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25- 04 - 2007

On April 14, 2007, Senate President Ken Nnamani, like most Nigerians, went out to vote on the governorship and state assembly elections but on getting to his Amechi Awkunanaw ward 2 polling centre, around noon, he could not find any electoral official. Earlier, according to reports, he had gone to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Enugu branch, where sensitive election materials were kept and he was assured that the materials had been disbursed. Thereafter, the Senate president went to his polling centre to cast his vote but was shocked to find out that INEC officials had not arrived. Senator Nnamani, apparently in anger, reportedly said he has not only lost confidence in the election, but also felt that the delay has rubbished the entire election. In addition, he canvassed for the postponement of the poll and also said "Nigeria is not yet ready for democracy."

We find it difficult to believe that Senator Nnamani, the number three citizen of this country, made this statement. If at all the Senate President made the statement, we want to believe that the words were either taken out of context or he was outrightly misquoted. However, given the fact that nearly two weeks after it was reported, he has neither denied nor clarified or even made reference to the statement, we want to believe that Senator Nnamani uttered those words in anger. Also, the fact that he had leveled broadside allegations, especially against the military, buttresses our belief. The military, according to the Senate President, was used to rig the April 14 election, an allegation that the Chief of Army Staff refuted.

New Nigerian understands Senator Nnamaniís frustration over his inability to exercise his franchise, but the statement attributed to him cannot be justified. As Senate President, he is the number three citizen of Nigeria and this places a burden of restraint on his utterances no matter the provocation. In addition, we find it difficult to see how his inability to vote and the fact that soldiers fired a few shots into the air to scare voters as he claimed, necessitated his reported weighty remarks. Nnamani, both as a Senator and the Senate President, is a product of democracy.

In 2003, his people sent him to the upper legislative chamber to represent them. Following the bribe-for-budget scandal which swept away his predecessor, he was overwhelmingly elected by his colleagues to lead them. And under him, the Senate has been more focused, very vibrant and more independent. So, we are amazed that such a distinguished personality should make sweeping and weighty generalisations in a feat of anger.

We are not justifying INECís shoddy handling of the exercise in some places. Elections started late in many places, some polling centres complained of inadequate materials and some parties were not even on the ballot paper in some cases. This is against the assurances given by INEC that non-sensitive electoral materials would arrive state capitals on Thursday, while sensitive ones would come afterwards. Election officials, according to INEC, would arrive on time on the days of elections. This promise was observed in the breach in most places and not only in Nnamaniís ward.

However, this lapse does not justify the Senate Presidentís reported comment that we are not yet ready for democracy.

Senator Nnamani knows, democracy is not just about conduct of elections but equally fundamental issues like equity, justice, rule of law, human rights, debates and consensus-building among other things are central to democracy. Sure Nigeria is not only ready for democracy, but it has also been practising it in the last eight odd years, whatever the imperfections.

©2005 New Nigerian Newspapers Limited.