Space scientists who discover planets and extraterrestrial bodies capable of destroying the earth do not wait until they see them very close on their large telescopes before they take them seriously. By the time they see the giant bodies close to the earth it will be too late for the life planet. Rather, they look for signals out there, even if it is a little sound, small motion or a tiny speck of light, indicating something which they will subject to a detailed examination. That is their job. If they do not see anything that catches their attention, we are safe. If they do, they would know no sleep until they handle it. Professor Jega and his new INEC must take the same approach towards future elections.

However, Jega, unlike NASA, does not have radars and telescopes to capture such signals that would determine the success and failure of his task. He only has ears and eyes, laws, INEC staff, security and law enforcement agents – the last two being only a probability but most likely part of his problem. We Nigerians should be his radars and our eyes should be his telescopes. We are everywhere, equally worried, ready and vigilant. We must be ready to report to INEC headquarters any signal that our radars are able to pick up in the dusty political space that would endanger future elections. The old guards are still there, we must not forget. They are ready to win the game by using partial referees and foul play. Now that we have an INEC leadership with many credible members on its team, our vigilance would be the most invaluable assistance we can render to ensure their success.

This piece is an alert on one of such signals that my radar was able to pick up in our political space here in Bauchi. Some things are happening that are making me uncomfortable. The Bauchi by-elections will be the guinea pigs for Jega and his team. I will narrate the story as it is, allowing the reader to make up his mind on the issue.

Friday, 30 July 2010
Around 8.00pm (!) INEC Bauchi office invited all political parties to come and receive invitation letter to a meeting on Monday 2 August 2010 and a notification letter that will enable them receive nomination forms for their candidates the same Monday. The Secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) was among those who collected the two letters that night. Everyone left for the weekend waiting for Monday, 2 August 2010.

Sunday, 1 August 2010
Alas. Nomination forms were distributed on Sunday without any notice. Specifically, the nomination forms of CPC for senatorial by-election was collected by Musa Garba Dass from the local INEC legal officer without showing any INEC notification letter for the collection of the forms as stipulated by INEC a day before.
The news that INEC has issued nomination forms to Musa Garba Dass in recognition of Barau’s faction of CPC quickly spread in Bauchi. The State CPC executives that were in far away Daura paying a courtesy call on Buhari who lost his sister two days earlier also heard the news. They smelt a rat. One of their sympathizers who happened to know some federal INEC commissioners contacted one of them and complained. The commissioner linked him up with the Federal Commissioner supervising Bauchi, Col Hamanga (retd) and the Bauchi REC was promptly contacted. He said he gave the directive for issuance of the forms over the weekend. Hamanga got back to the sympathizer and promised that things will be sorted out.

Monday, 2 August 2010
The new Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, in Bauchi, Mr. Ilya Yakubu, paid a courtesy call on His Excellency, Governor Isa Yuguda on Monday 2 Agust 2010 at the chamber below the Governor’s office. He reported to the Monday meeting with political parties an hour late.
Representatives of political parties converged on INEC office in Bauchi. The Chairman of CPC presented his invitation letter and demanded for the nomination form of his party. It was also announced at the meeting that CPC would not be allowed to participate in the Gamawa House of Assmbly by-election because it was not registered when the by-election was cancelled last year and this one is just a continuation of the former.
When CPC chairman protested, the REC said he could go to court and seek an interpretation! However, it is allowed to participate in the Bauchi South Senatorial by-election that was coming up on the 20 August 2010, in less than three weeks from the time.
He was told that it was issued to Musa Garba Dass. The leader of the illegal faction, Shehu Barau, was also there. He claimed that he is the approved leader of the party and prevented the meeting from moving forward. The REC broke the meeting and invited both Barau and the CPC chairman, Mallam Ibrahim Karamba, to his office. There, Barau continued with his ranting. The REC then demanded that a letter signed by the national chairman of CPC be produced recognizing any of them. The CPC State chairman said there is already such a letter in INEC file which was delivered to INEC over two months ago. It was sent by the party headquarters recognizing him as the State Chairman of the party alongside thirty-one other exco members. Yet, the REC insisted that Karamba must produce a fresh letter addressed to him (the REC) and signed only by the National Chairman of the Party. Only then would he retrieve the form issued to Dass and issue him a new one.
It was already Monday afternoon. The parties were only then formally informed that next Saturday 7 August has been fixed for the State Assembly by-election at Gamawa and that they should fill the forms and return them to INEC, Bauchi latest 4.00 pm on Wednesday, 4 August 2010, that is within 48 hours.
CPC’s fate was left hanging until it produces the letter.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010
CPC was able to tender the fresh letter duly signed by its chairman around 12.00 noon on Tuesday. It was taken to the REC. The executives who accompanied the letter were kept waiting uninformed of anything for four hours. The REC did not attend to them. As they waited, they again contacted INEC national headquarters to complain of the delay. Finally, at after 4.00pm, they were asked to receive their nomination form at the INEC Legal Officer’s office. They met Shehu Barau on the way to the legal officer, ostensibly after concluding that the forms will be given to the State Chairman. They collected the forms and started the battle for primaries which much be concluded within 24 hours.

