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Friday, September 24, 2010

Discourse 304 Amending Electoral Act 2010

Discourse 304
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Amending Electoral Law, 2010
Professor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, must be among the most worried people in Nigeria today. He honestly admitted that he never knew that his new job is so complicated. We remain hopeful because, unlike Obasanjo, he did not say free and fair election is impossible. Yet, it is now clear to everyone that there are a number of formidable hurdles to cross, some taller than the Eiffel Tower, before we arrive at the Promised Land! The confident Jega who few weeks ago said his team could deliver credible elections once N87billion is approved has given way to a more cautious one.
INEC has realised that there is not sufficient time to procure the Data Capturing Machines (DCMs) and register voters with them within the time frame of two to three months. The earlier arithmetic of 120,000 people working for 8 hours daily for two weeks to produce a credible register would be hard to realise for a number of reasons. So it went public about the need to shift the elections to March or April, as is done earlier. What we will only miss when the nation acquiesces to INEC’s demand is the chance to acquit itself of all litigations before the swearing in date of May 29. In any case, anyone that practices law knows that it would be difficult to dispense with hundreds of litigations in three months or so. At least some judges at the court of appeal have said this much, albeit secretly.
INEC has easily covered sufficient ground in canvassing for the support it needs to obtain a shift in the election date. It reached the decision at a retreat last week; then successfully sold the idea at meeting with of all political parties earlier this week; yesterday, Jega met the President on the matter; and the House of Representatives is recalling its members from their recess to discuss the matter. It appears that everyone is ready to sacrifice the January date for a more credible outcome. My argument in this article is that Nigerians must not be satisfied with something more credible. In granting INEC its wishes, all stakeholders – but particularly the Presidency and the National Assembly – must not stop at approving anything that will limit the credibility of the elections ab initio. Such clauses in the Electoral Act that tied the hands of INEC must be expunged. INEC must seize the opportunity of a review of the Act and demand for more flexible provisions that will allow it enough room to use the right equipment, employ the appropriate personnel and adopt the best strategies to deliver credible elections to the nation.
Regarding time, details of a timetable should be avoided as much as possible. This is what has caused the present mess. Now many weeks will be spent amending the Act which would have been avoided if the task of scheduling the election was left to INEC to decide based on the prevailing circumstances. There is also very little wisdom in staggering the elections. It only gives the ruling party an upper hand in that it alone would have the capacity to meet the financial demands of effectively partaking in three consecutive elections, no thanks to its access to the deep pocket of the treasury. Let us cast our votes all in a day or in a maximum of two days. If such details were avoided, all that INEC needed to do now would have been to inform the nation that it is shifting the elections to April. Any student of law will tell you that a good legislation must not include details, otherwise it will encumber. So let INEC in its demand restrict the legislators only to upholding the sanctity of May 29 and leave the rest, as much as possible, for the body to decide.
That is why a room for subsidiary legislation is created in drafting any law. In the case of elections, however, the stakes are higher, given that a success at the polls for a senator, for example, would fetch a salary and allowances bigger than those of the American President! Bereft of popular support, the politicians use detailed legislation that would guarantee them sufficient room for rigging.
The aspect that would be more difficult for the legislature to allow much room for INEC and on which I believe both the organ and the nation must remain stubborn in their demand is the type of equipment INEC should employ during elections. They permitted the DCMs and even approved for INEC a colossal N87billion to purchase them without raising much eyebrow precisely because they know that a voters’ register cannot stop them from rigging elections. In the electoral law, however, they did not take chances. As if the presidency and the legislators were discountenancing the frightening fidelity of the electronic voting machine once hinted by Maurice Iwu, they plainly and boldly said in Section 52 (b) of the Electoral Act, 2010 that “the use of electronic voting machine for the time being is prohibited.” Why did they single out the use of the electronic voting machine for their axe? So beyond registration and, may be, accreditation, anything can happen to your vote. For example, the polling station can be raided by thugs who will scare every voter away, thumbprint the whole ballot papers and get away with it especially when they are aided with unrepentant INEC officials and corrupt law enforcement agents as it has happened time and again before.
