It’s Never Late to Apologise

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Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU

After so much legitimate mass national and global “fire” and “fury” that trailed the infamous vote postponement statement of INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu (without apology and belated “regret”) it’s time to prepare for 2019 polls.

Like many of the 84 million registered voters and hundreds of candidates (of which am one), I received the news of early Saturday postponed scheduled elections with shock and mixed feelings.

First, with deep disappointment as a voter/candidate who like others was ready with my PVC to exercise his democratic right to vote but could not do so.

Secondly as a convinced democrat, I received the news with renewed optimism that INEC has another one week to put the proper arrangements in order for free, peaceful and fair elections. The Monday media briefing by INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu according to which ballot papers, results sheets among other electoral materials have been delivered to 35 states and FCT by yesterday had further cemented the optimism of most Nigerian voters.

But that is if Professor Mahmood’s assurance word count was not what the great Nigerian legendary Booker Prizewinning author Ben Okri calls “Words said and not meant” in his essay entitled “In A Way of Being”. Certainly our days in recent times have been “poisoned with too many words” by INEC chieftains, “Words that conceal…Dead words”!
Nonetheless my party (the Labour Party) is ready and willing to partner with INEC for successful rescheduled Presidential and National Assembly Elections on February 23, 2019, the governorship, state House of Assembly and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Elections on the March 9, 2019. INEC must improve on its corporate governance by sticking to its rescheduled timetables in order to sustain confidence it has commendably engendered so far in the preparations for the 2019 elections. It was certainly unacceptable that some voting materials are not ready after four years of preparations.

It was also embarrassing that the postponement came so late in the day with all the attendant costs for poor voters who had to travel to and for to vote and costs to an economy coming from economic recession. There was enough notification for 2015 postponement based on security reasons. INEC was right that the postponement was “one difficult decision”, but has INEC given a thought to what the postponement for poor electorate who enthusiastically travelled on modest budgets only to wake up for no voting show? I certainly urge all key stakeholders to bear with INEC for successful polls this weekend. All is well that ends well in the consolidation of Nigerian democratic process. This is the sixth democratic transition since 1999. This transition will be as successful as the past despite the challenges.

All said, 2019 marks another transition year in Nigeria. I am personally proud to witness this historic democratic process-taking place 20 years of uninterrupted democratic process. Yours sincerely is even more inspired to vote because, thanks to INEC with its imperfections, I have my Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC). Having witnessed military dictatorships of varying hues with their notorious restrictions on liberty and freedom, alterations of rules, and violation of trade unions and workers rights, it is exciting to be part of the on-going sixth uninterrupted democratic transitions at federal, states and legislative levels. As Nigerians we can legitimately deserve some self-praise for keeping abiding faith with democracy (with all its imperfections!) for two decades. With as many as 84 million registered voters (almost the population of Egypt!) Nigeria is the biggest democracy in Africa and indeed among the global top 10 democracies. With milestones of six federal and state elections as well as hundreds of local government elections, Nigeria is truly a democracy destination, comparable to South Africa, Brazil, India and Indonesia.

We must refuse to see political doom in the forthcoming elections despite the political fireworks and partisan star-words. On the contrary, we must see democratic hope. All we need is to consolidate on our democratic gains and minimize democratic losses through zero level tolerance to rigging and violence.

In fullest of time, the presidential, National Assembly and state elections are here. The on-going democratic enthusiasm and anxiety is certainly inspiring. Votes must just count. All we need are; the credibility of the electoral register, sanctity of the election time table and rules, independence of INEC, and transparent democratic behaviour of all the contestants. Let there be contest of ideas and policies not battle and conquest of contestants.

These elections are not short of candidates. With as many as 77 political parties and hundreds candidates, the problem is choice not lack of it. The forthcoming elections are about us all Nigerians; uninterrupted electricity supply, physical security of lives and property, social and economic security through job creation, stable exchange rate of the Naira, lower inflation.
Furthermore, when a quarter of Africa’s total populations vote, these elections are also about Africa. In any case Nigeria and Nigerians have promoted democracy in other countries such as Liberia, The Gambia among other countries. However with all the best of efforts by all stakeholders, being mortal allows for some imperfections.
The character and values of chief executives of public and private organisations come to the fore when things go wrong.

It’s is not too late for INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu to learn from President Muhammadu Buhari and apologise to all Nigerian voters for the commission’s shock therapy last minute postponement of a scheduled election. It is wrong to associate “saying sorry” with defeat and poor judgement as Professor Mahmood Yakubu wrongly suggested in his reluctance to say sorry to aggrieved stakeholders.

I agree with Martin Kalungu- Banda who, in his 2007 book entitled leading Like Mandela, pointed to how the legendary Nelson Mandela serially apologised for some mistakes and errors of judgment as a statesman. He wrote: “ We all should strive to do what is right, but our human limitations inevitably make us misjudge situations at times. Always being right is not important. The main thing is to admit when we realise we are wrong, and renew our desire to do better next time. If we are in earnest, we will be believed to note our mistakes and will not find it difficult to apologise for them.

Apology comes from strength, not weakness. Cowards shy away from admitting their errors and make frantic efforts to cover them up. In doing so, they end up expending more energy in a very unproductive way”.

It’s certainly not too late for INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu to apologise for the last Saturday scandalous incompetence.
Even at that, I still identify with the observation of Tryon Edwards that “Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past”. Let there be right actions on the part of INEC from this weekend.
Happy voting and vote counts.

• Comrade Aremu is a Member of National Institute and Labour Party Gubernatorial Candidate in Kwara state.