Poll postponement: building on past disappointments

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Election dates are no more sacrosanct in Nigeria. What is only certain is that orderly succession or periodic transfer of power is still constitutionally guaranteed within the time frame determined by the electoral law and as implemented by the umpire.

The mistakes of the past were just simply repeated when the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shifted the scheduled presidential and National Assembly elections from yesterday, February 16 to February 23 and the governorship and House of Assembly elections from March 2 to March 9.

The implication is that the electoral agency is overwhelmed; it is unable to learn from the past in its bid to conduct polls involving 84 million voters.

However, historically, poll postponement is not new. Under the military rule, military President Ibrahim Babangida was fond of influencing the National Electoral Commission to shift polls, following the postponement of the hand over dates.

Even, parliamentary elections already conducted under military Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha were cancelled by his successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.

But, since the restoration of civil rule, Nigerians expected that the election management body should be up and doing; almost infallible. What is worrisome is that the most recent postponement may be a predictor and attestation of general incompetence on the part of the umpire

It may also be due to factors imposed by the electoral environment where participants view the democratic contest as war. Part of that unforeseen contingencies was nature. INEC is now blaming bad weather. It did not contact the meteorological department for advice in time.

It is more worrisome, according to observers, because INEC had enough time to plan and implement the electoral timetable, and the hitherto over-confident Chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, had also heightened public expectation through repeated assurances that the exercise will be smooth and there will be no postponement.

INEC had resisted undue political influence. It was not starved of funds. The electoral body has often asserted itself as an independent agency.

The postponement was not due to war or insecurity. It was not due to the outbreak of epidemics. It was not due to any disaster that threatened Nigeria and INEC operations.

The reasons given by INEC were that certain operational constraints and logistical impediments threatened to abort the exercise. Yakubu obviously reasoned that a postponed exercise was better than an inconclusive poll.

In 2011, the National Assembly elections had kicked off nationwide when Yakubu’s predecessor, Prof Attahiru Jega, in a statement, shifted the polls, following the non-deployment of poll materials to voting units.

The political parties-the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-was criticised by the opposition parties-the defunct

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