Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mahmood Yakubu speaks during a meeting with stakeholders and international election observers on the postponement of Nigeria’s 2019 general elections in Abuja on February 16, 2019. Nigeria’s electoral watchdog on February 16 postponed presidential and parliamentary elections for one week, just hours before polls were due to open. Kola Sulaimon / AFP
Many wise sayings kept milling in the mind immediately the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced an adjustment in the timelines for the 2019 poll: unless you plan for success, you plan to fail; success demands no explanation as failure permits no alibi!
The one-week shift of election dates for Presidential/National Assembly and Governorship/State Assemblies’ election does not imply that INEC has failed. In the same breath, the postponement does not burnish the commission’s reputation or confer credibility to its level of preparedness for the much-anticipated election.
Some commentators have expressed the view that INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, deserves commendation for the courage to pull off the costly postponement in the light of obvious desperation by the ruling party to coral the poll towards a predetermined outcome. Yet there are some others who believe that placed side by side with his predecessor, Prof. Attahiru Jega, Yakubu does not inspire confidence to deliver on such a crucial national election that replicates to a large extent the divisive and tensed 2015 poll.
Although Yakubu found himself in a very tricky and testy environment that contrasted greatly with the circumstances under which Jega administered the commission, his vacant outlook make him susceptible to the pliable nature ascribed to him. Against that background, the eleventh hour postponement of the 2019 general election was anticipated by those who saw through the INEC chairman’s seemingly second guessing strategies on critical issues.Although Yakubu sounds sincere, it is also possible that he could be sincerely wrong on most of his assumptions, because either he was comfortable with the hide and seek games designed by some elements in the presidency or he was oblivious of the level of national interest generated by the poll.
YAKUBU allowed himself to be distracted by the interparty wrangling between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). For instance, while the National Assembly toyed with the idea of rejigging the Electoral Act 2010 to bring it at par with modern realities of technological ensigns, INEC chairman intruded on the arena.
Anticipating that the federal legislature could alter the sequence of elections, INEC under Yakubu devoted time in the partisan strategy of pulling the wind out of the sails of the legislators by going ahead to fix dates for elections up to 2032. The chairman did not impress many Nigerians, but he succeeded in sustaining the impression that he was working hand in gloves with the presidency. That association played out once again after the Red Chamber adjourned for its 2018 annual recess, which was preceded by the defection of some former members of the ruling party to the major opposition platform. Stunned by the mass defection, the presidency started pleading for the reconvening of the plenary in the guise that it was necessary to iron out issues around INEC’s hefty budget.
Rigging and counter rigging plans
BUT for the sudden shift in timeline, voters might have known that the staggered and haphazard distribution of election materials was orchestrated to wobble the elections in the fashion of Osun governorship poll.Nigerians would easily recall that it was the Osun governorship poll that played up the untidy closeness of the electoral body and the presidency, especially against the background of the phony phone call that culminated in the inconclusiveness of the exercise by INEC.
Intriguingly, after Amina Zakari was introduced into the narrative of Osun governorship imbroglio, attention was removed from INEC chairman, who followed up the development by moving Mrs. Zakari out of INEC operations department.Although some partisan commentators may dismiss the claims as conspiracy theory, the suggestion sounds plausible that INEC planned to hold election in 26 states and order a makeup poll in the outstanding 10, after the voting pattern and vote tally in the 26 must have become apparent.
Only INEC chairman is in a better position to affirm or deny that the development partners, including the U.S., the U.K. and the European Union actually called and warned him to desist from that path of invidious staggered presidential poll.Also, if indeed former INEC chairman, Jega, actually called to urge Yakubu to toe the path of impartiality by delivering on credible process instead of kowtowing to partisan politicians, the combination of those interventions must have helped to wean Nigeria away from a possible electoral conflagration for which Africa countries have become renown.
The postponement, which Yakubu agreed was a hard decision to take, exposed the unpreparedness of INEC for such humongous national election. If not, why did the commission wait till 24 hours to the election to commence movement of sensitive materials despite the fact that Central Banks have storage facilities in more than two states in each of the six geopolitical zones?More than any other crucial revelation, the shift of election timetable showed the enormous power housed in the office of the INEC chairman. As both the ruling and opposition parties continued to express shock and plead ignorance of the reasons behind the postponement, it became obvious that Yakubu was in a prime position to humble the two power mongers.
