By Tahir Ibrahim Tahir Talban Bauchi
In my previous article titled, ‘With Broken Hearts and Ready PVCS’, I had said, “INEC is run by Nigerians and we must all collectively rally to support the electoral body to see it carry out it’s mandate of conducting elections. 2015 elections was historic and sought to build a solid foundation for a process that will protect our democracy with an unbiased vigour and professionalism. This must be supported as we hope to build a more viable electoral body. If INEC succeeds, Nigeria succeeds, if it fails, Nigeria fails”. Today’s media briefing by the INEC Chairman has done a lot in casting away any doubts or aspersions that one might have towards the successful conduct of the 2019 elections. Very weighty and untoward allegations had been made by the major players in this elections; namely the APC and the PDP, ranging from rigging to sabotage, including bribery of INEC officials to intimidation of the electoral body’s commissioners.
Today we saw flashes of what Prof. Mahmoud Yakub ought to be as the head of the electoral body, which was why Nigerians were confident that he was capable of heading the body when he was appointed. I had hoped that Prof. Yakub coming from my state, would make us proud by surpassing Prof. Jega’s legacy at the electoral commission. Last weekend’s unfortunate events were very demoralising and a million and one questions were raised over the competence of the electoral body. In his own words, Prof. Yakub said that INEC had faced challenges during the ‘off-season’ of elections, (elections conducted between 2015 to date) but that they did not envisage they would face these kind of challenges in the prompt distribution of election materials nationwide. Today, he has been full of apologies which his earlier unpopular 3am briefing was bereft of; (well not in the words that Nigerians ought to hear).
Campaigns were thrown open once more which is merely abiding by what the constitution says about campaigns being stopped 48 hrs before elections. This was very welcome as parties had bickered over that strenuously. The rumors that an INEC commissioner had been picked up by security operatives is completely false and the INEC Chair cleared the air on that. The allegation that a certain commissioner, because of his ethnicity, was removed or not allowed to conduct his affairs as head of logistics is baseless as he explained how the commission had been merging departments and operations as some commissioners were not appointed before now and INEC had to make do with the services of the available commissioners. Fears were raised over the availability of card readers especially in Anambra state where fire had gutted over 4700 card readers. This too was dispelled by the explanation that INEC always has spare card readers per electoral area, and that mopped up card readers and spares are readily available to replace the burnt ones.
There was the issue of some voting materials for some states finding their way to other states. This was carefully explained as mere mistakes, citing an example of how materials meant for katsina national assembly election were found in another state in 2015. The election for that federal constituency was simply moved to the date the State assembly elections took place. Prof. Yakub explained that such incidences were with just small parcels that were not more than 1 or 2. He satisfactorily explained that such mishaps happen and shouldn’t be alluded to sabotage. He shed more light on the issue of an INEC vendor being an APC candidate, where he explained that the programming of card readers and the handling of algorithms were done by INEC IT staff and not by the vendors themselves, allaying the fears of card reader manipulations.
Mr. President had fallen prey to the opposition’s manipulation of his riot act to agents of sabotage and disruption of the electoral process. There was never a time he said that saboteurs should be shot at sight. His stern warning was clear that anyone violently interfering with the process will be handled ruthlessly. This is especially against the backdrop of the confirmation that thugs had sealed the INEC office at Akwa Ibom state. Some states had their offices or materials razed by fire, some clearly acts of saboteurs or election thugs. As C-inC, he had to send a clear warning and signal that acts of violence and manipulations would not be tolerated. Evidently, Mr. President was disheartened and pained by the postponement of the elections; one in which he had a strong conviction that it was his for the taking.
Prof. Yakub had ended his briefing by stating that such briefings would go on daily at 3pm, to keep Nigerians abreast with the commission’s preparedness. He explained that previously distributed materials had been retrieved and are being reviewed by the commission’s officials and party representatives nationwide. He also added that materials for the state elections are already on their way to state offices nationwide, citing the materials for the North-west zone as an example; meaning that the presidential elections materials were firmly in place. He was quite humane in his discussions, apologising to stakeholders and the generality of Nigerians for the inconveniences and the losses caused. He assured that his reputation and that of the electoral body was at stake, and that it was important for the Independent National Electoral Commission to execute its mandate as an institution of the law, guided by it’s principles and morals. He admonished everyone against commentary and propaganda that would destabilise our political atmosphere. Frankly, he exuded the commitment of a man burdened with the responsibility of saving 170 million Nigerians from delirium. As for the rest of us, Fake news might sound positive to one’s yearnings or political inclinations; overall, they may be damaging to our existential being as an independent republic.