Just before February 23

Many Nigerians were angered by the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the general elections over what it described as logistic problems. The people were basically infuriated for three reasons. First, it came to them as a rude shock. They had reasoned that if there was any likelihood of rescheduling, such important information should not have been communicated to them while asleep. Second, many people had to cancel their prior engagements in order to participate in the failed elections.

Not only that, many had incurred losses from their business that closed for the period aside the wasted resources on transportation to their voting destinations across the country. Furthermore, they are infuriated that the electoral body did not give any convincing apology for the unceremonious postponement that denied them the platform to elect their leaders. A cross-section of Nigerians and political parties have condemned the postponement. Before now, the journey to the elections had been torturous for INEC. From delayed budget approval, to low response to Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) collection, to fire disasters in some of its offices across the country, the umpire cannot be said to be totally immune from a myriad of issues that could adversely affect the smooth conduct of the elections. It is also instructive to state that before now, previous general elections were postponed in 2007, 2011 and 2015.

No matter what excuses that are given, it remains a national shame that we have not been able to get it right when it comes to organising our elections. In a matter of days to come, another opportunity would present itself for INEC to right the wrongs. A week of postponement appears long enough for miracles to happen, but in actual sense of it, nothing extraordinary may happen unless serious restrategising is urgently done. To begin with, the electoral body should give daily briefing to Nigerians on its activities. This should cover the various segments of operations. The essence of this is to avoid a repeat of a situation whereby important stakeholders are shielded from accessing vital information. Certainly, not all information should be made available per se. What should be shared are relevant information that require the cooperation of other stakeholders for effective execution and implementation.

For instance, party agents should be properly briefed on the various documents that would be filled, submitted and the handling of such sensitive materials and equipment such as the card reader machines as well as the 421.7 million ballot papers for the six scheduled elections and the 13.6 million leaves of result forms meant for the presidential election. Not only that, additional information on innovations introduced by the commission should be properly highlighted to the stakeholders, to give an assurance that fair, free and credible elections would be held, especially now that they are unhappy with how the body had handled the botched elections. More importantly, electoral observers and civil society organisations should be better and actively engaged at this time more than ever before. The responsibility of managing elections transcends what INEC can do alone. It is not just possible to wake up from the fall of last week and run the long race alone. Another issue that should be handled with utmost care is the reported internal wrangling going on among the top hierarchy of the organisation due to perceived imposition. Let me remind the chairman that the buck stops at his table. He would remain a failure if he fails to use the big stick when necessary and fatherly disposition at the appropriate time. He should never be afraid to do the right thing at this critical moment in the life of the nation.

It is troubling to see adhoc staff of the commission facing hardship and untold living conditions. This should not be. To get full dedication, commitment and loyalty of corps members and other personnel that would be engaged throughout the period, welfare of the concerned people should be accorded priority. The next few days should be used to sort out all outstanding matters in this regard. Nigerians should be encouraged to come out in large number to exercise their civic duty despite the unpleasant experience they earlier suffered. Nothing should be left unattended to, considering the need for the commission to fully regain its dwindling credibility. This is still possible.

For future elections, relevant agencies of government should ensure timely processing and disbursement of funds meant for electoral activities. INEC should be more open when it comes to its operations in order for Nigerians to intervene when they have to. Politicians and political parties should desist from putting the commission under avoidable pressure through their poor internal democracy, unwarranted litigations and disregard for timelines. Our legislature should, henceforth, perform better oversight functions. Political parties constitute a major setback to the adherence to the election schedules of the electoral body. Law enforcement agents should be apolitical and display high level of professionalism. We should ensure that these measures are put in place, to really get our elections right come February 23 and beyond.

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