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Polls Shift And The Aftermath

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Nigerians woke up on the morning of Saturday, February 16 to receive the shocking news that INEC had postponed the 2019 presidential/National Assembly elections by one week. ALO ABIOLA writes on the outrage that trailed the deferment of the polls.

The outrage that greeted the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the presidential and National Assembly eletions earlier scheduled to hold last Saturday, February 16, seems unending.

It was the first time all Nigerians will unanimously express displeasure at an action or a decision of the electoral body since 1999 when the country returned to democracy.

This definitely was not the first major election that will be rescheduled or shifted in the country, but the time it came was not acceptable to the people

INEC had in 2011 and 2015 rescheduled general elections and also shifted Edo State governorship poll from September 10 to 28 in 2016, which elicited reactions but not as much as we are witnessing now.

The most annoying thing about the whole scenario is that, the electoral umpire had over 36 months to prepare for the 2019 polls with the date fixed in January, 2018, but at the nick of time, the commission’s chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, came with a shocking news that the polls will no longer hold as schedulled.

Prof. Yakubu had in the early hours of Saturday, February 16 announced new dates for the elections, citing logistics and operational inadequacies.

According to the INEC boss, the presidential and National Assembly polls will now hold on Saturday, February 23, while governorship, state assembly and FCT Area Council elections have been shifted to Saturday, March 9.

However, roads, business centres, shops, stalls, markets and other public places were earlier deserted across Ekiti state in readiness for the polls last Saturday but unknown to many that the elections had been postponed.

Many prospective voters, who were not aware that the elections had been shifted had early in the day moved to their polling stations only to be told that the elections have been rescheduled by one week.

At about 9am, people started trooping to the streets to make their ways to the their places of work as life returned to all areas after the postponement information filtered out.

Motorists, motorcycle operators, taxi drivers also hit the roads in the state capital, Ado Ekiti, and other parts of the state going about their normal daily activities.

Meanwhile, the Buhari/Osinbajo Campaign Council in Ekiti state described the postponement of the elections as a sign that the country’s electoral system needs serious attention.

The Director-General of the council, Dr Olusegun Osinkolu, said it was disappointing for INEC to have taken the action few hours to the commencement of the elections, saying such ought to have taken place early enough.

Osinkolu, who reacted to the INEC’s action in Ado Ekiti on Saturday, added that the All Progressives Congress (APC) would only be appeased if the commission conducts free, fair and credible elections that would suit international best practices come this Saturday.

He said INEC’s action was traumatising as all the contending forces and the Nigerian voters had already prepared themselves for the task, saying such could create apathy among Nigerians.

He said, “Though, we feel highly disappointed by this action, we will take it with calmness if INEC goes ahead and conduct credible polls next week.

“We had campaigned hard and set for the elections only to hear that it has been shifted. We are pained because we are set for victory in these elections.

“Many people traveled from Lagos and other parts of the country to Ekiti to vote in this election. How feasible is their participation in these elections if they decide to return to their bases on Monday?

“We even expected that if INEC would shift the poll at all based on logistics problem it cited, we thought it won’t be more than 24 to 48 hours, why one week?

He, however, urged APC members not to be disillusioned by the action, but to return to the field and campaign hard for President Muhammadu Buhari  and his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and other APC National and state Assembly candidates in Ekiti to emerge victorious in the polls.

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Atiku/Obi Campaign Council in Ekiti State said the sudden postponement of the general elections by INEC will amount to good luck for PDP.

The immediate past Deputy Governor of the state, Prof. Kolapo Olusola, who is the chairman of the council in the state urged Nigerians and the party to remain resolute in their determination wrestle power from the APC candidate, President Buhari.

Olusola, who reacted to the development in Ado Ekiti said, “All things work together for good for those that love God, I believe this sudden postponement will work for our good in the PDP.  They (APC and Federal Government) may have their own plans, but irrespective of their plans, we trust God that all things will work for the good of the PDP in Nigeria.

“I plead with all Nigerians and teeming supporters of our party to be resolute in their determination to unseat Buhari and ensure that they vote Atiku as the next President.

“Buhari has said that nobody can unseat him, I believe that INEC is an agency of the Federal Government, they are independent but at the same time the Federal Government should be concerned about what is happening. We don’t know the basic issues involved but for INEC to have postponed this election shows that they are not prepared for this it.”

