Monday, April 11, 2011

Lessons from Saturday

Below are some of my thoughts on the conduct of the National Assembly Elections.

1. A long way from 2007: The 1st leg of the elections even with the postponements were not perfect, but improvements are noticeable from 4 years ago. Attempting to go from 0 to 100% in one election is unrealistic, but the positives are there. For example, I got to my polling unit by 9am, 90 minutes earlier than I arrived on April 2nd. The logistics were better. The turnout also increased. On April 2nd, I accredited 165 people. The number went up to 259, the vast majority of which voted. I was also impressed with the security. Across the country, similar improvements were recorded. International observers declared their satisfaction with the conduct of the elections and while there were still few lapses, it is clear that Nigeria will get there eventually.

2. Beware early results: the first results that came in showed the ruling PDP at a seemingly huge disadvantage. However, they were mostly from the south-west and there was a lot more counting to be done throughout the country. Two very interesting cases involved Bukola Saraki and David Mark, who were trailing on saturday night only to cross the line first on sunday. All early results must be viewed with caution henceforth. More on Saraki later.

3. Bankole, Oyinlola display sportmanship: the Speaker of the House, Dimeji Bankole won a lot of sympathy when he released a statement conceding defeat. Olagunsoye Oyinlola followed suit on sunday when he lost his Senate bid in Osun state. The hope is that other politicians can emulate both these men. There is honour even in defeat.

4. ACN roars back in the South West, but it's gains elsewhere are limited: from a record low of one out of six south-west states in 2007, the ACN looks set to dominate the zone once again with sweeping victories in the legislative races setting them up nicely in the other elections. The gains in other zones have been less dramatic, picking up just 2 senate seats in Edo and 1 Rep. Seat each in Akwa Ibom, Kaduna and Plateau. A lot of results are outstanding however, and the picture may change considerably.

5. Delay in release of final results could change perception: the delay in the release of the full results, 48 hours after close of voting is cause for anxiety and leaves room for speculation. Many have even joked that there might be some advanced mathematics involved in result computation other than simple addition, or that an abacus is being used at INEC HQ. I hope we won't have to wait 3 days before the results of the Presidential election are announced.

6. Is a reset in Nigerian politics underway? : the full answer to this question won't be known until all the results of all the elections come in, but the trend certainly points to a reduction of the PDP's majority in both houses. Will it extend to the governorship and Presidential elections? How will the results influence each other? The outcome will definitely be interesting to see.

7. Did the NYSC DG lie?: the bomb that went off at the INEC office in Suleja, Niger state will be remembered as one of the most cowardly acts ever committed on our soil. Several news media carried the story that members of the NYSC died in that explosion. The Director-General of the NYSC later issued a statement saying that no Corper was killed. ThisDay reported that Victoria Akonde lost her life in the blast. Why would Tsiga lie about it? To save face? If he did lie, he certainly has a case to answer.

8. The role of social media: I really can't end this without talking about the role of citizen reporters in the elections. There were a number of platforms: like Revoda, that enabled voters to send in reports from their polling units. This added to the openness of the process, and the scenes of people cheering as the votes were counted was a heart-warming sight. The people's votes are counting once again. Reports from various polling units flooded Twitter throughout saturday night. One especially interesting event was that despite reports indicating the Bukola Saraki had lost his bid for the Senate in Kwara, his twitter account said on saturday night that the PDP had won all the legislative seats available. The tweet was soon deleted, but the results turned out exactly as he said. Was he clairvoyant?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why Jega deserves our support

The announcement of the postponement of the general elections for the 2nd time in 2 days left many disappointed. Many people hoped to not go to work on Monday, but had their hopes cruelly dashed by the INEC Chairman at 5.30pm on Sunday. Nigerians are right to be upset when their plans (or lack thereof) are disrupted for the small matter of an election that will happen once every four years.

However, it is impossible to have perspective about the last 2 days without looking back at the last 4 years. The 2007 elections were decried by Madeleine Albright as the worst she had witnessed. There were governorship re-runs in Delta and Anambra, with results overturned in Ekiti, Edo and other states. There are yet more cases pending in court. Any mess that takes 4 years to clean up is something that must not be allowed to happen again.

This is why the postponements are preferable to a situation anything like what happened in '07. A lot of money has gone into this process, but we must remember that much of the structure which produced that the 2007 elections is still in place. The overall lesson here is that money cannot stand alone. Only the right people in the right places and the right processes can ensure the smooth running of an operation as large as trying to conduct an election for a country whose voting population alone is nearly equal to the populations of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya combined.

Criticism of the INEC Chairman must thus be tempered by the knowledge of the situation he met on the ground. This Commission is clearly in need of reform, and Attahiru Jega is caught between trying to deliver an election when he said he would and also trying to deliver one he can put his signature on, as they are not the same thing.

