2019: Implications of another postponement 


By Mumini AbdulKareem

The Bombshell 
Last week, the country was virtually grounded when news of the postponement of the elections filtered in during the early hours of Saturday, February 16, 2019. With the new arrangement, the Presidential and National Assembly elections as well as the Governorship and House of Assembly polls have been shifted to hold one week after, on Saturday February 23rd and March 9, 2019 respectively. The unfortunate incidence, as worrying as it may be, is nothing in negative proportions compared to the catastrophe it has foisted on the polity.
From every part of the geo-political zone in the country came tales of woes and dejection from voters and other staff of concerned agencies like INEC, international observers and other relevant bodies connected with the elections in the country. Candidates involved in the exercise were also not left out of the condemnation that has trailed the action, with INEC as the guinea pig. For the APC and PDP, they have since engaged in finger-pointing and accusing each other of plans to rig the polls in connivance with the commission.
Up till now, many of the citizens still see it as incomprehensible as regards how a commission, in this instance, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that has been given so much with a lot of promises, capitulate at the most important hour to disappoint the citizens and its tax payers after many assurances and dogmatism of its readiness to conduct one of the best elections ever in the country.
Explaining why INEC took such unpopular and shocking decision, the commission’s chairman, Prof Mahmud Yakubu took full responsibility for the humiliation and backlash the country has suffered since the postponement was announced and attributed it to operational and logistical challenges. He added that it was done to have a credible poll at the end of the day.
According to Prof Yakubu, at a news conference Saturday afternoon, the commission had been involved in large scale operations in preparations for the polls that it is therefore not unexpected that such a tremendous national mobilisation of men and materials would encounter operational challenges.
He listed the key challenges to be delays in delivering ballot papers and result sheets, occasioned in part by flight challenges due to bad weather and alleged acts of sabotage. He listed fire outbreaks at INEC facilities that destroyed smart card readers and voters cards adding that the fire at Anambra was the most serious of all which the commission rapidly recovered by mopping up available card readers elsewhere.
If the polls had gone ahead, Prof Yakubu noted, it would have meant some states starting well ahead of others with the implication of the elections being staggered.
“Faced with these challenges, we initially thought that we only required a maximum of 24 hours to resolve the logistics issues involved and complete our deployment for the election.
“This would mean shifting the elections to commence on Sunday 17th February, 2019. However, given the restriction of movement during elections, that could affect many voters who worship on Sunday. While the commission, considering the following Monday, 19th February, 2019 as an option, our ICT department advised us that it would require 5-6 days to configure about 180,000 smart card readers earlier programmed to work only on election day, Saturday, 16th February 2019.”, he submitted.
Same story since 2011 
Be that as it may, what is apparent in this scenario is that the country has refused to learn from its ugly past in previous elections conduct and thus raising the question of whether anything has changed looking at the promise to do things differently by the incumbent administration. For those who have tried to make a comparative analysis of the historical antecedent of INEC and postponement of elections in the past to exonerate the commission, it is so pathetic that over four years down the line since the coming of the present government, things appeared to have worsened especially from the institutional point of view.
According to online news medium, Sahara Reporters in its flashback peace on the development, INEC is operating on a familiar terrain because this is not the first time major elections would be postponed in Nigeria.
“In 2011 and 2015, the commission cited late arrival of voting materials and insecurity, respectively, as reason it postponed the elections it had years to prepare for. In 2011, voting had commenced in some places when INEC ‘struck’ to announce postponement. This fits into the pattern in which the 2011 elections were postponed. In the early hours of April 2, 2011, Professor Attahiru Jega, the then INEC Chairman, announced that the scheduled elections would not go on due to unavailability of materials.
At the time, the commission said the reason for the postponement was “the unanticipated emergency we have experienced with late arrival of result sheets in many parts of the country. The result sheets are central to the elections and their integrity… the Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly elections to Monday, April 4, 2011.” The exercises were again postponed to Saturday, April 16, 2011, for the presidential elections and April 26, 2011 for the state Houses of Assembly and governorship elections. 2015 was not different. Only that time, the commission announced the postponement a week ahead of the scheduled time and gave insecurity as its reason. The commission said since it could not guaranteed protection for its personnel and materials, as well as voters during elections, it agreed to adjust the election calendar for the Nigeria’s security agencies to tighten up lose ends.
