Many Nigerians were shocked last Saturday when they woke up to the news that the general elections had been postponed.
The Independent National Electoral in the early hours of the day when the presidential, Senate and House of Representatives membership elections were to hold, announced the postponement of the exercise by one week – a postponement from February 16 to February 23. Consequently, the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, which were to hold on March 2, were also postponed to March 9.
Political parties, candidates, voters and organisations, including the media, lamented the waste of resources they had deployed in the exercise last Saturday. While some demanded apology and compensation from INEC for their losses, others said the commission should be sued.
The postponement was blamed mainly on logistics and bad weather. Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, later accepted responsibility and apologised, on behalf of the commission, for the postponement. Nevertheless, that did not stop the criticisms that followed the announcement.
Nigerians have witnessed postponement of polls. Although the reasons vary, the general elections in 2011 and 2015 were postponed.
In 2011, INEC postponed the general elections by two days due to the late arrival of electoral materials in some parts of the country. In fact, on April 2, 2011, voting had started in some areas before the then Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, announced cancellation and postponement of the exercise citing non-availability of materials to conduct the polls in some places.
The electoral umpire had blamed the situation on “the un-anticipated emergency we have experienced with late arrival of result sheets in many parts of the country. The result sheets are central to the elections and their integrity… The commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly elections to Monday, April 4, 2011.”
Worse still, INEC further postponed the presidential and National Assembly membership polls to April 16, and governorship and state Houses of Assembly membership to April 26.
It was, however, for a different reason entirely in 2015 when the elections were postponed. Then, it was for security reasons. Unlike in 2011 and 2019, the polls were postponed a week to the elections.
Heads of security agencies at that time were said to have informed the then National Security Adviser that Boko Haram insurgency was still ravaging parts of the country, particularly the North-East. The terrorist activities were so bad that the insurgents had overrun some local government areas and occupied them. The NSA was said to have informed the then President Goodluck Jonathan, who in turn consulted the Council of State.
Consequently, INEC opted for postponement of the polls since the security of its personnel, electoral materials and the electorate could not be guaranteed during the exercise. The postponement, the commission had said, was to allow security agencies to make the areas concerned safe for the elections.
Jega had said: “Consequently, the commission has decided to reschedule the 2015 general elections thus: the national elections (i.e. presidential and National Assembly) are now to hold on March 28th, 2015; while the state elections (governorship and state assembly) are to hold on April 11th, 2015.”
In his analysis of the development, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, the University of Abuja, Prof. Saleh Dauda, listed several implications of the postponement on the electorate and other Nigerians.
Dauda said, “Some people are determined that they are going to vote in spite of the postponement. Some people are of the opinion that it is a conspiracy by the ruling party to discourage people who are determined to vote. Unfortunately too, there are those who travelled far for the elections and they have returned, and there is no way they can go back to vote.
“Also, we should also understand the fact that it has a very negative impact on our country in the international community. It has portrayed us as a country that cannot manage its affairs properly. Look at the fact that some smaller countries like Ghana, Niger and Senegal conducted their elections without a hitch, and look at the negative image this has given us in the international community, as if we are not serious.”
Speaking on the reasons cited by INEC for postponing the election, the political scientist said, “INEC was a bit not too serious in managing these elections, but then we also appreciate the fact that there were some unforeseen circumstances like burning of INEC offices in Abia, Anambra and Plateau states; nobody expected that such would happen.”