No one saw the shift in date coming, although one or two prophets had hinted at it. One such prophet from Delta State was emphatic about it in his video released on social media. He told his listeners that the election would be shifted, and he knew who would win the election at the presidential level.
He declined naming the person but insisted that the postponement, which was sure to come, would be a clear indication that he was not making a wild goose chase on the matter. Except for such people, no one, not even the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), saw the shift coming. If the commission did, it would not have announced the shattering news to ordinary Nigerians and politicians hours to the commencement of elections. It was rather a rude shock to Nigerians, and the international community that the long-awaited election had to be put off by one week.
There was outrage in the land, and the electoral body became the butt of all manner of flak. All parties, especially the two top contenders, namely All Progressive Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were enraged at the shift, insisting that the umpire may have aligned with opponents.
INEC seemed hard put the explain the logistic problem that crystalised into inevitable shift of the presidential and National Assembly polls from February 16, 2019, to February 23, 2019, beyond bad weather, which prevented airlifting of sensitive materials to various states. Bad weather became the culprit of the seeming crime of postponement.
The only alternative open to the electoral body was to conduct staggered elections, which may have violated the electoral law. Scores of court cases would have marred the process. But the nation needs to interrogate a process that makes the electoral body move materials hours to commencement of elections. Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, was sure of his explanation that no airline dared risk its aircraft in the weather that presented itself that morning.
Even if the electoral body had the money to pay for the aircraft, in case of the unexpected, could it also pay for the lives that would have been lost in the process? No one should throw mud at the airlines because safety is the first charge in their line of business. But the question stubbornly refuses to go away viz: why did INEC have to send materials early in the morning of election day? Such materials would still be in transit to parts of the state at the end of polling, leaving dubious people with the option of entering spurious results in the result sheet.
Those are sore points of the past needing to benefit from years of experience in organisation of elections. Why were the materials not domiciled in branches of the Central Bank in every state capital in the affected states as was the case in others? There are branches of the Central Bank of Nigeria in every state capital, which is where the materials ought to have been kept in the first place.
The logical conclusion is that the electoral body did not take delivery of the sensitive materials when it should. The contractors may have been late in their delivery, which in turn triggered delay in the chain. The details of such contracts should not concern the public.
The electoral body has a duty to engage contractors who would not make nonsense of the most vital ingredient of the democratic process. The buck stops at its table, which is why non-partisan observers hold that INEC put off the polls in order to validate its transparency, given that staggered polls would turn out in the positive bandwagon effect of the winning party. This postponement has heightened local and international expectations. The body has become the biblical city on the hill that cannot be hidden.
INEC cannot hide behind a finger in this matter. Seven more days provide ample time to block every loophole, and ensure that every stone turns in favour of free, transparent and credible elections. Politicians have tried to make electoral capital of the shift by advancing the blame game. The leading parties point fingers from both sides although it seems to have dawned on them that such blame game is a dark alley. The thing to do is to embrace the fresh campaign window now opened by the electoral body. INEC had breached the law in its initial insistence that campaigns remain closed against legal provisions that such activities close 48 hours to elections. Parties should sustain their campaigns though the added cost would bore holes in their pockets. Suggestions in some quarters that INEC should further shift the polls, if it was manifestly not ready for the process, are retrogressive. There is no better consent for failure and spark in the fire of anxiety and angst against the organisation than for it to listen and act on such recipe for disaster. It could spark justifiable civil disobedience should the electoral body venture into any further postponement. That is an advertisement for unmitigated disaster, and a clear indication that the electoral body has failed. No such contemplation should be mooted within the corridors of the electoral umpire.
The parties have repositioned for the battle ahead. President Muhammadu Buhari’s call for ruthlessly dealing with ballot box snatchers has sparked outrage. The President said such people would undertake the venture at the expense of their lives. He made the comment at his party’s meeting. The outrage is that the President has sanctioned extra-judicial killings. The body has reacted by saying that such violators would be dealt with in accordance with the law. The general hope is that INEC would not make a disaster of this process.