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Intrigues Of A Postponed Election

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CHIBUZO UKAIBE, writes on the schemings, blame games and backlash that trailed the postponement of the general elections

The backlash is heavy. Electorates were stunned, angry and disappointed. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is perplexed and humbled for shifting the general elections after months of chest-thumping on its preparedness to have a far better outing than the last four years. But the polity, much like in 2011 and 2015, was thrown into a frenzy of blame game and despair.

After a long and intriguing wait on the eve of the much-anticipated election, the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, declared a postponement of the election by one week.

Yakubu, who cited logistics and operational glitches for the shift, told newsmen at the commission’s headquarters after about six hours marathon meeting with the National Commissioners, that the postponement was inevitable.

“Following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan and the determination to conduct free, fair and credible elections, the commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible.

“Consequently, the commission has decided to reschedule the Presidential and National Assembly Elections to Saturday, 23rd February 2019.

“Furthermore, the Governorship, State House of Assembly and FCT Area Council election is rescheduled to Saturday, 9th March 2019.

“This will afford the commission the opportunity to address identified challenges in order to maintain the quality of our elections,” Prof. Yakubu said.

He said it was a difficult decision for the commission to take, but necessary for the successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of the nation’s democracy.

He added that the commission will meet key stakeholders to update them on this development today (yesterday) at 2pm at the Abuja International Conference Centre (ICC).

Indications that the much-anticipated election would be postponed on security grounds has  resonated days before the election. First, the back and forth between the All Progressives Congress (APC) led federal government and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on plots to scuttle the election had sent a worrying signal, analysts opine.

What’s more, the disposition of some APC members, especially a governor over the measure of intervention by the international community in the polls was also insightful.

The most intriguing indication of possible shift of the polls had emerged with the sequence of fire attacks of INEC offices in Abia, Plateau and Anambra States in space of 12 days, inspite of assurances by the Police.

Two other incidents had also raised concerns, one was the attack on the convoy of the Borno State governor, Kassim Shettima as well as an attack on the eve of the election in Kajuru, Kaduna State where 66 people were allegedly killed.

Alas, the election was postponed on grounds of logistics. The PDP and CUPP had first raised the alarm over the logistic crisis that was brewing as materials arrived states for the election less than 12 hours to the election.

The PDP accused the INEC of hoarding the presidential and senatorial elections result sheets.

The party in a statement also alleged that PDP agents are being denied the INEC accreditation and identification cards, “ostensibly to shut them out of the election monitoring process and allow the All Progressives Congress (APC) a field day to manipulate the process.”

The statement signed by PDP national publicity secretary Kola Ologbondiyan, said its monitoring and intelligence show that INEC has been distributing sensitive election materials in most states of the federation without the Presidential and Senatorial elections result sheets.

“The development is already heightening tension and suspicion of underhand method by the commission to open the elections for manipulations and allow the APC to enter fictitious results for onward transmission to collation centres.

“Intelligence available to us indicate that this is part of the plot for which President Muhammadu Buhari’s relation by marriage, Mrs. Amina Zakari, has been retained as the head of the INEC collation Centre.

“The PDP therefore cautions INEC to show its impartiality by immediately releasing the Presidential and senatorial elections result sheet as well as the accreditation cards. Any further delay will be a clear recipe for crisis as Nigerians are already highly agitated over the matter.

“INEC should note that Nigerians are very anxious about this election and any action that, in anyway, portrays or tends to portray the process as being manipulated is capable of triggering a crisis of unprecedented proportion in our country,” the PDP declared.

The CUPP took the cue. Its national spokesman, Ikenga Ugochinyere, had also declared that election materials were stolen and burnt in over 10 states.

He said “armed bandits and security forces have aided the stealing of ballot boxes, papers, card readers and sensitive materials in 10 states, the latest being the stealing of ballot papers meant for Niger State.

“We alerted Nigerians earlier of this plan to sabotage the election by either stealing or burning election materials with the purpose of having election conducted on a separate day in those areas to give room for government to intimidate voters and weaken the opposition strong holds.

“Let the International community place a global arrest warrant on Buhari’s security forces who have allowed the activities of bandits to overrun INEC efforts by stealing and burning election materials. The inability of the security forces to protect INEC materials and distribution channels is an act of treason which must be dealt with accordingly.

“We reject any move to conduct any staggered election in any part of Nigeria. I repeat, Opposition rejects and will not accept any attempt to conduct staggered election in any part of Nigeria.”