The clause limiting INEC’s choice to deploy any equipment should be expunged in the upcoming amended Electoral Law. I would like to illustrate the folly of the legislation this way. It is like you sending a messenger to Lagos from Maiduguri to return with a written message within 24 hours but prohibit him from using any form of transport except a lorry; otherwise you will fire him. Then a friend told you that the written message could be delivered electronically through email. Yet, you insisted that the driver has to travel by truck and bring the message manually. It would be clear to anyone that you intended the driver to fail.
If the President and the legislators do not intend INEC to fail, they must allow it the free hand to employ any equipment it deems necessary in the delivery of its promise. Otherwise, the President and the national assembly should be ready to shoulder the burden of any failure arising from their poor legislation. Nobody is saying that there is a perfect machine that will rid the election of any form of failure. But what other nations do is to introduce machines that would reduce human factor in determining the process to the barest minimum.
So far the excuses used to discount the suitability of electronic voting or fingerprint screeners are unfounded. We are told that our population is largely illiterate.  GSM has disproved that. Baba Danladi here at Tilden Fulani is approaching 100 years; yet he owns and uses a GSM despite his inability to read to read English or Hausa. On election day, nothing will prevent him to identify the symbol of the party he supports. Or what actually prevents him and his type from going to the polling booth with his educated son to guide him? They said the machines could be manipulated. Again GSM debunked that. When the scratch card was introduced, it was widely predicted that Nigerians would soon produce fake ones and render the service providers bankrupt. To date, that has remained a fiction. No one has achieved it even with online loading facilities. And so on.
There would be difficulties of course, as I discussed in an earlier article in 2008, but they are simply challenges for which Jega and his reputable team are selected to stand up to in the first place. Problems are encountered with voting machines even in the United States, but that did not make America to resort to riding a donkey in an information age. No outsider like me can suggest any specific brand of electronic equipment for INEC because we are not privileged to know the complexity of the election process as does INEC. In view of our ignorance, what the nation expects INEC to do given the ample seven months it has before April is to study the situation and come up with the best electronic equipment to employ in order to deliver credible elections. The use of electronic counters to verify the validity of votes cast after the closure of voting, for example, will automatically wipe out any stuffing that was done earlier in the day. Even the accreditation of voters that is electronically done and uploaded into a server and simultaneously copied into the account of each political party will check over-voting. So many things are possible, if INEC and the National Assembly are ready to go beyond the doctrine of voters register.
The roadmap to a healthy 2011 is very clear. Sitting back and watching the government playing all sorts of tricks only to cry foul immediately the elections are conducted smacks of an afterthought, cowardice and lack of intelligence. If there would be any mass mobilization against future rigged elections, it has to be now. Right now. Period. Let us see all concerned from ex-military officers, ex-judges, politicians, academicians and members of the civil society sign up to a memo demanding the complete freedom of INEC from all encumbrances. The present claim by government that it has not restrained the body is dubious, as we have seen above. Let all the political parties also protest in unison by submitting a document to INEC and the National Assembly that they will not partake in the elections unless so and so conditions are met. The aspirants to the elective positions, however, should show the greatest zeal. They have called the masses to protest before and nothing came out of it. They must register their protest now collectively. Individual declarations in newspaper interviews will have no effect. INEC will simply brand the candidate as a “frustrated person”, as Maurice Iwu once called Buhari.
Jega and his team, on their part, must demonstrate more courage and refuse to be intimidated by the possibility of failure. Let them venture into the previously unexplored seabed. Pearls may be waiting for them there. There must always be a first chance, which only the audacious would take it. Armed with that conviction, they must demand their total freedom from government. Otherwise, they can step aside and allow the Presidency or the National Assembly to run the elections themselves.
If all these stakeholders would fail to do anything, the ordinary citizens, let it be known, would also owe this nation nothing other than grumble or at best write a castigating essay on a Friday that would follow the elections.
24 September 2010
Previous articles by the same author can be reached at . New ones are published there every weekend.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Discourse 303 Nigeria: Religion Without Faith

