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Conspiracy theories trailing INEC’s postponement of presidential election

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Features Editor
19 February 2019   |   4:00 am
Nothing best explains the anticlimax that occurred on election morning at exactly 2:45a.m. than a deflated balloon. Like a pin punched to a balloon, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu...

President Buhari addressing the APC Caucus Meeting at the party’s headquarters in Abuja on 18th Feb 2019.<br />PHOTO: Bayo Omoboriowo

Nothing best explains the anticlimax that occurred on election morning at exactly 2:45a.m. than a deflated balloon.

Like a pin punched to a balloon, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, broke the heart of millions across the world with the following words: “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.”

The words that followed didn’t matter any longer. For those who denied sleep to lay a burning rumour to rest, “no longer feasible” was all they needed to confront their worst fears, that the ‘fake news’ that started flying around since 10:00p.m. on the eve of the election was indeed true.

It was now official, five hours to the commencement of the first rounds of general elections, that the exercise had been extended by seven days.

The decision left many aghast, particularly the over 84 million Nigerians registered to vote. Those who missed the heartbreak moment at midnight woke up numb in the morning with a sense of déjà vu that the hopes of a nation could be thwarted “based on logistics”, a phrase Big Brother Naija (BBN) winner, Efe, popularized.

At what point did INEC logistics and operational plan go awry? The answer to this question has spurned several spins and a feast of conspiracy theories. The official explanation of INEC for the postponement was a parallel line to the tough-talking stance of Prof. Yakubu.

It was like the British passenger liner, the unsinkable RMS Titanic, which after it had been built, its builder, Thomas Andrew, allegedly boasted that not even God could sink the ship. But the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City on April 15, 1912, killing more than 1,500 passengers, same way, the INEC boss had not only sounded surefooted about the sanctity of last Saturday’s election but had gone ahead to forecast and assign dates for general election cycles for the next 36 years.

As far back as March 1, 2018, barely a year to the general elections, in a sort of chest thumping parade, Yakubu released the timetable for elections from 2019 to 2055 during a meeting with the chairmen of political parties in Abuja.

According to INEC’s arrangement, the general elections from 2019 to 2055 will hold in two days respectively as opposed to the proposal of the National Assembly to hold election in three days.

He had said then that in other developed democracies, the dates for elections were fixed, adding that it was time for Nigeria to follow suit.

However, for the third successive general elections, INEC failed to keep its oft-repeated promise of “we’re ready”. With the official reason somewhat lame to be plausible, spinners and conspiracy theorists from both camps of the two leading parties went into overdrive, dishing out their versions of believable possible reasons.

Uche Secondus, the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) accused INEC of working hand-in-glove with the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), because of imminent defeat. The APC, in return, accused INEC of acting out PDP’s agenda. In fact, the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had three days to the election accused INEC of working for the PDP.

Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, said it was the “hand of Esau and voice of Jacob”, accusing APC of being behind the poll shift, while President Muhammadu Buhari, who had relocated to his country home in Daura, Katsina State, said: “I was told of the decision of INEC at about 4:45a.m. On social media, APC supporters wondered why PDP followers already tweeted that the elections would be shifted at a time other Nigerians did not have any inkling.

Presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party Atiku Abubakar

Of the multitude of theories flying across social media, about four or five stand out, which are: INEC was pressured by the international community to resist staggered elections; the ruling party, APC, sensing defeat, sabotaged INEC logistics; PDP colluded with INEC to sabotage the ruling government as another of its Dubai agenda; and that the international community hacked into INEC database to rig the election for a favoured candidate.

The first theory, suspected to be coming from the PDP, is that the APC wanted INEC to conduct “staggered elections” in which only 26 states would vote on Saturday while elections would be postponed in 10 states. The presidential poll would be declared inconclusive.

Based on the pattern of results, APC, using federal might, would then deploy full security and financial resources to the remaining 10 states to suppress PDP’s votes and claim victory.

This strategy, according to the conspiracy theory, was used effectively by the APC in Osun State where the governorship election was declared inconclusive after the opposition PDP was clearly leading.

Voting was allegedly suppressed in the run-off and APC eventually carried the day. 

This theory says the United States of America (US), United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU), sensing what APC wanted to do, mounted pressure on the INEC chairman, not to stagger the elections but shift them to a date on which every state could vote simultaneously.

The second theory is that APC leaders met in Abuja on Wednesday and concluded that the elections were not looking good for them.

This was after, according to the stories, sources close to the Presidency revealed that the National Security Adviser (NSA) had studied all security reports and voter numbers with global analysts and arrived at the conclusion that President Buhari would not win the elections if they where held on Saturday.

The president was then advised to postpone the elections by five weeks citing security issues in Northern Nigeria particularly the security unrest in Zamfara State and the recent attack on the Borno State governor’s convoy by Boko Haram insurgents.

Security agencies and other government agencies were directed to sabotage the election, thus paving the way for INEC offices and card readers to be burnt, the theorists allege. They further claim that working with INEC insiders, the APC made sure materials did not get to some locations ahead of Saturday so that elections would not hold simultaneously across the country.