Jega said: “Consequently, the Commission has decided to reschedule the 2015 general elections thus: the national elections (i.e. Presidential and National Assembly) are now to hold on March 28th, 2015; while the state elections (Governorship and State Assembly) are to hold on April 11th, 2015.”
One would expect that the electoral commission would have developed a robust anticipatory strategy to militate against sudden postponement of election. However, eight years later, the commission claimed it reviewed its plans hours to elections and realised its own unpreparedness.
When shall we get it right? 
It beats the imagination of many political observers that Nigeria, the largest democracy in black Africa and most black history in the world is still operating at such a snail speed when smaller neighboring countries have demonstrated the capacity to learn and domesticate jet speed technologies to propel national institutions in compliance with 21st century demands. The question that is begging for answer is how come younger countries like Tanzania and Botswana and even Ghana among other democratic countries in Africa appear to have gotten it right and in perspective than Nigeria, the so called African Giant. When is Nigeria going to really come out of this shackles of drawbacks and disappointment in terms of its conduct of elections. Can the country ever get it right, many have wondered?
Voter’s Apathy
Already, the action of INEC has triggered another debate on whether the postponement will not dampen the enthusiasm of voters and reduce the number of people that would come out to participate in the exercise next Saturday. According to the National President of Women in Politics, Mrs Ebere Ifendu while featuring on a Channels television programme “The Verdict” on Saturday night, the postponement will certainly create voters apathy which might give room for manipulation and credibility of the forthcoming election. She added that “INEC must rekindle the confidence of all political parties and stakeholders in the exercise by carrying them along in all its activities like verification of the authenticity of the already sent out sensitive materials and the availability of scare resources to respond to the challenges thrown up by the postponement.
Raising Dust on Credibility
And for leaders like former President Olusegun Obasanjo who has initially accused the ruling government of planning to rig itself into power, his latest allegation citing report of already thumb printed ballot papers will not go unnoticed from the circles of the international communities and diplomatic sphere where he has considerable measure of respect and believability.
In the same vein, foreign partners like the US and EU have cautioned the country to do everything possible to avoid another poll shift. The Federal Government had initially accused the western countries of taking sides with the opposition to undermine the legitimate government in power. But with reports such as the analysis of the impossibility of the statistical data of the Nigerian voters, there may be more tantrums ahead after the election between the government and its foreign partners.
According to a piece by Farooq Kperogi published in Daily Trust on Saturday titled “Nigerians set to go to polls in referendum on Buhari’s first term”, the 2015 poll may have also been rigged.
“As Nigerians prepared to cast their votes, data analysts raised concerns about the number of new voters registered since January 2018, which they said increased by almost exactly the same percentage in each of the country’s states, and suggested that the results of Saturday’s presidential election could be open to mass rigging. Plotted on a scatter line graph, there was a 0.99 correlation across all the states, without a single outlier. According to three separate data analysts, the parity cannot be a coincidence, and two of them called it a “statistical impossibility”. “Only God works that closely,” one said. But other observers said there were other possible explanations for the correlation, including demographics. In itself, it’s not an indicator of any kind of electoral malpractice or manipulation,” said economist Nonso Obikili. He said the correlation in the registration figures across states was “what you would expect, because demographic changes don’t happen very quickly”, the piece added.
To be sure, no matter where the pendulum swings between the major contenders of President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the issue of credibility will occupy a dominant space in the post mortem analysis of the 2019 presidential election.
The masses have every reason to be disappointed in the action of INEC after the exploit of Prof Attahiru Jega as chairman of the commission which saw INEC overseeing the historic defeat of a sitting president in 2015. Now how this will play out when juxtaposed with the statement of President Buhari that “Nobody can unseat me” remains to be seen in the 2019 elections.

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