WHAT ONE PROBLEM MUST THE NEXT PRESIDENT SOLVE?

As INEC battles to publish the approved names of the contestants in the 2011 Nigerian elections while trying to avoid the landmines of politicking and legal fireworks, the era of sentiments and intra-party politicking will now give way to campaigns and debates across issues and party lines. Yes, debates. I think it is high time we got off the vote-by-the-party bandwagon that has always traversed the Nigerian political terrain. This is the time that really addressing the issues challenging the potentials of the purported Giant of Africa needs to come to the fore. Before anything, we need to agree that we, citizens of the nation, have not enjoyed the best of times. There is a general agreement both internationally and locally that Nigeria needs to wake up to its responsibility before the window of its opportunity for greatness closes. These are the challenges the incoming president must be able to tackle and which we must keep in mind as we begin to assess the aspirants. What problem must the next president solve?

Infrastructure: if there is one problem organizations and businessmen are complaining about, it is the problem infrastructure. Doing business in Nigeria requires a lot of guts:; the willingness to generate your power and water, the courage to deal with the risks of courage and transportation and  they savvy to still make profit with dealing with multiple taxation and imported products. The number of casualties on our death traps, those sacrificed on the altar of incompetence is enough for any nation to demand a strong commitment from our next president

Identity: Who exactly a Nigerian is and what defines us. People have called us all sorts of names: the most corrupt, hardworking, happiest, resilient, group of scammers…. We have been told who we are, but we, ourselves, have never defined ourselves. The next president must help (re)define the Nigerian identity; he must move us away from the issues of ethnicity and religion which have been used to divide us, and he must ensure that the Nigerian character and dream supersede any other thought or latent intent in the heart of every Nigerian.

Education: The recent statistics from the different levels of national education sector reveal that things have sunk to frightening dimensions. The stakeholders are failing in every respect. Not only do the schools not have the capacity to accommodate students, the students themselves hardly qualify for admission. We need a president who values education over organizing sports tournaments and national award ceremonies. Interestingly, most of the people vying for the presidency are intellectuals with the acumen to deliver results.

Corruption: It is unarguable that the behemoth of corruption plays a role in our being reduced to a state of economic dwarfism. How else can one explain that a nation representing one of the richest countries in terms of mineral and natural resources is one of the poorest in terms of the number of people living below $2 a day? We also have thrown a lot of money at our problems without that translating into a better life for the average citizens. Today, we need a leadership with the courage to reverse the tide of regression. We need a leadership capable of plugging the leaking purse of the nation. We need people who the lust and pleasure of power will not derail. Nigeria needs a leader who will get the job done. As we wait patiently for the debates that will bring the issues of the Nigerian nation to the fore, we await the emergence of bold and courageous leadership that is ready to tackle the cobwebs on our road to greatness.

What one problem must the next president solve?

THE (D)ALLIANCE OF CONGRESSES

The major opposition parties are talking. Too bad, it is to trade accusations and place blames after the breakdown of talks to marry up. There is nothing as distasteful as a little kiss and tell but here we are, treated to the same unabashed finger-pointing and name-calling that is politics in this country. Forming an opposition bloc has never been an easy task but against the ruling and perennial PDP, you would think everyone in the other camp would not mind giving up their first sons for a little sacrifice to come to power. Now we know, names, logos and acronyms are only façades, the average Nigerian politician is a whiner, a wimp and a weasel.

If they cannot even form a platform to contest the election, how are they going to form an effective coalition government? Congress for Progressive Party (CPC) aka Buhari’s new ride and ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) aka Tinubu’s Awolowo-wannabe party have resolved to go their separate ways. The two divisive issues are: who to run with and under whose flag to run. Or to put it in another way, Buhari didn’t want to run with Tinubu and Tinubu wanted both to run with his party’s name. I don’t think that withering sweeping broom would have made a good flying broom for both men, anyway. Their egos need a Boeing. And an Airbus.

This falling out brings us back to where we were 4 years ago and 8 years ago and we know how those turned out. Tell me once more, why do we even bother?

NIGERIA PLANS TO ASSIST INEC

There are talks that during the next voter’s registration, the voting machines will be manufactured here in Nigeria. That should absolutely guarantee two things. At the next election, the registration progress is going to become even more tedious and the voting exercise will almost inevitably be rigged.

