Another Case of Dashed Hope

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Mahmood Yakubu
Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu
Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha write that postponement of the scheduled  national elections  close to the Zero-hour has unleashed a gale of anger against the Independent National Electoral Commission and its Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu

Many Nigerians went to bed on Friday, February 15, with a gamut of emotions from fear and doubt to confidence on the outcome of the presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for the next day, February 16.
The fear stemmed from the specter of violence which  loomed large days preceding the scheduled election. The offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the regulatory body for  the elections in some states were razed by suspected foot soldiers of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB). Through its uncrowned hero Nnamdi Kanu, the footsoldiers were directed to disrupt the election process in the South-eastern states. That directive was, however, reversed when Kanu told his votaries that the needs of the group have been met. Whatever these needs were, he did not say.

Cases of kidnappings, violent protests were reported in some states while some persons in possession of election materials were arrested. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo also voiced his concerns over the news of alleged thumb-printed ballot papers in Kano, Ondo and Lagos states at a press briefing on Friday.

“Although, for me, I still have apprehension. If the news of already thumb-printed ballot papers in Kano yesterday; I’ve received news in Ondo today; I have received news in Ikorodu today. If these are true, we haven’t had anything like this before,” he said.

There were also threats from militant groups and others to unleash violence should their desired candidate not emerge winner at the election. Though there are over 70 presidential candidates contesting, only the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are considered the major contestants in the race.
Even without the fear of violence, many Nigerians doubted their votes would count. Therefore, they decided either not to vote or to be indifferent to whoever emerged. Out of the assumed 200 million population, a large number of eligible voters refused to pick up their Permanent Voters Card, though a good number were destroyed in the fire that razed INEC offices.

Those who believed that their votes would count went to bed, assured that the country was gradually inching closer to a true democracy. But all of that hope was dashed when many woke up to the news of the postponement of the election.

Hours before the announcement was made, some media organisations speculated that the election would be postponed as INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu was in a closed door meeting with his staff but many shrugged off the suggestion, thinking it was too close to the Zero-hour. After all, Mahmood had reassured Nigerians on Thursday that the elections would be conducted.

However, at around 2.30 am, Yakubu told the media that after, “careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan” that the commission decided to postpone the presidential and National Assembly elections to February 23, while governorship and state House of Assembly elections will now hold on March 9.
Announcing the postponement of the elections at a time when most Nigerians were dreaming of how they would queue at the polling units to vote for a better nation or apprehending the outcome of the elections shows how inconsiderate INEC is to fate of the masses.

Due to the law that compels Nigerians have to vote where they were registered, many traveled long distances from their places of residence to cast their votes. Even Nigerians in the diaspora came back home to be part of the turning point in Nigeria’s democracy. Businesses were shut down in preparation for Saturday’s election. The Nigerian Immigration Services ordered the closure of borders from 12 noon on Friday, further crumbling business activities. More pathetic was the non-provision of welfare for the ad-hoc staff for the elections, mainly National Youth Service  Corps members who had already moved to the vicinity of their polling units. Businesses wee said to have suffered N2.737tn loss due to the postponement.

It took a while before Nigerians could mute the outrage that swelled from hearing the news of the postponement.

To be sure, it is not the first time elections have been postponed in Nigeria. In 2011, when former President Goodluck Jonathan contested for the presidential seat after occupying the position following the death of President Umar Yar’Adua, INEC under the watch  of Attahiru Jega postponed the election while voting  had commenced in many states.

Again, in 2015, Jega cited insecurity as a reason to postpone the elections by a week.

Condemning the postponement, PDP’S candidate, Abubakar stated that the action was,  “obviously a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob. The Buhari administration had more than enough time and money to prepare for these elections and the Nigerian people were poised and ready to perform their civic responsibility by voting in the elections,” Atiku said in a statement on Saturday.

“By instigating this postponement, the Buhari administration hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turn out is low on the rescheduled date,” he added.

In defense, the APC through the Director of Strategic Communications for the  Buhari Presidential Campaign, Festus Keyamo said:

“We condemn and deprecate this tardiness of the electoral umpire in the strongest terms possible. President Muhammadu Buhari had since cooperated fully with INEC by ensuring everything it demanded to conduct free and fair elections were promptly made available to it. This news is therefore a huge disappointment to us and to our teeming supporters nationwide and around the world, many of whom have come into the country to exercise their franchise.”

He added: “Lastly, we wish to draw the attention of INEC and the world to observe that the PDP has clearly and openly said it plans to announce parallel results through some funny device it has procured or developed. We wish to reiterate that it is only INEC that is legally and constitutionally empowered to declare results and it constitutes an offence for anyone to do so. We urge INEC to speak up now and warn the PDP to desist from this ignoble act that is capable of plunging the nation into a crises of immeasurable proportions.”

While the two parties engaged in a war of words, INEC is yet to apologise to Nigerians for the inconvenience it caused, sparking more outrage. Some have called for the sack of Yakubu for his insensitivity and lack of preparation.

Commenting on the issue the Director of Strategic Communications for Tonye Cole’s  Governorship Campaign in Rivers State, Tonye Princewill said, “ I believe he (Yakubu)  should apologise to Nigerians. Anticipation for the election was at fever pitch and so all eyes were on the INEC. They had to know it, well before they announced it, that this was the most likely outcome. Not apologizing after Nigerians had invested so much, time, money resources and energy is simply not good enough. I hope he does so. It will go a long way to showing his remorse and the remorse of his commission. My only worry is if things were as bad as they looked, then maybe he is saving all his apologies for later, so he can make them all at once.”

Princewill also said he stood by the statements made by Keyamo, stating that the delay exposed the collusion between Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state and INEC.

“Even though the postponement of the elections did not come to me as a total surprise, I was still expecting the INEC Chairman to stubbornly push on and try to force through the elections regardless. I still see disaster come Saturday. Unless we’re on the ballot, the election won’t be smooth anywhere. The God of Rivers state wants justice and He will get it. We have not even had so much as an explanation from INEC.”

Dr. Asukwo Archibong, presidential candidate of Nigeria for Democracy (NFD), linked the failure of INEC to the general incompetence of other government owned institutions. He said, ‘The outrage is now muted. It has become self-pity and self-flagelation. Generally, Nigerians have become cynical about anything with our government. The failure of INEC is not a surprise. After all, NEPA failed, P&T failed, NIPOST failed, Nigeria Airways failed, our transport system has failed, Nigeria railway has failed, National Identity Card has failed, Operation Feed the Nation failed, our refineries have failed, our educational system has failed, our healthcare sector has failed, so why wouldn’t the date for the National Elections fail?

The elections were surreptitiously postponed at the last minute. The initial outrage has turned into wringing of hands, self-pity and self-flagelation. Our elites and politicians have failed us in terms of pushing for the best for Nigeria.

The painful aspect of the failure of  election is the fact that the whole world had its eyes on Nigeria. The so called ‘giant of Africa.'”

Despite the uproar, the paramount question that is yet to be answered is if INEC would ever be fully ready for an election. With over four years and a budget of $522million, it has failed Nigerians for a third time. And again, it is the masses that suffer the recklessness and insensitivity of the electoral umpire.