By Dr ANTHONY KILA
THE HONOUR of two apparently distinct and different bodies INEC and the NBA has been clearly challenged by two of their stakeholders and for everybody’s sake these two bodies cannot afford to pretend that the challenge was not thrown. INEC is the Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria’s apex electoral regulator; INEC would like to and does define itself as the country’s main agent for democracy. That is nonsense, at most it is one of the agents, but let us leave such clarifications for another day. They are not the only ones with self-presentation and identity crises.
The Nigerian Bar Association is the umbrella professional association of all lawyers admitted to the Bar in Nigeria. In presenting itself, the NBA places emphasis on being a non-for profit association engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law and good governance in Nigeria. That is very true but their main calling card is that only active NBA Full Members, i.e paying members, can engage in practicing law in Nigeria.
Let us start with the electoral commission.
INEC and its chairman, Professor Jega were recently openly accused by the newly reelected Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomole in relationship to the just concluded elections in that state. The Governor is accusing the Commission and its chairman of logistical incompetence that led to the long delays in distributing electoral materials to designated polling centres. He is also accusing the commission and its chairman of gross administrative and managerial incompetence for deploying a certain Mr Ishmael Igbani, who according to Adams Oshiomhole, has a reputation for presiding over several rigged elections in the region, including Edo State in 2007. The Governor is also accusing the commission and by extension its chairman of deliberately manipulating voters register to create confusion in the state. Oshiomole raised his concerns before the elections and reiterated them after the elections that he won.
These are very serious indictments of the mode of operation of the Electoral Commission and its head the chairman has to clear the commission’s name. Professor Jega has to do more than that, he was called directly into question by the Governor and has been asked by the same Governor to take responsibility for these malpractices. It is a question of honour for INEC and its chairman and they need to do something about.
By repeating these accusations even after he won the elections, Governor Oshiomhole is doing the country a huge service. It is an honourable thing to do and we should all be grateful to him. He could have just pocketed his victory, maybe go on to teach his party members and those close to him how to win elections and leave the rest of the system, the Nigerian system to rot. We all do that when we just take care of our own personal importants but tiny interest and do nothing about the Nigerian system. Of course, sometimes we have no choice but to send our children to private schools, and to go to private hospitals or even go abroad for treatment when we can afford it. Let us be clear, for those that can afford it that is all legitimate, it is human and understandable but the honourable and I daresay noble thing to do will be to raise the flag and to call the attention of those in charge to oversee the failing schools, bad roads and hospitals that are not working as they should do.
Professor Jega cannot let these levels of accusation pass without doing anything about it. He needs to come to save the honour of the commission and indeed his own personal honour. There are no two ways about it Oshiomhole can either be wrong or right but Jega needs to prove it. If the Chairman holds that the governor is wrong then he needs to tell us his side of the stories and better still give us facts to prove the Governor’s allegations are wrong. The people of Nigeria need to be assured that the Chairman of its electoral commission appreciates the importance of his role and that he fully understands what is unacceptable of him and that he is willing to live up to such expectations. In doing so he should reserve the right to denounce and even sue those that accuse him of falling below such expectations. If the Chairman on the other hand holds that the governor is right then he needs to take full responsibility of his misdoings, apologize to all and tell us what he intends doing to redeem himself. Taking responsibility is generally honourable and he needs not worry about further consequence, Nigerians are not only tolerant we are even indulgent.
The Nigerian Bar Association too recently had their elections and sadly Emeka Ngige the defeated presidential candidate of the association is crying foul. He is making very precise accusations in which he is alleging the body that handled the election of gross malpractices and high level of corruption. For a body that calls its members learned and holds the monopoly of legal practice in the land this is unacceptable. The NBA has too little a population and has too important a reputation and stake in the society for the executive to get away with anything below a perfect election. If they want to remain worthy of the status of their peers across the globe then members and executives of the NBA need to feel insulted and eager to defend their honour from such attacks. Emeka Ngige can either be wrong or right but NBA needs to prove it. It is not enough to give declarations to the press; they need to do so with facts and before the law. It is a question of honour for the NBA, if Emeka Ngige’s allegations are wrong then he needs to be disciplined for it but if he is right then all those that are guilty need to be disciplined.