According to sources, the Federal Government had directed sister agencies like the police, navy, army, and NEMA not to release their aircrafts to INEC for the deployment of materials.

Many had thought the sudden announcement of a national broadcast on Thursday by the president was to adduce reasons for the postponement, but it turned out to be a last attempt by the president to sell himself to Nigerians.

Those who believe in this theory also link it to the earlier theory that but for the international community, INEC would have gone ahead with staggering the elections.

Another theory emerged that faced with the reality that most pre-election opinion polls did not favour them, the PDP decided to collude with INEC to postpone the elections and buy time.

The theorists alleged that most of the personnel at INEC were appointed or recruited when PDP was in power and they still owe their allegiance to the party.

Therefore, the theory goes that the INEC personnel decided to sabotage the elections at the prompting of PDP so that there would be more time to gain support for Atiku Abubakar.

APC supporters are asking why PDP followers knew beforehand that the elections would be postponed if indeed their party was not working in tandem with INEC.

Another reason on which this theory was based was that so much ‘noise’ was made by the opposition to have Amina Zakari, a national commissioner with family ties to President Buhari, removed as head of logistics.

The ploy according to the theorists was to have her discredited and removed from her earlier role as head of logistics, which actually happened when another national commissioner, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, was named head of Electoral Operations and Logistics Committee. And the reorganization was done as far back as October 2018, when INEC tinkered the chairmanship of five of its 15 standing committees.

As a result, Zakari’s position as chairman of INEC’s Electoral Operations and Logistics Committee was changed to Health and Welfare Committee.

In fact, religious bodies are also joining the fray of postulations. The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) said a major factor responsible for the failure of INEC to kick-start the 2019 general elections is the commission’s lack of concern for the divine will.

In a statement by its director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, MURIC said: “Divine truth will always overwhelm social truth. INEC kept telling Nigerians that it was ready. But Almighty Allah knew that it was not actually ready.

“They told the Federal Government that no stone had been left unturned, but all along, INEC forgot a major factor. It ignored the divine factor, the font et origo. INEC chairman should have added by the grace of Allah or by God’s power. By the grace of Allah or by the grace of God is more powerful and more correct than the popular phrase ‘in sha Allah’ because ‘in sha Allah’ simply means ‘if Allah wishes’.”

In effect, MURIC is saying that for not adding the epithet, the election was doomed to fail!

Meanwhile, insiders at INEC said by Wednesday, February 13, management of the electoral body knew that the February 16 presidential and national assembly elections would not hold, no matter the magic wand employed. The INEC insider theorists say they saw the handwriting on the wall as early as Wednesday but the INEC chairman was not brave enough to face the nation, he had to deploy the ‘thief in the night’ approach to pass the all-important message.

From the inside sources too came the theory that because of the pervading atmosphere of mutual distrust and suspicion at the commission, people went about their businesses in hushed tones, preparing for the worst, which was imminent.

They noted that based on the experience from elections organised by the commission, the signs were already there that something was going wrong. “But many of the commissioners were not comparing notes or even talking to one another, thereby compounding a situation that would lead to the embarrassing postponement of the elections. The prevailing atmosphere of in-fighting, inexperience of the logistics committee and poor preparations was further compounded by poor co-ordination by the leadership of INEC.”

There was also the poor weather theory. But punching holes in the official explanation of the INEC boss that the postponement was partly due to the cloudy harmattan weather, which hindered the evacuation of sensitive materials to locations across the country, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said that was far from the truth. The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) corroborated that there were no disruptions caused by poor weather.

“The agency in line with the directive of the Minister of State (Aviation), Sen. Hadi Sirika, had earlier ensured a 24-hour operation at all Nigerian airports on Friday February 15, to facilitate the transportation of INEC materials nationwide,” NAMA said in a statement issued on Sunday.

Far more bizarre is the theory that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) acting the script of the ruling party, allegedly held on to some sensitive electoral materials in its vaults. This way, the marked 10 states would have effectively been stampeded into staggered elections.

However, an INEC insider who is familiar with operations for election explained the process thus: “Typically, INEC takes delivery of sensitive electoral materials, including ballot papers, two weeks to any given election. It is then warehoused with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). One week to the election, INEC sends the materials to state offices. Basically, seven days to any election, all the sensitive materials are already at the states.

“At this stage, the resident electoral commissioners and electoral officers at the state level hold a pre-election conference with party agents and all who will be involved in the elections just to brief them and lay out the procedures. They are informed about the state of preparations, that the materials have arrived and that they are ready to be distributed. This is routine like a normal stakeholders meeting.

“The materials are then moved from the CBN zonal or state offices to various INEC offices in the state on the Tuesday preceding the elections, sometimes on Wednesdays — depending on how big the state is. By Friday, the materials are usually already at the ward levels, and then they are distributed to the polling units by Saturday morning. That is how things run on a good day. But in this case, we started seeing movement of materials on Thursday to the states.”

But will the elections go ahead as scheduled this Saturday? While the INEC chairman has assured Nigerians that the fiasco will not repeat itself, the answer to that question is still hanging in the wind.