Sunday, 30 March 2014

Right of Reply - Re: 'Between Jega and the Errant Parties'

March 27, 2014
The Editor
THISDAY Newspapers
35 Creek Road, Apapa,
Dear Editor,
Right of Reply – Re: ‘Between Jega and the Errant Parties’
Permit me to respond to the editorial commentary in your newspaper edition for Thursday, March 27, 2014, titled as above. Ordinarily, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as presently constituted is not disposed to taking issue with criticisms of its performance – especially where such criticisms are borne out of sheer mischief or partisan motivation. But when ignorance is masqueraded as knowledge, or deception paraded as institutional integrity in editorial commentary by a reputable newspaper, it becomes imperative for the Commission to provide necessary clarifications for the information of the reading public. After all, the 19thCentury British journalist, publisher and politician, Charles Prestwich Scott, gave the world the enduring axiom that ‘comment is free, but facts are sacred.’    
The editorial commentary in question castigated the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, for pointing out recently that all political parties were breaching the rule setting a 90-day timeline for the commencement of electioneering campaign. Section 99(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) stipulates the timeline, and INEC at one time issued a public statement calling the attention of political gladiators to that provision of the law. In the statement, the Commission also called on security agencies to help enforce compliance. Ever since, the Commission has engaged with political parties at different fora to press for compliance with this law. Indeed, it had occasion in some states to request politicians to remove billboards and posters that were in violation of this law.
But THISDAY is unimpressed with all these, because “it is the duty of INEC to enforce compliance,” as the editorial states. Sure. But how exactly does the Commission go about this? Of course, it has the constitutional mandate to prosecute electoral offenders. But should it, as a priority, take on the litigation of all the political parties that are in violation? Adding that to the sheer quantum of electoral offences waiting to be prosecuted – with its severely limited capacity for the task, and where the Electoral Offences Commission that has been recommended is yet to see the light of day? Should that be INEC’s preoccupation now over and above the task of perfecting processes for ensuring credible elections?  Or should the Commission go about physically intercepting offenders of the campaign rule, when law enforcement is not within its brief?
INEC has been exerting all the moral suasion it can muster on political parties concerning this matter; leaving the option of prosecution as a last but, hopefully, avoidable resort. The Commission is indifferent to identities of gladiators involved because it is an impartial and dispassionate umpire of the electoral process. It is interesting that THISDAY, which demands of INEC the enforcement of compliance, has not been exactly notable in calling the offenders to order – with all the leverage of the media voice it has. The Commission has always pointed out that the task of ensuring compliance with global best practice in our electoral process is not for her alone, but that for all stakeholders – including the media.
The editorial would have made its mark if it sticks with the challenge of getting politicians to play by the rules for electioneering campaign, which it set out to highlight. But it suddenly veered into a castigation of the entire track record of the present Commission. The opening sentence of the last paragraph signpost the editorial’s verdict: “Even when the commission has been heavily funded, records do not indicate that the value of the elections conducted under Jega’s watch has matched such heavy investment.” But one could ask if THISDAY is suddenly coming to a spurious awakening; because in its editorial comment on December 23rd, 2011, it said inter alia: “INEC has so far justified the faith of most Nigerians and the international community in its current leadership, at least to the extent that for the first time in ages, an election was conducted in our country and was universally adjudged as relatively transparent. As a former Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) president and respected academic, Jega has shown quite clearly that he can match theory with practice. But as he himself recently admitted, there are rooms (sic) for improvement.”
The latter comment by the same newspaper, as quoted, is by far closer to the truth concerning the current state of electoral process in this country. INEC is sparing no effort to ensure that the credibility of the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, as well as the 2015 general election not only surpasses that of 2011, but will be in full compliance with global best standards. To that end, the voter register has been progressively polished and is among the best you could find anywhere on the African continent; the voting process is being increasingly insulated against abuses by unscrupulous persons – especially with the use of chip-based Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) that will be swiped with card readers in the forthcoming elections; the logistics delivery of the Commission is being perfected and is increasingly automated; and the staff of the Commission are being increasingly professionalised and their capacity enhanced.
Sir, the verdict on INEC’s leadership posted in your editorial commentary on Thursday, March 27, 2014, smacks of revisionism of the insight earlier shown by your paper concerning the electoral process – for whatever reason you are about it. But the Commission will not be distracted; it will keep doing its level best to ensure high integrity and credibility of Nigerian elections. It will help in no small measure, however, if your newspaper joins in this effort and plays its expected role towards achieving the goal.
Thank you.
Kayode Robert Idowu
Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman

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