Discourse 303
By Dr. Aliyu Tilde

Religion Without Faith: Is it Worth the Trouble?

Foreigners are often surprised to discover how religion is deep-rooted in the psyche of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. When the Egyptian-American doctoral student of Harvard, Sarah al-Tantawi, visited me early this year to ask some questions regarding the impact of Sharia implementation on women, she did not fail to show her amazement at our religiosity. “I am surprised to see so many people here attend the fajr (dawn) prayer”, she exclaimed. “Yes, more than you can find anywhere in the world, perhaps”, I replied with a temporary feeling of worthiness. However, as the interview took off, it did not take time for her to realize that our commitment to God ends just at the ceremonial level, that we are not better than the rest of the world.
I remember what was the most crucial question to her, about which almost nobody was ready to tell her the truth throughout her travels across Northern Nigeria: why were the Muslims in the North hesitant in applying the rajm (stoning) in the case of Amina Lawal; instead, they did all they could to find excuses for her? And when her appeal against the conviction succeeded one could feel the air of relief even among the Muslims? “Nobody wants to tell me why,” she complained. I asked her: “Do you really want an answer?” She replied, “Yes, please.”
“Okay. I will tell you,” I started to explain. “The reason is not farfetched. Though one can foresee the anguish of watching a woman actually stoned to death, the real reason why Amina gained so much sympathy because we all believed that she was not the only one who commits such a sin. We are many. This is a nation in which religion ends in the mosque or the church. Outside our places of worship, we are hardly restrained by conscience from committing any crime in any way. So since we go unpunished why would Amina suffer for a sin that is common?”
And so I went to present the usual points I have repeatedly made in my writings regarding our relegation of religion to the status of ceremony. The widely acclaimed article, Cheating God, was the most recent. I am increasingly approaching the conclusion that the Nigerian mindset is essentially but dubiously secular. We generally like God to be restricted to place of worship. We – Muslims and Christians alike – attend to Him there only under the wrong notion that regardless of whatever we do, He is the Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful, who will overlook our shortcomings and let us go into paradise. It is members of the other faiths (ironically, with whom we connive to perpetrate evil) that he will punish in the Hereafter.
We often deliberately expel Him from our minds when we come to commit one crime or another. One day, the internal auditor of my local government gathered its councillors to discuss the distribution of fertilizer. The auditor told them that if they agree they would not need to return the proceeds of the sale; he will know how to cover them. One of them, the youngest, asked: “Ok. If we do not return the proceeds what do we tell God in the hereafter?.” The auditor quickly interjected, “Kash, Kash. Kai kuwa kar ka kawo maganar Allah mana a nan. (Oh. Please do not bring in God here). Among the eleven councillors, only two returned the proceeds and only they were saved when the matter was later investigated. Others had to sell their houses and mortgage their salaries to pay back. The auditor remains unpunished.
What pushes me further to discover our dubious secularity is its commonness. It is not restricted to Muslims or Christians. In fact, Nigeria would have been a great nation if either group had carried its faith beyond its mouth because the population of each is substantial. However, Muslims and Christians in Nigeria today are mirrors of each other. The Hausa used to be seen as an epitome of honesty in Eastern Nigeria, for example; but no more. The Hausa Muslim, on his part, used to see the Northern Christian as a more disciplined, more humble and more honest person. That one na before. My fellow Muslims express surprise when I tell them that very little of the aid sent to Christian victims of the Jos crisis through the Plateau state government actually reach. The case of consignments of Turai Yar’adua and Dangote in 2008 are good examples to cite. Turai, at her best hour, asked a consignment of six trailer loads of assorted household items originally destined for Republic of Congo to be diverted to Jos in the aftermath of the crisis in November 2008. Dangote also did the same, allocating almost an equal load of grains and beverages. Those consignments never reached the victims. Rather, Christian officials of the government sold them to traders –this Alhaji and that Alhaji – at subsidized rates! The Alhajis paid for the goods and claimed them directly from the warehouses. That is why both NEMA and Nigerian High Commission for Refugees took the pain of carrying their relief themselves to Dogo Nahauwa, at the distaste of the Plateau State government. In cheating God, Nigerian Muslims and Christians go into partnership; in killing one another, however, each faction demands the exclusive partnership of God. Glorified and Exalted is He above our wrongdoings!
Many times I contemplate the wish that we could leave God alone and go the whole hog to reject him. We would then vindicate God from our daily inequities and own up to our misdeeds. If anyone cheats in an election and become the president or governor, no cleric would anesthetize us by invoking predestination, saying he is God-given and anyone who does not pay him homage is a disbeliever as it happened in the aftermath of Yar’adua’s selection in 2007. We would employ reason to tackle our problems, not waiting for God to do it or waste time in appealing for His fear among the hearts of men who do not have any regard for him. We would realize that employing technology would do a better job, like introducing electronic voting machines during elections.
