17 February 2019

Nigeria: Why We Postponed Elections - INEC

Photo: Hogan Bassey/NAN/Premium Times
Electoral commission chair, Professor Mahmood Yakubu showing a specimen ballot paper for Ekiti governorship election during a meeting in Abuja during 2018.

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, yesterday explained reasons behind the commission's decision to reschedule the 2019 elections to new dates, citing inability to distribute election materials.

The presidential and National Assembly polls were scheduled to take place on Saturday before the election umpire announced the shift, hours to commencement of voting.

According to the new timetable, polls slated for yesterday would now hold on February 23, while elections for governorship and states houses of assembly were shifted to March 9.

Yakubu, who addressed stakeholders Saturday at the National Election Collation Centre located at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja, said the decision had nothing to do with security, political influence or inadequate resources.

He attributed the postponement to mainly logistical challenges faced in deploying human and material resources for the conduct of the elections.

INEC, according to him, would not lift the closure of campaign rallies that came into effect Thursday night or issue Personal Voter Cards (PVCs) ahead of the polls.

The chairman said preparations were also hindered by bad weather in parts of the country, which affected distribution of materials.

"The net effect of these is that there is usually roughly a one-month window for the Commission to print ballot papers and result sheets and either fly or transport them to several destinations until they finally get to each polling unit. Unfortunately, in the last one week, flights within the country have been adversely affected by bad weather. For instance, three days ago, we were unable to deliver materials to some locations due to bad weather.

"We therefore had to rely on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air in spite of the fact that we created five zonal airport hubs Abuja (North Central), Port Harcourt (South-south and South-east), Kano (North-west), Maiduguri and Yale (North-east) and Lagos (South-west) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics.

Prof Yakubu who described the one-week adjustment as a painful one for lNEC, described cases outright sabotage recorded in some states as major setbacks for the 2019 polls.

"Apart from these logistical challenges, we also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage our preparations. In a space of two week, we had to deal with serious fire incidents in three of our offices in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu'an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and our Anambra State office at Awka. In all the three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents," he said.

According to him, in lsiala Ngwa South, hundreds of PVCs were burnt, necessitating the recompiling of the affected cards and reprinting in time to ensure that the affected voters are not disenfranchised and that all the cards were quickly reprinted and made available for collection by their owners.

He said the commission had contemplated postponing the Presidential poll by one day, after addressing the logistical hitch, pointing, however, that the plan was put aside for other important considerations. Also, according to him, Monday, February 17, was also considered but dropped owing to technical advice from their ICT department.

"Faced with these challenges, we initially thought that we only require a maximum of 24 hours to resolve the logistics issues involved and complete our deployment for the election. This would mean shifting the elections to commence on Sunday, 17th February, 20l9. However, given the restriction of movement during elections, that could affect many votes who worship on Sundays.

"While the Commission was considering the following Monday, 18th February, 2019 as an option, our lCT Department advised us that it would require five to six days to reconfigure about 180,000 SCRs earlier programmed to work only on election day Saturday, 16th February, 20l9. It is for this reason that the commission decided to adjust the election dates to Saturday 23rd February 2019 for Presidential and National Assembly elections and a consequential adjustment of Governorship, State Assembly and FCT Area Council elections to Saturday 9th March 2019," he added.

He said while some sensitive materials have been distributed, all such materials have been retrieved and will be taken back to custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and that there will be proper audit to account for all materials.

"As Chairman of INEC, and on behalf of the Commission, we take full responsibility for what happened and we regret any inconvenience our decision might have caused," he said.

'Campaigns, PVC collection remain closed'

The INEC boss, while responding to questions, also said there was no going back on its decision on electioneering campaigns in the country and the collections of the Permanent Voter's Card (PVC).

"Will campaign resume? Campaigns closed at midnight of Thursday last week and for the period that remains, campaigns will remain closed," he said.

He explained that in addition to the issues of campaigns, there was no plan to resume the collection of the PVCs for the electorate as all the other processes as provided for in the main timetable and schedule of activities will remain in force.

Oshiomhole questions INEC

Speaking at the event, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, queried the commission why it had to wait till 2:00am on Saturday morning before postponing the elections.

He said, "I am shocked, disappointed, I am disgusted. You must go ahead and apologise to Nigerians. The key issue is not that election was postponed, why at 2am on the day of the elections?" It does not offer me any comfort, I feel you must go further to apologise to the Nigerian nation because you have embarrassed us as a country, and as a people."

He noted that why elections have been postponed in the past, the polls that were postponed in 2015 were at the instance of the then president who attributed the decision to security reasons.

He wondered why INEC waited until the day of the elections before realizing that there was a need to shift the polls.