All that matters now is that we have credible elections. If that objective is achieved, then the inquest and very necessary root-and-branch reform of INEC can begin. A postponed election is better than a rigged one.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

INEC's failure to launch

On the 22nd of March at a consultative dialogue with the NBA, the INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega said: ‘For INEC, I can say categorically and convincingly that we are ready for the election, the question should be, are the lawyers and politicians ready?’ 11 days later, he has to eat his words: ‘…in order to maintain the integrity of the elections and retain effective overall control of the process, the Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly elections to Monday, April 4, 2011. I appeal to all Nigerians for their understanding in this difficult situation.’ Coming the day after April Fools’ Day, it seemed like an expensive joke. It wasn’t a joke, but it certainly was expensive. It has taken Nigeria nearly N150 billion ($1 billion)and a 2 month extension to get to this point as the elections were initially to hold in February to give more time to settle electoral disputes which may arise. The main issue was the lack of EC8A and EC8A (1) forms without which results cannot be recorded. Transportation of officials and materials was also a major issue throughout the country.

If problems could be solved by throwing money at them alone, much of Nigeria’s problems would be over. Instead, today’s failure (because that is what it is) when the eyes of whole world were focused on us (well, those that aren’t focused on Libya, Japan, Ivory Coast) is merely the latest and most dramatic failure of another government institution in this country. Indeed, it is easy to go for Jega’s jugular right now, but his acceptance of responsibility for today’s debacle is one of very few positives to draw on. It’s also easy to forget that he has inherited an electoral body made in the image of Maurice Iwu, a machine seemingly built to rig, which gave us one of the worst elections in any democratic country, anywhere, ever. I doubt we would have gotten a similar statement from Prof. Iwu had he still been chairman. We would have gotten cooked up results instead. Jega has said in the past that INEC needs to be reformed but you can’t undo 5 years of Iwu in less than 1 year.

This is however scant consolation to the millions who turned out to vote today, trying to make their voices heard. At least, they have another chance to participate in an exercise that while extremely costly, still has the chance for a minimum of credibility. Spare a thought also for the ad-hoc staff, who can’t just walk away from a polling booth after a false start. I am one of them. They bear the brunt of INEC’s logistic shambles in many ways, especially in terms of transportation to and from ward collation centres, polling units and the various INEC offices in the local governments. Many of the youth corpers in my ward had to walk to their units carrying election materials. Many also walked back. As I speak, not a kobo has been given any of my colleagues. No, it is not about money. It’s about taking care of those who do the dirty work. Hundreds of young people spent the night in and around local government HQs across Nigeria. Some slept on mats, some spent the night at guest houses, and some didn’t sleep.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the impressive use of twitter and other tools for reporting on the elections. Those reports were the first signs that things were going wrong across the country. We also saw those tools used to spread falsehood, most notable of which was the BBM broadcast that said both AC and ACN were on the ballot, both with the broom sign. I promptly refuted this on my own twitter page. The only way to counter such false information is by finding out and disseminating the truth.

So, it seems we will gather on Monday to do it all again. I personally think it’s too soon. I don’t know how possible it is to get result sheets to over 100,000 polling units in less than 48 hours, and the transportation issues remain. The party agents and ad-hoc staff will need to be paid. I’ll suggest that the National Assembly and Presidential elections hold together. I don’t know all the factors the INEC Chairman has to consider, but I’m sure he will take the right decision. No matter how difficult.

The price Nigeria is paying during this election cycle to get credible elections is a steep one. I am not alone in hoping that it is all worth it in the end.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Importance of one vote

The most often heard excuse for not voting in an election is "my one little vote won't make a difference." Yet history is full of instances proving the enormous power of one single vote. In many cases, the course of nations has been changed because one individual ballot was cast — or not cast — depending upon your point of view.

If you think that your vote won't make a difference, please consider the following:

1. In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England.

2. In 1649, one vote literally cost King Charles I of England his head. The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68 for — the ax fell thanks to one vote.

3. In 1714, one vote placed King George I on the throne of England and restored the monarchy.

4. In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German (at least according to folk lore.)

5. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Rutherford B. Hayes all became US Presidents by a margin of one vote.

6. Texas, California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon all became part of the USA by one vote. The map of the US would have been very different.

7. In 1846, a one vote margin in the U.S. Senate approved President Polk's request for a Declaration of War against Mexico.

8. In 1867 - The Alaska purchase was ratified in the Senate by two votes, paving the way for future statehood in 1958.

9. In 1868, one vote in the U.S. Senate saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.

10. In 1875, a one vote margin changed France from a monarchy to a republic. In 1940, the vote taken to maintain its status as a republic also failed. By one vote.