Our problem is that we want to enjoy both, the belief in God and the liberty to behave irresponsibly towards our fellow countrymen. The two cannot be reconciled. We should either believe in God and behave responsibly or acquit ourselves of Him and behave irresponsibly. Both ways would finally lead to orderliness as the latter, through reason and technology, would achieve with greater efficacy in the mundane what the former would achieve through revelation. This is a choice that Nigerians must make and stop wasting their time.
For me it is a choice that I made long ago. I told Sarah, the Harvard Student, that, given my background in natural sciences, I would have ceased from believing in God long ago, if not for two reasons: one is the profound conviction, against all that I read about Darwinism from Darwin himself down to his present vanguard, Dawkings, that the complex universe cannot be a product of chance; and, two, the computational and content analysis of the Qur’an which alludes its divine origin. The two continue to glue me back to religion whenever I tried to wander away, more than anything else that a Nigerian preacher would say, to whom I barely listen and treat with glaring contempt anyway. Yet, I often tell people in my conversations that if I have to cheat to win elections or loot public treasury to survive, I would abandon religion for it has failed to make me better than an animal. This is a promise that I have resolved to keep until death to the best of my ability.
I know there are thousands, if not millions, of Nigerians that are frustrated with our inability to use our entrenched religious fervour to solve our problems, which are essentially none other than our inability to transform ourselves from the levels of individuals to that of a community where we the action of one person has consequences – good or bad – on the life of all others. We still see ourselves as individuals, those hunter-gatherers that our ancestors were. If we gain any elevation, it is not beyond the divisive boundaries of clan, tribe or religion. We fail, repeatedly, to view ourselves first as part of the humanity whose members deserve an irreducible minimum of rights into which we must restrain our desires from encroaching. We have still failed to see that our survival, security, happiness and progress as individuals lie only within that realm of humanity which we must sacrifice our animals instincts of selfishness to protect. Instead, we prefer, to abandon the education we acquired in citadels of learning and behave as individuals first, aggrandizing for our selfish ends whatever comes of our way that is meant for our common good. The inevitable end is the collapse of any edifice that we build: NEPA, NITEL, Nigerian Railway Authority, INEC, education and health institutions, and all other public parastatals, along with the entire political structure.
We are in the last days of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. Thousands of Nigerian Muslim elites have gone for the lesser Hajj, umrah. So much time and resources go to these and other rituals which virtually every Muslim in Nigeria would agree have become mere ceremonies. Why suffer so much then in the name of religion? At the Holy Land, outside the Holy Mosques, the discussion will surely be dominated by politics. People of various parties and interests will be meeting to see how they can have an upper hand in 2011: the most effective way to rig the elections or hoodwink the masses. The concern of civil servants, who have now supplanted the local bourgeoisie in attending the jamboree, is the ongoing in their offices back at home. Two years ago, a cashier of a local government paid a huge sum to enable him return from Hajj a day earlier in order to participate in the monthly payment of salaries. He did not want to miss the proceeds from ghost workers. Subhanallah. What is the benefit of the Hajj or Umrah then?
The common answer is that well at least the reward from the rituals would compensate some of the wrongs we commit. This is underestimating the gravity of the wrongs. Islam lays a very high premium on public accountability. Everybody will stand trial before God in the Hereafter where he will account for his deeds. Yet, there a consensus that public office holders will have the severest trial for the sins they committed that border on denying the rights other fellows. Among us is the person whom the Prophet (peace be upon him) called muflis, the bankrupt cheat. He would come with a pile of good deeds. Then people would troop in each asking for his right which the cheat usurped backed on earth. God would start compensating them by distributing the good deeds of the cheat to them until when his entire good deeds are exhausted and many more claimers would be awaiting their compensation. Then God would instead remit the bad deeds of each claimant into he account of the cheat before he is finally committed to Hell. How many people would come asking for their rights before a president, a governor, a local government chairman, or a public officer who stole from the treasury? Is this end all what our religiosity could buy us? If this is what awaits us, is the religiosity worth it?
Our problem is that there is so much religion around, but no faith. We should acquire in the latter or free ourselves from the former, all together.

3 September 2010

Previous articles by the same author can be reached at . New ones are published there every weekend.