The Upper Crust

INEC’s jinxed system



I didn’t believe it was happening. Nevertheless it will be naïve to state conclusively that one didn’t see it coming, however, my hope was that whatever issues there were could be and should have been sorted long before the waiting game commenced night of Friday last week. Presidential and National Assembly elections were scheduled for February 16, 2019 long before this year. The first test of that timeline is what has now become a shifted process, leaving millions of Nigerians in unmitigated hopelessness and anger. The announcement for the adjusted timetable for the election was made around 2.30am on Saturday, the day first scheduled for the election.
During his briefing to elaborate on what caused the shift, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mahmood Yakubu was emphatic that logistics and some safety concerns were responsible for the shift. He also hinted that after the conclusion of the general elections, every stakeholder must sit down and have a conversation about the whole gamut of election management in the country. This hint is at the heart of the matter. It is evident that there’s a structural problem within INEC or election management generally in Nigeria that requires honest discussion. We will return to that on a later date, but suffice it to say that our electoral management systems both at federal and state levels are set up and funded to be partisan.
Back to now, the explanation by the chair of INEC wasn’t quite compelling for me.
Two issues stand out. One is the time the very moment the shift was announced and second are the reasons adduced. I have a big issue with the early morning announcement of the shift. Every project manager must have timelines for delivering on set goals. There’s hardly any organisation or individual who manages expectations that will not run into hitches. So I can cut INEC some slacks, however, knowing that you won’t deliver as promised cannot be at about four hours before an event. You should have known 48 hours prior. It is difficult to persuade me to think otherwise. It makes all of us look stupid if delivering on logistics had to wait till few hours to voting before realising that it wasn’t feasible any longer. A ball was dropped!
Reasons such as incomplete election materials, mix-up of materials in some states and acts of violence, including arson in three states could not have been plausible if other variables were good. In the case of Anambra for example, INEC had assured the nation that it had made contingency arrangement which had worked. So bringing that reason back as part of why the election was moved isn’t clear to me. I sympathise with INEC over the deliberate sabotage of some of its operations; nevertheless, they were not enough to call off the process. Not at the time it was called off. I reckon that there could have been more serious matters that the commission isn’t prepared to share with the public at the moment. I may be wrong.
Another thing I have noticed is dearth of information management at the commission. Nobody, I’m sure is speaking for the election manager of the nation at the moment. Sometimes they say a media aide to the chair, at other times, a national commissioner in charge of information and voters’ education speaks. Both are not qualified. INEC should have a robust public relations department under the leadership of the commissioner in charge of information as highlighted earlier. We have had strong PR or media unit before at INEC. The time when Tony Iredia was there was brilliant, one wonders why such times was abandoned for this mediocre information management system they have adopted. It looks too ad-hoc, naïve and amateurish to me. This is why at such anxious moment such as last Friday, even before it and going forward, Nigerians were left to speculate.
It’s also suspicious that information about the postponement was already in the public domain hours before INEC chair announced it. This is why his explanation that they were still hopeful as at 2.00am on Saturday is not tenable. Media houses quoted INEC sources to authenticate their stories. This is a betrayal of the nation. Whatever those snippets of information was meant to achieve has not portrayed the leadership of INEC in good stead. You give out information suggesting a shift to your media friends, then leave it late to tell the nation about a decision you had taken? This is typical of a system that lacks strategic communication experts in its fold.
Now that the shift has occurred in spite of my reservations, I think that it is important to not get contaminated by partisanship that has filled the air. Political parties will always attempt to outdo each other with propaganda. You will find a party that called for the head of the chair of INEC in the morning, but in the evening blames his opponent for wanting to relieve the umpire. Politics is also about manipulation of emotions. In spite of this, it is INEC’s role to ensure that confidence is restored among the electorate. How they do that will rest largely on the delivery of fair process by Saturday. It will be ridiculous if by Saturday we are saddled with the same issues as raised by INEC which necessitated the shift in the first place. There was minimal tension before the no-event of last week, a sharp contrast to what was obtainable in previous election cycles; with the shift however, anxiety is viewing, tension has returned because the people are now suspicious of the process. INEC’s system is broken, it’s jinxed. Who will fix it?  Nevertheless, let’s be hopeful.

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