•Buhari’s defeat inevitable – Fayose
By OBINNA EZUGWU and YUSUF MOHAMMED
Nigerians have been unrelenting in their condemnation of the last minute decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the long awaited 2019 presidential election while they were asleep on Saturday, with many insisting that there is more to the decision than meets the eye. It had taken the Prof. Yakubu Mahmoud led INEC four years to prepare for the 2019 elections, but it was only a few hours to the commencement of the polls on Saturday that the electoral body jolted many when it announced its’ postponement, citing logistics and other sundry challenges.
The INEC chairman who announced the decision at about 2:43am on Saturday while briefing journalists in Abuja, said the commission had met on Friday, 15th February 2019 and reviewed its preparations for the election and therefore, shifted the Presidential and National Assembly elections to Saturday, 23rd February 2019.
“Following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan and the determination to conduct free, fair and credible elections, the Commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible,” he said.
“Consequently, the Commission has decided to reschedule the Presidential and National Assembly Elections to Saturday, 23rd February 2019. Furthermore, the Governorship, State House of Assembly and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Elections are rescheduled to Saturday 9th March 2019. This will afford the Commission the opportunity to address identified challenges in order to maintain the quality of our elections.”
When subsequently he came out to explain what prompted the postponement in a media chat on Saturday afternoon, he explained that bad weather had made it impossible to fly materials with planes, and that they had to resort to the use of trucks which were not effective. He said the extension was needed to ensure that election would start by the same time at all polling units, which according to him, would not have been possible on Saturday due to the logistics problems.
But not many were impressed, not least the chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole whose hard hitting question, including why he had to wait till early Saturday morning to make such announcement, rattled the INEC helmsman.
Not many saw it coming. The expression of shock has been unrelenting. And inevitably, several fingers are pointing at the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC.
“The suspicion people have is that they just want to use INEC as the fall guy for political machinations. We are not really sure whether it is INEC’s incompetence. It is just that INEC might submit itself to being used. Professor Mahmoud is advised to stand his ground and make sure he is not compromised in this very vital election,” said Chief Tola Adeniyi, author, administrator and columnist.
“Once you postpone election, people will spend more; it staggers the financial calculations of those who are contesting. Usually it’s the incumbent that has more money to spend. So, the idea is to make sure that the financial base of the opposition is weakened to the advantage of the incumbent. Since Buhari has said that nobody can unseat him, we are left with no option than to think that he will do anything to ensure that he is not unseated.”
Although there had been speculations to the effect that the election may be postponed, such was assumed settled on Friday when there was no statement from the electoral body. And considering the time, resources available to the it, and the critical importance of the presidential election, not many could have had enough reasons to expect such postponement on the election-day.
Although INEC under Prof. Yakubu had attracted criticisms over its penchant for organising inconclusive elections and elections whose credibility have been called to question, the level of commitment it had shown – from announcing the date for the elections as early as March 2017 to releasing a time table and a schedule of activities in January last year – tended to suggest that there couldn’t be any grounds for shoddy adjustments.
“I watched the news up till 9pm on Friday and there was no indication that the election will be postponed. I don’t know of any country where election is postponed on the morning of the election when people are already getting ready to go and vote,” noted Mr. Ray Ekpu, veteran journalist and co-founder of Newswatch Magazine.
“INEC had been assuring us again and again that there would be no postponement. Again, the issues that are mentioned are issues that can be accommodated. Bad weather: it’s easy to get weather forecast today, it has a solution.
“The burning of card readers and putting INEC offices on fire, these things are part of the dirty things that Nigerians do. So, INEC ought to have anticipated that mischievous people can do this and could have taken precautions. But let’s give them benefit of the doubt and hope they will gather themselves up and conduct a credible election in the next one week,” he said.
Chief Adeniyi also placed the blame on the table of the electoral umpire, describing the postponement as shameful.
“It is shameful and disappointing that INEC hasn’t lived up to expectations,” he said. ‘In spite of the assurances given by the INEC chairman, even up till the eleventh hour, it is very curious that he could just do a U-turn and now say he is postponing.”
A number of events had culminated into the eventual postponement. Few days ago, INEC office at Isialangwa Local Government area of Abia State was burnt down by unknown persons, destroying thousands of PVCs and other materials.
Days later, another fire incident in Qua’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State, destroying ballot boxes, PVCs and other electoral materials. This was followed by another fire incident that destroyed 4,695 smart card readers in Anambra and the destruction of electoral materials by unknown gunmen in military uniforms in Benue.
Yet, last week, police in Kano State apprehended individuals carrying already thumb-printed ballot papers and Kaduna State Governor, the same week, claimed that 66 people of Fulani extraction were killed in Southern Kaduna. But it’s an allegation yet to be corroborated and many have accused the governor of attempting to stir ethnic tensions ahead of the polls. Indeed, unconfirmed reports say there were already results of the presidential election awarding the ruling party victory in Abia State.
