By Omeiza Ajayi
In a clear departure from the past, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had, in March 2017, announced dates for the 2019 general elections and, months later, rolled out a schedule, setting before itself a timeline of activities, 14 of them, which was to culminate into the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 16, 2019.
With its launch of the Election Project Plan months later, nothing monumental was expected to go wrong in the conduct of the elections, but with the postponement of the general elections by a week each, it does appear that what would go wrong would go wrong.
One of the most fundamental innovations in the election project plan was the decision of INEC to introduce measures that would allow the visually-impaired to actively participate in the general elections.
The commission also went ahead in transcribing election materials into Braille. Such materials would include INECs Voting Procedures, Frequently Asked Questions among others.
Then, working in collaboration with The Albino Foundation, INEC procured magnifying glasses for albinos to use at the polling units when casting their votes.
It also launched a framework for persons living with disability as well as another for internally displaced persons to fully integrate them into the voting process and ensure that they were not disenfranchised.
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The Commission also prepared its budget in record time and sent to the relevant arms of government. However, it was not until October 2018 that the National Assembly passed the budget for INEC, the Executive having also delayed in forwarding the proposal to the lawmakers. Since some of the materials used in elections are customized and not easily procured off the shelf, INEC had little time, in spite of waivers, to ensure a smooth procurement process.
The Commission also organized training workshops, not just for its internal publics, but even its external publics including the media.
While the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, showed leadership by mobilizing men and materials for the polls, there was little he could have done in the absence of a working budget.
There was also little he could have done with the delay by President Muhammadu Buhari to initially appoint a full complement of INEC’s National and Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs. Till today, Ekiti State has no REC. With this type of situation, Yakubu was left with making adhoc arrangements, working with adhoc personnel due to the absence of those statutorily charged with certain responsibilities.
For the 2019 elections, INEC recruited nearly a million adhoc staff. As expected, there were those who would naturally deviate from set objectives due to pecuniary or other considerations.
While some reportedly collaborated with partisans to subvert the process, there were those who were painstakingly resolved to be patriotic by sticking to the INEC Guidelines and Regulations. Unfortunately, many of them were limited by violence to the point that some were killed, abducted beaten and raped.
As for security agents, some of them exhibited the highest level of professionalism even at great risk to their lives. Unfortunately, some of the agencies did not mobilize their personnel adequately. For instance, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) did not sufficiently mobilize its personnel. While some of the operatives got paid N15,000, others were paid N4, 000, and they were all on the same Grade/Level. There has not been a feeble attempt to address the discrepancy and this impacted negatively on the morale of the operatives.
On its part, INEC met last week and reviewed the elections as well as the role of security agencies in the polls. “While acknowledging their professionalism in the deployment of election personnel and materials in a safe and timely manner, the conduct of certain members of the security agencies in some states is a matter of serious concern to the Commission. This matter will be further discussed directly with the lnspector-General of Police within the ambit of the lnter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security ICCES”, the commission submitted.