The proposal to manufacture data capturing units in Nigeria was proposed by Mohammed Abubakar, the Minister of Science and Technology. Working with the Nigeria Communication Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT), the minister believes that biometric units can be produced in the country before the year 2015
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According to the minister, plans to create the first Nigerian DDC machine were already underway. However they were unable to complete the design in time to meet the 2011 elections. Given the importance and sensitivity of the current elections, Mohammed Abubakar said the ministry chose to delay the use of their self developed machine until the next election when the machines will have been fine-tuned and proven to be undoubtedly ready.

The minister’s suggestion is coming after reports that reveal that INEC has spent over N34 billion importing data capturing machines for the country. Over 132,000 of these machines are currently being used in the nationwide registration exercise. As much as 1,300 of these machines have however been discovered to be faulty with varying flaws.

The minister’s desire to encourage the entrepreneurs in the private sector is commendable. However given the Nigeria’s past history, there is little to suggest that an efficient system will be created in time for the next election. INEC’s current failings are occurring despite the proven reliance of the DDC machines that they are working with.

INEC OFFICERS DIE

INEC’s registration exercise has not been without its share of tragedies. At least, three INEC workers have, reportedly, passed away in the last week, while performing their duties. All of the deaths are believed to have been caused by the demands of the current exercise.

One of the victims, a youth corper, died after suffering an epilepsy attack during the process of registration. Prior to his death, he had registered as many as 1000 voters during the fortnight long exercise. Considering the pace at which a typical registration exercise is done i.e. 15minutes per registration, registering over 1000 voters means that the Corper in question must have had little rest or sleep during the period—a situation that would undoubtedly have put his body under no small pressure.

The other two deaths are believed to have been caused by carbon inhalation. While working with the DDC machines, two workers—both officers of the National Security and Civil Defense Corps—sat next to a generator for an extended period of time in a locked room. The prolonged exposure to the poisonous fumes caused them to pass out and eventually die.

At least one of the victims has since been buried in accordance with Muslim Rites. The deceased was described as being ‘a dedicated and committed worker’ by the resident electoral commissioner for that state. No one has talked about the obvious elephant in the room. Had realistic schedules been set and efficient power options created, all three of the deaths could have been prevented.

If INEC is unable to protect her workers, just exactly how efficient is the commission?

INEC’S STRANGE BUDGET REQUEST

The recent extension of voter registration exercise has taken a new and quite frankly expensive twist. The exercise is now to be completed in the extra week and is to cost the federal government an extra 6 billion Naira. The current request is still being considered by members of the National Assembly who are largely in approval of the announced extension of the exercise but weary of the requested additional funding to INEC’s already large budget.

It’s a little unclear why the extension of the current exercise will require that much. Surely, INEC cannot be planning on buying new registration machines for the exercise extension. From the layman’s perspective, it stands to reason that since the venues and manpower are already in place one should expect that the only extra cost to be incurred for the extension would be compensation for the manpower involved. INEC’s request for extra funds would therefore be billed towards offsetting the wages of her workers.

This is strange because INEC really does not require that much for the wages of her workers. Assuming that there are currently 10,000 INEC workers participating in the exercise (a more than fair assessment), a 6 billion budget would mean that each worker receives 100,000 Naira for the extra week of work.

INEC is known for many things but the generosity of the commission is not one of them. Why does the commission need that much money?

THE POWER ANGLE

INEC seemed to have it all planned out: schedule an exercise for an entire fortnight, rely on the inexhaustible skilled pool of the NYSC work force and then proceed to sit back and wait for the exercise to be completed. All it takes is for people to enter their details into a computer, be signed up and then the process is completed, right? Maybe. The only problem is no one remembered to mention the issue of power.

Power consumption is not something that many computer companies advertise—presupposing, rightly, that it can be described as common knowledge—but computers need power in order to function. It doesn’t matter how powerful the processor of the computer is, or how efficient the installed operating system is, without a source of power the computer will simply be metal—an attractive piece of metal, maybe, but metal none the less. All around the country, there are many reports of stalled registrations because the DDC batteries cannot be recharged for use. It’s a sad situation for a country with the credentials and resources of Nigeria.

Still, there is hope on the horizon. Every presidential aspirant has promised to remedy the power situation. But to do that they will need to be elected which will mean that they will need us to vote for them which will mean that we have to go register for our voting license which will mean visiting any one of the hundred voting centers that (sigh)…are currently without power. Try solving that.

