BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
“SINCE this Commission started work in July 2010, I have repeatedly promised Nigerians that in carrying out our duties we shall always be sincere and truthful with Nigerians. I have always said that this INEC will be up front with Nigerians, telling you exactly how things are – sharing both our successes and difficulties with you…in order to maintain the integrity of the elections and retain effective overall control of the process, the Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly elections to Monday, April 4, 2011.”

With these words, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, Saturday postponed what could have passed for Nigeria’s worst elections and thereby averted a looming disaster that was waiting to happen.

Given the bitter campaigns and bloodbath that heralded the aborted polls, the country would have been contending with electoral mayhem if it was not postponed. The electoral commission would have faced a battery of volatile questions including: Since materials arrived late, when will accreditation end? When will voting start and stop?

What happens to areas that did not get materials? What about a host of persons who did not find their names in the voter’s register? Will it be proper to keep conducting the polls late into the night without power supply? Questions and questions!

CPC alleges bias

Indeed, in a petition to Jega, mid-way into the postponed exercise, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) Chairman, Prince Tony Momoh prepared grounds for mid-election or post-election fisticuffs.

Titled: “Massive Disenfranchisement of CPC Voters,” Momoh said the information the party received from all over the country was that in many constituencies, CPC logo was not on the ballot paper and that party agents had complained of the exclusion of the logo of their party from the ballot papers and the security agencies had pounced on them for disturbing the peace.

“This information has come to us from places as far apart as Ogun, Jigawa, Gombe, Anambra, Imo and Rivers states where voting seemed to have started before the announcement putting off the election was made. We believe that free and fair elections include providing the opportunity for all those who have been registered to vote to do so.

Jega.

The absence of the CPC logo from the ballot papers means to us, a premeditated attempt to prevent our numerous supporters from voting for those they believe can bring the change they demand to their lives. In our view there cannot be greater provocation and proof of an open denial of a people’s right than deliberately preventing them from exercising a right the Constitution and the laws of the land grant, ” he said.

Momoh wondered why CPC’s logo would be omitted and urged INEC that the CPC was denied full participation in the polls.

“We suggest that you conduct the presidential and National Assembly elections on April 9. After all, the gubernatorial and state assembly elections will be held on the same day, April 16.

Why can’t the presidential and National Assembly elections be held on the same day too, for obvious reasons, including the fact that you can sort out the problem caused by the exclusion of some political parties from the ballot papers which must necessitate your ordering a reprint, and the fact that the banks would not have opened for stakeholders to collect money to meet their commitments to agents? Failure to take to heart the suggestion of preventing chaos rather than curing it may lead to problems the rush to conduct the election on Monday April 4 may cause,” he added.

ACN seeks  April 9 date

In a similar statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN said the delay in the arrival and distribution of result sheets was not the only thing that was wrong with the Saturday election.

“There are many lapses on the part of INEC which cannot be rectified between now and Monday.

For example, a voter at a polling booth in Lagos (Aboyade Cole/Manuwa polling booth) said the Labour Party was not on the ballot that was used there. This is an invitation to post-electoral litigation.

‘’In Kwara, the number of ballot papers supplied was largely inadequate, meaning that many voters would have been disenfranchised if the election had not been postponed. In several states, registered voters could not find their names on the register. In fact, at a polling booth 004 in Amuwo Odofin in Lagos, less than 50 of the 720, who registered there found their names. It is therefore necessary for INEC to rectify these problems,’’ ACN said.

The party said Prof. Jega should take the reports from his field officials to know the exact problems with the election, with a view to rectifying them, instead of rushing to fix a new, unrealistic date for the postponed election.

It also advised the INEC Chairman to “look inwards in identifying the reason for the bungling of the National Assembly poll, reminding him of ACN’s consistent warning that his integrity alone will not translate to credible polls, and that the commission still harbours the rump of Maurice Iwu’s mafia that ensured no election was successful during Iwu’ tenure.”

ACN also rejected today’s date for the election, saying, “the new date does not give us enough time to re-mobilise our agents and put in place the necessary logistics. The only day between Saturday and Monday is Sunday, when banks do not open. Where does he expect us to get the funds to mobilise our agents for Monday’s election? Only the PDP can quickly mobilise such funds. So that date cannot stand,  unless Jega is working against the opposition.”

Consequently, the ACN suggested that the National Assembly election should be held on Saturday, April 9, while the Presidential election could be postponed to the middle of the upper week, and the Governorship/State Assembly election could still be held on April 16.

Early signs of postponement

Signs that Saturday’s National Assembly polls would be postponed emerged as early as Friday evening when sensitive electoral materials were yet to arrive most states of the country, including Lagos. Basic materials like press tags and monitoring kits for domestic observers were insufficient.

The non availability or non arrival of very important forms such as EC8, EC8A, EC8B meant the polls amounted to a stillbirth. The forms were expected to be countersigned by all party agents at the polling booths. Any election results entered into any other sheet apart from these prescribed forms would be null and void

A host of the observers monitored the polls without kits before the postponement.

A key electoral material – result sheets – arrived the Lagos office of INEC at 8.56 a.m on Sunday. Those meant for Oyo and some states of the South-West arrived much later.

Lagos REC, Dr Adekunle Ogunmola assured reporters that the materials would get to all the 8465 polling units within one hour, noting that the Navy and Air Force would assist in distributing the materials. This never quite happened because as of the time Jega was announcing the postponement, the materials were still lying on the premises of the commission.

Throughout Lagos metropolis, accreditation started late as officials did not come on time. INEC’s decision to reject any form of assistance from state and local governments hampered transportation of men and materials.

As the electorate awaited INEC officials and for the polls to begin, bare-bodied and barrel-chested youths converted the arteries of roads and highways in the state to football fields and busied themselves playing soccer.

A frank Ogunmola told reporters at 11a.m after going round that the reports he was getting across the country were not palatable because most states of the country had not received electoral materials, adding that they were waiting for a directive from Abuja on the postponement of the elections.

He did not wait for too long as two hours later, Jega pushed the polls to Monday.

Nigeria, INEC, politicians, others incur losses

The postponement has a lot of financial implications for the country, INEC, politicians and the citizenry, whose business would be affected.

If the polls hold on Monday as scheduled, Nigerians would not go to work. And Nigeria may lose the estimated  $80 million or N1.24 billion she earns per day from petroleum.

The INEC would also incur an additional four billion Naira to conduct the polls. About 400,000 polling officers were recruited to conduct the polls in 119,973 polling units across the country. Each of the officers, an INEC official told Vanguard was to get N7000. In essence, N2.8 billion will be spent on the electoral officers while an additional N1.2 billion would be for other logistics, it was gathered

For the parties and candidates, it is another kettle of fish.

In a phone chat, Mohammed said there were about 120,000 polling units in the country; if a party paid N2000 per agent per polling unit then it would need N240 million for the Monday rescheduled exercise. Across the parties about six billion may be required, it was learnt.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.