Abuja — After the tongue lashing by virtually all segments of the public for last Saturday's last minute postponement of the presidential and National Assembly election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday began the public confidence rebuilding process, telling Nigerians that it is now ready to hold the poll rescheduled for Saturday nationwide.
Its Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in his first progress report told the media in Abuja that the hitches that caused the poll shift have been cleared and that the fresh time-lines for the conduct of the election are now being met.
Specifically, he said the commission has achieved 98 per cent reconfiguration of its smart card readers, saying it is a significant milestone towards the conduct of the election and assured that the remaining two per cent would be completed today.
Responding to media reports that a couple of its senior officials are being quizzed by the Department of State Security (DSS), raising fears that the commission's work might be hampered, Yakubu denied the reports and said no director or national commissioner of the commission has been arrested by the DSS.
However, THISDAY's checks revealed that six senior staff members of the commission, including Professor Okechukwu Ibeano, Mr. Festus Okoye, Mr. Osaze Uzi and others, were invited by DSS for a chat.
But Yakubu stated: "No commissioner of the commission was picked up by any security agency; no house of any commissioner of INEC was raided; no any commissioner of INEC has been picked up by security agencies. The particular commissioner you are referring to that was mentioned in the social media is as we speak, in his office in the commission. Similarly, no six directors were picked up by any security agencies."
The chairman revealed that by 4p.m. on Monday, all issues relating to the delivery of the materials were identified and virtually addressed.
According to him, "Last Saturday, the commission, after extensive review of our preparedness for the 2019 general election, decided that it was necessary to reschedule the elections by one week.
"As I explained to stakeholders, we were constrained to shift the polls due to severe challenges and lapses we experienced with arrival and distribution of sensitive materials, as well as the fires that gutted some of our offices in quick succession, destroying several election materials."
He said INEC had identified six areas covering three broad areas like deployment of materials, movement of personnel and reconfiguration of smart card readers.
Yakubu said: "Let me, therefore, present to you the level of implementation so far achieved as follows; by 4p.m. yesterday, all issues relating to the delivery of the materials were identified and virtually addressed. Ballot papers, result sheets and a host of non-sensitive materials are now in location across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
"Our state offices commenced the process of inviting stakeholders to the Central Bank of Nigeria to examine the retrieved materials deployed last week and to witness the batching of materials according to local government areas. This is on-going at the moment and is expected to be completed today, Tuesday 19, February 2019.
"The movement of materials to LGAs for batching according to wards and polling units shall take place on Wednesday, 20 and Thursday, 21 February 2019.
"All Registration Area Centres (RACs) are to be activated by 9a.m. on Friday, February 22, 2019. Personnel and materials should be at the RACs by mid-day on Friday, February 22, 2019.
"Refresher training for ad hoc personnel should take place at the RACs on Friday, February 22, 2019. Personnel and materials must arrive at the Polling Units latest 7a.m. on Saturday 23, February 2019. Opening of polls nationwide will take place at 8a.m. on Saturday, February 23, 2019."
Explaining further on the rationale for a week long postponement of the polls, the INEC Chairman said; "You would recall that in my address to stakeholders, I mentioned that we intended to reschedule the elections for just 24 hours to enable us to deliver the final batch of sensitive materials for the elections.
"However, our ICT team notified us that it would require more time to reconfigure the Smart Card Readers in time for the elections. Let me explain why. The Smart Card Readers (SCRs) are configured to only open for use at 8a.m. on Election Day, and to automatically shut down by 10p.m.
"This is designed to forestall any illegal use of the SCRs before the appointed time of elections. There are roughly 180,000 SCRs to be deployed for the elections and the ICT team said that they would require 5-6 days to complete the configuration.
"I am glad to say that as at today, about 98 per cent of the SCRs have been reconfigured and we are confident that by tomorrow all would be ready, which is a day earlier than scheduled. "
The INEC chairman also stated that campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly elections shall now end at midnight on Thursday, February 21, 2019, while campaigns for the governorship, state assembly and FCT Area Council elections shall end at midnight Thursday, March 7, 2019.
He explained that preparations for governorship, state assembly and FCT Area Council elections are well underway, saying already, the sensitive materials for the elections have started arriving at various locations for onward movement to various CBN branches across the country.
Yakubu further stated: "Indeed, some of these materials arriving through our airports have been erroneously construed by some people as materials for the elections holding this weekend. I want to reassure you all that all materials for the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections next Saturday are already in the states ready for deployment to LGAs, Ward and Polling Units.
"We have learnt a lesson from the preparations for the elections holding this weekend. For this reason, we shall start the movement of materials for the next elections early to ensure that nothing disrupts our process.
"While we fully understand the disappointment and even anger that followed that rescheduling of the elections on February 16, I wish to appeal to stakeholders to be more dispassionate and circumspect in their comments in order not to overheat the polity.
"The commission is focusing on the elections to be held on February 23 and 9th March 2019 to ensure that they are free, fair and credible. We urge all Nigerians to participate fully in the elections, notwithstanding the disappointment caused by the rescheduling of dates."
He said the commission would continue to speak to Nigerians daily to let them know the extent of readiness of the commission.
US Congressman Blames Buhari, Allies for Polls Shift
Christopher Henry Smith, an American politician currently serving in his 20th term as the US Representative for New Jersey's 4th congressional district, has blamed Buhari and those close to him for the last-minute postponement of the 2019 elections by INEC.
Smith, who is also the immediate past chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Sub-committee on Africa, said in a statement he issued on Monday: "Responsibility for the delay of Nigeria's presidential election lies squarely with President Muhammadu Buhari and those close to him.
"Actions in advance of the election -- including removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and arson attacks on INEC offices in opposition strongholds -- are undermining confidence that this election and subsequent gubernatorial elections will be free and fair. At a minimum, the presidential election must meet the 2015 standard, which saw a peaceful transfer of power and a statement by the then-sitting president that all bloodshed must be avoided."
Smith also called upon the Trump administration and the State Department to focus greater attention upon Nigeria, saying: "In addition to being sub-Saharan Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria is its biggest economy, and what happens in Nigeria has ramifications beyond its borders.
"Given the magnitude of global problems Secretary Pompeo must contend with, he should consider appointing a Special Envoy for Nigeria vested with full authority. The State Department must use all tools at its disposal, including visa denial and sanctioning authority, to hold accountable those who undermine democracy and foment sectarian and ethnic violence."
Commenting further on the role of the State Department, he asked Secretary Pompeo to conduct an internal investigation into why a handful of State Department officials had apparently pushed for a statement last month "welcoming" the results of a fraudulent election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), defying a reported interagency consensus that had sought accountability and transparency.
"More than 'unfortunately-timed,' that statement accepting electoral fraud in the DRC sent a negative message throughout sub-Saharan Africa," Smith said.
"Indeed, it may be directly contributing to the electoral chaos and violence we are seeing unfold in Nigeria. There must be an internal investigation at State and those responsible must be held to account."
Smith is the lead Republican co-sponsor of H. Con. Res. 4, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass of California, which calls for "credible, transparent and peaceful elections in Nigeria, and he chaired a hearing in December entitled "Nigeria at a Crossroads: The Upcoming Election," which featured testimony from the State Department and USAID with regard to support for a free and fair electoral process in Nigeria.