We’re disappointed – Nigerians in Ghana tell INEC for postponing presidential poll
Some Nigerians resident in Ghana have expressed shock and disappointment at the postponement of the Nigeria’s presidential and National Assembly elections hours before voting was scheduled to start.
Announcing the postponement of the polls about 3 a.m. last Saturday, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said: “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.
“Consequently, the commission has decided to reschedule the Presidential and National Assembly Elections to Saturday, 23rd February, 2019. Furthermore, the Governorship, State House of Assembly and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Elections are rescheduled to Saturday, 9th March, 2019. This will afford the commission the opportunity to address identified challenges in order to maintain the quality of our elections.”
Prof. Yakubu also told a press conference last Saturday that there were as many as 640 cases in court against the INEC arising from the nomination of candidates.
Besides, he said, as of last Saturday there were 40 court orders against the commission to drop or add a candidate.
The INEC Chairman, who described the decision as “painful but necessary”, further disclosed that even though ballot papers and result sheets were ready, they could not be airlifted to various parts of the country.
But Nigerians in Ghana would not take the reasons given by the INEC, explaining that the electoral body had subjected the country to global ridicule which would cast doubt on the outcome of the elections, especially should the incumbent win.
In separate interviews with the Daily Graphic in Accra, Koforidua and Kumasi yesterday, some Nigerians said INEC had it wrong to have postponed the elections at the 11th hour.
While some expressed fear that the postponement would affect the turnout of the election, which had now been rescheduled for February 23, 2019, others contended that Nigeria’s image would forever be dented.
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Nigerians in the Diaspora Organisation, Chief Isaac Chigbata Ogbonna, said: “I am disappointed in INEC and also concerned about the cost the postponement will have on the Nigerian economy.”
History repeats itself
This is not the first time that Nigeria has postponed scheduled national elections and some Nigerians wonder why the INEC refused to learn from past experiences.
It happened in 2011 and 2015, and in both cases the commission alluded to late arrival of voting materials and insecurity as reasons for postponing the elections it had taken the commission years to prepare for.
Mr Goodluck Jonathan won the 2011 presidential election, while Mr Mahamudu Buhari swept his way to victory in the 2015 presidential poll.
In postponing last Saturday’s elections, the INEC ruled out further campaigning by political parties and any extension of the collection of voter cards.
The rescheduling of the elections also affected businesses, flight arrangements and schedules of many travellers, as voters complained of the consequences the postponement would have on their planned programmes.
President Buhari had gone to his home in Adamawa to vote and when he heard of the postponement of the elections, he grew furious.
The last-minute postponement drew President Buhari and his main challenger in the presential election, Atiku Abubakar, the People’s Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, into a blame game.
While President Buhari expressed disappointment with the INEC, especially when it had “given assurances that it was ready for the elections”, Mr Atiku launched a blistering attack on the government, accusing it of instigating the delay.
“Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further anti-democratic acts,” the main opposition leader said.
Fears and concerns
One of the leaders of a Nigerian group in Kasoa, Murtala Seidu, expressed fear that come February 23, this year, the turnout at voting centres might suffer because people had to travel all over the world to come and cast their ballot.
“I personally have no doubt that come February 23, this year, the turnout at voting centres in Nigeria will be disappointing. Many Nigerians have travelled to their voting centres to participate in the elections. The question is: will they be willing to return and turn up again for the voting next Saturday?” he asked.
Mr Seidu said about 15 Nigerians in Kasoa left last Thursday morning for Nigeria to cast their ballot, but “now that it has been postponed, what should they do?”
“They cannot stay for another week because most of them have their businesses to operate in Ghana,” he added.
Another member of a Nigerian group at SCC in Accra, Mr Aregon Abiola, said the postponement would create a breeding ground for the election results to be contested or doubted.
“There are a lot of questions to answer. How come INEC called it off a few hours to voting? Were they not briefed properly regarding the logistics? Did they only find out Saturday morning?” he asked.
