INEC has compromised its right as an independent and trustworthy arbiter, writesLindsay Barrett
Four years of preparation, billions of naira expended, and loud assurances of preparedness notwithstanding Nigeria’s prime organiser of the proposed 2019 polls has displayed an incredible level of strategic impunity as far as its responsibility to the interests of the public is concerned. Its decision to announce postponement of the elections barely four hours before they were due to commence indicates that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) considers its basic commitment to ensure that voters are enabled to exercise their rights to be an expendable objective. If this was not so the organisation would have considered the consequences of its action on the confidence of the electorate totally imperative and absolutely important. In that case once the final hours had approached before the date that had been set for months INEC should have recognised public expectation and assumptions as being the core principles that needed to be preserved and respected. In such a circumstance postponement would have been recognised as being the most unnecessary and unlikely decision that could be taken after the President of the country had delivered a major address pledging that the poll would be free, fair, and proper. For the organisation to allow the public to reach the peak of its anticipation before suddenly halting the process is nothing short of official recklessness of an unprecedented level.
Among the issues that the action has provoked the prognosis that public anxiety will be exacerbated and the question of whether the INEC officials who took the decision actually planned to provoke this anxiety is an important consideration. I am not usually a promoter or supporter of the allegations and sensational assertions that often appear on social media but a list that appeared on my WhatsApp platform intrigued me greatly. It simply listed some of the consequences of the preparation for elections. Here it is;.
“List of losses:
School boarders were sent home and midterm holidays were declared in almost all schools.
Airlines shut down business. No aircraft on ground for next day service.
Weddings and social events were postponed; some to 23rd Feb, which is the new date fixed for Presidential election.
Borders closed. Huge revenue lost to import and export.
INEC staff and paramilitary personnel posted to different parts of country for elections.
Large numbers of the electorate travelled to their respective homes to fulfil electoral obligations. Some can’t even be reached by phone.
Some surgeries and medical procedures might have been shifted because of today’s planned election.
The list goes on and on…”
The simplicity and lack of posturing and judgmental bias that the contributor of this list exhibits in his or her anthologising of problems caused by the postponement represents the common sense position that any concerned stakeholder would be expected to adopt in considering the consequences of INEC’s decision. The major issue that INEC should have been considering in the last hours before scheduled voting is what effect its operations would have on the public’s perception of the credibility and representative acceptability of the elections result. The excuse that elections have been postponed before is disingenuous to say the least. When weeks or even days before a poll, reasons are given for its postponement the public have time to absorb such reasons. In addition any such decision should be made before the electorate has been primed to the point at which their normal mode of everyday conduct has been irredeemably inconvenienced. Obviously in this latest circumstance this was not the case. It is unforgiveable for officials who have not complained of logistic deficiencies before to offer such excuses only four hours before voting is scheduled to start. This is especially disingenuous after they have observed the electorate doing all that it takes to meet the conditions that they claim to have put in place for the proper conduct of the polls. In such a circumstance it will be truly difficult for any objective analyst to blame those who read political mischief into the motivation behind the INEC decision.
Even if we give INEC the benefit of the doubt, since the Chief Electoral Commissioner Prof. Mahmood Yakubu explained the absolute necessity for the decision in a press conference that came several hours after the early morning announcement, the nature and timing of the announcement cannot be forgiven. Democracy is at all times dependent to a large extent on perception and once President Buhari had given his Presidential address and travelled to his hometown to vote the signal went out to the whole nation that voting would take place as and when scheduled. INEC’s own perception of its responsibility to the people of Nigeria should have been driven by this simple reality. By failing to take this obligation to manage public perception into consideration at such a crucial point in the run-up to the polls INEC has compromised its right to be regarded as an independent and trustworthy arbiter. The loss of credibility emanating from this most dangerous and ill-timed event will reverberate through all subsequent voting in the 2019 edition of Nigeria’s electoral process.