The drama of the last few days has been unprecedented. It certainly has gone beyond the confines of the stage. What we have now is an out-of-stage concert. The actors are no longer guided by their roles. Each has taken undue liberties. Each is out to outplay the other. The ultimate objective is to assume the moral high ground in order to win the sympathy and support of the watching world.
The world is really watching the absurd drama inflicted on us by an electoral commission that President Muhammadu Buhari has described as incompetent. The cheerleaders represented by the Nigerian publics are excited. They are fully being entertained by the trio of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). INEC, as we all know, set the stage agog when it, some six hours to the elections scheduled for February 16, announced a sudden postponement of the elections. The shift in the poll has been greeted with outrage. Nigerians cannot understand why the electoral commission that said months back that it was ready for the elections suddenly found out that its house was not in order.
What really went wrong? The chairman of the electoral commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has told us what the issue was. He cited bad weather and the burning of its offices in Abia, Anambra and Plateau states as reasons for the postponement. Bad weather, he said, affected the delivery of sensitive materials to some states because planes could not land in certain airports. The burning of its offices led to loss of election materials, which must be replaced. The reasons sound too simple, even puerile. But that is what the commission has put forward. Whatever may be the case, the commission has rescheduled the botched poll for this Saturday. As I write this, Yakubu has said that the commission has completed the reconfiguration of 95 per cent of its 180,000 card readers. He actually said that the exercise would be completed in the morning of Wednesday, February 20. In other words, INEC is ready for the election of February 23. Will there be any reason for further postponement? We can only wait with bated breath.
And why is the APC incensed? The scenario here looks hypocritical. What really is the role of the party in the postponement of the election? The party has been sounding sanctimonious. It is giving the impression that INEC acted without its input. That is curious. When did the commission part ways with the party? Before now, the world witnessed what happened in Ekiti and Osun states. As a matter of fact, a significant number of Nigerians lost confidence in Yakubu’s INEC on account of those infractions. Is the commission retracing its steps? This looks to me like an elaborate charade. The scenario looks choreographed. What should we believe? What do we discountenance? It is questions and more questions without ready answers.
What about the PDP? The main opposition party has been blaming APC for the postponement. It has been jibing at the ruling party for inflicting this electoral damage on the country. The party in power has always been responsible for shift in elections whenever it occurs. Our most recent experience was in 2015. The government of President Goodluck Jonathan asked INEC to reschedule the polls owing to security concerns. That was done weeks before the elections. Nigerians were put on proper notice. And we did not have to fret and split hairs over the postponement. It was this same Buhari and Lai Mohammed then that said any further postponement of the election would be regarded as a coup. All of these mix-ups on the real reason for the postponement of the polls make the situation curious. It is getting more complex by the day.
But there is a bigger and more urgent issue arising from the shift in the elections. President Buhari has come out like a smoking gun. He told Nigerians at the end of the meeting of the national caucus of his party that anyone who tries to rig the elections through ballot box snatching would meet his Waterloo. He said he has instructed security agencies, including the army, to be ruthless with such offenders. Again, that is part of the problem. The culture of impunity appears ingrained in us. It is not really the problem of the ruling party. The burden is that of intolerant folks among us who conveniently forget that we are in a civil society. There are laws in place that can deal with whatever issue we have. But some irascible fellows will not wait for that. They do not have the patience for legal justice. They prefer the justice of the jungle.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State fired the first warning shot when he warned that foreign election observers who interfere in the conduct of Nigeria’s elections would return to their countries in body bags. Nigerians are still dealing with that outrage. But President Buhari has brought the issue to our doorsteps. Electoral offenders will not be punished in line with the provisions of our electoral laws. They will be killed instantly. That is if the security agencies carry out the president’s directive to the letter. This is raw anger boiling over. A president is not supposed to talk to his people like that. He should have some finesse. But that is lacking here. What we have instead is undiluted military mentality at work. Most times, Buhari does not know where to draw the line or when to apply the brakes. He merely struggles to maintain his sanity in situations like this. But this time he lost it all. He just sounded the way he is. No niceties. No diplomacy. The pursuit is single-minded. That is vintage Buhari. The president’s threat is now the issue of the moment. When you combine it with el-Rufai’s earlier outburst, what you get is intolerance at its most banal.
However, no matter how we move forth and back, the buck must stop somewhere. Yakubu and his electoral commission have the ultimate role to play. Yakubu still has an opportunity to rescue himself from the muddle into which Ekiti and Osun elections threw him. He still has an opportunity to be on the right side of history by ensuring that the 2019 elections are not messed up. His date with history is still an open enterprise. He has a responsibility to put it in a straitjacket. This calls for a whole lot of circumspection on the part of the INEC chairman. He must bear in mind that his immediate predecessor, Attahiru Jega, did not get it right. Nigerians merely glossed over his misdemeanours because of the mood of the country at that time. Jega thought he was smart. But it has since been discovered that he compromised the integrity of the 2015 presidential election.
Yakubu must learn from Jega’s bungling. He must get us out of this curious state. We must know what is what, if he plays according to the rules. An arbiter must remain impartial until the final whistle is blown. We do not expect any less from Yakubu.