By Carl Umegboro
INARGUABLY, February 16, 2019 has become a date Nigerians may never forget in their calendars. It was indeed an exceptionally ‘inactive’ Saturday in history; without any wedding ceremonies, launching, burial or any events across the nation. Nigeria’s electoral umpire; the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had scheduled the Presidential and National Assembly elections on the date, but at eleventh hour dashed the high hopes of the population who had waited earnestly to either renew or reassign mandates to candidates of their choices, as they woke up with a shocking breaking news pinpointing to postponement of the polls. It was like a mirage as all ardent electorates had travelled to their respective domain for electoral franchise including President Muhammadu Buhari to Daura. Buhari retired at home for the election after APC mega rally in Katsina on Thursday 14 February.
Amidst the quandary, INEC’s chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu confirmed the rumour alluding logistic reasons for the postponements. However, prior to the episode, INEC had consistently assured the nation of readiness to conduct a credible election. The Presidency at a point mounted pressure on the National Assembly for approval of INEC’s budget for the general elections which after some hitches was finally approved. Subsequent to the approval, citizens ecstatically expected that funding of the election would take care of all the necessaries and looked forward to having a successful election as repeatedly guaranteed by the authorities.
Regrettably, in a space of two week close to the schedule, repulsive news of infernos on the commission’s offices at Abia, Anambra and plateau states which reportedly destroyed scores of election materials were broken. These acts are barbaric, senselessness and above all, criminal acts that should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians. It rather epitomized lack of decorum and sportsmanship as witnessed at Ogun rally recently, and boils down to needfulness of orientation in the society. Politics should be friendly played as a game as done in other countries without bitterness or taken too far. INEC’s records equally showed other odds in few other states, yet the commission determinedly, reiterated its position to deliver as scheduled.
Objectively, could these ugly developments sufficiently lead to sudden postponement of the election scheduled some months ago? To start with, it is essentially important to note that any failure to hold a Presidential election across all the thirty-six states of the federation alongside federal capital territory on the same day will render the poll inconclusive which will not be accepted by all let alone its concomitant repercussions. Again, it wouldn’t augur well for any losing side to know its fate prior to the conclusion of all voting. Logically, if essential materials were destroyed few days to the date and cannot be reproduced accordingly within time, a short postponement though timely is germane. Should INEC equally be damned over unforeseen circumstances spearheaded by disgruntled elements? The answer is emphatically not affirmative.
However, the Police should take the incident as a call for sober reflection. INEC offices nationwide should be maximally protected during election periods towards circumventing such predicaments in future. The cost implications alone are enormous as most electorates travelled long distances only to suddenly meet the unexpected gaffe. Conversely, that’s where patriotism and nation-building play out as no sacrifice is too much for one’s nation. No doubt, the postponement was painful; nonetheless, one good message it clearly passed is the indisputable independence of the umpire from the executive as President Buhari too was a victim. The paramount factor as INEC reiterated is a glaringly credible, free and fair election that will make winners and losers convincingly know their true sociopolitical worth. Thus, INEC deserves fair judgment particularly with objectivity.
Ultimately, Nigeria as the professed giant of Africa cannot remain anachronistic but should critically plan to embrace full digitalized electoral system, against the existing analogue method that compulsorily involves physical, paper and printing materials. In advanced countries, nothing can ever interfere with a scheduled election as citizens freely vote online even while on bed or other places. Hence, there is nothing to set ablaze or anyone to accuse of vote buying or selling.
Again, the volume of public funds budgeted for manual elections every quadrennial season could be prudently channeled to other areas that will maximally improve the standard of living of people. INEC should be thinking critically towards migrating to online voting in few years time, though the great challenge is the high population that are not digital compliant and may be disenfranchised in online voting. Probably, a special scheme could be earmarked for the class. Nigeria cannot continue with the same inadequate system all over especially movement of electoral materials in trucks across metropolis.
Above all, embracing full digital system will remedy the systematic disenfranchisement of large populations that usually change residential locations and unable to move to their locations of registration, sometimes in another state as human being is dynamic in nature. Such remedy will enable all registered voters to vote irrespective of locations of registration instead of the present scenario that requires compulsory physical presence at registered polling unit.
To conclude, President Buhari exceptionally enjoined citizens in his recent nationwide broadcast to participate freely in the elections. The speech was indeed remarkable and symptomatic of a statesman not minding his participation in the race. In any democracy alongside elections, obviously, there will always be two sides; winners and losers. Whilst the former will always have their way, the latter – their say. Hence, a political equilibrium attained as everyone is a stakeholder. But to take politics too personal by destroying election materials acquired with tax payers’ money and other vices, the law will certainly take its course one day as everyday they say is for the thief, but one day; the owner. Nigeria is indeed at a strategic junction either to move forward or backward. Nevertheless, synchronizing Mr. President’s appeal and guidance, say NO to violence!
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (United-Kingdom). 08173184542-SMS-only.
By Carl Umegboro