I Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has warned that it will not shift the deadline for political parties’ campaign despite the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections.
Chairman of the commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who handed the warming during a meeting with stakeholders in Abuja, equally blamed the postponement of the poll on flight challenges, lamenting that he slept three days at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to ensure the delivery of sensitive materials to various states.
He also specifically decried the spate of burning of the commission’s offices in three states of Anambra, Abia and Plateau, stressing that they contributed in no small measures to the postponement, even as he assured that one week should be enough to retrieve and reconfigure the Smart Card Readers.
“Apart from these logistical challenges, we also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage our preparations. In a space of two weeks, we had to deal with serious fire incidents in three of our offices in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu‘an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and our Anambra State Office at Awka.
“In all three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents. In lsiala Ngwa South, hundreds of PVCs were burnt, necessitating the recompiling of the affected cards and reprinting in time to ensure that the affected voters were not disenfranchised. I am glad that all the cards were quickly reprinted and made available for collection by their owners.
“ln Qu’an Pan Local Government Area, our entire office was razed, destroying all the materials prepared for the elections, printed register of voters, ballot boxes, voting cubicles and several electricity generating sets. Registration Areas and over IOO polling units were affected by the fire. We recovered quickly and have since replaced everything destroyed. In addition, we secured a suitable building from which to conduct the elections.
“Perhaps the most serious was the fire incident in our Anambra State office in Awka, which destroyed over 4,600 Smart Card Readers being prepared for the elections. These Card Readers take at least six months to procure. Despite these setbacks, we have practically recovered from this by mopping up every available spare SCR across the country and within 24 hours delivered them for elections to hold in Anambra State.
“All these challenges mean that there have been differences in preparations from one state to another. Our overall assessment is that if the elections went on as planned, polls will not open at 8am in all polling units nationwide. Yet, we are determined that polls must hold at the same time everywhere in the country. In this way, elections will not be staggered. This is very important to public perception of elections as free, fair and credible. We promised Nigerians that we shall be open, transparent and responsive,” he noted.
Speaking further he said: “Confronted with these challenges, we initially thought that we only require a maximum of 24 hours to resolve the logistics issues involved and complete our deployment for the election. This would mean shifting the elections to commence on Sunday February 17, 20l9. However, given the restriction of movement during elections, that could affect many votes who worship on Sundays.
“While the commission was considering the following Monday February 18, 2019 as an option, our lCT Department advised us that it would require five to six days to reconfigure about 180,000 Smart Card Readers earlier programmed to work only on election day Saturday, February 16, 20l9. It is for these reason that the commission decided to adjust the election dates to Saturday February 23, 2019 for presidential and National Assembly elections and a consequential adjustment of Governorship, State Assembly and FCT area council elections to Saturday March 9, 2019,” he confirmed.
Reassuring on the integrity of the sensitive materials, Yakubu said: “Some sensitive materials have been distributed. However, all such materials have been retrieved and will be taken back to custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria. I want to assure you that there will be proper audit to account for all materials.
“In the next few days, the commission will work on the basis of the following plan: completion/confirmation of deployment on Monday, February 18, 2019, of materials. Configuration of the Smart Card Readers February 17 to 21, 2019; receipt and deployment of sensitive materials to LGAs Thursday, February 21, 2019; refresher training for ad hoc staff February 21, 2019, deployment of personnel to RACs Friday, February 22, 2019 and election day, Saturday, February 23, 2019.
“I want to appeal to Nigerians and all other stakeholders for their understanding in what has been a very difficult decision for the commission. But we believe that ultimately this is for the good of our democracy and country. I wish to assure you of our commitment to free, fair and credible elections. As chairman of INEC, and on behalf of the commission, we take full responsibility for what happened and we regret any inconvenience our decision might have caused,” he apologized.
Following an appeal by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential campaign spokesperson, Osita Chidoka, for extension of the campaign duration for the partiers to boast the spirit of Nigerians disappointed with the postponement of the election, the INEC boss emphatically pointed out that the commission would not oblige the request, even as he quipped that it was difficult for any political actor to be silent.
On the possibility of shifting the election again, Yakubu announced with a tone of finality: “I can assure you that February 23, is sacrosanct. As for the fund to finance the postponed programmes, I can tell you that we are not complaining.”
He equally ruled out any security issue associated with the postponement, emphasising: “Our decision is entirely taken by the commission. It has not to do with security; it has nothing to do with political influence, nothing to do with the availability of sensitive materials. We believe that ultimately, this is for the good of our democracy and country. I wish to assure you of our commitment to free, fair and credible elections.”