THE INEFFICIENCIES OF INEC

The military regime certainly had its flaws. It also had its moments. One of these was its handling of the 1991 National Census.  Like most Nigerian events, the process was riddled with stories of corruption, insincerity and the falsity of the published figures.

However, the inefficiencies of the census did not rid it of one important fact: at the ground level, the individuals assigned to conducting the census performed admirably. They were able to successfully reach most parts of the country within the assigned period of the exercise—from the large cities right down to the small villages. It is a lesson that INEC could have borrowed from.

The idea, of Prof Jega, to use Youth Corpers during the voting exercise was one that had a lot of initial merit. In the Youth Corp team, he has a workforce that is comprised of skilled graduates that are arguably a lot more qualified than the ground team who handled the 1991 elections. In the current batch of Youth Corpers, INEC has a work team that can be relied on to be dedicated, driven and filled with youthful ideals. Unfortunately, none of these is working out as dreamed.

A few days ago, Tade Ipadeola, a lawyer based in Ibadan sued INEC because his community, Akinmoorin in Oyo State—a town with more than 2000 adults, was yet to see any INEC official even after the first week of the registration exercise. His complaint was very well detailed, over 2000 adults. The fact that he has an idea of what the population of his town is means that some people at some point did their job effectively during a census several decades ago.  One only wishes INEC could boast the same.

INEC REFUSES TO CONSIDER EXTENSION

You’d think that the fact that the Nigeria is country hosting over a 120 million people would be reason enough for INEC to consider extending the current timeline of the voter’s registration exercise but apparently it isn’t. According to the officials of INEC, the commission is yet to find a ‘compelling reason’ to extend voters registration deadline.

If ever there was a reason to question the sincerity of the current registration process this would be it. The fact that registration is set to occur during the hours that people will be in their office is questionable enough. Outside the brief window that falls during the weekends, very few people are likely to have the time needed for registration exercise. The few people who eventually do make it to the registration point are often discouraged by the long line of equally discouraged people in waiting.

You don’t need a sociologist to tell you that INEC would have achieved more if government had created a 4-day public holiday for workers than they did closing down primary schools. After all, it makes little sense giving a public holiday to the one demographic of the country who are not legally allowed to vote. More importantly, most parents would be more willing to leave their homes to go register if they did not have to worry about what their children were up to at home.

The only winners in the current situation are the teachers who are working at these schools. Even if the country had 10 million primary school teachers (a more than fair count), that would still leave over 50 million Nigerian adults unaccounted for during the voting exercises.

If these aren’t  ‘compelling enough’ reasons, then I don’t know what is. Voting is the civic right and duty of the people, and only the registered can vote. It therefore helps when all things are done right. Wouldn’t you agree?

THE MAN-OF-GOD CANDIDATURE

Tunde Bakare has never been shy of wading into Nigeria’s murky politics despite overseeing a Lagos church of good standing. Today, under the aegis of CPC (Congress for Progressive Change), he was tapped to run with the controversial ex-Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari. Maybe this is the year the perennial aspirant, Buhari, becomes a real challenger. The justification for this marriage of strange bedfellows is religion. And religion is so important that it was deemed appropriate to risk the formation of the expected coalition between CPC and ACN, the one-two, Street Fighter combo to humble the ruling PDP.

While the choice of Tunde Bakare is politically correct, I wonder if his shoulders will suffice for Buhari to climb to power. One of the ugly and crippling norms of politics (and every other aspect of life), in a country as rich in diversity as Nigeria, is having to continually fashion patchworks of tribal and religious congruence for everything. Muslims have to be balanced with equal numbers of Christians and Northerners must be countervailed by Southerners.

If Bakare does run for office along with Buhari, I hope he is ready for some mud-slinging. Gone will be the days of kissing the hem of the pastor’s coat; his utterances will be litmus-tested and quite some of his halo will come off. He will need all the prayers he can get.

I can already see the ads for a Buhari-Bakare ticket and they are not going to be any less corny than the ones you’ve seen thus far. I can see spittle flying, tongues wagging and teeth gnashing and a certain annoyingly placid man having his good luck all over again.

