On the 16th of February, at about 2.30am the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the postponement of Nigeria's General Elections to the 23rd of February for the Presidential and National Assembly Elections, and the 9th of March for the Governorship and State Assembly Election. This announcement was preceded by hours of closed-door meetings between the INEC Chair, Professor Mahmud Yakubu and the INEC National Commissioners. There was also some indication that since the logistical challenges were not major, the election was either going to be staggered or postponed by two or three days. However, the announcement by INEC to postpone the elections for a week came as a shock to many.
Prof. Yakubu stated that he was certain until hours before his announcement that the elections were going to proceed as planned. He went on to state in his press briefing that it wasn't until about 2am, hours before the polls were scheduled to open, that he realized that proceeding with the elections was no longer feasible.
There has been a lot of debate around the reasons for the postponement provided the electoral commission. It is however obvious that INEC failed in the management of the logistics and in keeping citizens informed of key developments.
Prof. Yakubu asserted in his statement that the election postponement had nothing to do with security challenges, political interference or inadequate resources. He stated that the postponement was a combination of logistical challenges largely attributed to the weather and likely sabotage (arson) where election materials in three locations (Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu'an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and Anambra State Office at Awka) were destroyed. In one of the polling locations at Awka, Anambra State, it was reported that over 4,600 Smart Card Readers were destroyed. According to Prof. Yakubu, the procurement process for these card readers take at least six months.
Given the time constraints, INEC has to collect all back up card readers from across the country to make them available at the above stated locations, where they are most needed. The postponement of the election by a week is predicated on the reconfiguration of 180,000 smart card readers earlier programmed to work only on the initial date set for the elections (16th February 2019). The IT department of the INEC anticipates that this process to reconfigure the smart card readers will take up to 6 days.
As we move forward, the postponement of the elections presents the following challenges:
Sensitive Election Materials - The protection of sensitive election materials, including ballot papers and result sheets, that were distributed in various States to the Local Government Areas (LGAs) are at risk. INEC has promised that all materials will be securely returned to the CBN branches and opened for audit (if required). However, undertaking a nationwide audit would require a significant amount of resources.
Low Voter Turnout - Throughout the country, many citizens were mobilized to vote, including a significant amount of people who traveled far and wide to perform their civic duties. However, this postponement may result in a lower voter turnout, as the cost and time implications might be too much of a burden that citizens may not be willing to bear.
Election Credibility - The international community, especially observation teams, have also been significantly impacted by the election postponement. A source from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) indicated that the cost implications to the agency could reach an estimated $500,000 USD. It is unclear how many election observer missions (EOMs) will be present at the newly announced dates, raising questions about the credibility of the upcoming elections.
Following the postponement, OSIWA's engagement will include:
Working with civil society organizations (CSOs), through the Civil Society Election Situation Room, to engage INEC to provide daily progress updates ahead of elections on 23rd.
Strategizing on how to carry out concerted and targeted efforts to encourage citizens to come out and vote. The key message will be to encourage and reassure citizens of the importance of the ballot. All partner resources will be deployed this week and support from the media will be key to achieving this objective.
Working in collaboration with CSOs to receive assurances that the challenges that led to the postponement have been clearly identified and will be adequately addressed in time for the upcoming elections.