The decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone Saturday’s election was received with what many Nigerian politicians would call a ‘rude shock’. Over three years to prepare, with billions of naira to execute the project, yet the project manager, Prof Mahmood Yakubu failed to deliver. This has once again put Nigeria on the global spotlight for the wrong reasons. In the face of both local and international observers, we have passed the message once again that we cannot succeed at the most basic demands of democracy: prepare, plan and execute a free and fair election every four years, even if the leaders end up not having a clue about what the offices demand.
As if the postponement is not enough affront on the sensibilities of the common man, the INEC chairman displayed further disdain for the men and women he was called to serve when he began to have a debate on the right adjectives to apologize for his failure. What is wrong with Nigerian public servants and their puffed egos each time they are called to serve?
Prof Mahmood Yakubu who waited until the morning of the election before realizing he couldn’t deliver should be upfront with Nigerians with both explanations and apologies instead of the drab expression of regrets for inconveniences, a peculiar Nigerian phrase when no one, in particular, wants to take responsibility for organizational inefficiencies. In this case, millions of Nigerians had traveled from home and abroad to their polling units in order to express their franchise. The economy was also shut down for the elections. Nigerian graduates serving as ad-hoc staff were under harsh climate, unsheltered by INEC, exposed to the worst kind of dangers that roam the streets of Nigeria, yet all they get is regret for inconveniences. Public servants should be capable of taking responsibilities for failures such as this.
Should INEC have gone ahead to hold the elections when it was facing grave challenges? Definitely NO. But we could have been saved this embarrassment if the commission had called for a postponement earlier so that those Nigerians on the margins of existence who made the last minute long ride from different parts of the country would have stayed back. So that voter’s apathy that this postponement will further fuel would not have been. Nigerians traveled across regions to cast their votes because of their belief that something good could come out of this electoral commission, and their disappointment at the postponed elections can only be imagined.
As usual, the suspect for all the inefficiencies Nigeria has ever displayed is Mr. Logistics. Prof Yakubu has also revealed that logistical challenges forced the commission to take the last minute decision to postpone the election, but this in itself raises many issues. As at the time of the postponement, many states had already received their electoral materials. Now, the commission had quickly taken steps to withdraw them back to their safe houses with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The question here is what is the guarantee that these materials have not been tampered with? This is Nigeria (apologies to Falz), and we are aware of the desperation that is attached to elections in the country.
Therefore, is there any measure put in place to forestall those who are into the business of procuring result sheets so that they could fill it up with non-existent vote numbers. Because if this postponement has any gains for election manipulators it is the power it gives them to tamper with sensitive materials that have already been deployed. Can the commission, therefore, guarantee the sanctity of ballots and other materials so that we won’t wake up to news of missing ballots in different polling units on February 23?
Again, for the states where the commission faced its greatest logistics challenges, what measures is it taking to ensure that next week, two weeks after and in 2023 elections, there will be no repeat of same excuses. For it is sad that Nigeria is always going about each election like it is our first shot at democracy, or like we have acquired new territories that are difficult to predict. Elections, however imperfect, have been conducted in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015. The commission should know the seasons and terrains of each state well by now and how best to deliver sensitive electoral materials in time for voting. This attempt to hide mediocrity with the veil of unforeseen circumstances is totally unacceptable, except we are not being properly briefed about what is truly going on.
The postponement is a complete shame that should never repeat itself. As for those defending the latest postponement by citing previous elections that were also postponed, I will like to say it is totally disingenuous to defend this with past inefficiencies. It only means that we do not expect Nigeria to move forward. We are in other words saying to INEC it is okay to postpone the 2023 elections as well and the 2027 elections and the elections that come after them. Where then is the room for progress if as a nation we cannot effectively plan and expect to execute our plans without avoidable hitches?
It is also a shame that no one will be resigning for the costs of the postponement, the same way we will sleep and forget the costs of the postponement (that is of course if we will ever know the full costs of the postponement). But while these issues keep nagging at our collective psyche, I can only say to Nigerians what an old lady said to me as I tried to jog on the morning of the postponed elections: ‘happy postponement.’
*** Harrison Mmerenu lives in Lagos. @coolharris5