC, if you are a governor who is ‘A Governor’, maybe two nights after you just pop by at the governors lodge and see the REC and say ah, ‘ah REC how are you doing? Are you OK?’ He says, ‘ah! Your Chief of Staff has been wonderful. He has been very nice to me; he supplied me the vehicles and everything is Ok’.
A few weeks to the elections, the REC sees the governor; you probably have on the average about three thousand five hundred, four thousand depending on the polling booths in every state. So, REC goes to the governor and says, ‘Your Excellency, could you please give us the names of about four, five thousand people so that we can hurriedly train them, we need them as Presiding Officers.’ You need experience. A good coach is one who has played and has lost matches in the past?
The REC now goes down and says, ‘we need to conduct a training programme for the presiding officers and em, headquarters hasn’t sent us any money yet, you know.’
And the governor is like: ‘How much would that cost?’
REC replies: ‘N25million for the first batch, we may have about three batches.’ Governor: ‘Ok, the Chief of Staff will see you.’
Now, the Chief of Staff, you call him: ‘Make sure, that we arrange N25 million this week and in two weeks time another N25 million and Seventy-Five million in all.’
Chief of Staff: ‘Your Excellency, how do we do it?’
Governor: ‘Put it under Security Vote.’
In other words, its cash, ok, now, cash in huge Ghana Must Go bags – some of my colleagues will shoot me- (turns to the audience) is any former governor here? (Crowd replies no!)
Good. Cash is lodged in huge Ghana Must Go Bags for the REC and of course, to be fair to them, they call their electoral officers and say the governor has been very benevolent; he has given us this and that. I say three batches because they have them in Senatorial districts. So, you have one in Calabar, you have One in Ikom and Ogoja, those are the headquarters of the Senatorial districts. Each one costs twenty-five million. Of course, the sums are not properly retired. I don’t know how much of this twenty-five million worked. But, there is a rapport this is going on.
The governor now turns round and says: ‘call me the party chairman.’ The party chairman appears and the governor says: ‘INEC requires 50 thousand people for conducting the elections. See to it that we meet their needs.’ The chairman goes and you hear in the evening on radio and television: There will be an urgent meeting of all chairmen and secretaries of XYZ party at the headquarters. They should report promptly at 10am (because) matters of urgent interest will be discussed. End of announcement. Now we have texts messages, so its easier, in no time everyone is here.
It’s a very short meeting, please go back and within 48 hours submit from each local government two hundred and fifty names of trusted party members. So in a week the deed is done. The names, sometimes even passport photographs if required are sent to INEC.
And the training programme is carried out. Let me pause a bit, this is at party level. They are usually civil servants. They may be teachers, whatever, but they are party members. The remuneration, for each of them for the elections from Abuja is 10,000 Naira for the day’s work. But the state in its benevolence gives 50 to 100,000 Naira to each of these folks right before this election.
This is even where it gets even more interesting. So, you have each of the three or four thousand polling booths; they are manned by party stalwarts. They are usually party stalwarts. You don’t send any peripheral member. The remuneration from Abuja has not arrived but that of the state was received 48 hours prior.
On the day of elections, each polling booth has no more than five hundred ballot papers, that is standard.
There is not a polling booth that is more than five hundred. So only two hundred people appear here, three hundred there, one hundred there, fifty there, four hundred there, at the end of election what happens. The Presiding Officer sits down and calls a few guys and says, ‘hey, there are a few hundred papers here, let’s thumbprint. This is the real election. Well, this is not a PDP thing. I am not here to castigate the PDP; it’s a Nigerian thing. This process may sound comical and jovial, it happens throughout the country, whether its Action Congress or APGA it’s the same thing. We are all the same. They start thumb-printing, some are overzealous. So at the end of the day you find some voting more than the number of people that were registered to vote.
Other wise they do it, you have 95 percent turnout. You start wondering where were the voters, I didn’t see so many people. And the election results are announced; XYZ party wins and it takes a week for this paltry ten thousand Naira for each presiding officer to arrive.
