Nigerians went to bed on Friday, 15th February, with solid determination to troop out in the morning of Saturday, 16th February to cast their votes for their preferred presidential and national assembly candidates. There was nothing to warn them that the date will be an anti-climax the next morning. INEC had restated its preparation and determination to conduct a free and fair election despite the syndicated doubts and fears of those who have come to the ruddy reality that they will lose the election. The Presidency has indeed signed off on Thursday 14th February with a presidential broadcast by President Muhammadu Buhari and different cadres of politicians had retreated to their bases for the election. Schools had been closed, banks and offices operated on half capacity on Friday and generally, every indices of an election the following day was observed in Nigeria last Friday.
Like a thief in the night, INEC stole in the election postponement in the wee hours of the election day and it gave no reason for the act besides promising to meet with stakeholders by 2pm that Saturday to chart the way forward for the election that was shifted to Saturday February 23rd, while the subsequent state governorship and state assembly election was shifted from March 2nd to March 9th. Every Nigerian was at a loss as to what prompted the postponement especially as the act came few hours to the commencement of the election. Anger and disappointment soon gave way to bracing with the reality that we have to wait one more week to carry out that important civic obligation.
However, there have been a cacophony of allegations, accusations and counter-accusations amongst the contending political parties and the candidates as to what and who prodded the postponement but these remain speculative venting of loaded fury that does nothing to reveal the real reasons why INEC stole in that postponement on all of us. But then, this is not the first time we have seen such act and it is certainly not the worst of such postponements. Our two recent elections, 2015 and 2011 come to mind here. The 2015 election saw a six-week postponement forced on Nigerians. Unlike the latest postponement however, the 2015 act was at the instance of the ruling PDP which felt threatened by the challenge of the newly-formed APC and in fright of imminent defeat, forced the shifting of the election by six weeks during which it went haywire in deploying Nigeria’s national resources in open bribery and inducement of voters within that six weeks. What more, its leading members and officers openly boasted that the shifting would enable them come back to power. Sad for it, that desperate corrupt act never saved it as it was defeated by APC when the election subsequently held. Also, it wasn’t INEC that levied the 2015 postponement. Rather, it was the PDP government which rammed such decision through the Council of States. Again, in 2011, we remember how INEC postponed the presidential and National Assembly election few hours after the exercise had commenced in many states! So, this postponement is neither novel nor unprecedented. But Nigerians were disappointed, all the same, that INEC has not outlived its traditional lethargy and state of unpreparedness and tidied its acts as to ensure precision in its time table.
However, while we ventilate our frustration and anger at INEC, it may be necessary for us to give it the benefit of the doubt. There are certainties to suggest that INEC observed some glitches that might have compromised the election and decided to arrest such, even hours to the exercise than bear the burden of a mangled and charred election. That way, INEC might have saved itself from a historical burden but saved the country the heavy burden of compromised election and the attendant social upheaval that might cause. One week is not too long for a nation to wait to have a good election it will proudly own as its own.
But then, the country is now abreast with very many cases of breaches or conducts that would have heavily compromised the election if it held. With the ugly cases of people being arrested with forged election results for the postponed election, several cases of premeditated violence on INEC officials and materials, shocking cases of logistic compromise, reported cases of compromise of the sensitive equipment and materials for the election, diversion of critical electoral materials, several cases of armed political thugs apprehended by security agencies in several parts of the country, it is obvious that many intrigues must have been tapped into the electoral process to make INEC to postpone the election so that such challenges could be trashed out. It is certain that INEC knows quite a lot we don’t know and it is exposed to certain infractions we may even not comprehend so its decision to postpone the election may have been informed by patriotic and national interests that will enrich our democracy in the long run. Even as much of that knowledge is not revealed and is entered into the classified files of INEC, it is certain that enough cogent reasons informed its decision to tarry a little to deliver a credible election. It may be apt to warn that should INEC notice serious fracture of the process even while election is on-going on the new date, it can still cancel and postpone the exercise, as happened in 2011 so let us not be unduly fastidious in our desire to elect leaders through a credible democratic process.
Having said that, it is my desire that INEC should be on top of its acts this time around. It should deploy its best hands and brains to deal with the notorious penchant of politicians to influence the process for ulterior motives. We have heard loads of allegations of compromise of electoral officers, manipulation of machines and card readers, diversion of materials and all such traditional election-rigging practices. Sure, these have been recurrent trends with Nigerian elections but INEC must ensure that it guards the system from the noxious influences embedded in these malignant electoral vices. Where it lacks the expertise, it can outsource these roles so as to get us a credible process. Within this one week, INEC must make sure that it monitors its officials as well as its materials and come out with requisite tactics to deal with the challenges posed to the system by unscrupulous INEC officials, working in cahoots with desperate politicians. That done, INEC should make its activities and processes easily trackable by the electorates who remain the greatest anti-rigging buffers.
I firmly believe this INEC can deliver but that depends on its ability to track and monitor its officials at every level. INEC should ensure it neither allows the government to dictate to it nor fall into the trap of those who, for fear that they might lose the election, have developed syndicated charge of rigging so as to blackmail INEC to have their ways. Let INEC not be under any pressure to prove anything to those that launder the silly blackmail of rigging as a way to box t to compromise. Let it conduct its affairs in any way and manner that it deems credible to give Nigerians the best election they can be proud of. Whatever and however it conducts itself in the new election days will prove whether the one-week shift was well utilized or not. If it flunks on the job this coming Saturday, it will be doubly yoked with shame and reproach. So, it is good that Nigerians have given INEC the benefit of the doubt (well do we have a choice?). INEC must reciprocate this gesture by giving us a damn good election and Nigerians know when an election is good or not. Let’s make the coming Saturday election one to remember.
Peter Claver Oparah
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