11. In 1916, if presidential hopeful Charles E. Hughes had received one additional vote in each of California's precincts, he would have defeated President Woodrow Wilson's re-election bid.

12. On November 8, 1923, members of the then recently-formed revolutionary political party met to elect a leader in a Munich, Germany beer hall. By a majority of one vote, they chose an ex-soldier named Adolph Hitler to become the NAZI Party leader. We all know what happened after.

13. In 1941, the Selective Service Act (the draft) was saved by a one vote margin — just weeks before Pearl Harbor was attacked.

14. In 1948, a Texas convention voted for Lyndon B. Johnson over ex-Governor Coke Stevens in a contested Senatorial election. Lyndon Johnson because U.S. Senator by a one vote margin.

15. In 1948, if Thomas E. Dewey had gotten one vote more per precinct in Ohio and California, the presidential election would have been thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives where Dewey enjoyed more support than his rival — incumbent Harry Truman. As it was, Dewey was expected to win the general election by a landslide so most Republicans stayed home. Only 51.5% of the electorate voted. Truman defeated Dewey.

16. In the 1960 presidential election, an additional one vote per precinct in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and Texas may have altered the course of America's modern history by denying John F. Kennedy the presidency and placing Richard Nixon in the White House eight years earlier.

17. In 2000 - The Presidential election was decided by an extremely narrow margin. George W. Bush won the state of Florida by just 537 votes, making him the 43rd President of the United States. Close to 6 million voters went to the polls in Florida. It might not have been by one vote, but certainly every vote counted.

18. In 2008 - Minnesota voters cast 2.9 million votes in their US Senate race that eventually was decided by 312 votes (1/1000th of one %)

19. South Africa lost the bid to host 2006 world cup to Germany by one vote.



Jonathan wins by default

In what might be a first for a democratic country, a sitting President comes to a debate and is the only participant. The incumbent didn’t appear at either the debate organised by NN24 or that organised by Enough is Enough Nigeria, tagged ‘What About Us’. Ibrahim Shekarau and Nuhu Ribadu attended both. Dele Momodu and Muhammadu Buhari one each. Candidates Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari boycotted the BON debate in protest at Goodluck Jonathan’s absence from earlier debates.

The result was that the BON debate became something of a farce on one hand, and a missed opportunity by the opposition candidates on the other hand. One of the main aims of a presidential debate is for an incumbent to be grilled rigorously on his record by the moderator/panellists and by his challengers. Those tough questions were in short supply. Nothing was asked about the Niger Delta or the solution to the Jos crisis, or indeed, why he didn’t go there in the aftermath of the latest disturbances. He did well on issues of agriculture, women participation in governance and questions on the petroleum sector, but his response on electricity and corruption left much to be desired. Questions about the direction of our national budget were also omitted. The moderator correctly said that due to time, not all questions could be asked, which does make one wonder just how the Nigerian Electoral Debate Group prioritise debate questions, and why despite visiting Lagos 10 times in about 2 months, President Jonathan could only find time for one debate.

That said, I think that the opposition candidates short-changed themselves by letting Jonathan have the reach of the NTA unchallenged. A lot more people get NTA in their homes than Channels or NN24. They also denied the viewing public the gift of contrast, of comparing the candidates as they stand side by side and make their points. A combination of Buhari, Shekarau and Ribadu would have put Jonathan under real pressure, even put him in the shade, and we will never know what the outcome of that would have been. They each lost a chance to make a last minute personal appeal to the voters, to change a few minds. Strategy and pragmatism should have taken precedence over making a point, as the latter gives no votes. If the PDP wins the Presidency again by a much narrower margin, the absence of the opposition from the BON debate could be seen as a factor. An appearance in front of several million people at once would be worth a lot of rallies and posters. One wouldn’t have expected such a lapse in judgement from a retired General, a retired policeman, and a mathematician. Maybe Jonathan is really lucky after all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Revoda- A potential game changer.

'The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything' - Josef Stalin (1923)

All parts of the RSVP (Register, Select, Vote, Protect) campaign are important, but the chilling quote above makes the case that perhaps the 'Protect' part of the process is the most crucial. A candidate could have a perfect campaign, put his points across, convince and mobilise voters and all that, but once the election is rigged, especially in a tight race, all could be lost. What would follow might be a lengthy court battle at best, given the nature of our legal system.

The Enough is Enough Nigeria coalition has once again taken the lead with a phone application that could turn a lot of voters into election observers and give them the power to protect their votes by making reports on the conduct of the election at their polling units which will be compiled and which are actionable. The name of this application is called 'REVODA', and it can be gotten by texting 'GO' to 08128882011. A link will then be sent to your fone to download the application. After downloading, go to the menu section and register your polling unit number and full name. There is also the option to 'Tell a friend' about Revoda, which I hope everyone does.

