The enthusiasm for the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections came to an anti-climax last Saturday as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the shift of the exercise. The postponement took Nigerians by surprise, coming a few hours to voting time. It was akin to a “midnight judgement” of an election umpire that had four years to prepare for the job but ended up disappointing all.
One cannot say what happened behind the scenes, but Nigerians see the mess as INEC’s failure. No doubt, elections had been shifted in the past. In 2011, voting was called off, even after it took off, because of late arrival of materials in some places. In 2015, elections were suspended for six weeks because of security issues. However, no election has been suspended at midnight, just like that. Also, the reason INEC has given for the postponement is one of the weakest one has heard. The electoral body blamed the faux pas on logistics challenges caused by bad weather, as, according to it, flights could not land at some airports. This may be a good excuse, but one would not buy it.
The INEC had four years to prepare for these elections. In the four years, the commission and its management knew that they would register voters, print and distribute permanent voters’ cards (PVCs), display voters’ register, accept political parties’ candidates and list them for elections, procure and configure card readers, print ballot papers and election result sheets, provide ballot boxes, dispatch election materials to polling units nationwide on election day, engage returning officers and ad hoc staff, collate results as well as announce results and declare winners. All these functions and assignments were well known four years ago. They did not just happen. INEC, therefore, had ample time to have prepared and executed the assignments.
It is unacceptable that INEC would be battling for major distribution of election materials to states on the eve of the election. This should have been done well ahead of voting day, to ensure seamless operation. Some people may argue that election materials ought not be moved long before election day. My answer is simple: Why not? These materials ought to be safely kept in the vaults of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in various states many months ago, from where they would be moved to local government headquarters on the eve of elections and then to polling units on voting day. If money kept in CBN vaults, wherever they are located, are safe, why won’t election materials be safe in the same place? The same security measures put in place at the CBN offices to secure money are enough for election materials to be safe.
We should not make the conduct of elections look like rocket science. Bigger and smaller countries, in Africa and elsewhere, are conducting elections without hitch. This is why people are scolding the INEC. President Muhammadu Buhari said INEC was incompetent. National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, accused INEC of colluding with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to manipulate the elections. National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus, while slamming INEC and saying the election postponement was a ploy by the Buhari government to cling to power, called for the resignation of INEC chairman, Prof. Mohmood Yakubu. Many others have also called INEC names, accusing the electoral body of committing an abomination and a disgraceful act. INEC is the whipping boy, so to say.
While one sympathises with INEC for being vilified, one would, however, say that there is much dramatisation among the political parties and candidates over the election postponement. There have been claims and counter-claims. There are conspiracy theories too. The opposition has accused the government of trying to play some games to ensure its victory. The ruling political party said the opposition was conniving with the election umpire to favour it. Nigerians will not be deceived. These people shouting at the rooftops may, in one way or another, share in the blame. They may be the prime culprits. However, if the two main political parties are accusing one another of trying to or actually manipulating INEC, it is possible that the electoral body is doing the right thing, not being for either APC or PDP. That is how it should be.
The INEC, therefore, should seize the opportunity to do what is right. The electoral body should ensure that credible elections are conducted and that validly cast votes would determine the winners at the end of the day. It must have dawned on INEC that, no matter what it does to favour any of the political parties or candidates, it would still take the blame for any infraction or/and failure, no matter who causes them. INEC should strive to be above board and redeem itself.
Political parties and politicians are grandstanding now, but they are not convincing enough. Political parties and their members are responsible for election failures most of the time. If politicians play by the rules, for instance, INEC would not be afraid to distribute materials ahead of elections. We have situations where politicians do illegal things to be at an advantage. They buy electoral officers, security agents and voters. They organise snatching or ballot boxes. They organise disruption of elections where they are unpopular and losing out. They write fake election results, which are later presented or substituted as the authentic ones. These are marks of inferiority complex and criminality.
Election is a contest of popularity, not might. It is a contest of votes, not guns. Those who want to earn votes should endear themselves to the people through good deeds and conduct. Those who want to manipulate the system are criminals. They should not be part of the process.
Inasmuch as one would not support President Buhari for his shoot-on-sight order regarding ballot box snatching and thuggery during elections, as it would encourage extrajudicial killings, one thinks that the law on election fraud is mild. If people who snatch ballot boxes or disrupt elections are meant to pay only N100,000, N500,000 fine or serve 12 months imprisonment on conviction, there would not be much deterrent. The legislature should consider amending the provisions on this, with a view to making it more stringent, while the judiciary should ensure prompt trial and dispensation of justice.
As the INEC has reaffirmed that February 23 is sacrosanct for the presidential and National Assembly elections as well as the other elections scheduled for March 9, 2019, it should do everything within its power and competence to conduct free, fair and credible elections. The INEC should act as a good arbiter, whose staff and ad hoc workers would be above board.