Wednesday 4, August 2010
No party apart from the ANPP was able to meet the 4.00pm deadline. CPC concluded its adhoc primaries ala PDP around 9.30pm and started the process of meeting the requirements of INEC especially getting 10 nominees each from 2/3 of the local government areas in the senatorial zone that spanned over 200kms. At about the same time that night, INEC started issuing warnings on radio to all parties that any party that has not returned its nomination form by that midnight stands disqualified. CPC submitted its form before noon the following morning under the understanding that it was issued the form only late Tuesday.

Thursday 5, August 2010

I visited the INEC office to hear from its officials about what transpired between them and the CPC and check on the antecedent of the REC. He told me that he delayed the issuance of the form two days ago to CPC even after the letter has arrived in order to get a verbal confirmation from the National Chairman of the party that he indeed signed the letter. So he spoke to National Headquarters of INEC, which contacted the National Chairman of CPC who then gave the confirmation.
I asked him if all parties have met his deadline. He said yes. “Aah? Including PDP?” I asked, knowing full well that it is yet to complete its primaries even as at when I was speaking to him after 4.00pm that Thursday. He answered, “Yes, including PDP.”
I also confirmed from him that he was appointed an INEC Resident Commissioner by Obasanjo and he has served at that capacity in three states – Plateau, Benue and Nassarawa – before coming to Bauchi recently. He was Sardauna’s press secretary in early 1960s; then he became the first editor of the Nigerian Standard in Jos under JD Gomwalk; then the first Chief Information Officer of defunct Gongola State; then a senator for four and half years during Shagari regime. He is well over 70 years. He has seen a lot, achieved a lot and, apparently, learnt a lot during the past 50 years.
At around midnight PDP concluded its adhoc primaries with Adamu Gumba, a former Customs boss, clinching the ticket, over 24 hours after the INEC deadline and over 8 hours after the REC told me that it has also submitted its forms!
Baba Ilya, the ex-senator and now REC in Bauchi, was reported in the dailies last saying that his INEC is committed to free and fair election in Bauchi. I believe him. But going from what I have seen so far, I am bound to ask: Free and fair to whom? To PDP or to all parties? The election in Gamawa will be a walkover for the PDP since the rival ANPP is comatose without Buhari and the new active CPC has been technically blocked from participation on a flimsy reason.

Friday 6, August 2010
As I concluded this piece this Friday noon, I was unable to confirm whether PDP has yet submitted its nomination form or not. Will it be accepted by INEC when it finally does?
I rest my case, my dear reader. May God save Jega’s project from rigging by intrigues. From this little story, there is a speck of light in distant space for the new INEC radar to detect. God bless Nigeria.

•Dr. Tilde Aliyu writes from Bauchi State.