• Monday, June 17, 2024
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BusinessDay

Counting the cost of poll shift

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Before now, many have been relishing the prospect of having the much anticipated presidential election on Valentine’s Day. The possibility of mixing politics with love simply aroused the interest of not a few Nigerians. The recent announcement by INEC of the rescheduling of the general elections has, however, put paid to all that. The rumpus caused by the sudden decision of INEC to postpone has continued to re-echo across the land. While some are berating INEC for what they consider ‘a coup against democracy’, others are applauding the electoral body for taking what they term ‘a patriotic decision’. These divergent views are not unexpected considering the conflicting political interests of those concerned and the interface of other such variables in the ongoing political tussle in the country.

The main pre-occupation of this piece, however, is the cost of the postponement of the general elections on the country, political parties and individuals. To begin with, the abrupt putting off of the election has, without a doubt, done much havoc to the not-too-admirable global image of our country. Being the most populous black country in the world, much is expected of Nigeria within the comity of nations in terms of strict adherence to global best practices. Sadly, however, recent happenings in the country do not in any way portray our nation in good stead. It is, therefore, not surprising that the sudden deferment of the election has further dented the global mage of Nigeria as a country of frivolous and superficial people. Nigeria has now become an object of ridicule across the world. What is particularly puzzling to the world is why a nation of over 170 million people could not successfully plan to hold an election that has been on the card for over four years. This, certainly, is a bad commentary on our country and it is enough for us to lose whatever honour and integrity we have within the international community. The argument is that if highly volatile nations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq could hold elections, it leaves much to be desired that Nigeria, where only 14 out of 774 local council areas are experiencing uprising, is finding it difficult to hold election.

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The shift in poll also has deep-rooted implication on the image of the Nigerian military as well as other security agencies. In giving reasons for the shift in poll date, INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, made it clear that it became necessary mainly for security factors. He said, “There are quite a number of issues in the conduct of elections, the most critical of which is security matter which is not under the control of INEC.” Jega further confirmed that INEC was ready with all election matters under its control but was compelled to take the security advise from the national security adviser and the service chiefs into consideration in adjusting the timetable for the polls.

The issue being raised by pundits is how the military which has not been able to successfully dislodge Boko Haram for six years could do same under six weeks. Another vital concern is what happens if the military is unable to put the security situation in the country under check before the new date. Would that lead to another shift in poll? Whichever way one looks at things, the image of the military has been badly deflated by the poll shift imbroglio and it would take some time before it could really come clean.

Also, INEC itself has come out of the poll shift controversy more battered than before. The truth of the matter is that despite Jega’s clever manoeuvre to shift attention away from INEC’s near sloppy manner of managing the issue of permanent voter cards distribution, it is difficult to completely shield the electoral umpire from culpability in respect of the poll shift. Without a doubt, INEC’s handling of PVC distribution and other related matters has, to say the least, been shoddy. So, at the end of the day, INEC’s image as a competent electoral body has been grossly undermined. It will be recalled that the 2011 presidential poll was equally shifted by a week because of hiccups experienced across the country right on poll day. This shows that INEC has a rich history of ineptitude and this does not in any way do its image any good. It is left to be seen how the electoral body hopes to wriggle itself out of the negative tag it has earned in certain quarters.      

Besides casting a dark cloud on the credibility of the country as well as the competency of INEC, the postponement also has far-reaching implications for political parties in respect of electioneering campaigns, planning, logistics and financing. Previously, most of the candidates aspiring for various political offices had zeroed their budgeting and other associated matters on the initial election dates as earlier announced by INEC. The poll shift would, therefore, bring about additional strains on the aspirants and their political parties. With the reality of the current economic situation in the country, having to extend campaign programmes and plans for another six weeks would, undoubtedly, be a serious financial burden on the political parties and their aspirants.

On the social scene, the postponement also gravely complicates things for event managers and planners as they now have to alter previous plans and make fresh ones. The loss in this respect is not by any means negligible. In some cases, invitation cards have been printed and widely distributed while various souvenirs have been produced at huge cost. The implication is that, based on the current reality, new plans and arrangements have to be made. It is like starting all over again and at no mean cost.

It is, however, hoped that the poll shift would help to diffuse the already tense political atmosphere in the country. It is hoped that all stakeholders in the Nigerian project would see the need to embrace peace. According to Martin Luther King, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

Tayo Ogunbiyi