There was something unsettling, destabilising and embarrassing about the announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission that the long-awaited 2019 elections were postponed by one week.
The first reason was that the postponement came just a few hours to the commencement of voting on February 16. People had taken all the necessary decisions concerning the elections. Those who resided in towns or states far from their places of residence had travelled out to vote. They had expended money, time and other resources for the sake of the election. Those who transacted businesses on Saturday had shelved all that because of the elections, and therefore lost the expected revenue. And there were also petty traders who had invested in products like drinks, water, and snacks they would sell close to polling units – these traders saw their hopes dashed. Most schools had closed and students in boarding schools taken home by their parents and guardians. The airports, seaports as well as all Nigerian borders were closed.
According to the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Muda Yusuf, the postponement of the presidential election by INEC cost the nation about $1.2bn because of the disruption of activities across the states.
If the postponement had occurred days before the scheduled day, people would have adjusted to it. Even up to two days to the elections, the Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, was still assuring Nigerians that INEC was fully ready for the elections.
The second point was that it occurred in the dead of the night: about 2am. People associate things done late in the night as sinister because they are shrouded in secrecy. Nigerians woke up on Election Day to hear that the elections had been postponed. It was too abrupt. And for an election many were eager to have concluded, it was a huge disappointment.
There were also those who had cancelled and shifted social events such as weddings, burials, and the like from the original date of the elections. They moved these events to this coming Saturday, on the assumption that it would be free. Now they have to shift their events with no compensation from any quarters.
There was the fear that the postponement could be a sign that INEC would not be able to conduct a credible election. Before the elections, many people had expressed fears that INEC did not seem capable of conducting an election in which the electoral materials would get to all voting areas in time, and the election would be conducted seamlessly, results collated transparently, and final results announced truthfully.
Even though INEC chairman blamed the weather and logistics for the postponement, he also noted that sabotage compounded the problem. He said inter alia: “Apart from these logistical challenges, we also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage our preparations. In a space of two weeks, we had to deal with serious fire incidents in three of our offices in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu‘an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and our Anambra State office at Awka.
“In all three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents. In lsiala Ngwa South, hundreds of PVCs were burnt, necessitating the recompiling of the affected cards and reprinting in time to ensure that the affected voters are not disenfranchised. I am glad that all the cards were quickly reprinted and made available for collection by their owners.
“ln Qu’an Pan Local Government Area, our entire office was razed, destroying all the materials prepared for the elections; printed register of voters, ballot boxes, voting cubicles and several electricity generating sets. Registration Areas and over I00 polling units were affected by the fire. We recovered quickly and have since replaced everything destroyed. In addition, we secured a suitable building from which to conduct the elections.
“Perhaps, the most serious was the fire incident in our Anambra State office at Awka, which destroyed over 4,600 Smart Card Readers being prepared for the elections. These Card Readers take at least six months to procure. Despite this setback, we have practically recovered from this by mopping up every available spare SCR across the country and within 24 hours delivered them for elections to hold in Anambra State.”
However, while INEC was being blamed for the postponement, allegations were peddled back and forth between the two key political parties: the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. The PDP accused the APC of trying to sabotage the elections by not allowing government agencies like the Central Bank of Nigeria to cooperate with INEC in the delivery and storage of electoral materials, with the hope of forcing INEC to postpone elections in some states and making the APC re-enact what happened in the re-scheduled governorship election in Osun State last year. The APC accused the PDP of orchestrating the postponement because it was not ready for the elections, citing the six-week election postponement the PDP as the ruling party did in 2015 with insecurity as its reason.
The consequence of this postponement is that it worsened the image of Nigeria as a country that finds it difficult to take care of simple and routine tasks. It shocks the world that an oil-producing giant like Nigeria cannot refine its crude oil and has had to depend on importation of refined petroleum products for decades. The same issue occurs in Nigeria’s inability to generate and transmit electricity to the nation to oil the economy, or its inability to maintain hospitals and provide adequate healthcare for its citizens, or maintain its schools or roads or airports and so on.
The argument raised by many is how INEC can be trusted to solve all the problems that stalled the elections and be ready for the elections in one week, when it could not solve all these problems and be ready in four years. The accusations from both parties against INEC have not helped matters. How independent is the Independent National Electoral Commission? Can it withstand the pressures from both parties and be neutral in such a critical election? And what if INEC fails to live up to expectations? What will be the consequences?
Nigerians have waited patiently and anxiously for these elections, especially the presidential election. They believe that it will decide the direction of Nigeria. Most Nigerians want it to happen and be put behind them. Therefore, the image of Yakubu is at stake to ensure that he and his electoral team do not disappoint Nigerians. He has been given all he asked for. Nobody will listen to any excuses for failure.
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