Typical of INEC!

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Mahmood Yakubu
Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Yesterday’s postponement of the presidential and national assembly elections is characteristic of the Independent National Electoral Commission, writes Olawale Olaleye

For three consecutive elections – 2011, 2015 and 2019 – the eventual resort to postponing elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) almost at the shortest and disrespectful notice is becoming a familiar but nasty practice, not when the INEC had the luxury of four years to prepare for the elections.

In 2011, whilst voting had begun in some parts of the country and others struggling to settle down, the announcement came that the election had been postponed and a new date chosen. The reason for the postponement was basically logistics. Crass! The helpless Nigerian voter therefore watched as INEC got away with that ‘rape’ occasioned by its own incompetence.

Again, in 2015, after all had appeared set for the presidential election, so much that the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) was already playing with the date of the election as a fondly campaign slogan – FeBuhari – INEC mooted the idea of postponement, this time citing security reasons.
And true to their plan, that election was moved also by a week. INEC, which had four years to prepare for the exercise fumbled, but got away with taking Nigerians and the world for granted and nothing happened.

At an emergency meeting late Friday night, which spilled into the early hours of yesterday, the INEC leadership had decided that it was unable to go ahead with the elections again, citing logistics reasons. Weeks before Friday, INEC had boasted that come rain or shine, the elections would hold as scheduled.

But all of that changed within minutes, which necessitated an emergency meeting, in the course of which the idea to postpone the election was mooted, perfected and announced.
Now, there is something about the INEC leadership, which exposes its sheer incompetence, dating back many years that this joke of postponement was first toyed with. And because nobody had been sanctioned when it first started let alone see it as what it is – competence – it is fast becoming part of the nation’s electoral culture to postpone the first bout of the elections, either on the day of the election or just a few hours to kick-off.

This chosen path by the INEC leadership has, sadly, reinforced the joke on Nigeria as a rather unserious country, which does not pay attention to the most important things but devotes time, attention and resources to frivolities. Whoever has four years to prepare for an assignment and on the day it was meant to deliver fails, is not fit to continue to hold such an office, much less one as sensitive as INEC.

Apart from being grossly insensitive to the importance of this election as well as its cost implications, this particular INEC leadership has since assuming office, left no one in doubt about its capacity to deliver a good job. With its first set of assignments declared inconclusive for a long time, it left not many in doubt that it could also through sheer indiscretion set the nation on fire.

It was actually one of the reasons that retaining Professor Attahiru Jega, former INEC boss, immediately after the 2015 election was an idea many had embraced, because there was an evolving improvement through the window of time, which suggested that had he stayed back, he would have perfected the process so much that the nation could have embraced a near-perfect system at this election. But Jega was too much in a hurry to go as if he did some kind of wrong that couldn’t see him wait a day more.

Yesterday’s postponed elections, being the first bout of the series that was to initially continue on March 2, were the most important, because they involved election into the nation’s top job as well as those at the national assembly, who operate within the same three arms zone in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

Postponed now to February 23, while the second round is now billed for March 9, there was no doubting the fact that the election was a choice between the Peoples Democratic Party’s Atiku Abubakar and the All Progressives Congress’ Muhammadu Buhari. Although not a very exciting one, it was the reason it was described as a choice between two evils.
Needless to say that the election had been trailed by different polls many of which predicted an Atiku victory, the handlers of the incumbent, Buhari, had also tried to spin some polls, which equally tipped their candidate as likely to win the election.

But the rather fascinating angle to the battles of pollsters was that all those who predicted an Atiku victory actually predicted Buhari’s too in 2015, including this newspaper (THISDAY), which has continued to maintain a dignifying intervention in the nation’s political and electoral process at every turn.
Whilst the issues defining the election of 2015 were strategically reduced to a tripod of the economy, security and corruption, which by implications challenged the ability of Jonathan to address the core of basic demands of governance, the short walk to this year’s election was largely controlled by the narrative of capacity and some pan-Nigerian concerns.

And in what seemed to support many of the predictions that tipped an Atiku victory, the former vice-president had secured critical endorsements from the least likely quarters in the run-up to the poll, the same way Buhari stole the momentum from Jonathan and became the issue in the countdown to 2015.
Of course, as the incumbent, just the same way Jonathan was goaded on even in the face of imminent defeat in 2015 – Buhari’s support base had continued to savour unceasing cheering, dismissing and discarding Atiku’s alleged momentum, including the polls as unlikely to translate into votes.

Those nuances would not have been relevant again had the election held and results announced. If Atiku had eventually won as predicted, it would have meant that regardless of his alleged and perceived shortcomings, the Nigerian people resolved to try something else that “could get the nation working again”.

But if the incumbent, against all expectations, had been re-elected, it could have meant too that for the second most critical time in the world’s political history, pollsters failed, coming after the Donald Trump victory, and that their predictions might no longer be bankable. It could also have meant that in spite of his palpable inadequacies, Nigerians still chose to embrace the next level.

What would have been most important was for all sides to accept the outcome of the election, regardless of who won. Predictions or no predictions, Nigeria is bigger than each of the candidates and the results, expectedly, could have been seen as reflecting the voices of the Nigerian people for as long as the process was free, fair and credible.
However, since the elections have been moved upward by a week, the expectations are not likely to change much, more so that the jury is still out on an ugly choice between the two evils. Finger crossed!