Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Iwu’s Latest Confession

PROFESSOR Maurice Iwu, Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has revealed that votes cast for parties without agents at polling centres are not safeguarded.
The event, in Abuja, at which he spoke was one in a series intended to lend some credibility to the elections INEC conducted over a year ago. The elections produced the most cancelled results in our history.

Perennial optimists would offer that these judicial reversals testify to the growth of our democracy. What is sure is that they confirm times over that the elections INEC remains proud of, have failed to pass scrutiny. There would have been more cases in court if all candidates had the resources to pursue lengthy litigations.
Professor Iwu unintentionally admitted what was wrong.

“Mandates could not have been stolen by anybody because most political parties could not afford to pay their agents to safeguard their votes at the polling centres,” Professor Iwu said. He used this to explain small parties not winning elections.

Why would we need party agents to safeguard votes at the polling centres? What do the security agencies do? From whom are agents safeguarding the votes? Does Professor Iwu realise the vast implications of what he said, in the light of complaints about rigging?

Put plainly, parties that could not afford agents at polling centres may have lost votes cast for their candidates at those polling centres. Could the INEC Chairman have been clearer?

He further told his audience there were over 200,000 polling centres nationwide. Each agent cost N10,000, according to Professor Iwu. He put the minimal cost of maintaining 200,000 agents at N2 billion and concluded that only a few of the parties could indulge in that type of splash.

We had thought security agencies protected voters and votes. Professor says unarmed party agents play this part, to the benefit of their parties, and in their absence, votes were not safeguarded, yet the elections were free and fair. Which section of the Electoral Act awards party agents the safeguarding of votes?
Small parties can win elections in Nigeria if INEC performs its constitutional duties that dwell on equity and fairness. Size, the way Professor Iwu sees it, is not why small parties fail at the poll.

These small parties have bases. If they are unable to win national and state elections, why are they unable to score votes in poll booths in their bases. The overwhelming number of votes some parties –– the big parties –– get is proof of what is wrong. His explanation that winning parties safeguard their votes now makes meaning.

Sections 225 and 226 give INEC powers to investigate the sources of funding of parties. Had INEC exercised these powers, it would have minimised money politics and trimmed the reaches of the big parties.
Where are the annual financial reports of the parties that INEC is supposed to submit to the National Assembly?
Professor Iwu should keep talking. More insights from him should help future elections. He knows more about those free and fair elections than he has let out.