As the dust raised by the postponement of the 2019 general elections continues to settle, some Nigerians express disenchantments over the rescheduled elections while others are determined to exercise their francise as more inside details of what caused the problem emerge
By Olu Ojewale
THE feel of outrage, trepidation, suspicion, frustration and many more caused by the cancellation of the presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for Saturday, February 16, will likely remain with disappointed Nigerians for a while. A good number of Nigerians have been reacting to the postponed elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in various degrees in terms of time wasted, money lost and their frustration of not being unable to exercise their franchise as scheduled.
For instance, a man who simply identified himself as Kingsley claimed that if the cancellation of the elections had been announced much earlier, his friend would probably be alive today. According to him, the late friend was on his way to Edo State, when he had an accident and died.
Ben Ajayi, a caller on the radio said that he had to leave Lagos at all cost on Friday night at about 8:00pm and did not get to his residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State, until 11:30pm so that he could cast his vote on Saturday morning. Some persons also wake up early from their homes as early as 4:00am to travel to various places of registration for the elections before hearing about the postponement.
As if those were no bad enough, the Guardian newspaper reported that many voters and candidates alike in the Eastern and Northern parts of the country were on Sunday, February 17, stranded as airlines cancelled flights over poor visibility occasioned by an intensive harmattan haze. Some of the passengers who wanted to return to Lagos and Abuja after the postponement of the elections could not do so because on Sunday, February 17, as multiple flights to Asaba, Benin, Uyo, Enugu, Calabar, among others, were cancelled. A lot of the stranded air passengers were later force to resort to travel by road after hours of waiting at the airports.
Chris Iwarah, spokesperson of the Air Peace, which cancelled eight flights into Asaba and Benin airports, said the harmattan haze was intense with attendant poor visibility for aircraft operations. He explained that instead of visibility range of at least 5000ft to touchdown, Benin had 2000 and Asaba 1000, “which is very far from what we need to operate.”
Bernard Bankole, the president of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies, NANTA, the downstream sector of the aviation industry, said the loss for airlines, travel agencies and government agencies could not be less than $5 million. Bankole observed that no fewer than 10 foreign airlines were cancelled as at 3:00p.m., coupled with the entire shutdown of local operations due to the postponed elections.
“Now the elections will hold next week, what assurance is there that the exercise will hold? It is a dilemma, which is not good for business at all,” Bankole said.
On his part, Ken Ukaoha, president, National Association of Nigerian Traders, NANTs, said the country will lose more than N140 billion because of the postponement of the general elections. Ukaoha said that the postponement would affect the economy adversely in terms money that the government, political parties and ordinary Nigerians had sent on logistics and other things. “The loss is monumental if you look at the economic consequences, essentially if you look at the trade, Nigeria depends so much on daily turning of fund through distribution and redistribution of goods and commodity.
In his statement from Daura, Katsina State, where he was to cast his ballot, President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday, February 16, said he was disappointed like other Nigerians that the INEC postponed the elections. He acknowledged that he travelled to various locations to exercise their right to vote, and international observers were also in the country to witness the exercise.
Besides, he said that the INEC had given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that it was in complete readiness for the elections. “We and all our citizens believed them,” he said.
That notwithstanding, the president reaffirmed his “strong commitment to the independence, neutrality of the electoral umpire and the sanctity of the electoral process and ballot,” and therefore, urged all political stakeholders and Nigerians to continue to rally round the INEC to deliver credible elections.
“I, therefore, appeal to all Nigerians to refrain from all civil disorder and remain peaceful, patriotic and united to ensure that no force or conspiracy derail our democratic development,” he added.
Appeals to Nigerians
In a similar message, Abdulsalami Abubakar, a retired general and chairman of the National Peace Committee, asked Nigerians to keep faith and trust the INEC to conduct credible elections. At his Minna residence, Abaubakar told journalists that although the postponement was disappointing, he urged Nigerians to conduct themselves peacefully and shun acts capable of dividing the country.
In the same vein, the UK government urged Nigerians to be patient and support the democratic process following the postponement of the general elections by the INEC.
In a statement in Abuja, on Saturday, Catriona Laing, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, said Britain recognised the frustrations of Nigerians and urged them to vote on the re-scheduled dates. “The British High Commission supports the joint statement made by the heads of the international observer missions on the postponement of the 2019 Nigerian elections.
“We recognise the frustrations of many Nigerians, including those involved in the delivery, supervision and observation of the election and those who travelled considerable distances to exercise their democratic right to vote.
“We urge the Nigerian people to come out to vote next weekend in the re-scheduled elections,” Laing said.
He also urged political parties to exercise moderation and to preserve an atmosphere of peace and calm to allow elections to take place in a secure environment.
In its reaction, the United States, US, said it fully supports the decision of the heads of ECOWAS and other international missions on the postponement of the election in Nigeria, the country’s mission in Nigeria said. It, therefore, urged Nigerians to support the INEC to conduct free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.