The coalition of civil society organisations also raised an alarm over logistics crisis. The coalition under the aegis of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room expressed concern over reports of delay in the distribution of election materials in several parts of the country by INEC.

A statement by the convener of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo, said reports reaching them indicate inadequacy in the deployment of materials for the polls.

“Against the background of assurances given by INEC on its preparedness, this current situation comes to us as a disappointment.

“Situation Room calls on INEC to be upfront, truthful and transparent with the Nigerian people with respect to the challenges they are facing that may affect the polls. The Situation Room wishes to state categorically that any assessment or decision by INEC regarding the polls or challenges with materials must be made with respect to the whole country and not in any way focused on some parts of the country.

“Any suggestion that the election be held in a staggered manner will be totally unacceptable, and would be a recipe for a disastrous election. INEC owes it to Nigerians to provide clear explanation on why we are having conversations about deployment of materials in this late hour. The credibility of election depends not just on the efficiency of INEC to manage its processes but also in its ability to communicate honestly with the stakeholders.

“We call on all stakeholders especially the political parties to approach any challenge this process throws up with patriotism and commitment to peaceful and legal resolution of conflicts.”

Before long, reports started emerging of challenges in distribution of logistics. There were also claims of withholding of result sheets in some states, while materials sent to some states were mixed up with other states.

Reactions to the postponement have been diverse. But the INEC has been at the receiving end for the shift. This is in light of the fact that the commission received its funding as it requested.

For the election, a total of N189 billion requested by INEC to conduct the 2019 general elections was provided and N45 billion was provided for the commission under statutory transfer.

However, this is not the first time elections are postponed in Nigeria in recent times. The National Assembly elections scheduled for April 2, 2011  had commenced in states such as Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu when the former INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, announced its postponement on the  ground deployment of electoral materials.

Four years later, Jega would move the elections again, this time by six weeks following pressure from the security chiefs who said they needed time to “diminish Boko Haram”.

Just like during Jega’s tenure, Yakubu had assured that all was ready for the election until the postponement was announced. Also, like previously shifted elections, the insinuation that forces behind the scene forced the commission to postpone the poll keeps gained traction in some quarters.

Buhari, Atiku react….

The two leading candidates in the race, President Muhammadu Buhari of APC and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar of PDP, were both displeased with the postponement. Chibuzo Ukaibe writes.

Buhari, in a statement from his home state of Daura, Katsina State where he had gone to cast his vote said, “I am deeply disappointed that despite the long notice given and our preparations both locally and internationally, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the Presidential and National Assembly elections within hours of its commencement.”

He said, “Many Nigerians have traveled to various locations to exercise their right to vote, and international observers are gathered.

“INEC themselves have given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections.  We and all our citizens believed them.

“This administration has ensured that we do not interfere in any way with the work of INEC except to ensure that all funds were released to the commission.

“We now urge INEC to ensure not only that materials already distributed are safe and do not get into wrong hands, but that everything is done to avoid the lapses that resulted in this unfortunate postponement, and ensure a free and fair election on the rescheduled dates.

“While I reaffirm my strong commitment to the independence, neutrality of the electoral umpire and the sanctity of the electoral process and ballot, I urge all political stakeholders and Nigerians to continue to rally round INEC at this trying national moment in our democratic journey.

“I, therefore, appeal to all Nigerians to refrain from all civil disorder and remain peaceful, patriotic and united to ensure that no force or conspiracy derail our democratic development.

“I have decided to move back to Abuja to ensure that the 14.00 hrs meeting called by INEC with all stakeholders is successful,” he said.

Atiku, on his part urged Nigerians to come out en masse on the new dates for the election to vote.

Atiku in a statement he sent from Yola, Adamawa State, accused the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government of instigating the postponement of the election in hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turn out is low on the rescheduled date.

The PDP candidate who said the Buhari administration has had more than enough time and money to prepare for these elections, described the postponement as a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob.

He added that since Nigerians have tolerated the maladministration of this government for four years, they can extend their tolerance a few more days and vote them out.

The statement said, “As you know, the Independent National Electoral Commission has announced a postponement of the elections until 23 February and 9 March respectively.

“The Buhari administration has had more than enough time and money to prepare for these elections and the Nigerian people were poised and ready to perform their civic responsibility by voting in the elections earlier scheduled for Saturday, 16 February, 2019.

