Election 2019: Getting It Right (III)

INEC failed to get it right on the first day polls were to begin. It was a few minutes to 3am on Saturday when Chairman Mahmood Yakubu made the announcement postponing the elections of 2019 by one full week. Until then, officials of the nation’s electoral body had been giving assurances of INEC’s preparedness to conduct free and fair elections. What really happened?

The story told by Professor Yakubu does not add up, and few Nigerians have believed it. We don’t either.

This is the sixth general election INEC is conducting in the Fourth Republic. Whatever lapses in terms of logistics ought to have been remedied long before now. For the past three weeks, airplanes, trucks and vans have been moving election materials through the length and breadth of Nigeria. Security operatives armed with AK 47 and 49 rifles have accompanied the sensitive and non-sensitive materials to different branches of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Sabotage was clearly the reason INEC offices got burnt in Plateau, Abia and Anambra states. Even then, INEC continued to assure the nation that it was up to the task of replacing its materials including card readers and uncollected PVCs destroyed in the infernos.

As is now evident, black legs exist within INEC’s fold. And that was why result sheets and other electoral materials had been diverted by Friday. Security agents have reportedly seized large quantities of thumb-printed ballot papers in various locations. The results of the elections in many places had been compiled before the last-minute postponement.

We believe INEC and the politicians have been shedding crocodile tears. One of the rumours circulating well in advance of February 16 was that the polls would be postponed. At least one newspaper quoted unnamed INEC officials who had given it the information, which means they had been playing on the intelligence of the electorate and were waiting for a convenient time to strike. Was it therefore surprising that neither Professor Yakubu nor any other ranking INEC official could apologise to Nigerians for taking them for a ride?

The amount of resources lost to the postponement of the polls is difficult to calculate. Should we talk about the man-hours lost? The entire country was shut down: Land and sea borders were sealed off. Schools were closed. Markets were closed. Many Nigerians travelled long distances in a bid to vote at places they were registered. Youth Corp members were stranded in cold nights as they waited in vain for electoral materials. There was hardly any Nigerian who did not lose something.

Perhaps it was a plot to disenfranchise many, as some political parties have charged. Not all those who travelled have enough resources to keep them afloat for the next three weeks. Many angry voters won’t vote anymore. Also hard-hit have been foreign election observers who have incurred additional costs and may therefore not wait a week longer. Was there a deliberate plot to get rid of them, especially after one governor had threatened them with “body bags”?

One troubling accusation being levelled against INEC is that it is colluding with the ruling party to achieve staggered elections, a move the opposition parties oppose. The failure to deploy materials and personnel to several states before 2am on Saturday is cited as evidence. The initial plot, we have been told, was to postpone the elections in 12 or 13 states to provide an opportunity to manipulate the results in the selected states later. The governorship polls INEC conducted in Ekiti and Osun states a few months ago were controversial because of INEC’s incompetence and alleged collusion with one party.

The several lapses observed on February 16 are enough to prepare INEC for a better outing on February 23: Already thumb-printed ballot papers were intercepted in different places. An individual was caught with over 10, 000 PVCs. Another individual had 6, 000 card readers.  Some parties’ names were not printed on ballot papers. Ballot papers meant for one state were found in another state. Result sheets had been completed!

There is no assurance that INEC will plug all the loopholes before this Saturday. Having failed several times, it is not likely to succeed this time. Or what is it going to do differently? Who are the INEC officials that made result sheets and ballot papers available to politicians? The fraudsters caught on February 16 ought to be punished; have they?

INEC is challenged to prove us wrong. It has to prove it is an impartial umpire. All presidential and National Assembly elections must take place in one day (February 23), and all governorship, state assembly and FCT polls must be conducted on March 9. Maybe the elections will be postponed again. Whenever they are conducted, nothing less than a free, fair and credible election will be acceptable.

With: The Oracle Today

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