By Hamza Idris and Abbas Jimoh
Hours before voting commenced this morning in long-scheduled presidential and National Assembly elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced this morning that it is postponing the elections due to logistics issues. An announcement in the wee hours of today said the election will now hold on Saturday next week, February 23.
The INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who briefed the press at 2:30am today said: “The INEC met on Friday 15th Feb. 2019 and reviewed its preparations for the 2019 general elections scheduled for Saturday, 16th Feb. 2019 and Saturday 2nd 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.
The National Assembly had in October last year approved the sum of N242.245bn for this year’s elections. Out of the amount, INEC got N189bn.
“Consequently, the commission has decided to reschedule the presidential and National Assembly elections to Sat. 23th Feb. 2019. Furthermore, the governorship, state House of Assembly and Federal Capital Territory Area Council elections are rescheduled to Saturday, 9th March 2019.
“This would afford the Commission to 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 lour democracy. The commission will meet with key stakeholders to update them on this development at 2:00pm today (Saturday) at the Abuja International Conference Centre.”
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the first indication of the postponement came to the fore around 7:00pm when the INEC chairman was about to start meeting with his national commissioners. And though they started meeting at the INEC headquarters around 8:00pm, they debated until around 1:30am this morning before they all agreed to postpone by a week.
The INEC chairman addressed the press at 2:30am.
“The meeting lasted nearly six hours because those in attendance differed. The INEC chairman and his commissioners took time and reviewed the situation critically, including the implications,” a source said. “Some of the people in attendance agreed that the election should go ahead on Monday but at the end of the day they agreed on one week to foreclose any other obstruction,” he added.
The decision to postpone the election was reached last night after the commission’s National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, alongside some national commissioners held meetings with security agencies, election observers and security chiefs.
Credible sources told Daily Trust Saturday last night that despite several efforts, the electoral empire could not fully mobilize sensitive materials to some parts of the country, especially in the South East, South South, South West and North Central. While some of the materials have been assembled at the commission’s warehouses in Abuja, it was not possible to take them to some states.
“The commission is also working hand-in-hand with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which is the official custodian of the sensitive materials but it seems it is also overstretched,” he said. Besides, a source said efforts made by the commission to meet up with the shortfall of card readers burnt by fire outbreaks could not be met. Sensitive INEC documents were burnt in fires that destroyed three of its local government offices in Abia, Plateau and Anambra states, a development which INEC described as serious setbacks ahead of the elections.
On February 3, some miscreants set ablaze INEC’s office at Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State. On February 9, INEC’s office at Qua’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau also went up in flames. Head of INEC’s Voter Education and Publicity in the state Osaretin Imahiyereobo said the fire was caused by the negligence of a security man on duty who didn’t know how to operate the generator but wanted to put it on.
Items such as ballot boxes, generators filled with fuel, cubicles, newly printed electronic and manual voters register, uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), materials for the preparations of RAC and other valuable materials were affected. On February 12, INEC confirmed that 4,695 Smart Card Readers were destroyed in an inferno that occurred in its office in Awka, Anambra State.
Mr. Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, said that though the incident was a serious setback to the commission’s preparation for the smooth conduct of the elections, he said measures had been taken to ameliorate the situation. He said the commission would mop up some of the spare card readers from other states to deploy to Anambra for smooth conduct of the general elections.
But a source at INEC said the commission could not meet the required number needed in Anambra. “The card readers so far mopped up are not enough to replace all those lost to the inferno in Anambra,” he said. “Remember, every state will need some extra card readers for exigency purposes and most importantly, a lot of reconfigurations must be conducted,” he said.
Another source said sensitive materials could not be taken to some locations. “The ballots are equally customized and serialized; you can’t just take what is meant for Bauchi for instance to Anambra,” the source added.
It was also gathered that there was bad weather which affected visibility that denied aircrafts to land at the Enugu Airport which was originally meant as landing point for some sensitive materials for states in the South East. “For instance, some aircrafts landed in Port Harcourt in the South South with election materials instead of Enugu because of bad weather. These materials were first taken to the Central Bank for safe keeping before onward delivery to the South East,” he said.
Opposition crying foul play
Daily Trust Saturday reports that some opposition elements are already saying the logistics issue raised by INEC is just an alibi, saying the electoral commission was coerced by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to shift the election.
The PDP in Edo alleged that election materials had not been taken to the state as at last night. The party’s secretary in the state, Osa Nehikhare, “This sabotage was orchestrated and a danger to our democracy,” he said in a statement.
In Ekiti, former Governor Ayo Fayose, accused INEC of deliberately hoarding materials for the elections. He alleged in a statement by his spokesman, Lere Olayinka, that ballot papers and result sheets for presidential and senatorial elections were not in Ekiti State as at 9 p.m. on Friday, adding that only materials for the House of Representatives were distributed.
According to his spokesperson, said similar situations had been reported in Oyo, Taraba, Edo, Niger, Ogun, Rivers and other states.
In 2015, INEC under the leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega had to postpone the elections after pressure from security agencies who were battling the Boko Haram in the North East. It shifted the presidential and National Assembly elections from February 14 and February 28 to March 28 and April 11, 2015.
Nigerians left high and dry
Millions of people living in different parts of the country have travelled home for the elections. Nigerians in all the 36 states of the federation including candidates and voters had completed arrangements for the election.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Ibrahim Yakubu, 37, a Lagos-based engineer, who travelled to Kaduna, his state of origin, to participate in the polls. “If I had any hope in our nation’s democracy, this has scuttled it,” he said of the postponement.
President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, among other contestants, had all rounded up their campaigns on Thursday.