African business, politics and lifestyle
Nigeria’s non-vote: Incompetence or sabotage?
According to the shame-faced head of Nigeria’s electoral commission, one of the excuses given by suppliers who failed to get ballot papers to the country in time for Saturday’s parliamentary ballot was that there had been problems as a result of the tsunami in Japan.
Contractors in Nigeria tend to be pretty adept with their excuses, whether it’s about a failure to fix the plumbing or to build a highway on time, but this one stands out for its audacity.
Whatever the reason for the two-day delay to the vote, it has inevitably put another question mark over the credibility of a series of elections seen as a chance for a break from a history of ballots where fraud and thuggery have been the order of the day.
Because this is Africa’s giant, the conduct of elections matters all the more for the rest of the continent – whether as a sign of what other governments think they can get away with or whether investors can feel more comfortable in improving institutions.
Electoral Commission Chairman Attahiru Jega was enormously apologetic. The academic has generally been credited with independence and with trying to make sure the job gets done well this time.
The chaos now raises doubts over what can be done with ballots that had already been cast – as they had in some places – and what to do with electoral materials now in place. The whole point of delivering them at the last minute had been to avoid tampering.
As well as the disappointment, the delay to the vote was the cause for much hand-wringing. Some Nigerians asked whether their country could organise anything successfully.
“We do not have natural disasters in Nigeria, the only disaster we have is human beings,” commented Timothy Ade, in the Lagos suburb of Mushin.
Some were more sanguine. One Nigerian friend suggested the delay was a promising sign since it suggested the electoral commission actually planned to count ballot papers this time rather than just announce pre-planned results.
But opponents of President Goodluck Jonathan also pointed to possible sabotage and an attempt to undermine the electoral commission – the idea being that the ruling PDP would do better if people could be discouraged from coming out to vote.
Does the delay look like an electoral ploy to you? Can Nigeria hold a fair election? What do you think?