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The disgrace that was the postponed February 16 elections

By Rotimi Fasan

THE Mahmood Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC,  has once more demonstrated for the whole world to see just how incompetent we could be as a people. The electoral body that had spent the better part of the last one year preparing for the 2019 general elections, comprising the presidential and National Assembly elections, called off the elections within a couple of hours before the polls were due to open.

INEC
Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

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Slated for February 16, the elections were the first in a series earlier slated to hold between 16 February for the presidential and National Assembly elections while the governorship and state assemblies’ elections were slated for March 2. Both elections have now been shifted to February 23 and March  11 respectively. The sheer irresponsibility of this eleventh-hour decision that was made against the backdrop of speculations that the elections would be postponed and the denials by INEC that any such thing would happen is only best imagined. Words would not adequately describe it.

It was an unnecessary and totally avoidable insult. The most that INEC would do was to offer explanation for what informed its decision. Neither the chairman nor any other official within the Commission thought it fit to assume further responsibility for the fiasco. Nor would President Muhammadu Buhari express more than his disappointment that the elections could not hold.

Yet, what happened called for serious sanction. At the very least Mahmood Yakubu ought to offer his resignation for putting the country through the harrowing international shame of a botched election. But who could demand anything more from Professor Yakubu, what more could Nigerians including the President demand of Yakubu, where nobody takes responsibility for anything?

Yes, Professor Yakubu said that he took responsibility for what happened. But this was as far as words went. He would not take the steps appropriate for a leader who truly accepts he has failed in the discharge of his responsibility, one that should have climaxed his career as the INEC chair, and that he had spent about four years, at least the last one year, planning for.

For Yakubu mere words were enough compensation, they were more than sufficient for the injury he inflicted on the psyche of Nigerians, the national embarrassment he brought on the country, to say nothing of the financial implications of his irresponsible decision. He had no words of heartfelt apology. And who could demand more from a mere chairman even of an electoral body that brought unimaginable shame to Nigeria where even the President does not take responsibility for his own actions?

INEC’s decision to postpone the February elections was an act of sabotage that ought not to go without sanction. Not the least reason being the apparent casualness with which that decision was arrived at, weighed against the huge cost of wasted resources that has been put in the neighbourhood of billions of Naira. There is no other way to describe this other than as an act of political and economic sabotage that calls for the severest reprimand. What that decision cost Nigeria and Nigerians can be compared to and quantified in terms of the billions of Naira that corrupt public officials steal by deft manipulation of figures or crude transfer or laundering of funds. People have been sent to jail or lost their jobs for misappropriating public funds.

The financial loss occasioned by INEC’s decision is of a kind with such lack of governance that leads to failures of our financial institutions or indeed public institutions of which INEC is one. Professor Yakubu could not simply explain away such monumental misconduct on his part, as with his decision to postpone a scheduled election just within hours of its commencement. on grounds of logistics, namely, poor weather that stalled the distribution of electoral materials by air. That he and the top hierarchy of INEC didn’t anticipate this type of contingencies speaks to their unpreparedness for the important task they were saddled with.

One may appear to be hard on Professor Yakubu. But that is how things should be. He should be made to assume full responsibility for and be ready to face the music of his failure. He has not attempted to place the reason for the postponement on anything but the logistical reasons he proffered. And I insist he should have known this at the very least one or two weeks before the elections.

That he had to wait on the very morning of the elections is proof of his incompetence. Yet,, he could well be taking the fall for the Buhari administration. There is no doubt that the man is saying less than he knows. Doing otherwise could lead to opening unintended can of worms. But to the extent that he has chosen to assume responsibility for this present failure then he should be held fully accountable for it. Otherwise, there are reasons that could account for the postponement even if the decision to postpone need not have been made so close to the election.

There were delays, caused by the bickering between the executive and legislative arms, in appropriating funds for the elections. Considering that INEC imports most of what it needs for the elections, things that would have to be tested and verified for their effectiveness before being distributed to different parts of the country- considering all of the foregoing, Nigerians ought not to have been surprised by a postponement had it come much earlier. The problem is that INEC has offered none of these reasons for its action.

Nor did it have to wait until so late before taking the decision to postpone. By waiting until so late, it totally disrupted the little order that Nigerians were trying to bring into their lives, following the gross disorder that the elections meant, while laying the ground for civil unrest. Everybody knows that in our parts, election at the best of times comes with the upheavals of civil wars. Until it is done and concluded the polity remains out of joint. Nobody, least of all a so-called independent government agency, needs to aggravate such situation.

But ultimately, INEC’s failure is the failure of the Buhari administration. It simply cannot wash its hands off what happened. No matter what independence INEC professes, its existence and the smooth execution of its operations depends largely on the kind of support it enjoys from the government of the day. Had the All Progressives Congress-led government played its part well in the lead up to the elections, we would have been telling a different story. As things stand, it remains damned for whatever missteps INEC takes or has taken. It is seen as having orchestrated the postponement. Given certain miscues by agents of the administration, only its defeat can erase that impression.

 


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