IN the wee hours of Saturday, the country was caught by surprise with the announcement of the postponement of the general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Going public with the decision minutes to 3 am, Mahmood Yakubu, the commission’s chairman, had said “proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible” based on an assessment of the logistics and operational plan.
The presidential and national assembly elections, initially scheduled to be conducted that same Saturday, were shifted by a week to the next, February 23, and then the governorship, house of assembly and Federal Capital Territory area council elections were postponed to Saturday, March 9.
The largely unexpected turn of events has triggered a blame game, especially among the major political parties, and many have contributed to the conversation with what they believe are the actual reasons for the postponement.
Here are some of those claims:
USA asked INEC to postpone
Perhaps one of the quite far-fetched theories is that which credits the United States government for persuading INEC to backtrack. According to this claim, the commission’s original plan was to conduct the elections in certain states, while excluding others on February 16, “but the insistence of the United States of America and other members of the international community frustrated the plan”.
“According to findings, the decision at the meeting of INEC Chairman and 12 INEC Commissioners was for election to hold today in about 26 states while the remaining states will have theirs in a later day, but this decision was reversed at the meeting with international observers and other stakeholders during which the US representatives insisted on the presidential election holding simultaneously across the country,” wrote Vision in Progress, an online platform that describes itself as a tracking and monitoring platform for government policies’ implementation and legislation.
It is said that the secret strategy was to observe the poll results and performance of the opposition in the 26 states where the elections were to be held, and then to rig in the remaining states based on the observations.
APC wanted to rig, with the help of Amina Zakari
The People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in a statement released on Saturday had accused the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, of intentionally interfering with the electoral commission’s efforts to organise credible elections.
Kola Ologbondiyan, the party’s national publicity secretary, said they gathered fresh evidence showing that Amina Zakari, head of INEC’s Health and Welfare Committee and President Buhari’s distant relative, and another “high-ranking INEC commissioner” played a role in the planned sabotage.
“These APC elements in INEC engineered actions that affected the distribution and delivery of INEC sensitive materials to designated locations, thereby frustrating the electoral process,” the statement read.
“We also have details of how a hired team of data hackers corrupted the voters’ register, with a view to causing mass confusion and voters suppression on the election day. Nigerians would have been shocked that many registered voters in possession of their Permanent Voter’s Cards, PVCs, would have arrived their polling centers on election day, only to discover to their amazement that their names have disappeared from the register in their units.
“Intelligence available to us further details how agents of the Presidency infiltrated the distribution system and ensured that sensitive election materials do not arrive at the designated locations, with the views to stall elections in several states and pave way for a staggered election… In some of the states like Edo, sensitive election materials did not arrive at their designated points on APC interruption.”
The recent controversial and severally refuted claim by the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, that 66 persons were killed by gunmen in the state has also been suggested to be part of the ruse meant to convince Nigerians the postponement was necessary.
Meanwhile, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) has likewise alleged that President Buhari plans to replace Yakubu with Zakari, who also heads the commission’s collation committee, as the chairman.
“The President is planning to use the excuse of inability to hold the election today as a reason for the imminent suspension,” said CUPP spokesperson, Ikenga Ugochinyere.
“The sin of the INEC Chairman is that he refused to conduct staggered elections that will allow the president and his men to manipulate the process.”
PDP wanted to rig, through connivance with INEC
With even greater enthusiasm, the APC has equally asked that the PDP be held responsible for the disruption in INEC’s electoral timetable. Shortly after the postponement was announced, Festus Keyamo, who is a spokesperson for Buhari’s campaign committee, condemned the commission’s decision and claimed it was a ploy by the PDP to get more time to gain political grounds.
“We do hope that INEC will remain neutral and impartial in this process as the rumour mill is agog with the suggestion that this postponement has been orchestrated in collusion with the main opposition, the PDP, that was never ready for this election,” Keyamo wrote.
“We note that all the major credible demographic projections have predicted a defeat of the PDP and it seriously needed this breather to orchestrate more devious strategies to try and halt President Buhari’s momentum. It did the same as the ruling Party in 2015, when it realised the game was up, by orchestrating the postponement of the 2015 elections by six weeks. Now, it may be up to its old trick again,” he added.
“We have earlier raised the alarm that the PDP is bent on discrediting this process the moment it realized it cannot make up the numbers to win this election. We are only urging INEC not collude with the PDP on this.”
National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, has repeatedly made similar claims against the PDP, accusing it of conniving with INEC to corrupt the electoral processes. At the APC caucus meeting held in Abuja on Monday, he claimed that the INEC in Akwa Ibom and Rivers states have compromised in favour of the PDP.
“From all we have now known, I can put my hand on the Holy Koran that INEC leadership knew that they were going to postpone the elections. They shared this information with the Peoples Democratic Party and advised them not to waste their resources, while pretending to us that they are on top of the situation,” Oshiomhole also said.
Governor Yari of Zamfara is responsible
Another theory making the rounds is that Abdulaziz Yari, governor of Zamfara State, caused the postponement because INEC insisted the state’s APC could not participate in the gubernatorial election. This allegation was levelled by Kabiru Marafa, senator representing Zamfara Central Senatorial District.
“During the grand finale of his illegal campaign rallies in his hometown, Talata Mafara, Zamfara on Friday, 8th February, he [Yari] rained abuses and said unprintable things on the person of INEC Chairman Prof Mahmood, and swore that unless his candidates are enlisted to contest, there won’t be elections in Zamfara state and the entire country,” Marafa said on Sunday. “Now it has come to pass, what next?”
He also called on the relevant authorities to hold Yari and those assisting him responsible for the “treasonable sabotage”.
INEC’s official explanation
As is expected, the electoral commission has pointed fingers in more reasonable directions in rationalising its decision to adjust the election timetable at the eleventh hour.
Yakubu highlighted logistical challenges such as bad weather, which delayed the conveyance of election materials, and the fire incidents affecting INEC offices in Abia, Plateau, and Anambra States as part of the reasons.
“While the Commission was considering the following Monday 18th February 2019 as an option, our LCT Department advised us that it would require 5 – 6 days to reconfigure about 180,000 Smart Card Readers earlier programmed to work only on election day Saturday 16th February 2019,” he explained.
The run-up to the 2019 general elections, just as in previous times, has witnessed the circulation of all kinds of fakes news, with top parties attempting to best themselves using misinformation as a tool. Which side of the story is to be given credence and which is to be disregarded therefore still remains in doubt; but it is hoped that time will ultimately separate the truth from mere propaganda.