THE FUTURE DDC

From the guys who lost our satellite in space comes the promise of home-grown DDC machines. Come 2015, NIGCOMSAT (aka O Satellite, Where Art Thou?) swears by everything science and magic that INEC won’t need to spend a fortune on voters’ registration. For an agency and its parent ministry whose mandates end with the production of prototypes, I believe “Made in Nigeria” DDC machines is a tall order. Even by 2015.

Not to diss local technology (oh heck, let’s diss it), it is god-awful compared to the competition. The Minister sitting in the Ministry of Science and Technology (an oxymoron, by the way) even boasted about the readiness to deploy the local technology for the current exercise but through his infinite wisdom or infinite doubt in the genius of those armchair scientists and engineers on his payroll, chickened out. We should thank him. I shudder at the thought of deployed prototypes and cloned Frankenstein machines when even the so-called “imported DDC machines” crawl at the speed of last decade’s Pentium processors.
 

Attahiru Jega was shown these DDC machines from the future. Like a snake oil salesman, he sidestepped endorsing them or not. However, NIGCOMSAT did not rest on its toothpick oars. No, it went further and swore its networked machines would see action not only in the 2015 voters’ registration (when we’ll do these all over again) but also in that year’s elections. And that was when I fell in love with those future DDC machines. Maybe that will be the year the government shuts down our internet instead of our schools. Digital electioneering and voting may end up producing not only a new breed of winners but also a new bag of tricks. Me, I’m all for new.

THE JEGA DEFENCE

The INEC Chairman, His Professorship, Attahiru Jega appeared before like minds, their Honourables, the Senators, to explain why the current voters’ registration exercise is going the way of everything else in Nigerian governance, namely pokey, pricey and piddling.

Here is his explanation for making registering you rocket science: the DDC machines on delivery were “wrongly formatted” (my guess is that they were running pirated copies of Windows Vista or were refurbished after tiringly registering 1 billion+ Indians). He also added that one of the contractors supplying the DDC machines defaulted. He didn’t say who and I can bet my jammies that the unnamed contractor was one of Jega’s jury of peers, there in attendance to weigh the merits of his excuses.

Jega also brushed aside fears that those with less than ten fingers won’t be rightly captured by the machines. He pledged that no amputee or leper will be left behind. However, he didn’t say a word about 11-fingered Nigerians.

Suffice to say that before Jega came for his defence, the Senate passed the bill to extend the voters’ registration exercise in one sitting. I could have left it at that but I need to point out that this is probably the fastest selfless bill ever passed by the Senate. It’s not like they were sitting (actually standing; such sessions are concluded way before they can sit) to move motions to increase their own allowances. They actually sat this time. And they are all honourable men.

For his lack of foresight but plenty of hindsight, the Senate, in her infinite mercy, granted Professor Attahiru Jega, INEC warlord and future MON, one more week to put his acts together. He was also appropriated N6.6 billion to stage a better play. I suggest A Dance of the Forest.

THE AMADIOHA CENTERS

Enter, ghost voters. Enter, the forest of a thousand voters. Anambra has a knack for the esoteric and it hasn’t disappointed us once more. Do you know where to go to avoid all these long queues bedeviling the scarce DDC machines? I’ll give you a clue: it’s in Anambra.

Dedicated to the patriotic citizens of Nziko forest at Nteje, both living and dead, both human and animal, both corporeal and not, four voters’ registration centers stand in the middle of Nowhere, Anambra. Oh, this is not a joke. There are forlorn corps members manning them, listening to the caw-caw of strange birds and twigs snapping while eating wild berries and waiting for you.

As busier sites in major cities and towns feel the bite of INEC’s subpar preparation for this exercise, the people of Nziko forest have nothing to worry about. In fact, to add colour to an already brilliant setting, the four centers are noted to be sited near a shrine. So there, democracy comes to the gods.

You may need to make your own pilgrimage now before these wonders disappear. Already, the deputy governor has made his and early reports showed he had quite the epiphany. Two weeks after setting up camp in the “forbidden forest”, INEC has managed to pool a grand total of 200 Homo sapiens sapiens. There are no figures for wildlife, ghouls and the undead.

The real question here is: how did INEC site these centers? At the roll of dice across the Nigerian map? Glitches in Google Maps? We may never know but this I’m sure of: come election time, the denizens of Nziko forest will still get their own polling booths.