Mr Abiola said he was hopeful that the elections scheduled for February 23 would not suffer as a result of the postponement.
A concerned Nigerian media practitioner, Mr Oluwakayode Elijah Iposu, said the excuse given by the INEC boss regarding the postponement was flimsy because “he and his office had four years to plan for these elections”.
“Did they just find out about the logistics issues on Friday night? What actually went wrong that the elections would be called off a few hours before voting commenced? I personally don’t understand,” he said.
Another concern raised by Mr Emmanuel Akunde, a Nigerian businessman, was the unfortunate situation created for international observers.
He said his concern had to do with the foreigners, media crew and election monitors who were already on the ground to work but had to put everything on hold.
“The move took many people by surprise. The two other times elections were moved it was not done like this one. This disrupted lives and businesses. Some airlines had cancelled flights yesterday. The economic losses are huge. We can make sacrifices for elections but making sacrifices for nothing is hard for most Nigerians to bear,” Mr Akunde said.
Another Nigerian who gave his name as Ikechukwu in Kumasi said the INEC had failed Nigeria again and expressed the hope that last Saturday’s polls would not face any more challenges. Also Yemi Babatunde, a trader in Koforidua, said the postponement would affect turnout next Saturday but urged Nigerians not to be perturbed and take the opportunity to deepen democracy.
Dr Antwi-Danso welcomes decision
But an international relations expert, Dr Vladimir Antwi-Danso, is full support of the INEC’s decision, describing it as “a normal thing”.
“For me, it’s a normal thing. The INEC found out that from the point of view of logistics and security, they needed to postpone it because the aftermath could have been bad,” he told the Daily Graphic in Accra yesterday.
Dr Antwi-Danso, who is a Dean at the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, argued that it was better postponing the elections than going ahead and having post-election strife.
Giving reasons for his position, he said a few days ago, electoral materials were destroyed when fire engulfed an INEC building in one of the states.
“I was thinking that it was at that point that they should have postponed the elections,” he stated.
Again, he said: “Only yesterday we heard that more than a million ballot papers purported to have already been stamped in favour of the President were located.”
With the developments, he said, there was no reason to fault the INEC for postponing the polls, stressing: “These are genuine reasons.”
“So with all these things in mind, the INEC found it necessary to postpone the elections, rather than having elections which are not credible, free and fair and which may have induced post-electoral violence,” he posited.
Dr Antwi-Danso was also of the view that the postponement could have gone beyond the one-week period, which he described as “a little too short”.
Nonetheless, he said, the INEC knew better.
“They know what they have and what they don’t have and so I wouldn’t fault them. I think these were genuine decisions taken in the right direction, but whether it is what will solve the problem they envisaged is another ball game,” he said.
The security expert admonished Nigerians to exercise patience because if the INEC had not taken that decision, things could have been worse.
He expressed the hope that the electoral body would be able to plug the hole it saw, so that on the day of elections things would go on well to deepen Nigeria’s democracy.
Emphasising the important position Nigeria occupied in the geo-politics and economic development of the sub-continent, he said if anything untoward happened to Nigeria, it was not only Nigerians who would bear the brunt but the whole of the sub-region would suffer.
The Deputy Executive Director of democracy think-tank, Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), Ghana, Dr Franklin Oduro, said although Nigerians were upset at the postponement, they had maintained calm and peace, as such a decision could trigger election violence in any country.
He appealed to all election management bodies to be circumspect in their planning and be honest with the electorate about the actual situation at any given time.
He said people could make allegations about the postponement with the intention to rig the elections, among other things, which could form the basis for electoral violence.
He said the impact of the postponement included people questioning the credibility of the INEC, since people had to travel back to where they had come from to vote because some might not be able to wait.
He said the incident was also affecting the trust of voters in INEC to organise free, fair and credible elections.
“People are questioning how safe the electoral materials will be kept to again ensure free, fair and credible elections,” he said.
Dr Oduro said such incidents should be avoided by all electoral management institutions to help maintain the people’s trust and avoid electoral violence.