After running the gauntlet in the past one week following the postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for last Saturday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has once again reassured the nation that it is ready to conduct the exercise tomorrow.
Although the polls of February 16, 2019 were not the first to suffer postponement in the annals of electoral process since the nation returned to democracy in 1999, the shifting of the exercise barely six hours to its commencement did not go down well with most Nigerians, more so that the INEC had given the nation full assurance that it was well prepared for the task.
Many had shut down their businesses and travelled from far and wide to exercise their franchise.
Commercial activities were also put on hold for the elections and the economic losses ran into billions of naira. In 2011, the presidential election was shifted by 48 hours after the exercise had commenced all over the country.
Similarly, in 2015, the polls were shifted for about six weeks owing to the security situation in the North-east among other reasons.
Nigerians accepted the shift with equanimity in the belief that it was better to adjust and get it right than rushing to conduct an exercise that would be flawed and unacceptable.
However, this time around, the postponement was greeted with shock, anger and frustration from all quarters. The electoral umpire found itself in the eye of the storm.
The political parties and major stakeholders including Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have spared no punches. All manner of accusations have been hurled at the leadership of the INEC, accusing it of bias and compromise.
In a fit of shock and frustration, no one remembered that a precedent had been set and heavens did not fall, especially in 2011. Perhaps, the stakes were not this high and the level of desperation was not as high as it is this time around.
The two main contenders in the elections, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have been at the throat of INEC, each accusing it of working against its interest.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s anger found expression in describing the postponement as “a deep disappointment”, saying that the INEC had all the time and wherewithal to conduct the exercise.
The National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adam Oshiomhole, overacted and went as far as calling for the sack of the INEC boss, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, swearing that he was working for the interest of the PDP.
Yet, this is a man many had thought was under the thumb of the ruling party! On his part, the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, accused the INEC of acting the script of the ruling party in the face of imminent defeat. He declared that by shifting the polls, the Buhari administration was working in cahoots with INEC to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure low turnout on the rescheduled date.
The conspiracy theory thrown at the INEC by virtually all the parties in contention is proof of its independence which must be exercised by delivering a free, fair and credible exercise. In the midst of this confusion and angst generated by the shift, the traducers of INEC became oblivious of the challenges and unforeseen circumstances that necessitated the shift.
The INEC boss, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, took the pains to explain some of the daunting challenges the commission has had to contend with since he took over the leadership in 2015.
In view of the peculiar situation we have found ourselves in owing to failure to keep pace with technological advancement as obtained in other climes, we should appreciate, as enunciated by the INEC boss, the challenges of conducting a total of 195 rerun and off-season elections across the country, the continuous registration of eligible voters running into millions, the printing of permanent voter cards that grew the voting population to over 80m, the printing of ballot papers for the rescheduled polls running into 450m, the over 13m sheets of result forms for the presidential election alone all produced and imported from overseas, managing about 91 political parties for whom votes will be cast in close to 120,000 polling units ahead of the exercise, and the 460 litigations arising from nomination of dogging the commission, all of which might have necessitated the unfortunate postponement.
In the build-up to the polls, there were also acts of sabotage on the INEC facilities in some states by political thugs, culminating in the destruction in Anambra of close to 5,000 smart card readers, a critical component in the exercise, barely 72 hours to the February 16 polls.
That was a serious setback for INEC. It has also become imperative, at this juncture, to take a harder look at the number of political parties contesting various elective positions in the country.
It is not only unwieldy to have a total of 91 political parties but also a portrayal of our lack of seriousness as a people.
The Electoral Act needs to be amended to spell out stringent conditions to be met by political associations seeking registration as parties. Between 2007 and 2011, there were less than 50 registered political parties. Many of them ended up endorsing candidates of one or two major parties.
The charade was carried to a ridiculous extent when over 50 parties endorsed one presidential candidate of one of the major parties in the build-up to the 2019 polls! Such prostituting parties, constituting an albatross to INEC, should be decreed out of existence after the general elections.
Be that as it may, we urge all eligible voters to show greater understanding with INEC by coming out en masse to exercise their franchise.
They should not be discouraged by the shift which was necessitated by unforeseen logistical constraints as explained by the INEC boss.
It is in their best interest to give the commission the benefit of the doubt by playing their own part in ensuring the emergence of leaders of their choice.
They should do so in a peaceful and orderly manner without recourse to any acts that might jeopardise the process.
We also enjoin security personnel on electoral duties to conduct themselves professionally and be voter-friendly. It is by so doing that a free, fair and credible polls can be guaranteed.