In this column last week, I asserted confidently that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was ready to conduct the 2019 elections. It was not but should have been. It was particularly unfortunate that the Commission covered up its unpreparedness and deceived Nigerians and indeed the world that it was ready when it was not. INEC also angered all stakeholders by refusing to postpone the polls until just five hours to the elections.
I am aware of the realities of conducting such an extensive national deployment of people and materials. Within a period of 16 months, INEC registered over 14 million Nigerians as new voters and made their cards available for collection. They recruited and trained about 1 million young people to serve as ad hoc staff. In addition, INEC had to print 421.7 million ballot papers for six scheduled elections, as well as 13.6 million leaves of result forms for the Presidential election alone. With 91 political parties and 23,316 candidates for whom votes will be cast in 119,973 polling units, the logistics are indeed massive. But INEC knew about all these so they should have been better prepared rather than give excuses after failing to perform as expected.
It was for this reason that there were outbursts of disbelief, anger, frustration and resignation following the postponement. Political parties took turns to lambast INEC for their obvious incompetence and almost immediately, numerous conspiracy theories from virtually all camps emerged. It was left to civil society and election observer missions to call for calm. The issue for tommorow’s rescheduled elections is that INEC needs to clearly demonstrate to Nigerians and the world that it is indeed ready to conduct free, fair and credible elections. Have they addressed concerns that certain sensitive materials which had already been deployed in various parts of the country ahead of the new dates been fully secured? Have materials sent to the wrong States been retrieved and sent to the appropriate States? Has INEC taken advantage of the extra time provided by the postponement of the elections to rapidly and robustly address all weaknesses in project management, logistics management and public communication that were apparent as of last week?
For us at the Centre for Democracy and Development and the Election Analysis Centre, we have once again deployed our observers and experts to the field, conducted focus group discussions and interviewed stakeholders to gather and filter information. Our assessment is that this time INEC is indeed ready for the elections.
INEC has complied with In line with the demands of civil society groups and foreign election observers to provide regular updates on their state of readiness. In yesterday’s briefing, the INEC Chairman gave detailed information on the deployment of sensitive voting materials from State capitals to local governments. He also announced that the Commission has been able to configure 100 percent of about 180,000 Smart Card Readers (SCR) nationwide. It was necessary to re-configure the SCR to reflect the new date and time of elections. He also informed the Nation that 86.3% of the permanent voter’s cards have been collected so 72,775,585 Nigerians are qualified to vote and not the 84,004,084 on the full voters list.
While it is now clear that the elections would hold tomorrow, there are reports that there are still some missing or misplaced sensitive materials. In several instances, materials meant for particular geo-political zones are only now making their way back to the States they should have been sent to in the first place. Such mistakes are often found in elections. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of work to be done, including ensuring that issues concerning every aspect of logistics as well as movement of materials and personnel from local government areas to wards are completed without any further delays.
There also has to be better care for the hundreds of thousands of graduates under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) who were deployed last week to serve in different capacities on the election day, including as Presiding Officers (POs) and Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs). Many did not get their allowances and sufficient provisions for their accommodation were not made. INEC must ensure that they are better cared for this time.
Besides ad-hoc staff expressing dissatisfaction with working conditions, there are also concerns about the quality of some of them whose performance might constitute a challenge to the elections. INEC must prioritise the retraining scheduled for today, Friday February 22nd across the nation. In addition, INEC has to ensure that they provide sufficient security for them as most of the ad-hoc staff are unfamiliar with some of the areas they are posted to work and might be particularly susceptible to attacks and harassment.
The postponement of the elections last week really affected a lot of people, particularly businesses and some voters who travelled hundreds of kilometres or even more to return to their polling units to vote. Some voters, unaware of the postponement even turned up in the morning to vote. It is unclear whether some of those who travelled last week are willing to repeat the journey again. It is important to note that some voters do not believe that the elections were postponed as a result of logistics challenges. There are speculations that there is a plot to rig the elections. The process of confidence building in the electoral process must therefore continue.
It is important to continue to challenge the enormous amount of hate and dangerous speech that are circulating. There is also a considerable amount of growing violence in some States. Political leaders have been fuelling the tension. The PDP Presidential candidate, Abubakar Atiku, has accused the Buhari administration of trying to disenfranchise voters to ensure low voter turnout. Senator Godswill Akpabio had accused the INEC officials of colluding with Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel to manipulate the elections. President Muhammadu Buhari, on his part, said INEC’s “incompetence” was unacceptable. But nothing brought much more furore than his comment at the emergency meeting of the APC on Monday when he said anybody who tries to snatch ballot boxes or engage thugs to cause disturbance would do so “at the expense of his life”. The PDP quickly condemned it and called his statement a “direct call for jungle justice”. Political leaders should desist from further heating up the political system.
On the day the election was postponed, Boko Haram militants attacked Buni Yadi in Gujba local government of Yobe state. This attack has further raised speculations and fear amongst citizens that elections may not hold in some local governments. It may be recalled that Gujba was one of the affected local government in the 2015 general elections. Boko Haram has also conducted more attacks since the postponed elections, the first in Borno was the attack on a mosque in Maiduguri, this is followed by the killing of loggers in a place that is just ten kilometres from Maiduguri. The level of insecurity in the country is impacting on the deployment of officials for both observer groups and INEC. Away from Boko Haram, armed banditry especially in Zamfara state might affect voting. This crisis is gradually becoming a big problem across the north-western zone of the country. This election is a very important step in the process of democratic consolidation in Nigeria and we must do all we can to get it right.