It is no longer news that most Nigerians, including the President of the country, President Muhammadu Buhari, was shocked to the their bone marrows when the Presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for February 16, 2019 was postponed at the eleventh hour by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
INEC moved the elections to Saturday February 23, 2019, while the governorship, state House of Assembly elections and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) area councils’ elections earlier scheduled for March 2, was moved to March 9, 2019. These postponements were despite the assurances by the INEC leadership up till Friday February 15, that the elections would go ahead as planned. The INEC cited logistic challenges as the core reason for the postponement. Nigerians, however, thought that there had to be more reasons for the shift on elections’ days. It was therefore not surprising that all eyes and ears was at the Abuja International Conference Centre where INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, was billed to explain in details other reasons for the postponement of the elections at a stakeholders meeting held on Saturday, February16.
Let’s be clear about this. This is not the first time that general elections has been postponed in Nigeria. Indeed Nigeria’s recent electoral history since the return of democracy in 1999 after decades of military dictatorship have been replete with elections postponements, but this one set a new record, as the first postponement that happened on the day of the elections.
Speaking at the International Conference Centre Abuja, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu said that they were unable to deliver materials to some locations by flights due to bad weather. It therefore had to rely on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air in spite of the fact that INEC created five zonal airport hubs -Abuja (North Central), Port Harcourt (South South and South East), Kano (North West), Maiduguri and Yola (North East) and Lagos (South West) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics. Yakubu said that apart from the logistical challenges, INEC also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage its preparations, which include serious fire incidents in three of its offices in lsiala Ngwa South local government area of Abia State, Quan Pan local government area of Plateau State and its Anambra State Office at Awka. In all three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting their attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents, as the commission had to replace all affected materials, including the Permanent Voter Cards. He recalled that over 4,600 prepared Smart card readers which took at least six months to procure was destroyed by fire at its Anambra State Office at Awka. He said despite this setback, INEC 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.
Yakubu said that the overall assessment of INEC was that if the elections went on as planned, polls would not open at 8a.m in all polling units nationwide, but they were determined that polls must hold at the same time everywhere in the country. In this way, elections will not be staggered. He said this is very important to public perception of elections as free, fair and credible. It is for these reasons and many others that we need not rehearse here that the commission decided to adjust the election dates.
Since the election postponement the electoral umpire has been lampooned by the political parties, major stakeholders and ordinary Nigerians, but the most vitriolic attacks have been coming from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with the two parties accusing the electoral umpire of postponing the elections to favour the other. The national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of allegedly colluding with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to rig the elections. Speaking on Monday, February 18, at a crucial caucus meeting organised by the ruling party following the postponement of the February 16 election, the APC chairman alleged that the commission had brought to the knowledge of PDP the poll shift before any other party. The national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus, also condemned the postponement of the 2019 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission. In a statement by his spokesperson, Ike Abonyi, Secondus described the development as a deliberate plot by President Muhammadu
Buhari to cling on to power even when it has become obvious to him that Nigerians want him out.
While it is a fact that INEC failed to deliver on its assignment on February 16, the electoral body should be given the benefit of doubt to deliver successful elections on the rescheduled dates.
For a country going to a make or mar general elections, it is disconcerting that the two major political parties are putting out statements that suggests that they do not have confidence on the electoral umpire. This is not only worrisome, it is also a threat to our nascent democracy. The two parties are thus reducing the confidence of Nigerians on INEC, which could invariably cast doubt on whatever the outcome of the elections. Our politicians should allow our institutions to work. Governments come and go, but the institutions remain. Africa has been notorious for its strong leaders and weak institutions, which has exacerbated its underdevelopment. To overcome this tragedy, former United States President Barack Obama rightly noted that what Africa needs is “Strong institutions and not strong leaders.” INEC should be allowed to develop to a strong institution that is not dictated to by any other authority other than the laws establishing it. The political actors must have confidence on INEC’s ability to conduct free and fair elections. There are also opportunity for those aggrieved by INEC decisions to seek legal redress rather than blackmailing the electoral umpire on the pages of newspapers and turning the public against this critical institution.
Let’s support INEC to deliver free and fair elections. The INEC chairman and other officials of the commission must at all time do what are right under the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act. Acting within the ambit of the law is what Nigerians and the international community expected from INEC during Saturday’s elections and subsequent elections.