One must really pity the Independent National Electoral Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, these days. The professor of political history and international studies must surely be finding it tough to sleep at night as the elections draw nearer. What must have tipped the scale of sleeplessness further was the postponement, in the early hours of Saturday, February 16, elections scheduled for the same day.
But we can only pity him and not excuse the clumsiness with which the elections were postponed. As Chinua Achebe reminds us in Arrow of God, “The man who brings ant-infested faggots into his hut should not grumble when lizards begin to pay him a visit” and so we cannot clap for Yakubu with one hand. Last year, he announced with glee election dates till 2055 adding that the decision “is to engender certainty in our electoral calendar, allows for long term planning by the commission as well as stakeholders and brings our democracy in line with the best practice around the world.” The first class history graduate proudly beat his chest and spoke of how the Commission was going to do all within its power to deliver credible elections under his watch. So, what changed between February 28, 2018 and last Saturday when elections were postponed?
I was about retiring for the night in preparation for election duty around 11:20pm on Friday night when a friend called me from London. An active politician even from his London base, he asked if indeed elections were going to hold the next day and thereafter pointed my attention to a website which already reported that elections were going to be shifted. Working the phones, I gathered that INEC’s upper echelons were in a meeting and journalists were keeping vigil at the commission’s headquarters to know the outcome. Instinctively, I knew elections would not hold judging from our previous experience as a country. My mind first went to the attendant embarrassment in the comity of nations, as our country has become known for elections’ postponement and this is reflected in Charlies – as Ghanaians are called – dissing us not only for jollof rice but also elections.
It must take our economists a while before they are able to put a final figure to the total losses accruing from the postponement. But newspapers reported on Tuesday that the stock market lost N195. 8 billion on Monday while we all can feel the losses to small businesses across the land. A sister of mine and her husband checked into a hotel on Friday night, having relocated to a new place of residence, so that they could vote on Saturday like others who were unable to transfer their registration to new abodes. While hoteliers smiled to the banks, they must do this again this weekend if they hoped to vote. The frenetic pace with which small shops’ owners closed their shops on Friday was astounding; it was as if we were at war over elections. Let’s hope we would not be faced with another postponement this weekend and put a stop to the plethora of conspiracy theories flying around on why the elections were postponed.
But the reactions of our politicians, however, showed that election is war by another name in Nigeria. It is laughable that Adams Oshiomole, the APC chairman, under whose watch primaries became synonymous with confusion to the effect that the party will not present candidates in Rivers and Zamfara States, is leading the call for the resignation of Yakubu as INEC chair. Their utterances and actions show little or no sanctity for life as they seek to lead us. As at Monday, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of civil society organisations, revealed that 185 people have died in the 2019 electoral cycle already unlike 58, which died in the 2018 cycle. Yet, we have not cast a ballot; forcing one to wonder how many lives we would sacrifice to elect our leaders.
And that’s why all the spin masters cannot wash President Muhammadu Buhari clean of his undignified and tactless comment of Monday on ballot box snatchers. “I gave the military and police order to be ruthless,” are not words one expects from a president under whose watch our fault lines have deepened. Good enough that Yakubu restated the provisions of the Electoral Act which spelt the punishment for the offence – two years imprisonment or maximum fine of N500, 000 fine. Even if we ignore a maxim in public communication that anytime you needed to clarify your initial statement, it means you goofed originally, a president is supposed to be father to all citizens irrespective of party affiliation. It is bad enough that the words were uttered at an APC event with the body language clearly militant enough for all to see. Our president always has problems with his utterances before assuming office and even till now, a reflection at a level, on his media handlers, and the respect he has for them.
This is not, however, an endorsement of the skullduggery our politicians are adept at, but only an affirmation that we should not support jungle justice. We have lost enough citizens already to extra judicial killings.