Listen to this before you ask your question: Who is the most important person in an election? – The presiding officer. And if there are a hundred and twenty thousand of them (booths) there are a hundred and twenty thousand presiding officers, they are the most important people in the elections, not the Chairman.
So, as long as we keep applying that same method, you will get the same results. Its crazy to think that because you substitute Iwu for Jega all will change. In other words, Iwu is a crook, Jega is a saint. Jega is great, he has an impeccable reputation. Iwu was great, now he seems not so great. Ok, they are both professors, they have reached the peak of whatever discipline that they profess. The point is that it is the system and the personnel and the chairman has little or no control over that.
Where are we now, we don’t even know when the elections will be. The Constitution amendment seems to be stalling somewhere. So it’s either in January or in April. Sometimes, we behave as if we invented democracy. We always want to draw new rules. We should know the day of elections. It should be fixed. We should know that on so and so date I think, America is the 4th of November or so and if it falls on a Sunday it doesn’t make a difference. The point I am making here is that date is fixed, you know; because in a democracy, election should be a norm, not an event. In our democracy, election is an event. Its like, we are going to spring on to you with fire works, hey, we are going to have an election, we are all running around- I know most politicians are broke right now, so we are all running around the field.
Secondly, if you have your ears to the ground there, are whispers that may be, we need to postpone this thing. The whispers are there. In a democracy, you postpone an election? You postpone things you didn’t plan for, not things that are there in the Constitution, that says you must do this, that and that, you can’t but –you know two ways of moving forward. This is where I like what SNG and CNP are doing.
We need a critical mass of Nigerians to get out and vote. It is important because the more ballot papers that are legitimately used on election day, the fewer available to be used to rig the vote, that’s the truth. Don’t keep to yourself and think that they will announce results. They are more sophisticated than that. And that’s why the aspirants who felt cheated and had the resources to employ forensic personnel, like those elections had the elections upturned in Edo and Ondo, because they could establish multiple voting by thumbprint.
So, if it’s an AC state the procedure is the same. I remember a state, that state will remain nameless. I hear the story that the then President was so determined that he must change the leadership of this state and he called the IG and said, ‘look, that Governor is a security breach. Let's have elections and flush the governor out, and the governor knows he is under siege. A week before the elections, a new police Commissioner arrives. And you know if you are a governor and a new Police Commissioner arrives before elections, you know something is wrong somewhere and he spends two, three days without going to see the governor, which is again a breach of protocol. The day he decides to see the governor, the governor says, I won’t be at the office. However, if he gives him a particular address they may discuss. Then the chap goes there and smartly salutes and it’s in a highbrow neighborhood of the city. (Shouts of Ikoyi rent the air.) ‘No! It’s Yobe!’ (The hall explodes in loud laughter).
The Commissioner of Police walks up to the governor and smartly salutes and says: ‘Your Excellency, I just came to introduce myself. My name is Mr. So, so and so. And the governor goes: ‘Ah, you are welcome. I heard you were here two or three days ago and I was wondering whether I won’t see you. Anyway, you are welcome. Have you settled down?’ ‘Yes I’ve been given accommodation and all that. And the governor asks, ‘where was your last posting?’ He tells him, he says fine.
Governor: ‘That car over there, this is the key and this is your house.
The Commissioner of Police now says: ‘Your Excellency, this Obasanjo is a very bad man. He is a very, very bad man. If you see all the things he has planned for you eh Olorun maje.’
How do we move on? How do we get out of here? What I have done is I’ve tried graphically to paint a picture of a process. How do we change this process?
One, I think, since we cannot change attitudes as quickly, we must ensure mass participation. In an election where there is a very high turnout, the results are usually genuine. The most celebrated election in Nigeria, June 12, 1993 what happened? People came out. The more people who come out to vote the fewer–there may be mago, mago here and there but there wouldn’t be much in such a critical manner to upset the will of the people. Beyond that, if you don’t vote in an election, you have no reason to criticize the government and I tell folks everywhere that guys, I would say, I have lived my life. You guys have not and you are all criticizing Nigeria but did you vote in the last election? Most of them say no then I say, you’ve lost the moral right to criticize what the government does because you were not part of the process.
