By Clifford Ndujihe
NIGERIANS woke up, yesterday, to the shocking news of the postponement of the 2019 elections.
Many were shocked because they had no inkling that the polls would be shifted following repeated assurances by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Besides, the postponement was announced at the wee hours of the day, about five hours to the commencement of the exercise across the country when all stakeholders had tuned in and were ready to go.
Expectedly, the shift has huge cost implications for all- the INEC, parties, election observers, security agencies, and the ordinary people.
- INEC officials had been mobilised to various centres.
Sensitive election materials have been distributed and the postponement is raising concerns over safety of the materials. Many INEC staff slept at the commission’s offices, yesterday, as part of the preparations for the elections.
- Security operatives had also been deployed to their various duty posts for election duty. Their allowances have to be paid.
- International and local election observers and journalists had travelled to different parts of the country for the election. The postponement entails more funds for accommodation, feeding, transportation and other logistics.
- People who registered outside their locations and some, who feared that violence might broke out traveled before the postponement. They are now faced with the dilemma of returning to base or remaining where they travelled to at huge costs.
- All through the week, many people embarked on frenzy buying of food stuffs and goods which they hoped to stockpile in readiness for the elections.
- School children, especially those in boarding houses have bad tales to tell having been made to embark on mid-term break. They had returned home before the announcement. Will their remain at home or return to school and leave for home few days later, next week? Whatever decision they take has cost implications.
- Many had weddings, marriage, programmes and events rescheduled for different dates because of the election. Now, those whose activities were scheduled for February 23 and March 9 would have to reschedule the events at more costs.
Master Ebuka Ihenacho, a second year student of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, UNN, is sad about the development because “I don’t know when to return to school again. After the ASUU strike, my parents said I should wait till the end of the presidential election. Now the election has been postponed to February 23 and lectures have started in my department. I have been at home since September last year. This is not fair.”
Mrs Chinenye Udo said her church, one of the big churches in the country, planned a national programme for March 2 but had to shift it to March 9. Now the programme is in jeopardy because of the election postponement.
Election shift cheaper or costlier?
Yesterday’s postponement was not the first time elections would be postponed in the country and it is not the most sudden.
In 2011, National Assembly polls had kicked off in many states such as Enugu, Bayelsa, Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, and Zamfara when the then INEC National Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, postponed the exercises for two days over late distribution of election materials and other logistics challenges.
On February 5, 2015, seven days to the presidential and National Assembly polls billed for February 14, Professor Jega announced postponement of the polls for six weeks on advise by the National Council of State citing insecurity occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency especially in the North-East geopolitical zone. As of then the PVCs collected were 45,829,808 representing 66.58 percent of the total number of registered voters. The shift was also to allow more registered voters to pick up their PVCs.
With yesterday’s postponement, the question on the lips of some observers is whether or not the shift is cheaper than holding the polls.
INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, anchored the postponement on logistics and operational reasons and the need to ensure credible polls.
He said: “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.”
Indeed, no price is too high for free and fair elections because the crisis that could arise from faulty polls in a country of 200 million people can reverberate across the African continent and cause ripples in the world.
However, the INEC has been pooh poohed for failing to learn from its own experience. Though signs that the polls might be postponed were obvious on account of killings in some parts of the country and issues/litigation in some states arising from nomination of candidates in some of the parties, the INEC insisted it would go ahead with the polls as scheduled.
When the polls were postponed in 2011, it was for two days and it had the attendant challenges, which could be managed with contingency plans.
In 2015, people had not travelled, so also were electoral officers, security operatives, observers, and sensitive election materials had not been distributed before the elections were postponed.