The heads of the international observation missions in Nigeria had in a statement earlier urged the INEC to strictly adhere to the new dates scheduled for the general elections.
The heads of the various missions also called on Nigerians to continue to remain calm and supportive of the electoral process as INEC worked to implement its new timeline.
“We, the heads of the international election observation missions and the UN present in Nigeria, have taken note of the decision of INEC to postpone the 2019 general elections due to logistical and operational challenges.
“We urge INEC to use this time to finalise all preparations and ensure that the new election dates are strictly adhered to.”
They encouraged the INEC to provide regular updates and information to the public on its preparations in the coming days and weeks to enhance confidence and trust in the process.
They also expressed continued solidarity with Nigerians in their desire for credible and peaceful elections, adding that they would continue to closely observe preparations across the country.
The heads of missions are Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former president of Liberia, leading ECOWAS, and African Union, led by Hailemariam Desalegn, a former prime minister of Ethiopia.
Others are the Commonwealth, headed by Jakaya Kikwete, a former president of Tanzania; and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, led by Rupiah Banda, a former president of Zambia.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the director of African Political Affairs and the UN special representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel as well as Boubakar Adamou of Organisation Islamic Cooperation also attended.
Reasons for postponement
In any case, the actual reasons for the postponement of the elections remained foggy. Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of the INEC, while giving reasons for the postponement, while addressing stakeholders on Sunday, February 17, said: “The decision has nothing to do with security, political influence or inadequate resources.” Rather, he attributed the postponement to mainly logistics in deploying human and material resources for the conduct of the elections.
Buttressing Yakubu’s statement, insiders working with the INEC in one of the SE states, reported that most states had cleared their election materials from the various state CBN offices on Friday, February 15.
“However, there were lots of mismatches and some states not receiving materials at all. For example, Enugu voting materials were mistakenly sent to Sokoto. So by 9pm yesterday (Friday, February 15) Enugu materials were in Sokoto.
“Kano materials never arrived. Most significant is that these mismatches and absent voting materials occurred mostly in states that are the PDP strongholds,” one of the sources said.
Consequently, the leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was said to have pressured the INEC chairman to go ahead with the election exercise in those states that had complete election materials and to set another date for the states with problems. But Yakubu allegedly said no.
“Fortunately for him (& us), most of the foreign observers were already on ground. Therefore, in the emergency stakeholders’ meeting, they supported the chairman and the decision to postpone the election and ensure the problems were corrected was taken. So, the cancellation is for the good of the country,” the source said further.
Indeed, another sources close to the international observers said that Nigerians should be grateful to the US for saving the country’s democracy. “This is why the party in power got frustrated about the international community’s interference at one point and threatened ‘body bags’ because they know, ‘Americans would know,’” the source said.
According to him, the strategy was to allow elections hold in 26 states and postpone it in 10 states. For the 10 states, they had two plans; late arrival of election materials and security crisis.
The idea was to deliberately allow materials arrive late as it had happened in some states and then, the INEC would have no option but to postpone elections in those states.
“For instance, the aircraft that was supposed to deliver materials to Enugu was told it couldn’t land because of bad weather conditions and it had to land in Port Harcourt. Right before us, elections in Enugu would have been postponed.
“The crisis template was executed in Kaduna today. The news of Kaduna State killings of 66 people today was part of the plan to create an atmosphere of catastrophic so that INEC would postpone the election in Kaduna State, citing security challenges. The news of the killings was fabricated and sponsored by the governor of that state.
“For the 26 states that election would have held, the plan was to watch out for the outcome. If it favours Atiku, whatever the margin is, they would deploy heavy security agents to ensure they get enough votes to cover up the margin in the 10 states that elections were to be postponed as they did in Osun state.
“With this plan, Buhari would be elected back as president… but the US said, NO!! Elections across the 36 states must hold simultaneously, they insist,” the source insisted.
But a report by TheCable, an online newspaper, put the blame on the doorstep of the INEC. It said that by Wednesday, February 13, 2019, experienced members of staff and management of the INEC knew that the February 16 elections would not hold. It said that because of the pervading atmosphere of mutual distrust and suspicion at the commission, people went about their businesses in hushed tones, preparing for the worst.
The newspaper reported that “based on the experience from elections organised by the commission, the signs were already there that something was going wrong. But many of the commissioners were not comparing notes or even talking to each other, thereby compounding a situation that would lead to the embarrassing postponement of the elections. The prevailing atmosphere of in-fighting, inexperience of the logistics committee and poor preparations was further compounded by poor co-ordination by the leadership of INEC, insiders told TheCable.”
Unlike in the past when sensitive electoral materials, including ballot papers, two weeks to any given election would have arrived, reverse was the case by last Friday, February 16.
“By Friday, the materials are usually already at the ward levels, and then they are distributed to the polling units by Saturday morning. That is how things run on a good day,” the official said.