Is there a way out? I think there is. I think we need to employ technology. It's just a suggestion and I want to share with you. I have said this in one or two fora and I’ve heard people say it has not been done in America or the West why should we do it here? I say they don’t have the attitude we have here. Necessity is the mother of invention. It is not necessary for us to do what I’m about to suggest.
For the purposes of this, 3455, this number is for a phone and that number is unique to you and valid for that election or the set of elections. And each party has a numerical equivalent. AC could be 1, the PDP could be 5, the Labour Party could be 3, whatever. And on the date of elections you decide that your number even if you don’t have a phone, you can go to a centre where they have a bank of phones and once you put in your number 3455 it recognizes you, it cannot be duplicated. Its only you that has that number and for that election on that date, once its used it cannot be used by anyone else. Then you can do this one from your house or anywhere, and any time between the hours of 9-12. When it says which party, you say 3 or 4 whatever the number, they ask you, ‘are you sure you say Yes’. You press it then you’ve voted. With that, I think we can conduct election but people say ah, it’s to technological and I say, why do you always underestimate the people in the rural areas? If you send them money this way, won’t they be able to cash it? Why is it that when it is to conduct their civic responsibilities it becomes high tech? I know this country, I ran a state for eight years, I know the nooks and crannies of my state. We are not the most enlightened of states in the country, but you see, I had a deal with MTN and Glo to ensure that every community in Cross River State has a base station; for that I gave them sites free of charge; so, virtually every nook and cranny of Cross River has a base station. Even the most rural of places; even in Bakassi when we still had control of it. And they all use it. They still use it to call their folks in the urban centres to say send us money. Why is that when it comes to civic responsibility it is high tech? Because the politicians don’t want to use it, that’s the truth.
I am not saying this is a perfect system, it can be fine-tuned, that will ensure that within an hour or two every one has voted and the results are near perfect.
Of course, once you design a system, there are those whose work is to un-design the system. There are people like that and they work backwards. Once you have that we also think the same way. How do we work backwards, where can this be faulted? It can be faulted in many ways. The service companies if you are able to break-through the integrity of the system, you know, here and there; but I think we are going to think outside the norm.
The point I’m trying to make is we have to think outside the box. I want to commend the federal government, each time the government talks about elections, it keeps on talking about credible elections with brilliant sound bite. But it must go beyond the sound bite and lets not kid ourselves, by thinking that by putting a Jega there that all is well. With Jega there, all will be well if he is able to design along with his team a system that is virtually fool proof. In other words, he himself must understand the system of elections, he needs to know how it works and how its been holding.
As I speak to you, we’ve not started voters’ registration. That exercise will take any where from three to four months. It will take at least, ninety days to run through its course, another six weeks to tidy up before it is published; lets not kid ourselves. You can have elections anytime, but you can’t have credible elections in January. So, for those thinking we can have elections in January, I think we have to rethink the process; we cannot have credible elections in January. We may have elections but it may not be credible. Where are we? We need to get out of these holes; we need to traverse the length and breath of this country. We need to recruit an army of people may be 5, 000 in each state, two hundred young men and women who will reach our (people), give each of them a task to ensure that he registers at least a hundred person. That alone, will bring twenty million people into the fold. This is what they did in the Obama election.
Fortunately, I was monitoring the Obama election, whether you attain voting age or not, you are able to send text and move around and get people to vote. It's one thing to register, some folk tell me, ‘how can I go to line up for hours to vote for this person’. This is again what pastor Bakare was talking about, if people are not excited about the candidates they will not come out. ‘Look at the four people running, they are all clowns. I’ m going to watch television; I’m not going to vote because either way a clown is going to win’.
So, we have to get involved in the process. We can’t all run for offices, we all can’t. ...”