Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has fixed new dates for the various elections, many still doubt the capability of the Commission to deliver credible, free and fair polls, report MIKE UBANI, BLESSING IBUNGE/JIBRIN MIACHI.
The news hit them like a thunderbolt. Not a few Nigerians, especially voters were visibly jolted by reports of the deferment in the early hours of February 16, 2019, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the Presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled to hold that day.
INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had announced the postponement of the elections after a meeting in Abuja, with bigwigs of the commission, citing logistics challenge.
According to the INEC boss, the Presidential and National Assembly elections were shifted from February 16 to February 23, while the governorship and House of Assembly elections originally slated for March 2, will now take place on March 9.
The postponement of the elections came after millions of enthusiastic voters had travelled to various locations to exercise their civic responsibility.
“I left Aba yesterday (February 15) to Enugu to cast my vote because I registered here, and with this postponement, it means I have to go back to my station, and to come back again here if I have to cast my vote for candidates of my choice.
“INEC should have taken into consideration the cost implication of their action to people like me before arriving at the decision to put off the elections,” cried Onyekwere Maduka, an Aba-based trader.
Anger, disappointment trail poll postponement
Expectedly, there was an outpouring of remonstration following the postponement of the elections; the sixth since 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule.
Not a few alleged that the deferment was a conspiracy between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the electoral umpire to rig the elections.
For instance, in his initial reaction, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, accused President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration of plotting to “disenfranchise the electorate in order to ensure that turn-out is low on the rescheduled date.”
Alhaji Abubakar, however, urged Nigerians to exercise patience and not to be provoked before the new dates announced by INEC for the exercise.
In its reaction, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA) Abia State chapter, expressed total disappointment in INEC.
APGA chairman in Abia, Rev. Augustine Ehiemere, told The AUTHORIY that INEC had failed Nigerians by the sudden postponement.
He noted that some individuals had already travelled to their villages with the aim of performing their civic responsibilities, arguing that the development amounted to waste of scarce resources for such people.
The APGA chairman called for a thorough investigation into the actual circumstances that led to the postponement with a view to ascertaining the true motive behind the action.
Ehiemere who said the action could be a smoke-screen by the APC for a sinister action argued that “there is no
Smoke without fire.”
The senator representing Abia North in the upper legislative Chamber of the National Assembly, Mao Ohuabunwa, expressed rude shock over the development.
He said that the suddenness of the development suggested that it had more than met the eye.
According to him, “Maybe the APC’s plan to rig the elections did not add up,” hence the postponement of the elections.
The Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, in a statement by its Media Director, Emma Powerful, claimed the postponement of the polls was as a result of the unexpected cancellation of poll boycott by its leader, Nnamdi kanu.
He alleged that the INEC action was aimed at enabling APC re-strategise on how to rig the polls as its rigging machine has crashed.
Recall that Mr. Kanu had earlier ordered a sit-at-home as well as the boycott of the general elections in the Igbo speaking areas of the South-East and South-South, on the basis that those areas fall inside the territory of the defunct Biafra.
Dr. Wahap Page Igbohuan, a Kaduna-based legal practitioner, blamed INEC for identifying so late in the day that it had logistics inadequacies.
He called on the electoral umpire to apologise to Nigerians and the international community, especially the foreign observers for the lapses that culminated to the postponement of the elections.
“Everybody should learn to plan and plan adequately. There can be no doubt that what has just happened will affect the outcome of the polls. By and large, the credibility of the polls is being put to test”, he declared.
APC Senator Magnus Abe, representing Rivers South-East senatorial zone, said INEC owes Nigerians a clear explanation as to why it postponed the elections.
Felix Obuah, Rivers state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), alleged that the election was deferred because defeat starred the APC in the face.
According to him, “INEC has only succeeded in temporarily postponing the doomsday for the APC, but the APC’s doomsday cannot be cancelled.
President Buhari expresses disappointment over polls shift
It became somewhat clear that the APC-led administration might not have played any role in INEC’s decision to postpone the elections when President Muhammadu Buhari, issued a statement condemning INEC’s action.
In a statement on Saturday, February 16, President Buhari expressed disappointment over the decision of the electoral umpire to postpone the elections.
The statement reads in part: “I am deeply disappointed that despite the long notice given and our preparations both locally and internationally, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the Presidential and National Assembly elections within hours of its commencement.
