Virile democracies are not founded on the ribs of strong men but on the rocks of strong institutions.The times must indeed be uneasy for the Independent National Electoral Commission, the body charged by law to conduct elections in Nigeria. As the gatekeeper under whose watch scoundrels and squirrels continue to scurry into Nigeria`s halls of power, turning an otherwise sanitary space into a mound of mess, there is hardly any love lost between the Commission and Nigerians.
When Nigeria wandered back onto the path of democracy in 1999, Mr. Maurice Iwu was drafted in to chair the Commission. The brutal quest for power from many quarters in a teething democracy proved too much for a Commission and its chairman which soon found themselves knee-deep in allegations and accusations of complicity and conspiracy with electoral thieves and brigands.
Things have since improved for and with the Commission. Technology and an increased awareness of Nigerians to be involved have helped to check some of the problems with elections in Nigeria but challenges remain.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the country has again been sucked into a power surge and wherever one turns in the country, the word on the lips of many is about the 2023 elections. Already, the delegates are having a field day, raking in juicy political harvests as the primaries go down. On their own part, many of those who form the electorate eagerly await the day when their voter cards could be exchanged for some money.
INEC is caught in the middle of the gathering storm. The Commission which can expect itself to be in the crosshairs of Nigerians, the executive, the judiciary, the legislature and the international community as events unfold is still expected to be impartial and independent.
Already, the battlegrounds of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary have been agog with war cries. While the legislators continue to tweak the electoral law, a reluctant executive drags its feet over the tweaks before ultimately seeking the intervention of the courts over key clauses . However, it is events elsewhere that continue to pile unbearable pressure on the Commission. Now, the Commission is tweaking dates, changing horses in midstream.
The Commission had earlier set the online voter registration deadline at May 30 and the physical registration at June 30 while putting June 3, as the deadline for the conduct of primaries by political parties.
Many are yet to do the online registration and with the deadline days away from expiration, INEC has not deemed it fit to extend it. Instead, what it has done is to postpone the deadline for the primaries of political parties hours away from the beginning of the exercise by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
At a time when optics are everything for the Commission, it is in the interest of its own credibility as an electoral umpire that it should not be seen as leaning towards any political party as many Nigerians suspect it is. Part of the reasons Nigeria has now been hastened to the brink of collapse by bad leadership is because INEC has not exactly covered itself in glory in the conduct of its affairs.
Long suspected by Nigerians to collude with the enemies of the country to corrode the choices of the electorate, INEC is seeking redemption in the eyes of Nigerians. Past indiscretions make its journey to redemption a forbiddingly difficult one and the Commission must now clean up after itself. The days when the payers of the piper dictated the tunes must be over for the Commission.
Nigerians want their country to work. They can ill-afford to craft a working country when the Commission tasked with keeping the gates of power is stuffed with chameleons.