“This postponement is obviously a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob. By instigating this postponement, the Buhari administration hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turn out is low on the rescheduled date. Nigerians must frustrate their plans by coming out in even greater numbers on Saturday, 23 February and Saturday, 9 March respectively.

“Knowing that the Nigerian people are determined to reject them, they are desperate and will do anything in their power to avoid their rejection by the Nigerian people.

“Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further anti-democratic acts.

“As such, I call on all Nigerians to be patient. We have tolerated the maladministration of this government for four years. We can extend our tolerance a few more days and give them our verdict via our votes.”

He urged Nigerians to maintain peace and be law abiding.

“Do not react to this provocation with anger, violence or any action that might be exploited by those who do not want this election to hold. Remain calm. We will overcome this. You can postpone an election, but you cannot postpone destiny.

“Please come out to vote on Saturday, 23 February and Saturday, 9 March respectively. Frustrate those who do not want this election to hold by coming out in very large numbers. That is the best antidote to their plans,” he said.

The blame game….

As the report of shift filtered in, the two leading parties, APC and PDP, accused each other of masterminding the postponement.

The spokesman of the APC presidential campaign council, Festus Keyamo blamed PDP for the polls postponement. He also lambasted INEC.

He said “We condemn and deprecate this tardiness of the electoral umpire in the strongest terms possible. President Muhammadu Buhari had since cooperated fully with INEC by ensuring EVERYTHING it demanded to conduct free and fair elections were promptly made available to it. This news is therefore a huge disappointment to us and to our teeming supporters nationwide and around the world, many of whom have come into the country to exercise their franchise.

“We do hope that INEC will remain neutral and impartial in this process as the rumor mill is agog with the suggestion that this postponement has been orchestrated in collusion with the main opposition, the PDP, that was NEVER ready for this election.

“We note that all the major credible demographic projections have predicted a defeat of the PDP and it seriously needed this breather to orchestrate more devious strategies to try and halt President Buhari’s momentum. It did the same as the ruling Party in 2015, when it realized the game was up, by orchestrating the postponement of the 2015 elections by six weeks. Now, it may be up to its old trick again.

“We have earlier raised the alarm that the PDP is bent on discrediting this process the moment it realised it cannot make up the numbers to win this election. We are only urging INEC not to collude with the PDP on this. We are truly worried because as early as Friday morning, some known PDP Social Media influencers unwittingly announced this postponement, but quickly deleted the message and apologised to the public that it was fake news. We do not want to be forced to a situation of announcing our  total loss of confidence in INEC, because we know where that would leave our democracy.

“It is in the light of the above that we wish to appeal to Nigerians and our supporters to be patient, calm and resolute despite this temporary setback. Let us not give anyone, especially the PDP, the opportunity to plunge this nation into a crises, which is what they earnestly desire. Its imminent defeat is just a few days away.

“Lastly, we wish to draw the attention of INEC and the world to observe that the PDP has clearly and openly said it plans to announce parallel results through some funny device it has procured or developed. We wish to re-iterate that it is ONLY INEC that is legally and constitutionally empowered to declare results and it constitutes an offence for anyone to do so. We urge INEC to SPEAK UP NOW and warn the PDP to desist from this ignoble act that is capable of plunging the nation into a crises of immeasurable proportions,” he said.

National chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secondus replied. He said that the shoddy arrangement for this election by INEC is a deliberate pre-determined agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari to cling on to power even when it’s obvious to him that Nigerians want him out.

Secondus said that the postponement which is part of a grand design by APC to thwart the will of Nigerians at all cost, clearly exposes INEC as a failure and called on the Chairman of the Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu to resign immediately.

The PDP leader warned that the party will not accept anything short of a well organised electoral process devoid of manipulation, harassment and intimidation of voters and the opposition particularly members of the PDP.

The national chairman said that the APC in connivance with the INEC have been trying all options including but not limited to burning down INEC offices in some states and destroying of electoral materials to create artificial problems upon which to stand for their dubious act.

A statement from the national chairman’s media office signed by Ike Abonyi said, “With several of their rigging options failing, they have to force INEC to agree to a shift in the election or a staggered election with flimsy excuses pre manufactured  for the purpose.

“For the avoidance of doubt the PDP sees this action as wicked and we are also aware of other dubious designs like the deployment of hooded security operatives who would be ruthless on the people ostensibly to scare them away.”

