SOC Okenwa

Last Saturday (February 16th) ought to have witnessed the organization of the much-anticipated presidential election in Nigeria. But it never happened! At the wee hours of Friday night the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had announced, to the consternation of millions of Nigerians, that the all-important poll for the most powerful office in the land and the African continent had been postponed for one week -- now to hold on Saturday 23rd February this year. 

The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, gave cogent reasons for the one-week shift. According to him some logistical, judicial and operational challenges led to the last-minute decision to annul the electoral process as scheduled pushing same forward in order to get it done right. He apologised for the inconveniences the decision must have caused to the voters and foreign observers.

Days and weeks leading to the poll criminal efforts were made by unknown unpatriotic elements to sabotage the exercise by committing arson against INEC properties; burning down its offices and destroying election materials in some states like Abia, Anambra and Plateau States. Apart from that electoral materials could not be delivered on time to their destinations due to bad weather that delayed flights. Again, there are hundreds of court cases arising from the nomination of candidates of parties. And some of the issues are yet to be resolved.

Of course the postponement has generated national and international opprobrium. The President and his ruling APC party had reacted to the decision with the Vice-President describing it as "truly disappointing". But the opposition are crying foul. For Atiku Abubakar of the PDP the postponement could very well be likened to "a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob. By instigating this postponement, the Buhari administration hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turn out is low on the rescheduled date". 

And for AAC's Comrade Omoyele Sowore the shift was nothing but "a travesty and a familiar nightmare" urging his supporters to "stay the course, re-energise their engagements in their communities, and help to ensure an even bigger turnout for freedom next week". And for YPP's Kingsley Moghalu it was tantamount to "signpost of recycling of failure under PDP and  APC".

Former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state saw the hand of Aso Rock cabal in the postponement. He said the Presidency was aware of the looming defeat and could not stand the shame, hence, the shift in the day of election. He said he had been vindicated having warned two days prior that the presidency cabal were holding a crucial meeting towards ordering for the postponement of the polls.

But looking at it from non-partisan objective point of view nay perspective it could appear that, given the incontrovertible reasons given as grounds for the postponement, INEC ought to have been commended as it were for taking a belated bold courageous decision in the overall interset of the nation and the health of our democracy. For, it is indeed better to push the election forward than having it done under circumstances that could well lead to national chaos or crisis akin to the June 12, 1993 electoral imbroglio.

The abrupt postponement reminded one of a similar incident in the Congo-Kinshasa last December. Following recorded cases of arson committed against their facilities in the capital city and elsewhere and consequent damage done to stockpiled electoral materials within the CENI (equivalent of INEC in Nigeria) had to postpone the presidential poll for one week. The opposition there had cried blue murder but the decision stood and the election came and went on well even though the real winner was not announced. The out-gone President Kabila had manipulated the process and outcome to suit his whims and caprices.

The abrupt nocturnal shift in date for the anticipated poll caused some inconveniences for many folks and families in both DRC and back home in Nigeria. Some family members had left the cities for the hinterland while some workers had equally travelled to the places they could vote before INEC dropped the postponement bombshell. Besides, the assembled national and international electoral observers had their programmes and schedules disorganized by the unfortunate turn of events because they would have to wait for another extra week for them to be able to have an election to be observed or monitored. Again those who jetted home from the Diaspora would have to re-arrange their itinerary and return-trip plans.
But the most affected in these electoral politics in 'Naija' are the masses, the teeming electorates, some of whom had ignorantly but enthusiastically trooped out to the polling booths early Saturday morning to cast their votes only to find out that the poll had been called off as they slept. Their apparent frustration could lead to voter apathy in the future.

Thus far, however, the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC and his team have not demonstrated incompetence. Nor was there any hint as to manipulation of the process from any quarters. Their capacity to emulate the beloved Prof. Attahiru Jega and his competent team that supervised the 2015 general elections could go a long way in dousing tension and re-assuring the increasing doubting Thomases of their sincerity of purpose and patriotism.

All said and done Buharism could be said to be on trial! And the ability of the embattled President to deliver on the general elections (whether he wins or loses) would go a long way to defining or re-defining his battered persona and place in our national history.

SOC Okenwa
[email protected]

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