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A staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) sits on electoral materials at a local office in Port Harcourt, Southern Nigeria on February 16, 2019 after Nigeria’s electoral watchdog postponed presidential and parliamentary elections for one week, just hours before polls were due to open. The two main political parties swiftly condemned the move and accused each other of orchestrating the delay as a way of manipulating the vote. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP


Justice Ephraim Akpata did not postpone the 1999 elections. Abel Guobadia did not postpone the 2003 elections. The notorious Maurice Iwu did not postpone the equally notorious 2007 elections. But since 2011, every election has been postponed for one reason or the other. 

A conversation with an Egbon caused me to pause and reflect when he asked the question – is this incompetence new? It will be very difficult for anyone to argue that Professor Jega, who postponed two elections in a row (in fact the 2011 election had already started when INEC decided to postpone), is more deficient in character than Professor Maurice Iwu. There is something more interesting going on. 

One does not have to go too far back in history to draw examples of how ‘elections’ in Nigeria were conducted in a way that meant they never needed to be postponed. One of my favourite examples remains how the remote creeks in Rivers state used to be the first to announce their results with 100% of the people there voting ‘correctly’. In many places people never even saw election materials or officials on election day and yet by evening, it was announced that, not only had all the people in such places voted, they had all voted ‘correctly’. Votes were simply weighed and allocated to whoever by the kilogram. And let’s not even get into the violence where thugs would hijack ballot boxes and thumbprint the ballot papers to their heart’s content. 

The apotheosis of this type of election came in 2007 when even President Yar’Adua – the beneficiary of one of the worst elections ever conducted in Nigeria – was embarrassed by the gift of 24.6 million votes bequeathed to him by the notorious Maurice Iwu. He genuinely tried to clean up Nigeria’s electoral process by setting up the Justice Uwais panel on electoral reform among other things. 

And then the postponements started. The fact that the witch cried yesterday and the child died today does not necessarily mean the both events are related but at the same time we cannot rule out a connection. Here’s a working theory – Nigerian politicians have not changed. They are still full of trickery and shenanigans. But the space within which they can play their old games has shrunk significantly. The old technology of simply writing the ‘correct’ result is now obsolete mainly because everyone now knows about it  and both sides can cancel each other out (there is PDP in APC and APC in PDP). This is partly what has forced politicians to come out with new technologies like naked vote buying (also known as ‘disbursement’) and ‘parallel primaries’. Sadly, these new technologies are more democratic than the old ones because the main thing you need to buy votes is cash. 

Writing results was easier. INEC did not need to master the logistics of getting materials to remote parts of the country on time since results used to be announced even while voting and collation were still going on. Once those technologies became obsolete, the glaring incompetence and lack of nous quickly revealed itself. It is also now forcing us to question the idea of academics as heads of the electoral bodies and whether we need more people with proper logistics experience in INEC. Should INEC consider hiring people from companies like DHL, FedEx, UPS and God Is Good Motors? These people have plenty of experience in getting things around a very difficult terrain like Nigeria’s. At any rate, it is now painfully clear to see where INEC lacks expertise. 

What if the postponement is all part of a game? After all, the 2015 postponement wasn’t really about logistics but about the ruling PDP running scared of defeat. The point still holds – the party that pioneered the various technologies discussed above could no longer use them partly because many experienced technologists had defected from its ranks to the other side, balancing out the equation. In the event, the incumbent PDP lost the elections. The PDP of 2003 and 2007 would surely not have lost in 2015. 

Here we are in 2019 and we have to deal with another postponement. What we know is that the APC definitely wants to win the election. We also know that the PDP definitely wants to be back in power. But the tools available to them to achieve their objectives have been severely restricted. Sadly, political parties now have to do things the hard way by campaigning around the country, sharing money in markets, buying votes on Election Day and the most stressful of all, actually coming up with policies that persuade people to vote for them. 

There is no new incompetence. What was always there has simply floated to the surface. The politicians are still the same tricksters that they always were. It is the rules of the game that have changed in favour of Nigerians actually voting and their votes being counted. Let us close with this prayer – elections being postponed is a sign that things are getting better in Nigeria’s democracy. Somebody shout hallelujah. 


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Feyi FawehinmiINEC
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