It came just a few hours to the commencement of the polls.
While many slumbered on their beds early Saturday morning, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that the presidential and National Assembly polls earlier slated for that Saturday, February 16, had been shifted by one week. The governorship and House of Assembly elections were also shifted from March 2 to March 9.
To many, the action was akin to that of a thief who struck in the wee hours of the morning, spreading pain and trauma while the victims were fast asleep.
Though Nigerians have grudgingly accepted the rude shock, many people still consider it an avoidable pain inflicted on the people by the electoral umpire.
The alteration of the election dates has since attracted wide criticisms from Nigerians across political, religious and tribal divides. Some people have cursed under their breath while others have openly wailed and counted their losses.
But the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said the decision was a hard one to take but necessary for a free and fair election and to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy.
As many, especially those who travelled far to exercise their franchise as well as those who shut down businesses, were lamenting about how to recover from the loss, some Nigerians were quick to make a joke from the ugly development.
The humorous message, as widely shared on social media platforms, read: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first free Saturday in the history of Nigeria. Imagine first free Saturday ever of no wedding, no burial ceremony, no religious activities, educational/secular activities, no other forms of celebration and no election. What a Holy Saturday in Nigeria! Since Nigeria people refuse to rest, INEC has ordered compulsory rest for us today. This is dividend of democracy.”
When the reporter sought the views of Nigerians who were affected one way or the other, their disappointment was palpable. But there were a few others who expressed willingness to patiently go through the process of travelling to their voting locations again on Saturday, February 23.
One of the disappointed voters was an Abuja-based political and communication intelligence expert, Mr. Desmond Ogudu.
He said he, alongside his wife and over 70 supporters of his political party, had on Friday lodged in a hotel at Wuse 2, near their polling unit. He explained that they did so because their residence along the Airport Road was quite some distance to the centre, so that they would not be held back by the restriction placed on vehicular movement as was already announced by the police authorities.
“It was very painful to hear that the election had been postponed,” he bemoaned. “You don’t shift an election date a few hours to the commencement because many people must have fully planned their time and resources towards the initial date given.
“INEC is on a mission to frustrate and demoralise determined voters but they have failed. This is quite shameful,” Ogudu submitted.
Chairman, of the board of trustees of Human Rights Defenders and Access to Justice Advocacy Centre, Prince Olushola Adegboye, told Daily Sun that INEC has denied many Nigerians the right and willingness to carry out their civic responsibilities.
“The Nigerian people of voting age were ready. Both the international and local observers were set for it, but barley five hours to election, the INEC chairman had the audacity to postpone voting. The reason for doing so is not as a result of a natural disaster. It shows to the world that the INEC chairman has failed us as a people.
“Such can never happen in the Western world. I wonder if INEC can still conduct free and fair election when sensitive materials have been distributed,” he said.
Adegboye, however, urged Nigerians not to be discouraged by the circumstance but to be resilient. He called on all eligible voters to go out and cast their votes on the new dates.
“While trying to get it right, we have started taking good steps since 2015 and we will surely be there. The postponement destabilised my personal activities because I actually changed my travel ticket so as to cast my vote before leaving Nigeria. But, unfortunately, the date for my rescheduled flight and the date of the next election can’t be reconciled anymore. This means that, for me to vote, I have to pay more to have another departure date. And that is outrageous.”
Looking at the economic implications on the country, an economist and presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), Tope Kolade Fasua, said on a live television programme on Saturday that Nigeria would lose an average of $1 billion to the postponement of the elections.
Mr. Nosakhare Uwadiae, a media professional based in Benin City, the capital of Edo State, also expressed his frustrations at the change of dates: “It is shameful, disappointing and frustrating. Time and resources were wasted. People took the risk and travelled to their villages, where they registered, so that they could cast their votes but they were given a huge shock.”
He informed the reporter that a vehicle that was conveying passengers from Benin to the Auchi in the state for the election had was in an accident on Friday evening.
“I thought we have gone beyond this level. I am worried that the postponement as had earlier been speculated in some quarters long before now might have betrayed the trust and confidence we have in the commission,” he said.
Also decrying the disruption of his normal routine, Mr. Kenneth Ikechukwu Anene said he had made reservations at a hotel close to his polling unit in Lagos so that movement would be easy for him on the election morning.
Having postponed the election, he said he was left to incur the financial burden all alone. He described what he spent last week as wasted money, and said he was not sure if he could cough out more money for the same purpose this weekend.
In a chat with the reporter, Mr. Monsuru Kolawole Shoyombo, president, Community Youth Movement of Nigeria, and the national secretary of Coalition for Affordable and Regular Electricity, condemned the postponement of the February 16 and March 2 elections.
“It is highly degrading and extremely nauseating for the masses who have prepared to vote for candidates of their choice to wake up with full energy on the election day only to hear that the election has been postponed just a few hours earlier. Meanwhile the INEC chairman had assured the citizens several times that the elections would hold according to plans.
“The implication of this postponement is that people’s morale concerning elections will become very low. Many people may not want to participate in the elections anymore as a result of disappointment, lack of confidence and trust in the electoral umpire.
“We call on the workers, youths and the masses not to be discouraged. You should double your willingness to vote and participate fully on the new dates of the elections.
“All Nigerians must unite. We must understand the power inherent in the will of the people. He who desires the dividends of freedom must be ready to endure the pains of fighting for it,” Shoyombo declared.
But the former chairperson of Inner Wheel, District 911, Lagos and Ogun states, Mrs. Nkiruka Ebo, had a contrary opinion. She averred that INEC must have shifted the polls in the best interest of Nigerians.
She advised eligible voters not to allow the inconveniences created by the postponement to hinder them from seeing the disaster and international embarrassment that might have been averted by the commission. She urged voters to see their zealousness as a sacrifice needed to overcome whatever apathy they might have been nursing.
She advised Yakubu and his team to use the one week window to engage in more voter education.
Lending his voice to the issue, a Lagos-based businessman, Mr. Samuel Uchechukwu, said he suspected that INEC was either partially prepared for a seamless exercise or that the commission never was.
“I have someone that had scheduled his wedding for February 23 due to the initial date of election as announced by Yakubu. Only God know how he will manage the situation because he made payment for many things and almost perfected all his plans.
“But Nigerians should still endure this pain and turn out en mass to vote for their preferred candidates,” he said.
An educationist, Mr. Ileme Martin, told Daily Sun: “The postponement of the election has disorganised my entire programme. My travel plans, meetings and other social engagements have been disrupted.
“My good friend’s wedding on February 23 has been disorganised even after the invitation cards and booking of halls had been concluded. We relied on the old election timetable as our guide. From the reality now, where do we go from here? But whatever happens, the damage has been done and we must move forward.
“But I’m cocksure that postponement of the election will not change what God has ordained concerning the outcome of the elections.”
Also speaking on the issue, a politician in Osun State, Mr. Oluwadare Abimbola Olalekan, noted: “I might be disappointed as an individual but I’m much more resolute in the quest for a better Nigeria.”
A Yenagoa, Bayelsa State-based public servant who didn’t want to be named said it was expected that Nigeria makes progress in everything as a country. He lamented that what the people have been experiencing was nothing but retrogression.
“I remember in 2015 when the general election was postponed, the ruling party now, which was then the opposition, cried to high heavens, calling on the international community to intervene. But today, we are seeing another postponement.
“In a civilised society, government gives succour to those that might be affected by unexpected government decision. To be honest with you, all Nigerians have been affected by this sudden change in election dates. Let’s not forget that time is money,” he said.