Anger as parties, voters attack INEC for polls shift

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The Independent National Electoral Commission, on Saturday, blamed the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections on bad weather which affected flight operations.

The commission, however, said the decision was not due to security reasons, paucity of funds or influence of some external factors.

The chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, stated these in Abuja during a meeting with stakeholders, including a former Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon.

 Oshiomhole demands apology

At the event, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, who said he was shocked and disappointed by the postponement, asked Yakubu to tender an apology to Nigerians for what he described as a national embarrassment.

“For us in the APC, we demand that you should apologise to Nigerians. Why did you have to wait till 2.30am when most decent Nigerians had gone to bed to take the decision and announce the postponement? I’m shocked and disappointed,” Oshiomhole stated.

SUNDAY PUNCH reports that the commission, in the early hours of Saturday, announced the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections by one week, citing logistic problems.

Consequently, the commission rescheduled the presidential and National Assembly Elections for Saturday, February 23, 2019, while the governorship, state Houses of Assembly and Federal Capital Territory Area Council polls, earlier fixed for March 2, would now be conducted on Saturday, March 9, 2019.

Yakubu also told the stakeholders that the commission also faced “what may well be attempts to sabotage our preparations.”

He said, “I must emphasise that all the ballot papers and result sheets were ready before the elections despite the very tight legal timeframe for finalising the nomination of candidates and dealing with the spate of legal challenges that accompanied them. In this regard, the commission has been sued or joined in over 640 court cases arising from the nomination of candidates.

“As of today, there are 40 different court orders against the commission on whether to add or drop candidates. The net effect of these is that there is usually roughly a one-month window for the commission to print ballot papers and result sheets, and either fly or transport them by road to several destinations until they finally get to each polling unit.

“Unfortunately, in the last one week, flights within the country have been adversely affected by bad weather. For instance, three days ago, we were unable to deliver materials to some locations due to bad weather. We therefore had to rely on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air, in spite of the fact that we created five zonal airport hubs in Abuja (North-Central), Port Harcourt (South-South and South-East), Kano (North-West), Maiduguri and Yola (North-East) and Lagos (South-West) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics.”

The INEC boss added, “Apart from these logistical challenges, we also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage our preparations. In a space of two weeks, we had to deal with serious fire incidents in three of our offices in the Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State; Qu’an Pan LGA of Plateau State and our Anambra State office at Awka.

“In all three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents. In Isiala Ngwa South, hundreds of PVCs were burnt, necessitating the recompiling of the affected cards and reprinting in time to ensure that the affected voters are not disenfranchised. I am glad that all the cards were quickly reprinted and made available for collection by their owners.

“In Qu’an Pan LGA, our entire office was razed, destroying all the materials prepared for the elections – printed register of voters, ballot boxes, voting cubicles and several generators. Registration areas and over I00 polling units were affected by the fire. We recovered quickly and have since replaced everything destroyed. In addition, we secured a suitable building to conduct the elections.

“Perhaps, the most serious was the fire incident in our Anambra State office at Awka, which destroyed over 4,600 Smart Card Readers being prepared for the elections. These Card Readers take at least six months to procure. Despite this setback, we have practically recovered from this by mopping up every available ones.”

Reacting to the demand by Oshiomhole, the INEC boss said he had apologised to Nigerians on the shortcomings of the commission, adding that the commission was still comfortable that the election would go on until the early hours of Saturday.

According to him, INEC tried getting the support of private airlines to assist in delivering the materials, lamenting that it did not just turn out as planned given the bad weather.

Yakubu said campaigns and distribution of Permanent Voter Cards had closed.

“Despite the postponement of the general elections by one week, campaign and distribution of PVCs remain closed,” he stated.

Speaking on the issue of diaspora voting, he said the commission had already submitted a bill before the National Assembly to allow two categories of Nigerians to vote – those serving the military outside the country and diplomats on foreign missions.

 INEC writes RECs, recalls smart card readers

Also, INEC has sent a letter to all its 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners, asking them to return the card readers in their possession for reconfiguration.

It said the action followed the rescheduling of elections.

The Secretary of the commission, Mrs Oriaran-Anthony, gave the directive on behalf of the commission in her letter with reference INEC/SEC/442/VOL.1 and dated February 16.

The letter was titled ‘recall of all smart card readers (SCRs) to state offices’.

It read, “Following the postponement of the 2018 general elections from 16 February and 2nd March, 2019 to 23rd and 9th March, 2019, the commission has directed that all Smart Card Readers, earlier deployed to the local government areas, should be recalled immediately for reconfiguration.

“Please, accept the assurances of the commission’s highest regards always.”

INEC requires five days to reconfigure card readers

A source in the commission told SUNDAY PUNCH that the card readers were configured to accept and process data from 8am to 8pm on Saturday, February 16.

“The card readers have been programmed to accept data on Saturday, February 16. The cards were configured to shut down automatically at 8pm on Saturday. When the chairman (Yakubu) wanted to shift the election to Monday, the ITC (Information Technology Centre) informed him that it would take them (officials) five days to reconfigure about 180,000 card readers for another day.

“That was why the chairman could not postpone the elections to Monday, February 18; that was what he wanted to do. It was a very tough decision for him to agree to shift the election by a week,” he added.

2019 budget, minimum wage bill to be delayed –N’Assembly

Meanwhile, the National Assembly has condemned the postponement of the general elections by INEC, stating that passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill and the New Minimum Wage Bill will suffer further delay.

Speaking with one of our correspondents on the telephone on Saturday evening, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, lamented that the postponement had more implications beyond the elections.

Namdas said one of the implications was that the National Assembly, which is billed to resume plenary on Tuesday to work on the national budget and the wage bill, among others, would be forced to extend its recess.

The House’s spokesman said, “For us in the National Assembly, we are really saddened by this event. We had supported INEC to the extent that we decided to postpone some of our recess and holidays just to approve the commission’s budget for this election. And we approved N189bn for INEC (in addition to the budgets of security agencies, totalling N242bn) so that the situation today could be averted.

“That is why we feel that it is not fair, after the support, both from Nigerians, the National Assembly and the executive (arm of government), for INEC to cite logistics as a reason for postponement. This is really unfair on the part of INEC.”

Namdas added, “More importantly that we are having Budget 2019 before us, this postponement will have a multiplier effect. We are supposed to resume on Tuesday, but with this, I am not sure that this will be there; but that depends on what our leaders will tell us.

“However, you can understand that nobody will leave their constituency to go (to Abuja) on Tuesday for sitting and come back on Friday for election. With the terrain of this country, some people, before they can access their areas, they require close to two days. This will be a very difficult scenario.

“If it happens that the resumption is postponed, it means that the deliberation on the budget is also affected. But Nigerians will be fighting us; that we are delaying the budget, not knowing that these are some of the issues. I hope it will not occur and this will be a blessing in disguise.”

When reminded that the wage bill was also pending, the lawmaker said, “Yes, it is there. So, you can imagine!”Punch

 

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