Nigeria: Why Saturday's Election Failed

INEC says there will be no further delays.
20 February 2019

"Delayed orders to proceed with the printing of sensitive election materials, overwhelming quantity of the materials that descended on Nigerian airports, lack of capacity of Nigerian Air Force to evacuate them on time, poor weather conditions in parts of the country last week as well as movement of presidential aircraft necessitating the closure of airports together combined to ensure the failure of last Saturday's presidential and National Assembly elections, Daily Trust learnt from a very knowledgeable source in Abuja last night.

Daily Trust learnt that even though contracts were awarded months ago to both local and foreign printers for the printing of ballot papers and other election materials, the contractors were not given the go-ahead to proceed until the last minute due to numerous court cases arising from party primaries. There was a lot of uncertainty about parties and candidates and printers were kept waiting until they finally got the order to proceed.

A lot of the printed material began arriving by land and air at Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt airports. By Tuesday last week, the materials had become a deluge and had taken over the entire cargo, VIP and private aircrafts' wing of Abuja airport. Nigeria Air Force [NAF], which undertook to deliver them after an air cargo firm initially chartered by the Central Bank failed to do so, managed to deploy only one C-130 plane for the operation. NAF later brought another aircraft to help but its door was too small for huge cargo to go in, so they had to be taken apart, which compounded the delay. Air Force officials told INEC last week that they had many other things to contend with, including movement of military supplies to Borno and Zamfara states.

Despite insistence this week by Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika and Nigeria Airspace Management Authority [NAMA] that weather was not a factor last week, Daily Trust leant that NAF aircraft that flew to Maiduguri and Port Harcourt returned to Abuja when they could not land. Presidential movements then compounded the problem because airports were shut down sometimes for hours on end, our sources also said.

On Thursday last week, many bigwigs turned up at Abuja airport and tried to speed up the airlift. They included INEC Chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele, Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar and Police Inspector General Mohamed Adamu. Even though the airlift operation managed to clear about half of the cargo that was lying at Abuja airport the previous day, several planeloads and truckloads also arrived that night and it soon became clear that the election was headed for failure.

Daily Trust learnt that contrary to social media rumours and allegations, there was no infighting within the top INEC leadership and that its national commissioners, directors and other staffers all worked hard to achieve the target. They were however overwhelmed by the situation. INEC's operations and logistics, including the printing and delivery of materials, are supervised by the commissioner Prof Okechukwu Ibeanu, who sources described as a very hard-working public servant.

The INEC Chairman however appointed an ad hoc advisory committee on logistics headed by retired Air Vice Marshal Ahmad Tijjani Mu'azu. National Commissioners Engineer Abubakar Nahuce and Mohammed Haruna are members of the committee. Daily Trust learnt that first the committee chairman, and then the two members began to spend whole days and nights at Abuja airport in order to speed up the movement but by Thursday, several state Resident Electoral Commissioners [RECs] phoned to say they had not received their election materials. Contrary to social media speculations, INEC National Commissioner Hajia Amina Zakari had nothing to do with logistics since her transfer last October to head the Health and Welfare Committee. Instead, she was in charge of getting the Collation Centre ready for result announcement and the place was so ready that it was used on Saturday afternoon for the Chairman's press conference.

Daily Trust however learnt that even though the warning signs were there for all to see by Friday morning, INEC's top leaders dragged their feet throughout the day and most of the night before announcing the poll's cancellation at 2.40am the next day. This was partly due to intense discussion among them as to when to reschedule the election. While some members wanted it to hold as early as Monday, others pushed for a week's suspension. One member even argued for two weeks' suspension. At 11pm on Friday night, the ICT director told the Commissioners that he needed four to five days to reconfigure all the card readers, which were programmed to work last Saturday.

Much argument followed, with some members saying it required only five minutes to reconfigure one card reader. It was the ICT director's position however that forced the commission to accept a one week's rescheduling. Daily Trust also learnt that INEC bosses are confident that they can pull it off this time around. As at yesterday, Tuesday, 96% of the card readers had been reconfigured. Also, materials had been delivered by last night to every state, and RECs are now expected to move them to local governments on Wednesday, to wards and clusters on Thursday and on to polling stations on Friday.

Daily Trust also learnt yesterday that INEC's top bosses had expressed frustration with the security agencies' "harassment" of its commissioners and directors over last week's election failure. At least four of them were invited by the Department of State Services [DSS] to report at its offices yesterday but the invitations were later cancelled.

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