“Many Nigerians have traveled to various locations to exercise their right to vote, and international observers are gathered.
“INEC themselves have given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections. We and all our citizens believed them.
“This administration has ensured that we do not interfere in any way with the work of INEC except to ensure that all funds were released to the commission.
“We now urge INEC to ensure not only that materials already distributed are safe and do not get into wrong hands, but that everything is done to avoid the lapses that resulted in this unfortunate postponement, and ensure a free and fair election on the rescheduled dates.
“While I reaffirm my strong commitment to the independence, neutrality of the electoral umpire and the sanctity of the electoral process and ballot, I urge all political stakeholders and Nigerians to continue to rally round INEC at this trying national moment in our democratic journey.”
APC national leader Ahmed Bola Tinubu, clearly tows the same line with President Buhari.
He said in a statement that the deferment of the elections has “clearly provoked significant anger and disappointment among the people.”
According to him, “the voters were ready and INEC should have been equally as prepared and ready as the voters.
“Yet, we ask that the people contain their anger and remain calm. Let no one be tempted to breach the peace because of this delay.
“In the greater scheme of things, a one-week delay is not overly burdensome when compared to the importance of conducting free and just elections in the establishment of representative democracy and good governance in our land.”
INEC gives real reasons why elections were postponed
It became clear later in the day (February 16) why INEC postponed the elections scheduled for last Saturday.
At a meeting in Abuja with stakeholders and the election observers, Prof. Yakubu elaborated on the logistics challenges faced by the commission, as well as gave other reasons that led to the shifting of the elections.
He said: “Unfortunately, in the last one week, flights within the country have been adversely affected by bad weather. For instance, three days ago, we were unable to deliver materials to some locations due to bad weather.
“We therefore had to rely on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air in spite of the fact that we created five zonal airport hubs -Abuja (North Central), Port Harcourt (South South and South East), Kano (North West), Maiduguri and Yola (North East) and Lagos (South West) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics. ”
He alleged that the plan by the commission to deliver fair, free, peaceful and credible polls were sabotaged by serious fire incidents which affected three of its offices in lsiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia state, Qu‘an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and its Anambra State Office at Awka, which destroyed 4,600 prepared Smart Card Readers.
He said: “In all three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents as the commission had to replace all affected materials, including the Permanent Voter Cards.
According to the INEC chairman, the legion of lawsuits against the commission which arose from the nomination of candidates by parties, tended to distract the commission from its normal operations.
He, however, on behalf of the commission appealed to Nigerians and all stakeholders for their understanding on what had been a “a very difficult decision” for the Commission.
He said: “As Chairman of INEC and on behalf of the Commission, we take full responsibility for what happened and we regretted any inconvenience our decision might have caused.”
There is, however, a groundswell of opinion that one week may not be enough for INEC to perfect its operations with a view to delivering fair, free and credible elections.
For instance, there are palpable fears that five to six days may not be enough for the Commission’s ICT department to reconfigure about 180,000 Smart Card Readers earlier programmed to work only on Election Day February. 16.
One week may also not be enough for the Commission to retrieve and thereafter re-deliver all the sensitive and non-sensitive materials already delivered to some states before the election was postponed.
This is not the first time the country will be compelled to swallow the bitter pill of electoral shift in its political history.
In 2011, then INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, shifted the polls citing late deployment of polling materials, after voting for the National Assembly election had actually begun in states such as Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu.
Again in 2015, the country witnessed another postponement of elections for a period of six weeks at the instance of security chiefs who said at the time that they planned to conduct massive military operations in the North-East where Boko Haram had held sway, and therefore, would not muster enough security to safeguard men and materials for the National Assembly and Presidential elections scheduled for February 14, and Governorship and State Assembly elections slated for February 28, 2015.
Consequently, Jega rescheduled the 2015 general elections thus: the National Elections (Presidential and National Assembly) – March 28th, 2015; while the state elections (Governorship and State Assembly) were held on April 11, 2015.
In re-ordering the schedule of the 2019 general elections, Prof. Yakubu obviously relied on the provisions of Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as Amended), which provides thus: –
“Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”
Not a few said that in postponing the election, he acted too late in the day.
“Why should the INEC boss wait till the last minute before announcing the postponement of the general elections,” queried Ibeneme Njoku, a student in one of the tertiary institutions in