"Mr chairman, with all due respect, tell us why by Wednesday you were not in a position, since you acknowledged that the weather was bad, you should have taken all of these into account and announced this postponement at least 48 hours before the due time so that political parties do not have to mobilize resources across 176,000 polling units."

In his reaction, the INEC boss who admitted the electoral umpire regretted the decision to postpone the elections, however, said the commission was confident that the polls would go on as scheduled until the early hours of Saturday.

I'm deeply disappointed - Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday expressed disappointment over the postponement of the general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The President in a statement, he personally signed, which was read by his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, at his Daura residence, Katsina State, expressed dismay that despite assurances, the commission had to postpone the polls.

"I am deeply disappointed that despite the long notice given and our preparations both locally and internationally, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the Presidential and National Assembly elections within hours of its commencement.

"Many Nigerians have traveled to various locations to exercise their right to vote, and international observers are gathered.

"INEC themselves have given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections. We and all our citizens believed them," he said.

He said, "our administration has ensured that we do not interfere in any way with the work of INEC, except to ensure that all funds were released to the commission.

He urged the commission to ensure the safety of materials already distributed in across the country.

"We now urge INEC to ensure not only that materials already distributed are safe and do not get into wrong hands, but that everything is done to avoid the lapses that resulted in this unfortunate postponement, and ensure a free and fair election on the rescheduled dates.

"While I reaffirm my strong commitment to the independence, neutrality of the electoral umpire and the sanctity of the electoral process and ballot, I urge all political stakeholders and Nigerians to continue to rally round INEC at this trying national moment in our democratic journey.

"I, therefore, appeal to all Nigerians to refrain from all civil disorder and remain peaceful, patriotic and united to ensure that no force or conspiracy derail our democratic development," he said

It is not done hours to elections - Atiku

On his part, the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, condemned the last minute decision by INEC to postpone the polls.

In a brief interview with journalists in Yola today, the presidential candidate criticized INEC for the decision.

He noted that when his party, the PDP was in power between 1999 and 2015, election postponement was announced in good time, unlike the present experience where announcement was made few hours to commencement of voting.

"You don't postpone elections few hours to the elections," he said.

"As you can see I am getting ready to go to Abuja because there is an emergency meeting of the PDP so we will decide."

Asked if he was concerned about security of sensitive materials that had been distributed, Atiku said as long the materials were secure he would have no reason to worry.

He appealed to Nigerians not to be discouraged by the development, saying it was important to exercise their franchise.

Dozens of local and foreign journalist who were in Yola, the Adamawa State capital, to cover the elections gathered at the former vice president's residence to get his comments.

Speaking earlier, the PDP chairman in Adamawa State, Barrister Tahir Shehu expressed displeasure with the development, saying something was fishy with the decision by INEC.

He warned security agencies against any attempt to intimidate the opposition or allow themselves to be manipulated by government.

Don't use postponement to aid PDP - APC

Also, the APC presidential campaign council condemned the postponement of the elections by INEC.

Spokesperson of the council, Festu Keyamo, in a statement said, " We condemn and deprecate this tardiness of the electoral umpire in the strongest terms possible. President Muhammadu Buhari had since cooperated fully with INEC by ensuring everything it demanded to conduct free and fair elections were promptly made available to it.

"This news is therefore a huge disappointment to us and to our teeming supporters nationwide and around the world, many of whom have come into the country to exercise their franchise."

He said they hope that INEC will remain neutral and impartial in this process as, "the rumor mill is agog with the suggestion that this postponement has been orchestrated in collusion with the main opposition, the PDP, that was never ready for this election.

"We note that all the major credible demographic projections have predicted a defeat of the PDP and it seriously needed this breather to orchestrate more devious strategies to try and halt President Buhari's momentum. It did the same as the ruling Party in 2015, when it realized the game was up, by orchestrating the postponement of the 2015 elections by six weeks. Now, it may be up to its old trick again."

He said they have earlier raised the alarm that the PDP is bent on discrediting this process the moment it realized it cannot make up the numbers to win the election.

"We are only urging INEC not collude with the PDP on this. We are truly worried because as early as Friday morning, some known PDP Social Media influencers unwittingly announced this postponement, but quickly deleted the message and apologized to the public that it was fake news. We do not want to be forced to a situation of announcing our total loss of confidence in INEC, because we know where that would leave our democracy," he said.

He appealed to Nigerians and their supporters to be patient, calm and resolute, "despite this temporary setback.

"Let us not give anyone, especially the PDP, the opportunity to plunge this nation into a crisis, which is what they earnestly desire. Its imminent defeat is just a few days away.

"Lastly, we wish to draw the attention of INEC and the world to observe that the PDP has clearly and openly said it plans to announce parallel results through some funny device it has procured or developed.