Also, the Peoples Party of Nigeria, PPN, accused the President Buhari-led APC government of working towards achieving staggered election, which it claimed would be easily manipulated.

PPN National Chairman, Hon Razak Eyiowuawi, in a statement in Ado Ekiti alleged complicity on the part of the Federal Government and security agencies in the circumstance that led to the rescheduling of the polls last Saturday.

Eyiowuawi called on President Buhari to resign from his exalted position over inability to give Nigerians credible, free and fair elections.

He said, “It is an established fact that postponed elections by INEC is as a result of the complicity by Presidency and security agencies’ inability to provide adequate security for the sensitive and non-sensitive materials of INEC.

“From the carting away in Benue State to the burning of card readers in Anambra, Zamfara and Enugu states and so on can only be achieved when security agencies are compromised. This is a well-orchestrated plan to frustrate INEC to adopt a staggered election in order to achieve their devilish aim of frustrating the process and rigging the masses out.

“We hereby call on Mr President to resign for lack of capacity to give Nigerians free and fair elections. We call on all well-meaning Nigerians to remain steadfast no matter the hardship in order to uproot the tyrannical government in Nigeria.”

Eyiowuawi, who assured Nigerians that there was light at the end of darkest tunnel, said, “INEC should also know that the only way to compensate Nigerians is to allow them have the opportunity to use their voter cards to vote and let the votes count.”

But the state Deputy Governor, Otunba Bisi Egbeyemi, in his reaction expressed confidence that the postponement of the general elections will not stop the APC from winning the polls.

Egbeyemi urged party members not to be discouraged by a shift in the dates of the election, saying victory is sure for President Buhari and other APC candidates in the general elections.

The Deputy Governor, according to a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Odunayo Ogunmola, spoke on Sunday during a meeting with APC members in Ado-Ekiti on the heels of the postponement of the general elections.

Egbeyemi explained that the APC, as a law- abiding party, had campaigned vigorously across the length and breadth of Ekiti and Nigeria and was confident of achieving victory at the polls before the shift was announced.

Describing the poll shift as ‘blessing in disguise,’ Egbeyemi recalled that similar postponement in the 2011 and 2015 general elections resulted in overwhelming victories for the party.

Egbeyemi said, “I want to appeal to our teeming party members not to be discouraged by the sudden postponement of the elections by INEC.

“APC members should see the postponement as an opportunity to plan better, strategize better and work harder to ensure victory for our party on February 23 and March 9 just announced by INEC.

“I believe that our party, the APC, will coast home to victory on the new dates for the elections; the postponement will not stop our victory, it only delays it by a week.”

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, in its reaction to postponement expressed disappointment over reported poor preparatory process by the INEC.

These poor preparations on the part of the electoral body, CISLAC said disproportionately hampered adequate deployment of electoral materials to many parts of the country with resultant postponement, few hours to the Presidential and National Assembly elections.

CISLAC in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Auwal Ibrahim Musa, called on the National Assembly to probe the sudden shift of the polls.

He said, “We call on the National Assembly to, as a matter of urgency, constitute an ad hoc Committee to investigate the sudden postponement to clear INEC of public doubt that her decision was not informed by desperate desires of unjust individuals or groups who want to assume or sustain power by all illegitimate means.

“We condemn such abrupt decision informed by deliberate abuse of independent power that may discredit subsequent position by the Commission as an ‘independent body’ before national and international observers.

“We are concerned by the wastages and losses the postponement would cause the country, civil societies and international community that have committed whopping financial and human resources to deployment and observation missions to ensure free, fair and credible elections that will be acceptable to all.

“Given the large presence of youth deployment for anchoring electoral processes and international electoral observation missions across the country, such abrupt postponement is a huge setback to our nation’s democracy which may breed electoral apathy and distrust at all levels.

“With the new electoral dates, giving the space of a week extension, we are as well worried for the safety, integrity and security of election materials which have been disseminated across the country.

“We demand adequate security for both materials and human resources deployed by the Commission so far to the field to avert susceptibility to violations and attacks by unpatriotic individuals or groups across the country.

