INEC’s boo-boo

Ms Osasu Igbinedion of “The Osasu Show” asked Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, “Given (the) level of preparedness that you have expressed, is there any possibility of postponement of the 2019 General Election?” He answered: “I can’t foresee any possibility of postponement. We’ve started this a long time ago.”

“INEC is not even contemplating postponement. So, the 2019 General Election (of) February 16 is for the National Elections, and the March 2 (is) for state and the (Federal Capital Territory). And we are prepared,” he boasted:

But, like a thief in the night, Prof Yakubu roused Nigerians up in the wee hours of February 16 to announce that “Following a careful review of the implementation of its logistic 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,” he added, “the commission has decided to reschedule the Presidential and National Assembly Elections to Saturday, February 23, 2019. Furthermore, the Governorship, state Houses of Assembly, and Federal Capital Territory Area Council Elections (are) rescheduled to Saturday, March 9, 2019.”

Section 26 of the Electoral Act provides that “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date, or… as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the commission may postpone the election… and appoint another date… provided such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”

Yakubu pleaded bad weather which affected aircraft flights, logistic problems, and sabotage, for the postponement. Unverified reports also claim that election materials for some states were sent to other states.

Understandably, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party that was handed an opportunity to score cheap political points has reacted to this snafu, and its National Chairman, Uche Secondus, has accordingly made some scathing remarks.

His words: “Having failed in all their nefarious options to enable them to cling on to power, they (All Progressives Congress) and the INEC came up with the idea of shifting elections, an action that is dangerous to our democracy and is therefore unacceptable.”

In a bid to be above suspicion, like the proverbial Caesar’s wife, the ruling APC probably cried beyond its bereavement. Spokesperson Festus Keyamo said, “We condemn and deprecate this tardiness of the electoral umpire…We do hope that INEC will remain neutral and impartial in this process…”

He noted that the PDP “did the same as the ruling party in 2015.” In 2015, INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, taking a cue from the National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Col. Sambo Dasuki, (retd.), postponed the presidential election following pressure from security chiefs who said they needed six weeks to rout out Boko Haram insurgents.

Earlier in 2011, voting into the National Assembly had commenced in Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu states before Jega announced the postponement due to late deployment of electoral materials.

President Muhammadu Buhari, whose permission INEC would have sought before announcing the postponement, cops out. He says, “I am deeply disappointed that despite the long notice given, and our preparations both locally and internationally, INEC postponed the Presidential and National Assembly elections within hours of their commencement.”

And to demonstrate he had nothing to do with INEC’s decision to postpone the elections, President Buhari needlessly said, “I have decided to move back to Abuja to ensure that the (2pm) meeting called by INEC with all stakeholders is successful.”

A friend and advertising guru, Lolu Akinwumi, laments: “What INEC has now created is a huge credibility issue for itself no matter the outcome of next week’s elections. (And) frankly, the INEC Chairman ought to seriously consider resigning.”

Bala Dan Abu, also a friend, and Chief Press Secretary to the Taraba State Governor, gave a rather prescient view on his Facebook page on Friday, February 15, 2019, just one day before the election was postponed: “It’s almost 3pm, and yet materials for tomorrow’s elections have not arrived Taraba… a vast state,” with very difficult terrain.

He continues: “Many communities cannot be accessed except by motorcycles and on foot… Even if the materials arrived now (and they have not), they are unlikely to get to some places before 8am tomorrow, when voting is expected to commence.”

Then, he counsels: “INEC must do something to take care of the loss of time, resulting from these lapses.” Some critics contend that INEC has given the Buhari administration a bad name, like Ibiye’s goat, who lost its left eye, while Ibiye lost her right eye. The Yoruba say that the goat makes it nigh impossible to determine who is being referred to as the one-eyed between the goat and Ibiye.

Some Nigerians took a humorous tack to an otherwise serious issue. They say, “Yoruba people and their greetings. Which one is ‘A de ku ti postponement oo, emi wa a se pupo pupo?’” It means, “Congrats on this election postponement: Many happy returns.”

Others claim that the postponement led to a drab Saturday, with “No wedding party; no burial; no Valentine party; no celebration; no movement; no meetings; and no election!” Some rascally Pentecostal Christians said when Yakubu saw the PVCs, he passed over the election!

But the more serious minded record that the postponement took a toll: students had been sent home; many had travelled to vote elsewhere; small-scale businesses that depend on daily transactions couldn’t operate; and political parties that must continue with their campaigns, as well as foreign observers that must stay longer than scheduled, must incur more costs.

Some critics think that INEC is not exactly a bumbling organisation. They claim it’s in cahoots with either the government or the opposition. They allege that it kept giving assurances that all would be well with the elections, whereas it intended a sabotage. That doesn’t add up; it was sheer incompetence.

This is mid-February, a long time to First of April, or the All Fools’ Day, when it is kosher to pull the legs of unsuspecting family and friends with expensive jokes. But seriously, Yakubu and his men took everyone, including the President (it seems), on a ride.

As much as the suggestion that INEC has a hidden agenda sounds preposterous, one wonders what could have gone wrong. Yakubu’s explanation at the stakeholders’ meeting was bald as it was unimpressive.

President Buhari took the opportunity to read the riot act to would-be ballot box snatchers, and disclosed that his government gave INEC practically all it required. He is shouting to the rooftops that, like other stakeholders, he is waiting to hear what else is new, beside New York and New Jersey.

Prof Yakubu’s wooly explanation may have led to Washington Post newspaper’s innuendo-laden headline, “Nigeria delays presidential election until Feb 23 over unspecified ‘challenges.’” That is a wrong signal to the denizens of the Western capitals. Consecutive postponements of the elections point to a systemic problem that must be addressed urgently by INEC and all stakeholders.

The pessimistic word for those who wonder if the rescheduled elections will hold as planned is that it is not over until it is over.