By Devaan Mom
As Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission pulls itself together for yet another shot at the postponed Presidential and National Assembly Elections come February 23, many a Nigerian probably wears furrowed brows of perplexity. Not because of the postponement per se but rather in stupefaction at the commission’s seeming inability to learn from past blunders.
Election postponements are commonplace in Nigeria.
A quick flashback shows that in 2011 voting had commenced when the exercise was deferred. The then INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega, cited unavailability of voting materials, inadequate security and glitches in logistic arrangements as culprits in the ensuing debacle. Elections were postponed from the 2nd of April to the 16th and 26th, giving the organization ample time to gird its loins. Things subsequently proceeded smoothly enough.
But if Nigerians had hoped this embarrassing state of things would lead to a better prepared INEC four years later, they were sadly mistaken as in 2015 a plethora of ills again plagued the commencement of elections as and when due. True, the introduction of the card reader, a new piece of technology aimed at reducing incidents of malpractice, had just been introduced.
But thrown into the mix yet again was another batch of troubles. The almighty concerns revolving around adequate logistics, security issues and deployment of materials were named as reasons why the Commission was experiencing difficulties. Indeed, in this instance the security chiefs pressed for the postponement.Elections were shifted by six week.
Fast forward to 2019. Already twice bitten, Nigerians asked over and again the possibility of postponements and received assurances each time that everything was in order… till a few hours to the elections when the chairman, this time, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made the largely dreaded announcement: elections had been shelved from the 16th of February to the 23rd.
It was not the kind of message most Nigerians had hoped for. The knee-jerk reaction was outrage. Many called for the chairman’s sack or resignation. This was soon followed by suspicion. Election periods tend generally to be a time of high tension and great anxiety in Nigeria. This has been no different. The fact that some PDP supporters, had broken the news on social media a cool 48 hours BEFORE the commission itself thought to tell Nigerians there was cause for concern has left many examining several conspiracy theories: Is the commission hand in glove with the lead opposition party, the PDP? Had the chairman been pressured into postponement by the Federal Government? How were PDP supporters able to accurately “predict” the postponement? Is this postponement aimed at giving one or the other party an edge over others? Will voter apathy lead to a low turnout as a result of the deferment?
So many pertinent questions. Not very satisfactory answers.
Apparently in addition to mix ups in electoral materials, several persons had been arrested with already filled voting sheets showing winners in a few opposition states.
Then we can’t quite ignore a rumor making the rounds that ALL the Resident Electoral Commissioners had been bribed with huge sums of money. While this is yet to be verified, it would not be far fetched as the 2015 elections yielded several INEC officers who got greedy and are currently standing trial for misconduct during the elections.
What about ad-hoc staff who again were not adequately planned for, especially regarding accommodation arrangements? Options provided included unlit school classrooms, open fields and offices. A truly unpalatable situation.
It must be noted that Nigerians are required to vote where they are registered. So, your place of residence might not necessarily have much bearing on where you wind up casting your vote if that was not where you registered or have changed addresses. People naturally found themselves criss- crossing the country to perform their civic duty. A good number of these Nigerians travelled in from outside the country, no mean feat regarding time, money, and the all too infamous “logistics.” Describing those caught in such situations as frustrated would likely be the understatement of this year.
However, before Prof. Mahmood Yakubu is crucified for “gross incompetence”, we must acknowledge the fact that the office of the INEC Chairman is easily one of the most sensitive and one of the most embattled particularly in the run up to elections. Indeed, it is generally believed that Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s predecessor, Prof. Jega, may have averted an insurrection when, on the day the 2015 elections were to be announced, a top-ranking member of the PDP did all he could to cause trouble in the hall, a flame quickly doused by Jega’s taciturn handling of the matter.
Whatever the case may be, now that the dust has died down, well-meaning Nigerians including the President, Muhammadu Buhari, and the Presidential candidate of the PDP, Alh. Atiku Abubakar, have since urged the electorate to remain patient and orderly as INEC puts its house in order. It’s a piece of advice we trust will be heeded to avert any further delays or unrest.
As Prof. Mahmood Yakubu does his best to weather the current storm, he will need to rely on enormous inner strength and equanimity. This will arguably be an extremely challenging next few weeks in his career.
▪ Mom, a journalist and politician is the Director Public Affairs of the Jime/Ode Campaign Organization, Benue State.