Election postponed, hope deferred

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu


It was early in the evening of Friday the 15th that rumours started flying that the Presidential elections slated for Saturday the 16th might be postponed. That official rumour signpost, the ubiquitous social media was abuzz and not a few posts were very certain that INEC would pull the rug from under our feet. Journalists who were monitoring events in Abuja smelt the proverbial rat after they saw INEC officials coming in for a late hour meeting from which journalists were reportedly barred. It was beyond belief, this news that the election might be deferred. Indeed an official announcement by INEC refuted the insinuations early in the evening. So what really happened?

Then came the bombshell announcement by the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu officially postponing the elections which were scheduled to start in a few hours time. “Following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan and the determination to conduct free fair and credible elections,” Professor Yakubu said, “the Commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible”. After announcing new dates for the elections, he concluded that ‘this will afford the Commission the opportunity to address identified challenges in order to maintain the quality of our elections’. Obviously, after Nigerians had gone to bed INEC concluded that they were not prepared for an exercise which they had about four years to prepare for!

Reactions were swift. Ironically both the PDP and APC condemned the postponement, using carefully laced innuendoes that cast aspersions one party on the other. President Muhammadu Buhari who had already arrived in Daura to cast his ballot hopped back to Abuja in order to monitor the stakeholders’ meeting called by INEC for 2pm Saturday. Social media burst with millions of posts condemning the postponement, feeding into a conspiracy theory of official rigging and how once again Nigeria had made a mockery of itself in the eyes of the civilized world. Some fanatics blamed the postponement on the sixteen years of corrupt rule by the PDP. The common denominator in all of this was anger and disappointment with the establishment.

To be sure this is not the first time Nigeria as a state has postponed important elections. We can easily recall the 2011 and 2015 postponements which were palpably security threats to the corporate existence of the country. In 2011 voting had already started in Lagos, Kebbi, Enugu, Zamfara and Delta States before Professor Attahiru Jega then Chairman of INEC postponed the elections because of late arrival of materials in some States. Of course it was a monumental disruption to life and the entire system. The elections into the National Assembly were moved from April 2nd to 4th while the Presidential was held on April 16th moved from April the 9th. In 2015 the presidential elections were moved from February 14th to March 28th. Governorship was held 11th April having been moved from February the 28th. Professor Jega attributed the postponement to security concerns. I remember clearly that the incumbent government was taken to the cleaners by all stakeholders including the current powerbrokers in the APC government now in the opposition.

It is on record that the first general elections in Nigeria held on 12th December 1959 and it produced a parliamentary majority for the NPC though the AG was said to have more votes. In other words we have been conducting elections centrally in Nigeria for nearly sixty years. Elections were held in the First and Second Republics conducted by Nigerians who inherited a structure of competent hands to conduct elections. Why we have continued to make a mess of elections is typical of the Nigerian story.

It does not make sense to justify the latest postponement because ‘this is not the first time and so we should not cry buckets’. This is the attitude that makes us justify or reward incompetence and outright failure to grasp the enormity of tasks. But the failure is beyond the INEC Chairman. We are victims of weak institutions and spineless individuals who operate these institutions on behalf of the rest of us. INEC, we must remember, depends on other institutions to do its job. An efficient transportation system – by road, air and water- are beyond the control of INEC. These are inherently weak and almost nonexistent in some areas. With eighty-four million registered voters the task before INEC is not a small one.

Certainly, the INEC Chairman takes the blame for the fiasco and should accept full responsibility for the botched exercise. What to do with or to him as reprimand is another matter completely. He and his team ought to have foreseen the challenges which came up in the days before the proposed date of the presidential elections. This is why he was appointed- to solve the problems. Conducting elections anywhere in the world and in Nigeria especially is not a tea party. In Nigeria elections happen in a poisoned atmosphere of intense distrust, suspicion, desperation and fear. The people do not trust INEC as an impartial umpire. They look at INEC chairman’s religion, ethnic background, education, and antecedents and place him in a compartment, rightly or otherwise. The gladiators on the field always look for ways and means to rig elections and out maneuver their opponents through fair or foul means. Voter fraud is not peculiar to Nigeria.

But in our clime it has been elevated to an art that compromises the long chain of officials and stakeholders. Elections time is a period of making money, clean and dirty money. The freer the election the less likely people would make money. So, all active stakeholders invariably do not really want a smooth election process. In Nigeria the general wisdom is that the winning party usually out-rigs the loser. Therefore all the parties face the election period as battle-time of rigging in warfare. Indeed rigging and voter fraud are arsenals in electioneering warfare.

INEC should sit up. No Nigerian is happy with the Friday night fiasco. Perhaps if the body had been up and alive to its duties, three days before the 16th the necessary action to postpone would have been taken. In an atmosphere that is already charged, the postponement increases disenchantment. I can bet that quite a number of potential voters who traveled to another location in order to fulfill their civic obligations are not likely to do so next weekend. What is the guarantee that there would not be another hiccup? Besides where are the funds for such luxury? INEC owes Nigerians an apology.

That institution failed woefully and sadly, fingers are being pointed in the direction of the Director in charge of Logistics at INEC! What does this portend? INEC should be told plainly that it was created to solve problems, not to create problems and provide excuses or reasons. Nigerians are simply fed up with incompetence and irresponsibility in the public space! Happily a postponed election is hope deferred, not hope shattered.

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