By Olalekan Adetayo
February 16, 2019 was long ago set aside by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the presidential and National Assembly elections. The electoral body, political parties and other critical stakeholders did not leave any stone unturned in preparing for the day.
Political parties and their
It started like a rumour on Friday evening that the elections might be postponed. Not a few persons described the information as fake news, especially coming less than 12 hours to the polls. But as it later turned out, it was real. INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, at a press conference in the early hours of Saturday, formally announced the postponement which he attributed to logistic problems.
The 2019 elections would not be the first one to be shifted in the country. In 2011, Prof Attahiru Jega had to call off the conduct of the National Assembly election a few hours into the exercise when it was discovered that election materials had not reached most parts of the country when other areas had concluded accreditation for the election.
Also, in 2014, a simple but loaded statement by the then National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd.), at Chatham House, London, that the 2015 elections might not hold due to security reasons, manifested in full flesh when the elections were shifted by more than one month – from February to March – due to security concerns in most parts of the North-East.
The postponement of the latest election had generated more heat as a result of the timing of the announcement and the belief that INEC had the time and resources to save the much traumatised Nigerians the pain of witnessing another agony of an election postponement and its attendant costs.
Insiders told SUNDAY PUNCH that the three cases of fire recorded in state offices of the electoral body recently contributed to the shift in the election date. The source had specifically cited the case of the fire in Awka, Anambra State, where 4,695 card readers were burnt. He said all efforts to mop up extra card readers from other locations to replace the burnt ones did not yield 100 per cent success.
The source also said harmattan haze being witnessed in parts of the country lately also affected preparations. He explained that some aircraft conveying election materials to some parts of the South -East on Friday could not land because of poor visibility. The source added that the aircraft had to land in Port Harcourt, thereby raising a big challenge of moving the materials in trucks by roads to the states they were meant for.
Expectedly, the postponement has attracted divergent reactions. The leading political parties – the APC and the PDP – have accused each other of being behind the postponement. The Presidency and INEC itself are not spared in the blame game. Some have even called for the resignation of the commission’s chairman.
The Executive Director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, Faith Nwadishi, is of the opinion that some persons within and outside INEC sabotaged the system, resulting in the postponement which she described as unfortunate. She wants a proper investigation that will expose the suspected masterminds. Nwadishi stated, “We call on INEC to ensure proper investigations with a view to bringing those who sabotaged the process to book. We are aware that resources have been committed into these elections.”
The National President, Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy, Igbini Emmanuel, said it was disappointing to hear about the postponement. Emmanuel, however, disagreed with those calling for Yakubu’s resignation.
He said, “I appeal to Nigerians to be patient and encourage the INEC chairman and his team to further explain to Nigerians the reasons they took this decision. We should listen to them with open minds in order to make well-informed reactions.
“The whole world knows that Nigerians are very intelligent and patriotic people who can never be fooled by anyone or group of people. If INEC meant well for all Nigerians, we shall know from their further explanations in a few days to come. But whatever it is, we are sure that our beloved country, Nigeria, shall overcome all and must rise again.”
Two of the groups accredited as election observers are the Anglican Dioceses of Lagos, Lagos West and Lagos Mainland. A member of that team, Tunji Oguntuase, told our correspondent that over 200 observers had already been deployed by the church to monitor the elections before the postponement was announced. Oguntuase said a lot of resources had been committed to the project in form of accommodation and transportation, among others for observers. “This is a sad development. A lot of resources had been committed into this project. If we that are local observers can feel it this way, what happens to international observers who have spent a lot on flight tickets to Nigeria and accommodation? Many of them would have even made arrangements for return flight tickets before leaving their countries. How will they adjust to this change in dates?” Oguntuase wondered.
Also, a non-governmental organisation, Yiaga Africa, had, in a statement by its Executive Director, Samson Itodo, described the postponement as disappointing. “This postponement is without doubt an indication that the commission might have overestimated its own capabilities and/or underrated the challenges associated with the management of election logistics,” it said.
The group however said while the anger over the postponement was understandable and expected, it understood that the decision was in the interest of the country.
Despite the strenuous attempts by the electoral umpire to justify the postponement of the polls, the latest development has left so many questions unanswered. Observers have wondered why INEC must wait till a few hours before the commencement of the polls to know the problems militating against the exercise.
It is strange that the commission did not know the challenges that it faced as of Monday to know that yesterday’s exercise would be difficult, if not impossible, to hold with the problems it had faced in the last few days. Others have not minced words in submitting that INEC had been ill prepared all along for the polls; the only thing being that this lack of adequate preparation manifested when it was costly and had become a national embarrassment.
Painful as the decision to postpone the elections may be, the decision has been made. Nigerians can only hope that the new dates will no longer be changed and that despite this initial setback, INEC will still endeavour to deliver free, fair and credible elections. This is the minimum required of the commission.