Postponement of The Presidential Poll: Matters Arising

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The Yakubu-led INEC has a second chance to make a good impression

The Presidential and National Assembly elections were supposed to hold yesterday across the country. But as it had happened on different occasions in the past, dread eventually overtook anticipation when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced a postponement less than six hours before polling. That action threw spanners in the works and raised questions about the capacity and preparedness of the commission. It is therefore our hope that INEC will spend the coming days to put its act together in a bid to meet the essential requirements necessary for free and fair elections.

In announcing the postponement in the early hours of yesterday, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu said a careful review of the “implementation of its logistics and operational plan, and the determination to conduct free, fair, and credible elections, the commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible.” Consequently, the presidential and national assembly elections were rescheduled to hold on February 23 while the governorship and state houses of assembly elections will take place on March 9.
It is a shame that INEC seems incapable of learning any lessons from previous experiences. In 2011, the presidential election was postponed on the day of the poll and in 2015, even though the government in power at the time instigated the postponement on security grounds six weeks before due date, the commission itself was ill-prepared.

We are particularly worried that this development could dim public confidence in the electoral process and dreadfully raise tensions in the polity. That is aside the costly disruptions it has already caused for several people: the schools that are closed, the weddings/burials already planned, the scheduled conferences and those who have had to travel to other locations to vote. We are not even talking of the enormous cost that goes with the postponement estimated to be around N6billion, and the inconvenience for the mobilised National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members many of whom slept under dehumanising conditions on Friday night only to wake up yesterday to the unfortunate news of the postponement.

The challenges ahead are daunting. For INEC to conduct the elections by the rescheduled timetable, it is important for the candidates and leaders of their parties to be mindful of their utterances as well as rein in their supporters. They must also avoid all acts of omission or commission that could lead to violence. This is an election that should serve as a test of our political resilience as a people, an election that should prove the doomsayers wrong and show that democracy is not too frail a plant to survive the Nigerian climate. As late in the day as it may seem, we believe such is still possible.

It is unfortunate that far too much blood has been spilled already. In its election-eve statement on Friday, Election Monitor, an NGO that tracks cases of violence, said since August last year, a total of 122 deaths, 256 people injured in 145 unique incidences were tracked. “These cut across almost every state of the federation with some regions clearly experiencing higher levels of pre-election violence than others”, said the group which listed all the cases with dates and venues.

We understand the competitive nature of this presidential election. Even though 73 candidates are on the ballot, the contest is essentially between the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). All things being equal, a winner is expected to emerge from between these two candidates.

In signing a peace accord last week, both Buhari and Atiku reaffirmed their commitment “to refrain from making or sponsoring public statements, pronouncements, declarations or speeches that have the capacity to incite or cause violence, before, during, and after the elections”.
In the days ahead, it is very important for these two candidates to live up to their words. But the greater responsibility is with INEC that now has a second chance to make a good impression. We hope they realise that there is no longer any margin for error.