The cost, unimaginably grave, may be difficult to calculate immediately and the consequences may yet be in the realm of conjecture. It is, however, safe to say that the postponement, barely six hours to voting, of the general elections last Saturday remains the most embarrassing assault on the image of Nigeria and on the psyche of Nigerians. That shocking action has added the epaulette of sloppiness in little things to the nation’s shoulder, a shoulder which already carries many festoons, including the ones that read: poverty centre of the world and one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The odium in which Nigeria has been put on account of this is now so enveloping that all Nigerians must work to beat it and ensure the nation’s dignity is restored. The best way to proceed, of course, is to eventually have free, fair, credible and conclusive elections within the next three weeks.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the elections were postponed, “following a careful review of the implementation of the logistics and operational plan and the determination to conduct free, fair and credible elections,” following which “the commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled was no longer feasible.”
This was barely six hours to the opening of the polls!
To be sure, that was not the first time a postponement would happen. But it was the first time it would happen so close to the h-hour. And that is why Nigerians are still incredulous. The notice for this election was given four years ago! What manner of leadership is there at INEC that could not foresee, pre-empt or manage the challenges it may have faced, until 360 minutes to kick-off of an exercise upon which the destiny of a nation depends?
It is not surprising that the sudden postponement of the general elections took the nation aback and, without doubt, remains an anti-climax just as it casts a huge pall of uncertainty on the democratisation process in the country.Nigerians had primed themselves for the all-important work of exercising their franchise and electing leaders at different levels for a new term. Many travelled very far to their points of registration just to fulfil their civic duty of voting and were understandably disappointed that an umpire that had assured the world it was ready for the elections was indeed anything but so.
The sudden turn of events two days ago surely dampened the enthusiasm of the electorate. It is as disappointing as it is irritating. That the INEC owes the people of Nigeria an apology cannot be over-emphasised. And that apology must be tendered unreservedly.
Ahead of the elections, citizens were in a frenzy to ensure that they exercised their rights. A week before, many primary and secondary schools all over the country had shut down as a security measure. Many citizens closed their businesses and went for last-minute shopping in preparation for the electoral event. Others travelled hundreds and thousands of kilometres to cast their votes in their home states. Certainly, the loss to individual citizens and to the Nigerian economy cannot be easily quantified. More difficult to measure is the damage to the people’s hearts and to a nation’s soul.
It is hardly surprising that INEC’s action has weighed heavily against it, removed so much from its reputation and exposed it to accusations, even if wild, of seeking to truncate the democratic process. The situation has not been helped by the curious appearance of smugness on the part of an incumbent government that had told the world boldly and now seemingly without proof, that the election management commission was ready.
But Nigerians must not lose hope. And their faith in the process must remain unshaken. On the new dates, they should ignore all inconveniences and troop out to vote. It is important for them to remember that they, the people, are the sovereign and that all in government hold power at the people’s pleasure. Any attempt to undermine this democratic truth will only lead to misfortune for the interim minders of the state at any point in time.
It should be of interest to the nation’s elite that Nigerians are justified to refuse, in spite of INEC’s protestations, to understand this postponement, especially given the increasing erosion of democratic structures in recent times. Coming on the heels of an orchestrated crisis in the judiciary and threats issued by some leaders of the ruling party that foreign observers would go home in ‘body bags,’ the postponement, after several assurances of readiness to both local and international monitors, has, unfortunately, fitted into the mould of an unconscionable act to truncate the democratic process by the electoral umpire in collusion with some partisans.
INEC, therefore, has itself to blame and must therefore do everything possible to redeem itself within the next three weeks. Africa and the world cannot accept anything less than the best elections in Nigeria. No one should be left in doubt that the people are the sovereign in a democratic system and they cannot be taken for granted.
Once again, the people of Nigeria should not lose sight of their date with destiny and must use their voting power to elect leaders of their choice.They cannot afford to lose hope. The inconveniences of the current times notwithstanding, they should see this process to its conclusion and ensure Nigeria and democracy triumph.