By Nkannebe Raymond
It would have been easier to stomach the mess the electoral umpire made of Nigeria and Nigerians the other day with its midnight abortion of Saturday polls which many Nigerians had looked forward to with so much anxiety, if it were the first time it was doing so. But that is not the case. In the last three cycles of general elections, the electoral umpire has proven beyond all iota of doubt, as criminal attorneys say, that it is either overwhelmed to deliver on its statutory duties, or incapable of doing so.
In the year 2011, in my sophomore year in University, the commision under the headship of prof. Attahiru Jega first betrayed this crass managerial vacuity. Almost midway through a parliamentary poll, he stunned a beleaguered nation with the news of the postponement of the polls citing its trademark alibi, “logistic challenges”. In 2015, under the same leadership, the Commission, this time, perhaps understandably postponed by six weeks the opening of the first day of ballot in the general election of that year. Thankfully, “logistic challenges” were not cited this time. The commision rather, was acting on the reservations and /or intelligence report of the security agencies who expressed fears that it may not be able to provide security cover for the polls in the North Eastern states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe owing to the activities of Boko Haram.
Fast forward to 2019, the commission has returned to a familiar yarn. While many Nigerians went to bed on Friday night hoping to go out and cast their ballot on Saturday morning in what is arguably Nigeria’s most keenly contested presidential election, they woke up to the shocking news of the postponement of the polls. There is no prize for guessing the reason advanvced this time: it is still the same logistics challenges. At a press briefing on Saturday afternoon, the INEC boss, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said fire incidents at its local offices in Abia, Anambra and Plateau states, as well as poor weather conditions in some south eastern states amongst a host of other factors, prevented it from going on with the polls. He was honest to admit however that stipulation as to funding did not force its hands in coming to the decision.
Now, as much as one tries to sympathise with INEC considering its modest efforts thus far towards delivering on the onerous 2019 project, it is impossibe not to condemn the commission for what is a collosal national embarassment for Africa’s largest democracy. And this, for many reasons. Barely a week ago, the head of the commission told members of the press that it was ready and prepared to go on with the polls. In fact at a particular media outing with the delectable Osasu Igbenedion of the famous “Osasu Show”, when asked whether he sees any possibility of postponement of the polls, the INEC boss categorically responded, “i do not see any possibility of postponement”. That was how certain and reassurig the man was.
Many Nigerians as well as the international community must have taken him for his words and went as far as deploying their observers ahead of the polls. Perhaps in order to further allay any fears as to its preparedness for the elections, some 48 hours before the news of the postponement broke, the commission was still cocksure of its readiness thereby giving Nigerians the green light to embark on those risky journeys to catch up with the polls at their polling units. Strikingly, it only came to the realisation of its unpreparedness in the early hours of February 16th, the same day, it has scheduled for the polls. This, more than anything else, underscores the tardiness of the commision and leaves behind a huge question mark of its capacity to conduct elections in a country as large as Nigeria. As one commentator put it: who cancels an election on election day?
Ofcourse, the cost implication of the postponement are huge and rubs off on entire Nigerians including those in Diaspora. This intervention however, is not the forum to weigh in on the details of the ‘Opportunity Cost’ of INEC’s blunder. Ofcourse, the social media is awash with heart wrenching stories of how INEC’s miscalculations have altered other people’s calculations.
But what does the news of INEC’s postponement say about Nigeria and the quality of her public service institutions? Does it not mirror how we have been ‘served’ by Nigeria’s behemoth and comatose public service architecture but which we have somehow found a way to condone, accepting it as the base factor of our national existence and in many cases laugh over them at beer parlours and other public places? If anything, the characteristic national outrage over INEC’s serial blunders is perhaps due to the salient and peculiar nature of the role it plays in our democratic process. Otherwise, a calm appraisal of the quality of public service in Nigeria leaves behind a rather gloomy picture of a country whose progress is held back by the sub-optimal performance of her public institutions.
In a sense the INEC chairman at the press briefing last Saturday made these insinations. While rounding up his response to a question during the interractive session that followed his address, he observed, “INEC is one of the most improved public institutions in this Country in the last 10 years”. To give a context to his assertion, he asked the audience to make a comparism of the quality of elections the commision have conducted between the year 2010 and today and the innovations it has brought to bear in its operations.
I like to think that there is merit in the INEC boss’ observation. Anyone who doubts this assertion only has to interface with most of the public institutions in the country to appreciate the strides that have been made by the commisision. From the National Television Authority (NTA), to the Police, Customs, Navy, Immigration, the Universities and Health institutions to keep the list short, we are beset by organizations whose processes are either too slow or populated by unmotivated members of staff who are a bore to national productivity. Little wonder why someone once referred to the Nigerian public service as the fortress of the indolent. Otherwise there is no reason why some of the simplest things such as applying for academic records from a university can be the most difficult.
And so while this writer does not exculpate the commission from any responsibility for this gaffe, the fact of the matter is that this postponement and whatever neccessitated it, represents a microcosm of the Nigerian state of dystopia which we all should be concered about.
While the did has been done, and efforts being made to make sure we have at least a manageable election, by the 23rd of February, and 9th of March, 2019 respectively, I think the INEC chairman made a very salient observation at that press briefing on Saturday. It is this: that at the end of this election, this Country must have a conversation around the conduct and management of elections. This is the greatest take away for me, in the midst of this hullaballoo.
Raymond Nkannebe is a Legal Practitioner and Public Affairs Commentator. Comments and reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org.