Another INEC commissioner told TheCable that he sensed there was going to be trouble when the materials were yet to get to the states. “Some of us, including INEC staff, knew things were not going to run smoothly when as at Wednesday, the materials were still at the airports in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and Kano. These are materials that should have been at the states in some cases and even local governments by then. It is incredible that we did not take a decision to reschedule until four hours to the commencement of the voting processes,” he said.
“Many of us were also amazed that the media did not pick up the warning signals. Even the observers, both local and international, did not ask INEC these questions. Why were the materials still stuck at the airports one day to voting? How on earth were we going to reach all the 119,000 polling units across 774 local government areas and 36 states in less than 24 hours? That was practically impossible, but the media and observers appeared to be focusing on trivial issues.”
A member of INEC staff, who spoke at length on the logistical nightmare, said there is an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and distrust among national commissioners and this played a major role in disrupting the elections.
“Amina Zakari used to be in charge of logistics. Because of the controversy over her relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, the chairman moved her to another department. That is not supposed to be a problem if she was replaced with someone else who can do the job well,” the staff told TheCable.
Although the INEC commissioner in charge of electoral operations and logistics is Okechukwu Ibeanu, he was only heading the standing committee. For the election proper, Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, inaugurated the ad hoc committee for logistics on January 3, 2019. The 17-person committee was specifically for the general election.
The chairman is Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu, a retired air vice marshal. Other members are: Abubakar Nahuche, Mohammed Haruna (both INEC national commissioners), representatives from CBN, customs service, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Federal Road Safety Corps, immigration service, police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, DSS, army, navy and air force. Other are the INEC directors of electoral operations department, estate works and transport, procurement, and stores.
Mu’azu was new on the position and did not have any experience to fall upon when it comes to INEC electoral operations, according to insiders.
As if that was not bad enough, the insider further alleged that: “Most of the commissioners were kept in the dark when things were going wrong, and because of the polluted atmosphere, people decided to keep quiet so as not to be accused of trying to usurp other people’s jobs. However, the INEC chairman is also conducting a general election for the first time, so he probably trusted the Mu’azu committee to deliver. Yakubu did not have the benefit of institutional memory which helped his predecessor, Prof. Attahiru Jega,” the insider told TheCable.
Besides, the insider said normally, Mu’azu should be giving regular updates to the INEC management on the situation on ground. But he never did. “Going by the way things worked for us in the past, we should all know that if materials were not at the states by the preceding Saturday, there was going to be a major crisis. But a day to the election, the materials were still at the airports.
“Some states got materials. Katsina and Adamawa, for instance, were not affected. But states in the south-east were affected. Imagine if elections had gone ahead without the south-east. We all know how the narrative would have been shaped by now,” he said added.
According to information, Mu’azu used to help the INEC with movement of materials before he retired from the Air Force and it was thought by the INEC leadership that he would do a good job if he was saddled with the task for the general election.
“But that was a big mistake. Being put in charge of organising logistics for over 100,000 polling units is not the same thing as helping get some air force aircraft to help INEC transport materials. AVM Mu’azu was permanently at the airports as the crisis worsened, but what could he do?” the insider asked.
The senior officer also said that when it became glaring that elections could not take place all over the federation at the same time, the INEC should not have waited until 3am on Saturday to announce the postponement.
“As soon as the emergency meeting of national commissioners started, it was clear that we needed to take a decision quickly and communicate this to Nigerians. We knew before the meeting was called that elections would not hold. For some weird reasons, the meeting kept dragging and dragging till past 2am,” he said.
Yakubu, addressing stakeholders on Saturday over the postponement, blamed it on sabotage and poor weather which he said disrupted flights on the eve of the elections. But Hadi Sirika, the minister of Aviation, debunked the INEC chairman’s claim that the weather affected flights. The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, also said there were no disruptions caused by poor weather.
“The agency in line with the directive of the Honourable Minister of State (Aviation), Sen. Hadi Sirika, had earlier ensured a 24-hour operation at all Nigerian airports on Friday 15th February 2019 to facilitate the transportation of INEC materials nationwide,” the NAMA said in a statement issued on Sunday.
Even as the elections have been rescheduled for February 23, there are still fears that the polls might be postponed again.
That notwithstanding, Eze Onyekpere, an Abuja-based fiscal governance campaigner, said the postponement had ridiculed Nigeria before the international community. He said in an interview: “Our image in the international community and how the markets will react to the charade this week, as well as the apathy that has been generated, which will lead to lesser number of voters this week, are losses that will be hard to repair.”
On its part, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has asked Nigerians to hold successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999 and the leadership of the National Assembly responsible for the unlawful postponement of the 2019 general elections scheduled to hold on Saturday, February 16, now postponed to February 23.
In a statement signed by Kolawole Oluwadare, the SERAP deputy director, the organisation said the postponement of Nigeria’s elections since 2007 has shown a systemic failure of leadership at the highest level of government, and suggested electoral reforms to address all the lapses.
In the meantime, the adverse effects of the postponement are not likely to be really felt until probably after the elections proper.
– Feb. 18, 2019 @ 19:05 GMT |