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Emerging Nigeria!: INEC & postponement of 2019 elections: Prepared or unprepared?

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Is it possible that an effective organisation will realise only on the very day of executing a project that it will be unable to complete it? Especially given that the planning for the Presidential election was launched four years ago. While one may sympathise with the leadership of the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) given the enormity of the task, security challenges and difficult terrain they have to deal with, Nigerians cannot totally excuse the apparent mismanagement and embarrassment. Blame games have been going on across party platforms, since 2.am Saturday 16th February 16, 2019, when the INEC chairman, Yakubu Mahmood announced the postponement of yesterday’s Presidential election by seven days. While everyone including INEC, political parties and voters are entitled to their own opinion, there are a number of common denominators in the development.

If well-known and expected logistics and operational problems (which is the reason given by the INEC Chairman) could not be solved at this point, (on the very morning of the election), counting from the last four years when INEC began to prepare for this election; there is very limited evidence to support the thinking that Saturday 23 February, 2019 – the new date for the election will have INEC prepared. Without losing confidence in INEC’s ability to conduct a free and fair election, it must be said that the postponement by seven days will add a lot of new dimensions to the conduct of the elections and could therefore, jeopardise its ability to proceed in a free and fair manner.

Let’s begin with the role of local and international election observers, a critical estate of the election realm, given their duty, in providing unbiased accounts regarding the conduct of the election and who – at this point in time – must have already utilised some resources in positioning themselves throughout Nigeria for election observance. It cannot be denied that the scope, quality and robustness of the all-important observation mission/campaign for the 2019 elections in Nigeria, have already been withered if not totally jeopardised. Those who have come in from outside Nigeria would never have imagined that a postponement will be made on the very day of the election.

Did INEC even do any systematic preparedness assessment in the days and weeks preceding 16th February? Do we now have a strong case for considering a third party independent committee or organisation to externally evaluate INEC’s plans and pre-election management efforts? Will the foreign observers who provide a civic and important perspective to the election stay back in Nigeria for 7 days? Will they fly back and return in seven days? Was this part of their contingency? Has any other nation in the world even cancelled election on the very day it was slated to take place?

Beyond the impacts on the observer community, this will certainly have a meaningful impact on voter participation. Incidences like this help to nurture voter apathy – where the electorate, some of whom might have migrated to far and near places to exercise their franchise – may become disenchanted. A good number of migrated voters, (if not all) will never return to their registered polling units, a second time, to vote. This is also true for voters who have not migrated but were already mentally prepared to vote. We cannot measure the influence of the postponement on voter turnout but it will not be small by any measure.

It is actually not my opinion that this postponement was carried out to enable any favoured political party to rig the election, while it remains to be substantiated by those who hold that view; I believe this is a clear case of project mismanagement and which will surely come with dire consequences. As bedrock of the modern democratic system of governance, elections are very sensitive issues, given that it is one of few legitimate channels through which a legitimate administration may be installed. Its conduct must therefore, be transparent enough and properly managed to inspire citizens’ unbiased acceptance of its outcome. Elections have traditionally been dicey issues in Nigeria, a country with a rich (abi poor?) history of electoral malpractices and where for a major part of the life of its near-nascent democracy, executive influence over a supposedly independent electoral umpire – INEC – has been rife.

By all measure, the postponement of the 2019 election which was for the sake of fairness (according to the official statement from INEC), has made it even more difficult for the elections to be totally free and fair, when they eventually hold. To give the commission the benefit of the doubt, a good outcome and conduct might still be possible but Saturday’s incident has simply made it 500percent harder to achieve. Goodluck to INEC, Goodluck to Nigeria and the Nigerian voters.

Chiijoke MAMA is the Founder of Meiracopp Nigeria Limited and a Doctoral Researcher in Business Management. m.chijioke@meiracopp.com

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