He said that by the action of the President he has further demonstrated his insensitivity costing the huge cost after Nigerians including those who came home from abroad have all mobilised to their various constituencies.

The national chairman recalled that the PDP had earlier alerted Nigerians that the APC was coming up with lined up rigging strategies including burning down of INEC offices and engineering crisis in PDP strong hold areas to scare away the people.

The opposition political platform, CUPP also blamed President Muhammadu Buhari-led government and security agencies for postponing the election, saying that they deliberately sabotaged the INEC in a bid to rig election using staggered election.

In a statement by its spokesperson, Ikenga Ugochinyere, CUPP said Buhari and security forces sabotaged distribution and safety of election materials.

He said INEC chairman showed courage by shifting the election to avert national bloodshed and dirty polls while accusing the APC of being bent on proceeding with the election after compromising distribution and destroying materials in over 15 states.

He said “The Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, believes strongly that the desperation of President Muhammadu Buhari and his men to win the presidential election by all means caused this last minute postponement of the election.

“In their bid to once again foist an unpopular government on Nigerians, they threw caution to the winds and started setting electoral materials on fire in states that are well known to be strongholds of opposition.

“These acts of sabotage, no doubt, ruined the preparations of the Independent National Electoral Commission for the elections.

“We have raised the alarm many times that agents of the government were working hard to ensure that elections are not held or are declared inconclusive in areas they know that the All Progressives Congress will never win. We have been vindicated.

“We blame the international embarrassment this last minute postponement has caused the nation on the President, the desperate leaders of his party, APC, and the nation’s security agencies who failed woefully in their duties to protect electoral materials and INEC offices from attacks by these enemies of the nation.

“We call on the security forces to sit up and ensure that these enemies of democracy are not allowed to have their ways again.

“We make bold to say that with the postponement, President Buhari’s judgement day with the people has just been shifted .

“INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has shown courage by shifting the election to avert national bloodshed because we are aware that APC wanted to proceed with election after compromising distribution and destroying materials in over 15 states,” he said.

Beyond the exchange between the two leading parties, pundits and analysts have continued to express divergent views over the postponement.

Their reactions questioned the due diligence systems of the commission, it’s ability to manage and mobilise resources as well as its failing to carry stakeholders along in the electoral processes.

While most of them regretted the postponement, they blamed INEC and external forces for the situation.

Country Officer and Head of Nigeria Office of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Udo Jude Ilo, while knocking INEC for the shift, said excuses that such postponement happened in the past does not mean it ought to happen again.

Speaking on a live TV programme, he said, “yes election was postponed in 2011 and in 2015. But it is inexcusable. We should be ashamed of ourselves that we are making same mistakes again. We can’t get used to incompetence in management and deployment of materials for elections.”

On the advise going forward, he said “We first have to admit that what has happened is an unavoidable setback. But we have all committed to this process. INEC is the only body to hold election. Parties are angry but we must channel all that to make the process work.

“We should see how we can see how to ensure the process happens the way it should. INEC has to honest forthright and present their plans to ensure things go properly.”

On his part, executive director of CISLAC, Awual Musa, made an allusion to external influences that affected INEC’s work.

While he noted that the situation will not deter them from supporting INEC to succeed, he added “There are invisible forces responsible for the Postponement. INEC is presently independent but these kind of decision cannot be taken without the influence of some forces. INEC can be the one to blame but it is not INEC’s decision alone.

“INEC won’t come and tell you some forces contributed. But only stakeholders can tell you about the influence of other forces. One of the reason this continues to happen is the absence of sanctions against those who are responsible for the failures like these.”

He added “I am sure people who contributed to this national disgrace won’t be punished. We might experience more disgrace if we continue this way.”

He however lamented that the situation has taken a toll on the Civil society  groups and international observers who have spent resources.

Head of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA), Samson Itodo, on his part said “we are very disappointed with the spate of things because we are faced with postponement on grounds of logistical challenge.

“Nigerians need to know what the logistical reasons are. INEC needs to manage it’s communications properly.”

He said long before the press conference by INEC which held very late, the civil society were aware of the challenges in the logistics.

“At what time did it (INEC) discover that they have logistical challenge? Why did it take the commission so long to hold the conference? I think the commission should have come up earlier to tell us about the logistical challenges.

“Alot of NYSC members are stranded. This is unacceptable but the country needs to move on and INEC needs to explain what has happened.”

