INEC: From inconclusive to election recess

THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is fast becoming a predictable organisation. And Nigerians are fast adapting to the fact that nothing could be sacrosanct as far as the electoral body is concerned.

Way back in July, one of the political actors in Edo State had told me he had inkling the September 10 election would not hold. The top politician had said that emerging feelers made him skeptical the election would hold on the date.

“As you can see with INEC, you are not sure of anything. We are hearing the election may not hold on September 10. All we will ask for is that INEC tell us way ahead if they are not ready on that day.  We don’t want to dissipate our energy only to hear at the end of the day that the election will not hold.” I couldn’t immediately place the submission but decided to follow the trends. Two months after the politician told me of the insight, the election was postponed in a dramatic fashion.

But the funny procedure adopted by INEC in forcing the postponement could serve as hint of the dangers that will befall the electoral process if stakeholders are not vigilant. INEC, in announcing the two-week postponement of the election, refused to come up frontally. It allowed the police and the Department of State Services (DSS) to carry the day.

Spokesman of the police, Don Awunah, and an official of the DSS, Garba Abdullahi,  who delivered the election advisory to INEC, asked it to postpone the election on account of security concerns.

The agencies said: “The Nigeria police and the DSS wish to inform the general public that credible intelligence available to the agencies indicate plans by insurgent\extremist elements to attack vulnerable communities and soft targets with high population during the forthcoming Sallah celebrations between 12 and 13 September, 2016. Edo state is among the states being earmarked for these planned attacks by the extremist elements.”

That advisory, coming ordinarily from security agencies would look plausible and practical. It also seeks to fulfill the quest of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended which provides that elections can only be postponed on account of “cogent and verifiable reasons.”

But the unsuspecting public would most likely not see the missing lines. First, all the security agencies and the electoral body are part of the Inter-Agency Team which comes alive immediately the notice of an election is published. It is the duty of the team to review the security situation around every election on a weekly basis, until the election is done with. The team, which is comprised of top members of INEC and senior officials of the different security agencies, is to brief the headship of INEC on a regular basis as to the nature of emerging concerns in the subject area. The advice of the team usually comes in handy in determining in the past whether the military would be needed as back up for election duty or not.

If this committee had been in place since March, 2016, when the time table for the governorship election in Edo was announced, what type of analyses have they been churning out to INEC and what discussions have they been engaging in to warrant an emergency press conference outside their purview barely 72 hours to the election? Bearing in mind the fact that the job of security outfits is to provide security and maintain the peace, while proactively nipping potential crisis in the bud, can we really say that the police and the DSS acted in good faith when they released that advice? Does it mean that any election can just be postponed or cancelled once a section of the security expresses helplessness? Indeed, the security agencies left a gaping hole in their argument when they failed to prevent the President from visiting the state for the grand campaign of the APC on the basis of the “security advice.” You want to wonder if the same security outfits were able to successfully host the president in Benin, the capital city of Edo State on Tuesday, what suddenly changed on Wednesday that would warrant the decimation of all security networks they deployed in hosting the president and thus expose the state to possible unimaginable danger. And then, you may want to ask, if our security operations are that ephemeral, how are we going to face the present and serious danger posed by Boko Haram insurgency, kidnappers and armed robbers?

Though some persons have celebrated the election postponement as an offshoot of the February 2015 postponement orchestrated by the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, it is apparent that the two are not the same. In 2015, there was clear information that the larger part of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa would be unable to participate in the election unless the military took some drastic measures. The then National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki secured a six-week postponement after which the insurgency-ravaged states were able to partake in the election. The opposition was indeed full of smiles following its huge vote haul from the three states. It is imperative that the nation’s security agencies must willingly put their all in the defence of the citizens at all times, while fleeing from any entanglement that stand to paint them in negative light.