Forestalling rescheduling of general elections

Prof. Atahiru Jega


It is true that the postponement of elections, as Independent National Election Commission did on Saturday, February 16, is not new or entirely strange to some Nigerians who are familiar with the country’s political history. This is not the first time major elections would be postponed in Nigeria. In 2011 and 2015, the commission cited late arrival of voting materials and insecurity respectively as reasons for similarly postponing the elections it had years to prepare for.

In 2011, voting had commenced in some places when INEC announced postponement. The National Assembly elections had kicked off in states like Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu when Professor Attahiru Jega, in a press release, shifted the polls following late deployment of polls’ materials.

In the early hours of April 2, 2011, Jega, the then INEC Chairman, announced that the scheduled elections would not go on due to unavailability of materials. Elections were postponed for another two days.At the time, the commission said the reason for the postponement was due to unanticipated emergency it experienced with late arrival of result sheets in many parts of the country.

According to him, “This is one such occasion. Indeed, it is an emergency. As you know the National Assembly (House of Representatives and Senate) elections are supposed to be taking place as I speak. You would also have noticed that things have not proceeded smoothly as expected with the elections. “The result sheets are central to the elections and their integrity. Accordingly, in many places, our officials have not reported at the polling units, making it now difficult to implement the Modified Open Ballot Procedure that we have adopted. Not only do we have to enter the results in the sheets, the number of accredited voters is also to be entered in the result sheet. While we could have proceeded with the elections in a few states of the country, where all the materials are available, such as Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu, among others, in order to maintain the integrity of the elections and retain effective overall control of the process, the commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly elections to Monday, April 4, 2011.

In 2015 there was no difference. Only that the commission announced the postponement a week ahead of the scheduled time and gave insecurity as its reason. Jega shifted the February 14 presidential election by six more weeks.The commission said since it could not guarantee protection for its personnel and materials, as well as voters during elections, it agreed to adjust the election calendar for the security agencies to tighten up loose ends. This was at the height of Boko Haram insurgency in the North east, particularly Borno, Yobe and Gombe States.

Jega said: “Consequently, the commission has decided to reschedule the 2015 general elections thus: the national elections (i.e. Presidential and National Assembly) are now to hold on March 28th, 2015, while the state elections (Governorship and State Assembly) are to hold on April 11th, 2015.”One would have expected that the electoral umpire would have developed a robust, anticipatory strategy to militate against sudden postponement of elections. However, eight years later, the commission told Nigerians reasons for reviewing its plans hours to elections, suddenly realising its own unpreparedness.

While speaking with The Guardian yesterday, National Chairman, Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Supo Shonibare, stated that it was time to build institutions, stressing that loyalty of the security agencies should be in service to the people.On the fire outbreaks in INEC offices in parts of the country, Shonibare lamented that the Inspector General of Police and all other security operatives were not alive to their responsibility to the people.

He said, “All those three postponements, whether by commission or omission, were intended to assist the ruling party, it is possible that the chairman of INEC may not be aware but we in the opposition are convinced that this sabotage to frustrate elections was planned because the ruling party, not necessarily the president but the cabals around him, were doing so to hold onto power. We need to get to a level where the institutions will refuse to play to the tune of any executive in power.

“We are at a stage in the transition of democracy where we should keep on building institutions. The problem with Nigeria from independence is that those who perform institutional functions somehow imagine that their loyalty should be to the government in power. Meanwhile, their major role is to protect the constitution of Nigeria, and in doing so, it is what is in the best interest of the people that they ought to do, not what is in the best interest of any government in power.”Also, National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Ralph Nwosu, called for proper stakeholders consultation, to forestall future occurrences of election postponement in the country.

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Attahiru JegaINEC
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