One of the most crucial things REVODA should be used for is to report the number of voters ACCREDITED at a polling unit. Voter accreditation is a new dimension introduced by INEC to further reduce rigging. The total number of voters who intend to vote is to be known before the actual voting takes place. Accreditation will be between 8am and 12.30pm and voting commences immediately after. The total number of voters ACCREDITED should be reported, so that if the number of ballots cast is higher than that figure, the results are invalidated as it will be a nearly sure case of rigging. After voting, voters are also allowed to stay behind and monitor the counting process. The final vote tallies should also be reported. Reports on events in between like early/late arrival of election officials and materials, violence, ballot box snatching, and also if the process is peaceful, will be useful to get the true picture of the conduct of these very crucial elections.

Election observers can't be everywhere all the time. The citizens, however, can be. The Revoda app is yet another tool that can aid the people to get more involved in the process, and make sure that their will is upheld at the ballot box. The tool is here and it is left for the people to use it. Download it, and share with your friends. Spread the word. Come out and vote, and after voting don't go back home. Protect your vote. 3 saturdays is not too much to sacrifice in order to have a better 4 years.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Can Nigeria's social media generation change the course of the elections?

The genesis of Nigeria's youth driven movement for change began in 2009 with 'Light Up Nigeria'. This started primarily as an online movement to draw attention to the issue of poor power supply in the country, and as a means to pressure the government to take concrete steps to address it. Since then, the movement has expanded. During the leadership vacuum caused by the illness and eventual passing of Umaru Yar'Adua, the cry became 'Enough is Enough' when it was clear the country was being held hostage by fewer than a dozen people. Two rallies, one in Abuja and another in Lagos were held to demand, among other things, that then VP Goodluck Jonathan carry the mantle of leadership in Yar'Adua's absence as contained in the constitution. The conversation now turned to the fact without electing good leaders, 'Light Up Nigeria' would never see the light of day (pun intended). Hence the 'Enough is Enough' coalition of youth bodies was formed. That coalition set about creating awareness on the need to register to vote, careful selection of candidates, voting on election day, and staying back to protect the votes and make sure they aren't tampered with. It was tagged 'RSVP'. The voter registration was a success, with over 73 million people registered. Of this number, 65 per cent are young voters. The Enough Is Enough coalition seeks to leverage this by organising a youth driven debate tagged 'What About Us?', Where candidates will take unscripted questions from young voters in a bid to win the youth vote. With 65 per cent of the electorate, it is very fair to say that any candidate who wins youth voters will win the election.

The above serves as an introduction for the real point: the efforts of the EIE coalition are very commendable and necessary, but do they speak for the majority of young people in Nigeria? This question has to be asked because the impact of this movement seems to felt more online, through social media tools like facebook, twitter and blogs. How many people do these speak to? As of now, there are just over 3m facebook accounts in nigeria and only about 300,000 or so twitter accounts. In a country where 70 per cent live on less than a dollar a day, the proportion of those 'connected' is low compared to the rest of the population. The majority of youth are the danfo drivers, the okada riders, traders, the security men, domestic helps, vulcanizers, mechanics and so on. These are the people who are not online, and who don't have the benefit of knowing what should matter in this crucial election season. These are the same people who are likely to cause violence, sell their votes, or choose a candidate for the wrong reasons. This undoubtedly plays into the hands of those candidates at all levels who would rather not debate the issues, choosing instead to reduce the discussion to vague slogans. President Jonathan declined the NN24 debate, and looks likely to also decline the 'What About Us?' Debate this friday in favour of the one organised by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) on March 29 which is likely to be scripted. Interestingly, in 1999, 2003 and 2007, the PDP candidate has not attended the BON debate. This paints the picture of a ruling party that doesn't feel they will be punished at the ballot box if they don't turn up to face the electorate and debate the issues. So far, they have not been wrong. The President could yet attend a debate, but if this country's social media savvy youth don't like what they see, what are they going to do about it? I have an idea: how about if everyone with a blackberry, twitter/facebook account mobilises 10 or more other people to vote for an opposition candidate? Would that make a difference? If even 1 million nigerian youths on facebook get 10 others to vote one way, will 10 million votes make a difference? Yes? I thought so. What needs to be understood is that using social media for change is never an end in itself. It is a great way to get started but the bulk of the work is always in face-to-face contact, to convince people in the streets to vote for your candidate. A point has to be reached where youths outside the boundaries of the internet identify with a cause. That way the effect of every tweet, every status update is multiplied and it cannot be ignored.

President Jonathan connected with the streets by talking to D'Banj about his plan for the youths. His wife, Patience Jonathan does that by talking to market women, artisans and the like in the language they understand. Other candidates and their supporters on social networks can do it too. There is still time.