On the shortages of materials and arrival of materials, he said there is need to look internally and audit what happened with it’s logistics plans.

He however added “our patriotism will be tested in these times. We can’t continue with this template of poor logistics managment. It is embarrassing for a country like Nigeria especially with the background of it’s peculiar challenges.”

On Young people and the postponement, he said “My call to young Nigerians as much as we are disappointed and frustrated, we need to look at it with more hope that it would be better.

“It is better to have a delayed election than one whose credibility would be doubted. It would have been a disaster if we had continued because of the logistic challenges.”

The head of Centre for Transparency Advocacy, (CTA), Chima Amadi, said he is disappointed because the scenario was avoidable.

He however noted that postponement was anticipated in light of recent events in the country including INEC offices being burnt down and card readers being destroyed in Anambra, Plateau and Abia States. “These things have consequences,” he added.

Alluding also to the external forces making it difficult for INEC to do its work he said, “power trumps institutions in Nigeria. Where were the security to provide cover? Where were the security when these office were being torched? INEC was faced with a situation where it had to go for lesser evil.”

He however believed the commission should have communicated earlier. “They have to communicate effectively,” he said.

“I won’t cast aspersions on INEC, it’s independence is dependent on the actions of other institutions. Security forces are not in direct control of the INEC. Police provides security and protection for materials. It wouldnt be too good to totally blame INEC,” he said.

Political analyst, Wale Oluwade, who also lambasted INEC for shoddy preparation and poor management, however expressed optimism that it won’t lead to voter apathy.

“He (INEC chairman) told the world that all the monies needed has been received everything was going on smoothly. If we can’t put a man on the moon, can’t we conduct a simple election? What is the big deal about logistics? The hierchy at INEC didn’t they plan for it,” he said.

On possible apathy, he said “it will not work to suppress voter turn out, there is an excitement to vote in this round of election. Nigerians were waiting for today to come out in their millions to vote. I am optimistic that they will come en masse next week,” he said.

Counting the cost…

The Postponement was always going to come at a cost. Elections are never cheap, especially when they are cancelled almost midway.

And in climes like Nigeria where all economic and social activities are suspended for the election, the strain on the economy is huge.

For this election, schools were closed, offices, which do business on Saturdays were locked, revenues lost. The sacrifice for such would have been the conduct of the election.

For INEC, despite the massive hiccups in deployment of logistics, it was always bound to result in huge cost. Mobilsing for elections don’t come cheap, from transportation to overall well being of entire staff in the electoral process, the commission would have spent a huge fortune.

However, such contingencies are usually made in the face of elections.

The time and resources put in by foreign observers for the election is almost unqualifiable. The international community had moblised in their numbers, perhaps in relation to how keen this election had shaped up to be.

But for the political parties and the candidates,  it is back to the drawing board. Logistics will need to be doubled as they would be saddled with the herculean task of rallying their supporters to return next week.

Media owner, Dele Momodu, in a tweet said, “I pity the foreigners, media crew, election monitors, who are already on ground to work, and suddenly nothing for them, if postponed. Also, the candidates are worried about the safety and sanctity of the machines and ballots… Serious nightmare!!!”

President, National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTs) Mr Ken Ukaoha, estimates that the country will lose more than N140 billion due to the postponement of the general elections.

Ukaoha told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the postponement would affect the trading sector adversely.

He noted that many traders did not open their shops due to the election.

“I am not talking of the manufacturing sector, transporters and the farmers; even workers were asked not to go to work.

“We need to be adequately prepared for elections,” he said.

Ukaoha noted that the postponement would affect the economy adversely in terms of money that the government, political parties and ordinary Nigerians had already expended on logistics and otherwise.

According to him, the government would have spent the money to address issues such as infrastructure, health, education and payment of workers’ salaries.

Possible gains…

Despite the cost, it would seem like the shift affords the commission time to do more senstisation ahead of the polls as well as allow for more PVC collection.

Oluwade who alluded to this said “INEC has got to reassure voters to go and find their polling units and create more windows for people to get PVC.”

He added “INEC has got this one week window to engage in massive eligthenment campaigns. And assure Nigerians who traveled to ensure they participate.”

Much more, it is expected that the commission will tighten all loose ends with regards to deployment of staff and logistics such that all hitches will be promptly addressed.

But with the postponement comes more pressure and an expectation that this election will, perhaps, be the best yet.

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