“We call on INEC to tender an unreserved apology to Nigerian and international observers, who have committed their time, presence and financial resources to monitor the electoral process with assurance that elections would hold as earlier scheduled. This apology must also be rendered to Nigerian voters who have invested time and resources to sacrifice the day for them to discharge their civic responsibility.

“We demand immediate assurances by the Commission that the new electoral date – February 23rd is certain, and the distributed sensitive materials will be kept under appropriate supervision and security till the new date.

“We further encourage civil society groups, media, and national and international observation missions to sustain surveillance on the electoral process to promote free, fair and credible elections that will be acceptable to all.”

While the reactions that trailed the postponement of the election were on, the Ekiti State office of the INEC hinted on the efforts being made to recall all voting and election materials already deployed before the postponement to its headquarters in Ado Ekiti, the state capital.

Speaking with newsmen in Ado Ekiti on Saturday, the INEC Public Relations Officer in the state, Mr Taiwo Gbadegesin, said transporters and security agents have been engaged for the purpose of bringing back to  the headquarters materials from across the state.

He said, “We have commenced the recall of both sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials back to the INEC state headquarters in Ado Ekiti.

“While sensitive materials like ballot papers and result sheets were taken to the Central Bank other non-sensitive materials were kept at the INEC state headquarters.

“Security agents and drivers have been deployed to all parts of the states to retrieve the voting materials.”

But the state chapter of the PDP was quick to express its reservations over distribution and recalling of the electoral materials brought to the state by INEC for the rescheduled general elections.

The party, while expressing worries over alleged late withdrawal of electoral materials for House of Representatives dispatched on Friday, February 15, 2019 before the postponement, it also alleged discrepancies in the materials deployed.

State PDP chairman, Barr Gboyega Oguntuase, while addressing journalists in Afao Ekiti in Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area of the state on Sunday alleged that materials  meant for the conduct of the rescheduled Presidential and Senatorial elections did not arrive the State until the early hours of Saturday.

Oguntuase said, “Curiously, materials for House of Representatives election were not complete. No result sheets for ward (Form EC8B) and local government (EC8C) as well as result sheets for final collation (Form EC8D) and announcement of final results (Form EC8E).

“Also, there was excess Polling Units Result Sheets (EC8A). The excess were more than two times the number of polling units in Ekiti State.

“This is to say that each of the polling units in Ekiti State had more than one result sheet! This is clear manifestation of INEC intention to rig the election by using the excess result sheets to enter fake results for the APC.

“As at the wee hours of Saturday; only electoral materials for the conduct of House of Representatives (partial), presidential and South senatorial elections were brought to Ekiti, leaving those for Central and North senatorial districts. The materials brought had excess Form EC8A.

“Immediately after the postponement, instruction was given to INEC offices at the local councils to withdraw all the materials already distributed and deposited same with the CBN except the Card Readers, which were said needed to be reconfigured.

“Why did it take INEC officials in some of the local governments up till 7pm to return the electoral materials to the CBN office in Ado Ekiti when directive to return the materials was issued as early as 8am on Saturday?

“Consequently, we are demanding that we be allowed by INEC and CBN to double-check all the electoral materials, more particularly the sensitive materials.”

Responding to the PDP allegation, the INEC public relations officer in Ekiti, Gbadegesin, dismissed the claims, saying that all the sensitive materials distributed have been withdrawn and kept at the CBN office in Ado Ekiti.

He said the commission deployed its vehicles and security men on Saturday to withdraw ballot papers, result sheets and other across the state.

He said, “This (allegation) is not correct. All the materials distributed on Friday have been withdrawn. As we speak, they are in CBN while our smart card readers are here in our office, because they have to be reconfigured.”

Meanwhile, INEC in the state on Monday said it has successfully recalled all electoral material deployed for last Saturday rescheduled polls and deposited in the state branch office of the CBN.

It said the sensitive and non-sensitive materials were inspected at the bank where they were being kept by the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr Asuquo Amba, the Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, chairman in the state, Mr Ilesanmi Omolayo, and representatives of majority of the political parties that will be participating in the election.

Similar inspection will be carried out by the major election stakeholders in the state, before the voting materials are deployed for next Saturday polls.

Amba disclosed that more security men will be deployed to safeguard the sensitive election materials deposited at the bank.

 

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