Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Behold, a heartbreak unfolds

Three days is long enough for a descent into reality to be accomplished. That has been how long ago since the General elections were held. That has also been the case with the aftereffects of what would probably go into the record books as the worst General elections Nigerians have ever afflicted themselves with since the tragedy of 1964.
For most of us who reside in the former Capital city of Lagos, much of what passed off as polling was sleepiness compared with happenings in the rest of the country. It therefore might be forgivable if we had regarded the near absence of violence and the seeming exhibition of a well practiced competence on the part of the officials in charge of the elections here, as a genuine sign of progress and National development. Unfortunately, there are over a hundred major cities, albeit less large than Lagos, in Nigeria, and electoral events in these cities hadn't been pulled off quite as easily.
A variety of reasons have brought us to this conclusion. Firstly, a massive logistics failure tore open the soft underbelly of the election plans which we had been made to believe would assure us of a very credible process. One of them was the late distribution of voting materials. For reasons best known to it, the Independent authority in charge of organising the elections only began to distribute materials less than twenty-four hours to H-hour. This had been without regard to the parlous state of Nigeria's transport and communication network. Coupled with a bungling of the printing and sorting process of the voter's forms, some of the foreseeable results were voters forms being sent to the wrong regions than those for which they had been printed, forms missing legitimate aspirants to office leading to outright postponement of the exercise in some areas of the country and security dilemmas thrown up by the confusion of leaving the army and police too little time to move into place to safeguard these materials.
A consequence - ballot papers and boxes were stolen in several places, some of them with attendant violence. Casualties among the security personnel have been declared to be as high as thirty dead, though not all the lives were lost trying to prevent election material theft.
However, these factors alone are not enough, in and of themselves to cause a deep disregard for the outcome of any electoral process. Trains will run late, buses and airplanes will require impromptu maintenance causing schedules to be grounded. So also can ballot boxes and forms arrive late. Elections can be pushed back an hour or two, as indeed they were in a lot of polling stations during the entire programme.
What perhaps brought the entire exercise into grave disrepute was the obsession of the current regime to dictate and indeed anoint its own successor based on reasons that had very little to do with the choice or desire of the electorate. Like most things Nigerian, the true reasons why this government felt things had to be so, runs deep in the underground caverns of conjecture, apocrypha, half truth, disinformation and pure delusional neuroses. The facts are that the Independent electoral body made a lot of questionable calls, no doubt encouraged by the government, aimed at disqualifying candidates who they felt did not sufficiently meet its standards as worthy successors. However they were playing a very obvious hand. There was no decision taken in this regard that was not read as serving this slippery agenda or any new law that was not seen as fortifying this dubious premise. In the eyes of too many people, this translated into desperation, a word so negative in its phonetics and meaning in Nigeria, that it is often used as a term of accusation for some kind of criminality.
With such a heady mix, in the thinking of the electorate, there was little surprise that these efforts were met with annoyance and derision. From that point on the government was fighting a losing battle. And that the independent electoral body seemed to be ticking off people to seek to 'ban' from contesting the elections, from an informal list of well known opposition figures and individuals who were very critical of the government suggested the government had written the music which the entire exercise had been set to.
So this state of affairs is what has brought us to this point. The true tragedy is, if the logistical nightmare of bad timing, inept scheduling and lousy project management are considered alone, if some of the less brazen and heinous incidents of ballot theft and brigandage are taken into the equation; even if some of the petty non-arrival of polling material in opposition strongholds are thrown into the mix, we would have been left with, at worst, an election beset with incompetent management, but an election nonetheless; we would have been left with a process whose strongest bad word would be about human resources with a lot to be desired, an uneducated work force scrambling to master a modern semblance of communal representation using a framework that still strains from the feudal burdens of long years of Military rule, but an election no less, that should have given us some hope that the challenges are only in terms of ideational semantics. Instead we have this sham, this travesty, which already is the beginning of a road, that with the correct mix of personalities and events to follow, would lead us only to hell and heartbreak.
And what do we have to thank for this? What has made the difference? A disrespect for democracy. Is it not painful that a government elected into office to carry the torch of our hopes away from the muddied past of Military rule towards the clear light of democracy has contrived to bring us full circle to that point, where the very loss of the goal we empowered it to pursue is a clear and present threat?


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