Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chair of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has appealed to Nigerian and other stakeholders for understanding over the sudden postponement of the country’s general elections, assuring that the Commission would take remedial measures to deliver free, fair, transparent and credible polls.
“As Chairman and on behalf of the Commission, we take full responsibility for what happened and we regret any inconvenience our decision might have caused,” he told leaders of political parties, civil society organisations, representatives of international and national observer groups and the media, at the briefing in Abuja on Saturday, 16th February to explain the reasons for the postponement.
In his earlier broadcast on Saturday announcing the postponement by one week of the presidential and National Assembly elections from 16th to 23rd February, and Governorship and State Houses of Assembly votes from 2nd to 9th March, Prof. Yakubu blamed the rescheduling on logistical and operational challenges.
He said the “difficult decision” was entirely that of INEC’s, and “has nothing to do with politics or political parties, financial resources or security concerns.”
According to the INEC boss, the difficulties that caused the postponement included bad weather, which affected the air lifting of electoral materials and sabotage-related fires that affected INEC facilities in three states – Abia, Plateau and Anambra – where some Card readers and voters cards were destroyed and had to be replaced through a contingency plan.
The Commission has also had to deal with about 640 court cases, arising from political parties’ nominations of candidates, which required urgent attention, while the preparation for the elections were on-going.
Under INEC’s new six-point Plan, which he unveiled to ensure a seamless preparation going forward, Prof Yakubu said the Commission’s 180,000 Smart Card Readers would be configured, completion/confirmation of development of materials, refresher training for ad-hoc staff and deployment of personnel to Registration Area Centres (RACs) nationwide.
He assured that materials that had departed INEC offices but had not been delivered to their final destination would be retrieved and deposited with the Central Bank for onward delivery after a thorough audit.
Some stakeholders including leaders of political parties sought clarifications, which the INEC chair provided on a range of issues, including an assurance for wider consultations in future for ownership of decisions and plans by INEC to ensure greater inclusivity particularly in relation to persons with disability, youth and women.
While some speakers commended Prof Yakubu and his team for their forthrightness, there was also a consensus on the need for a national conversation around easing the burden of tasks on INEC to make its mandate more manageable.
Among dignitaries in attendance were former Nigerian Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon and Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel.
Also present were Citizen Observers from national civil society organisations, as well as International observer groups from ECOWAS, African Union, European Union, Commonwealth, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), the US National Democratic Institute/International Republican Institute and members of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC’s) Peer Support and Learning Mission.
The Mission is in Nigeria on a solidarity visit to INEC and Prof Yakubu who is also president of the ECONEC governing board.