The above developments some allege, suggest relentless plots by certain political interest groups to compromise the elections. And considering that all the fire incidents happened in states believed to be strongholds of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and are expected to deliver to its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar by substantial margin, while the thumb-printed ballot boxes in Kano were printed in favour of the APC, some suggest, finger can only point to one place.
“I will call it a predictable postponement: predictable because from what I can see this government was not ready for this election. Whether we will still have election in the next one week we don’t know,” said Chief Goddy Uwazurike, lawyer and president emeritus of Aka Ikenga, an Igbo think tank.
“In 2015 when the election was postponed two weeks before hand, the National Council of State even met before it was decided that there would be a postponement. And of course, I remember the APC calling President (Goodluck) Jonathan all sorts of names, but today APC government has done postponement, this time unilaterally by 2:45 am, less than five hours to the commencement of voting.
“In one breath, the APC government is saying after all, the PDP government did it in 2015, but the question I’m asking is this: if PDP did it in 2015 and you condemned it, why are you repeating what you have condemned? For reasons I still don’t understand, this government thinks Nigerians cannot reason. I can tell you without any fear of contradiction, history will vindicate the just.”
In an interview with Channels on Saturday, human rights lawyer and former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu took particular exception to the Kaduna governor, El-Rufai, accusing him of fabricating the story of the alleged killing of 66 Fulani in Kaduna, while accusing politicians of being partly responsible for the postponement.
“It’s not just logistics,” he said. “It is politicians with all manner of designs and I think it is important to as we deal with the question of this postponement, begin to call our politicians to order.
“You cannot on the eve of a very important election be talking of 66 people of one ethnic group killed, and you are talking about it with celebratory air, that’s beyond irresponsible.”
Opposition figures, groups and activists alike have not pulled their punches in what has become an all expression of rage. The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) claimed that the desperation of President Buhari and his men to win the presidential election, by all means, was responsible for the last minute postponement of the election.
“In their bid to once again foist an unpopular government on Nigerians, they threw caution to the winds and started setting electoral materials on fire in states that are well known to be strongholds of opposition. These acts of sabotage, no doubt, ruined the preparations of the Independent National Electoral Commission for the elections,” said the CUPP spokesman, Imo Ugochinyere.
“We have raised the alarm many times that agents of the government were working hard to ensure that elections are not held or are declared inconclusive in areas they know that the All Progressives Congress will never win. We have been vindicated.
“We blame the international embarrassment this last minute postponement has caused the nation on the President, the desperate leaders of his party, APC, and the nation’s security agencies who failed woefully in their duties to protect electoral materials and INEC offices from attacks by these enemies of the nation.
”He, however, said the INEC chairman displayed courage by shifting the election, noting that the postponement averted what could have resulted to “national bloodshed because we are aware that APC wanted to proceed with election after compromising distribution and destroying materials in over 15 states.”
The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku, in his own remarks, alleged that the shift in date was the handwork of the Buhari administration, employing the biblical expression “hand of Esau, voice of Jacob”.
“This postponement is obviously 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. Nigerians must frustrate their plans by coming out in even greater numbers on Saturday, 23 February and Saturday, 9 March respectively.
“Knowing that the Nigerian people are determined to reject them, they are desperate and will do anything in their power to avoid their rejection by the Nigerian people. Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further anti-democratic acts.”
Former Plateau governor, Jonah Jang, and his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayo Fayose, had also taken turn to berate the Buhari government, accusing it of manipulating INEC for electoral gains. While Donald Duke, former Cross River governor and presidential candidate, like a number of others, has called for the INEC boss’ sack.
Fayose in his tweeter handle said: “Two days ago, I told Nigerians that the Presidency cabal was considering postponement of the elections because they knew that they can’t win. Now I am vindicated,” he said.
However, he was of the view that this will not help the cause of the APC but will further affect the chances of the party at the polls. He continued, “With this, they have only succeeded in making their situation worse. Nigeria will defeat this tyranny ultimately.”
However, while fingers are pointing at the ruling party, the party’s members have also come out to condemn the postponement, denying any involvement in it. A member of the party’s Board of Trustees Alhaji Ismaeel Ahmed said: “Let’s not mince words; we are thoroughly and utterly disappointed in INEC. How can you give us a date a year ago and come up with logistical issue as an excuse. You have been lying to us all along that you are ready?”
President Buhari himself, in a statement said he was disappointed with the decision of the electoral body, while reassuring Nigerians that the election will be credible.
“I am deeply disappointed that despite the long notice given and our preparations both locally and internationally, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the Presidential and National Assembly elections within hours of its commencement,” Buhari said in a statement on Saturday.
“Many Nigerians have traveled to various locations to exercise their right to vote, and international observers are gathered. INEC themselves have given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections. We and all our citizens believed them.
“This administration has ensured that we do not interfere in any way with the work of INEC except to ensure that all funds were released to the commission. We now urge INEC to ensure not only that materials already distributed are safe and do not get into wrong hands, but that everything is done to avoid the lapses that resulted in this unfortunate postponement, and ensure a free and fair election on the rescheduled dates.”