"We wish to re-iterate that it is only INEC that is legally and constitutionally empowered to declare results and it constitutes an offence for anyone to do so. We urge INEC to speak up now and warn the PDP to desist from this ignoble act that is capable of plunging the nation into a crisis of immeasurable proportions," he said.

Shift plot to perfect rigging for APC - PDP

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the postponement of the 2019 general elections was a plot by the ruling APC to perfect their rigging plans with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Addressing a press conference yesterday in Abuja, the Director Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the action was to place more burden on the electorate and frustrate their enthusiasm for the election.

The PDP said President Buhari should not pretend not to have been aware of the postponement before it happened, adding it was done with his knowledge.

The party said the APC and Buhari were jittery and afraid of defeat, hence their alleged decision to connive with INEC to shift the election dates.

The PDP also called on the international community to note what was happening in Nigeria and hold President Buhari as well as the APC responsible should there be any breakdown of law and order in the country.

"This decision by INEC is a grand plot to give the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Buhari Presidency the space to perfect their rigging plans, which have been resisted by Nigerians to this point.

"Nigerians have lost trillions of naira, risked their lives on the road and in the air as well as faced other huge loses just because President Buhari is bent on perpetuating his inordinate quest to remain in office.

"President Buhari in his desperation for power has again exhibited his insensitivity to the sensibilities of Nigerians, particularly in his deceitful attempt to heap blames on INEC for a plot that was hatched and executed by his Presidency.

"APC's new plot is to escalate series of challenges that will eventually paralyze INEC's operation in some states so as to stagger the election and pave way to isolate certain critical states, after which it will use compromised security agents to muzzle the polls in those states in favour of President Buhari.

"Our response to INEC and the Buhari Presidency is that they have only succeeded in postponing the evil day for their candidate, President Buhari. Nigerians will never adjust in their resolve to resist the APC rigging plans and serve President Buhari his defeat certificate at the polls any day, any time," the party said.

Don't lose faith in INEC - Abdulsalami

The National Peace Committee has called on Nigerians to accept the postponement of the general elections by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) in good faith.

Speaking with journalists on Saturday in Minna on the development, the Chairman of the Committee, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, said although the shift in the elections earlier slated for February 16 and March 3 was quite disappointing, in view of the preparations by various stakeholders including political parties and candidates, Nigerians should give the Commission the benefit of doubt.

"The postponement no doubt, was disappointing to us, especially in view of the preparations that went into it - the campaigns, movements of materials to locations, deployment by security operatives, INEC staff, election observers.

"It is also sad that Nigerians have to travel to different locations to exercise their civic responsibilities but we must remain calm and accept what happened in good faith," the former Head of State said.

According to him, ensuring free and fair elections was the responsibility of all Nigerians, adding that citizens should not grieve over what happened but support INEC to ensure the success of the exercises during the next rescheduled dates.

"Let's trust on those we entrust with responsibilities, let's stop the blame-game and focus on working together to make things right," he urged.

He also used Nigerians not take laws into their hands by engaging on anything that will lead to breach of peace.

He equally called on politicians to avoid comments that are inimical to the peace and unity of the country, while also reminding the media of its social responsibility of dousing tension in a moment like this.

Strictly adhere to new election dates, Int'l observers tell INEC

The Heads of international election observation missions and the United Nations has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adhere strictly to the new election dates.

The groups, in a joint statement, said though the decision to shift the election dates has caused disappointment for many, Nigerians should continue to remain calm and supportive of INEC.

They also urged the electoral body to use extension to finalise all preparations for the elections.

The statement said, "We, the Heads of the international election observation missions and the United Nations present in Nigeria, have taken note of the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the 2019 general elections due to logistical and operational challenges.

"While we note that this decision has caused disappointment for many, we call on all Nigerians to continue to remain calm and supportive of the electoral process as INEC works to implement its new timeline.

"We urge INEC to use this time to finalise all preparations and ensure that the new election dates are strictly adhered to.

"We encourage INEC to provide regular updates and information to the public on its preparations in the coming days and weeks to enhance confidence and trust in the process.

"As we continue to closely observe preparations across the country, we stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria in their desire for credible and peaceful elections."

The statement was signed by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia, for the Economic Community of West African States Election Observation Mission; Hailemariam Desalegn, Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia for the African Union Election Observation Mission; Dr Jakaya Kikwete, Former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, for the Commonwealth Observer Group; Rupiah Banda, Former President of Zambia, for the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa Election Observation Mission; and Maria Arena, Belgian Member of the European Parliament, for the European Union Election Observation Mission.

Other signatories were Festus Mogae, Former President of Botswana and Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Former President of Latvia for the National Democratic Institute/International Republican Institute Election Observation Mission; Ambassador Boubakar Adamou, Director of African Political Affairs, for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation; and Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas for the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel.

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