By Tahir Ibrahim Tahir Talban Bauchi
Nigerians cant say they are surprised by the election postponement; surely shocked and disappointed but not taken unawares. INEC has proved in recent times that conducting elections is no mere feat and twice elections have been inconclusive in Rivers and 1 or two other states. Osun state too had some wards where run offs were conducted during the gubernatorial elections. In 2015, elections were postponed and it was done at that time at the behest of the president due to security concerns; fairly, the opposition at the time cried fowl to high heavens. In 2011, voting had begun before the process was called off and postponed and that would be worse off, compared to the most recent postponement. This dreary episode in our electoral body’s history is fast turning into an unbecoming feature in it’s preparations which should be done with by now; considering the funding dedicated to it as well as government’s commitment towards ensuring that it got all the support it needed at a time the National Assembly were recalcitrant towards INEC.
I was among those at the fore-front of calling for the heads of a few online media channels that had broken the news that INEC was postponing the polls. It seemed like fake news and many were under the impression that it was politicians and political parties at it again, spreading fake news; to unbalanced their opponents or gain some kind of advantage by discouraging and disenfranchising ready and committed voters. INEC commissioner for voter Education at around 11.45pm, did deny the news and reiterated that elections were holding as planned. From then on, the landscape was slippery and no one could stand with a definite position as to whether the poll was taking place or not. Some persons placed calls to INEC-monitor and emergency dedicated lines and were still assured that elections were taking place. The fact that INEC commissioners were holding a meeting into the night of an election eve wasn’t any brow-raiser, but the attendant opposing news, breaking a postponement was what made the meeting suspicious. We were glued to our TV screens and our media pads, on a vigil for the most legitimate bit of information we could get. Most of us had situation rooms even before the elections started; seeing that the situation at hand wasn’t going to allow for any situation rooms the next day. The @inecnigeria handle was silent and that was half assuring, but then, the other social media outlets like Sahara, kept tweeting the same news of the postponement over and over again, almost 3 times within the space of an hour. The unforgivable thing was that, how come online media outlets knew about the postponement and yet INEC didnt give an official position up until 3am? Shouldn’t there have been an earlier release, then followed up by the short speech by the INEC chair?
Corpers slept on the floor at INEC offices nationwide and it appears they are one of the groups that were most hit by the development. So many travelled via international flights into the country to exercise their voting rights. Domestic flights were over booked and many joined the millions of road travellers who were getting back home to vote. People paid for hotels and for food and fuel and all other arrangements to make sure they were ready to vote tomorrow. Saturday was Sallah and Christmas all rolled into 1 day and there was no wedding whatsoever planned to hold on Nigeria’s d-day! The difference between today’s poll postponement and all other electoral disappointments regarding the failures of our electoral body is this: voters with pvcs have multiplied in millions and this is due to enhanced voter enlightenment and the general engagement of the Nigerian populace politically. We have become a people that are more aware and involved politically as both the elite group and the masses are actively participating in choosing their next group of leaders and representatives. To begin to describe the losses incurred by Nigerians will be a futile attempt, and to remonstrate INEC for this, will not reverse the situation.
INEC has come out to apologise which is in order and to do more of so wont be an entirely bad idea too. It has also assured that security or other fears of the corruption or penetration of sensitive election materials aren’t the reasons of the postponement. This is refreshing as we all hope that elections are conducted peacefully, freely and fairly. The snag however is that candidates and political parties are going to lose time and voters as 1, a whole week of redundancy takes over there campaigns at the most crucial time, and 2, voters are certainly going to be discouraged and are likely to exhibit apathy towards the polls. INEC has insisted that all guidelines and timetables should subsist and so there will be no lifting of the embargo on campaigns. It may however step in as the umpire to launch a 1 week campaign for the encouragement of voters not to deprive themselves of their rights to vote. Radio, TV and social media adverts should be strongly considered in the next few days to the new election dates.
The allegations and claims making the rounds that INEC has been compromised, or that Buhari is manipulating INEC are all in bad taste, unsubstantiated and the purveyors of these claims should even be penalised. Heating the polity is only to the advantage of unpatriotic elements who do not believe in a 1 Nigeria and do not want to see to it’s progress and development. Irrespective of party affiliations and candidate choices, 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. We remain broken hearted that our date with 2019 was cancelled on ‘date-night’, but our love for Nigeria keeps us engaged to our pvcs which we earnestly wait to use to impress upon the whole world that our democracy has come of age and we are capable of running our elections.