Strange omens that heralded election postponement
The augury, as it were, had been on the ascendancy all through last week and even weeks before that in the lead up to the February 16, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections. But because Nigeria is never short of drama, no one probably paid much attention to the signs that starred everyone in the face.
First were the three fire incidents in INEC’s facilities in parts of the country. The first was at INEC’s office in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government in Abia State.
At Isiala Ngwa, 2,979 uncollected Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) were destroyed. This was quickly followed by another incident at Qua’an Pan Local Government Area in Plateau State.
Also at Qua’an Pan, the damage was more extensive, as 5,987 PVCs, 380 Voting Cubicles, 755 ballot boxes, 14 generators, election forms and official stamps were lost.
Anambra State was not left out in the torching of INEC’s offices. Here, it would seem an upgrade in the targets of attack, as 4,695 Smart Card Readers were destroyed. Notably, these incidents happened within a space of 12 days. But INEC was quick to dismiss them, saying they were not capable of scuttling the scheduled polls.
INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman on Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, noted optimistically, “While the commission awaits the details of the latest incident, it notes with some relief that there was no fatality or injury reported. Initial assessment however confirms that a total of 4695 of the Smart Card Readers were destroyed in the inferno.
“While this is no doubt, a setback to our preparations for the smooth conduct of the elections in Anambra State, the Commission has taken immediate measures to ameliorate the situation by mopping up some of the spare Card Readers from other states to deploy to Anambra State.”
Okoye and his boss, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu’s repeated assurances turned out huge hoaxes. The inevitable happened and Nigerians have been counting their losses and licking their wounds.
But those were just a tip of the iceberg in the build up to the postponement. Barely five days to election day on Tuesday, February 12, 2019, an international affiliate of Boko Haram, Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), owned up to ambushing and attacking the convoy of Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima on Dikwa-Gaboru-Ngala highway close to the border with Cameroun.
It was perhaps the most audacious move by the insurgent group after it killed over 100 soldiers late last year. No less than six persons were said to have died from the attack, although officials put the figures at three.
A day to the election on Friday, Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, added an inflammatory angle to the issues leading up to the election.
In what many have called his ‘body bag’ philosophy and a major gaff, the governor announced the killing of 66 Fulani in Kajuru Local Government Area.
Why a governor in a state noted for communal violence would choose the eve of a major election to make such announcement continues to baffle many? It has ben established that the attack happened on Sunday through Monday; yet the governor waited almost five days before telling the world.
What is worse, the figures el-Rufai announced have been disputed both by other critical stakeholders in the state, who put the figures around 10-15.
Both Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna State chapter, and Senator Shehu Sani, under whose Kaduna Central Senatorial District Kajuru falls into, have criticized el-Rufai for politicising the killings and naming Fulani as victims in a bid to instigate reprisal attacks with the aim of unleashing violence on the day of election.
Senator Sani told the media, “What I found out about the killing is that it happened between Sunday and Monday. The figures for the deaths are within the range of 10 to 15. The state government exaggerated the figures and also timed the announcement of it in view of the fact that that place is remote and beyond the reach of many journalists.
“By his (El-Rufai) utterances, body language and behaviour, this man does not prove to be someone interested in free and credible elections. And for a man who bragged about body bags, when he talks about corpses, you should be able to understand his kind of obsession.”
Although the army has said killings took place at the said communities, it is baffling why el-Rufai decided to make the announcement on the eve of the election know how volatile his state is. His obsession with ‘body bags’ only weeks before didn’t quite help his reputation.
Although INEC’s chairman, Yakubu, did not link these strange omens to the election postponement, political watchers are convinced these occurrences didn’t just happen. They say they were subtle sub-texts orchestrated to scuttle the polls particularly the rumoured planned staggering of the polls in parts of the country.
With the opposition political parties Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) expressing shock and then bickering over the polls’ postponement, Nigerians can only watch and wait for February 23 to express their will over who will preside over them in the next four years.