It is this inherent power in the office of INEC chairman that must have instigated current plans by the presidency to suspend Yakubu and draft Mrs. Zakari into concluding the remaining stanzas of the general election. Should this dubious scheme be carried out, it could deepen public mistrust in the electoral process and further exacerbate the divisive wrangling between APC and PDP. But given the apparent desperation of the ruling party to sustain itself in power by ensuring the return of President Buhari, contemplating such plan at this point would mean the feasibility of a government of national unity.There is little doubt that the ruling party, through the presidency, must have sourced campaign funds from classified sources; as such, the insiders would not allow PDP to take over power and be privy to its messy financial and other transactions.
Buhari is not Dr. Jonathan
THE postponed election showed clearly that President Buhari is far removed from the gentle and statesmanly disposition of his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. The constant mention of Jega and reminiscences of his expert handling of the 2015 poll with his team subtly underscored the free hand which the commission received from Jonathan, both during appointment of the chairman and after.
While former President Jonathan looked out for a capable individual who could help deliver a credible electoral process, it has become apparent that President Buhari sought out a pliable candidate after public outcry defeated the attempt to enthrone Mrs. Zakari. Both in physiognomy and oral delivery, Prof. Yakubu betrays the aura of a simple man with a quiet spirit who detests clutter or burdensome disputations. It is the sum of that pliant disposition that drove INEC to belated actions and second hand strategies.
ONE prayer that seems to be uppermost in the mind of INEC is: Let this cup pass over me. It was with trembling voice and tiredness of body that INEC chairman announced to a bewildered nation the postponement of the presidential and federal legislature election.He said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) met on Friday 15, February 2019, and reviewed its preparations for the 2019 general elections scheduled for Saturday, 16 February 2019, and Saturday 2 March 2019.
“Following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan, and the determination to conduct free, fair, and credible elections, the commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible. “Consequently, the commission has decided to reschedule the Presidential and National Assembly elections to Saturday, 23 February 2019. Furthermore, the Governorship, State House of Assembly, and Federal Capital Territory Area Council elections are rescheduled to Saturday, 9 March 2019.”
The question that next Saturday would answer is whether the seven-day adjournment is fit and proper to address the noticed implementation and logistic flaws. Are seven days enough to isolate all traces of sabotage of systems and structures?Was INEC succumbing to vagaries of extenuating circumstances when he arrived at the one-week adjustment in poll timelines? Nigerians would hold him responsible if otherwise, because he earned their benefit of doubt when he stated: “This will afford the commission the opportunity to address identified challenges in order to maintain the quality of our elections. This was a difficult decision for the commission to take but necessary for the successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of our democracy.”
Temperament of gladiators
INEC’s decision to put off the much-expected election by one-week helped to throw fresh light on the temperaments of the two top dogs: President Buhari and former Vice President Atiku. Reacting to the postponement, PDP’s standard-bearer, while urging the electorate to “remain peaceful despite being provoked by the postponement,” described the INEC action as “a case of hand of Esau but voice of Jacob.”Atiku argued that the sudden shift was done to anger Nigerians so that they would not turn out on February 23 in large numbers, a development he noted would assist the Buhari administration in achieving its agenda.
While blaming the incumbent for the surprise shift in dates, Atiku recalled that “the administration had more than enough time and money to prepare for these elections and the Nigerian people were poised and ready to perform their civic responsibility.”Conversely, Buhari expressed surprise and ignorance of the postponement, explaining that he would take a position after getting to Abuja and receiving further briefings from INEC. By his immediate reaction, the president gave the impression that he was not actually in charge.
To suggest that the head of a commission like INEC should take an important decision that touches on national security without hinting the Commander-in-Chief smacks of reverse diplomacy. If the president’s intention was to sustain the claim that he does not interfere with operations of important institutions, he missed the point. Not all information is intended for action or directive. Not until his spokesmen and party chieftain began to push back on the imputations by the PDP and other commentators did the presidency come to realization that the alibi was not doing the president any good. Whether the postponement would achieve higher voter participation or not depends on what happens next weekend. However, one point is clear: Never before in the history of Nigerian elections has the country achieved similar national mobilization for democratic action.