The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has blamed not just logistics challenge, but also sabotage of its efforts, as some of the reasons responsible for the one week shift in the elections.
The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu disclosed this at the meeting of the commission with stakeholders on Saturday in Abuja.
lNEC has rescheduled the 2019 general elections by one week by postponing the Presidential and National Assembly elections from Feb. 16 to Feb. 23, and the Governorship, State Assembly and FCT Area Council elections from March 2 to March 9.
Yakubu said that the plan for the 2019 general elections was ready in November 2017 and INEC subsequently issued the timetable and schedule of activities for the elections over one year ago, on Jan. 9, 2018.
He said that the commission carefully followed its timetable and implemented 13 of the 14 activities as scheduled and had not missed the date fixed for any single activity.
He, however, said that in preparing for the elections, the commission came face-to-face with the realities of conducting such an extensive national deployment of men and materials in a developing country like Nigeria.
He said that not only had INEC recruited and trained about one million young people to serve as adhoc staff, it had also undertaken steps for the deployment of the magnitude of materials mobilised for the elections.
“For instance, the Commission has printed 421.7 million ballot papers for six scheduled elections, as well as 13.6 million leaves of result forms for the Presidential election alone.
“Indeed, managing 91 political parties and 23,316 candidates for whom votes will be cast in 119,973 polling units by over 84 million voters is certainly astounding.”
Yakubu said that it was not unexpected that such a tremendous national mobilisation of men and materials would encounter operational challenges and INEC has had its own fair share of such challenges.
He disclosed that there had been delays in delivering ballot papers and result sheets for the elections, which according to him, was not unusual.
“However, I must emphasize that all the ballot papers and result sheets were ready before the elections despite the very tight legal timeframe for finalizing nomination of candidates and dealing with the spate of legal challenges that accompany it.
“In this regard, the Commission has been sued or joined in over 640 court cases arising from the nomination of candidates,” adding that as today, there were 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 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 -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. ”
Yakubu said that apart from the logistical challenges, INEC also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage its preparations, which include serious fire incidents in three of its offices in lsiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu‘an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and its 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,” as the commission had to replace all affected materials, including the Permanent Voter Cards.
He recalled that in over 4,600 prepared Smart card readers which took at least six months to procure was destroyed by fire at its Anambra State Office at Awka.
“Despite this setback, we have practically recovered from this by mopping up every available spare SCR across the country and within 24 hours delivered them for elections to hold in Anambra.
“All these challenges mean that there have been differences in preparations from one State to another.
Yakubu said that the overall assessment of INEC was that if the elections went on as planned, polls would not open at 8a.m in all polling units nationwide.
“Yet, we are determined that polls must hold at the same time everywhere in the country. In this way, elections will not be staggered.
“This is very important to public perception of elections as free, fair and credible. We promised Nigerians that we shall be open, transparent and responsive.”
He said that faced with those challenges, INEC initially thought that it only required a maximum of 24 hours to resolve the logistics issues involved and complete its deployment for the election.
“This would mean shifting the elections to commence on Sunday Feb. 17. However, given the restriction of movement during elections, that could affect many voters who worship on Sundays.
“While the Commission was considering the following Monday Feb. 18 as an option, our lCT Department advised us that it would require five to six days to reconfigure about 180,000 Smart Card Readers earlier programmed to work only on election day Feb. 16.
“It is for this reason that the Commission decided to adjust the election dates to Feb. 23 for Presidential and National Assembly elections and a consequential adjustment of Governorship, State Assembly and FCT Area Council elections to Saturday March 9.”
Yakubu, who said that some sensitive materials had been distributed, assured that all such materials had been retrieved and would be taken back to custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He assured stakeholders that there will be proper audit to account for all materials.
The chairman said that in the next few days, the Commission would work on the completion/confirmation of deployment of materials by Monday, Feb. 18 and well as the Configuration of the Smart Card Readers between Sunday, Feb.17 and Thursday, Feb. 21.
According to him, INEC will also work on the receipt and deployment of sensitive materials to local government areas between Wednesday, 20 to Thursday, Feb. 21.
“Refresher training for ad hoc staff on Thursday Feb. 21, deployment of personnel to Registration Areas (RACs) on Friday, Feb. 22 and the election day on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Yakubu on behalf of the commission appealed to Nigerians and all stakeholders for their understanding on what had been “a very difficult decision” for the Commission.
“As Chairman of INEC and on behalf of the Commission, we take full responsibility for what happened and we regretted any inconvenience our decision might have caused.”