As at Wednesday, February 13, 2019, experienced members of staff and management of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) knew that the February 16 presidential and national assembly elections would not hold — no matter the magic. But because of the pervading atmosphere of mutual distrust and suspicion at the commission, people went about their businesses in hushed tones, preparing for the worst.
Several INEC insiders told TheCable over the weekend that based on the experience from elections organised by the commission, the signs were already there that something was going wrong. But many of the commissioners were not comparing notes or even talking to each other, thereby compounding a situation that would lead to the embarrassing postponement of the elections. The prevailing atmosphere of in-fighting, inexperience of the logistics committee and poor preparations was further compounded by poor co-ordination by the leadership of INEC, insiders told TheCable.
“Typically,” a senior member of management told TheCable, “we take delivery of sensitive electoral materials, including ballot papers, two weeks to any given election. We then warehouse them with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). One week to the election, we send the materials to state offices of INEC. Basically, seven days to any election, all the sensitive materials are already at the states.”
At this stage, the official said, the resident electoral commissioners and electoral officers at the state level hold a pre-election conference with party agents and all who will be involved in the elections just to brief them and lay out the procedures.
“We also inform them about the state of preparations, that the materials have arrived and that they are ready to be distributed. This is routine. We take questions and observations and roll out the rules and regulations. It is like a normal stakeholders meeting,” the official told TheCable.
The official said the materials are then moved from the CBN zonal or state offices to various INEC offices in the state on the Tuesday preceding the elections, sometimes on Wednesdays — depending on how big the state is.
“By Friday, the materials are usually already at the ward levels, and then they are distributed to the polling units by Saturday morning. That is how things run on a good day,” the official said.
Another INEC commissioner told TheCable that he sensed there was going to be trouble when the materials were yet to get to the states.
“Some of us, including INEC staff, knew things were not going to run smoothly when as at Wednesday, the materials were still at the airports in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and Kano. These are materials that should have been at the states in some cases and even local governments by then. It is incredible that we did not take a decision to reschedule until four hours to the commencement of the voting processes,” he said.
“Many of us were also amazed that the media did not pick up the warning signals. Even the observers, both local and international, did not ask INEC these questions. Why were the materials still stuck at the airports one day to voting? How on earth were we going to reach all the 119,000 polling units across 774 local government areas and 36 states in less than 24 hours? That was practically impossible, but the media and observers appeared to be focusing on trivial issues.”
INEXPERIENCE AND INFIGHTING
A member of INEC staff, who spoke at length on the logistical nightmare, said there is an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and distrust among national commissioners and this played a major role in disrupting the elections.
“Amina Zakari used to be in charge of logistics. Because of the controversy over her relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, the chairman moved her to another department. That is not supposed to be a problem if she was replaced with someone else who can do the job well,” he said.
Although the INEC commissioner in charge of electoral operations and logistics is Okechukwu Ibeanu, he was only heading the standing committee. For the election proper, Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, inaugurated the ad hoc committee for logistics on January 3, 2019. The 17-person committee was specifically for the general election.
The chairman is Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu, a retired air vice marshal. Other members are: Abubakar Nahuche, Mohammed Haruna (both INEC national commissioners), representatives from CBN, customs service, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Federal Road Safety Corps, immigration service, police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, DSS, army, navy and air force. Other are the INEC directors of electoral operations department, estate works and transport, procurement, and stores.
THINGS FALL APART
Mu’azu was new on the position and did not have any experience to fall upon when it comes to INEC electoral operations, according to insiders.
“Most of the commissioners were kept in the dark when things were going wrong, and because of the polluted atmosphere, people decided to keep quiet so as not to be accused of trying to usurp other people’s jobs. However, the INEC chairman is also conducting a general election for the first time, so he probably trusted the Mu’azu committee to deliver. Yakubu did not have the benefit of institutional memory which helped his predecessor, Prof. Attahiru Jega,” the insider told TheCable.
“Normally, Mu’azu should be giving regular updates to the INEC management on the situation on ground. He did not. The job of the committee was basically to clear and move materials within timelines. Going by the way things worked for us in the past, we should all know that if materials were not at the states by the preceding Saturday, there was going to be a major crisis. But a day to the election, the materials were still at the airports.
“Some states got materials. Katsina and Adamawa, for instance, were not affected. But states in the south-east were affected. Imagine if elections had gone ahead without the south-east. We all know how the narrative would have been shaped by now.”
Mu’azu used to help INEC with
“But that was a big mistake. Being put in charge of organising logistics for over 100,000 polling units is not the same thing as helping get some air force aircraft to help INEC transport materials. AVM Mu’azu was permanently at the airports as the crisis worsened, but what could he do?” the insider asked.
When it became glaring that elections could not take place all over the federation at the same time, INEC was also too slow in taking a firm decision and communicating it to Nigerians.
The senior member of management who spoke to TheCable said there was no need to wait till close to 3am on Saturday to announce the postponement.
“As soon as the emergency meeting of national commissioners started, it was clear that we needed to take a decision quickly and communicate this to Nigerians. We knew before the meeting was called that elections would not hold. For some weird reasons, the meeting kept dragging and dragging till past 2am,” he said.
Yakubu, addressing stakeholders on Saturday over the postponement, blamed it on sabotage and poor weather which he said disrupted flights on the eve of the elections.
However, Hadi Sirika, the minister of aviation, has debunked Yakubu’s claim that weather affected flights. The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) also said there were no disruptions caused by poor weather.
“The agency in line with the directive of the Honourable Minister of State (Aviation), Sen. Hadi Sirika, had earlier ensured a 24-hour operation at all Nigerian airports on Friday 15th February 2019 to facilitate the transportation of INEC materials nationwide,” NAMA said in a statement issued on Sunday.
WILL ELECTIONS HOLD ON FEBRUARY 23?
Now that the elections have been rescheduled for February 23 — amidst anger expressed by Nigerians — there are still fears that the polls might be postponed again.
However, the INEC chairman has assured Nigerians that the fiasco will not repeat itself.
INEC insiders also told TheCable that they expected things to run better since materials would be at the locations on time.
“Initially, we were pushing for Monday or Tuesday to be picked as the new date, but the tech guys said they would need to re-programme the card readers and they would need six days to do that. Except the tech guys fail us, we are good to go now,” the senior member of management told TheCable