There is no gainsaying about the postponed February 16 Presidential election but one would begin to wonder if after 20 years, the senior INEC staff members who have been in office since 1999 didn’t know from experience that the body was not ready for this years election before last week Saturday. The prevailing atmosphere of in-fighting, inexperience of the logistics committee and poor preparations was further compounded by poor co-ordination by the leadership of INEC, insider said.
“Typically,” a senior member of management said, “we take delivery of sensitive electoral materials, including ballot papers, two weeks to any given election. We then warehouse them with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). One week to the election, we send the materials to state offices of INEC. Basically, seven days to any election, all the sensitive materials are already at the states.”
At this stage, the official said, the resident electoral commissioners and electoral officers at the state level hold a pre-election conference with party agents and all who will be involved in the elections just to brief them and lay out the procedures.
“We also inform them about the state of preparations, that the materials have arrived and that they are ready to be distributed. This is routine. We take questions and observations and roll out the rules and regulations. It is like a normal stakeholders meeting,” the official revealed
The official said the materials are then moved from the CBN zonal or state offices to various INEC offices in the state on the Tuesday preceding the elections, sometimes on Wednesdays — depending on how big the state is.
“By Friday, the materials are usually already at the ward levels, and then they are distributed to the polling units by Saturday morning. That is how things run on a good day,” the official said.
Another INEC commissioner revealed that he sensed there was going to be trouble when the materials were yet to get to the states.
“Some of us, including INEC staff, knew things were not going to run smoothly when as at Wednesday, the materials were still at the airports in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and Kano. These are materials that should have been at the states in some cases and even local governments by then. It is incredible that we did not take a decision to reschedule until four hours to the commencement of the voting processes,” he said.
“Many of us were also amazed that the media did not pick up the warning signals. Even the observers, both local and international, did not ask INEC these questions. Why were the materials still stuck at the airports one day to voting? How on earth were we going to reach all the 119,000 polling units across 774 local government areas and 36 states in less than 24 hours? That was practically impossible, but the media and observers appeared to be focusing on trivial issues.”
Another member of INEC staff, who spoke at length on the logistical nightmare, said there is an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and distrust among national commissioners and this played a major role in disrupting the elections.
“Amina Zakari used to be in charge of logistics. Because of the controversy over her relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, the chairman moved her to another department. That is not supposed to be a problem if she was replaced with someone else who can do the job well,” he said.
Although the INEC commissioner in charge of electoral operations and logistics is Okechukwu Ibeanu, he was only heading the standing committee. For the election proper, Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, inaugurated the ad hoc committee for logistics on January 3, 2019. The 17-person committee was specifically for the general election.
The chairman is Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu, a retired air vice marshal. Other members are Abubakar Nahuche, Mohammed Haruna (both INEC national commissioners), representatives from CBN, customs service, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Federal Road Safety Corps, immigration service, police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, DSS, army, navy and air force. Others
Mu’azu was new on the position and did not have any experience to fall upon when it comes to INEC electoral operations, according to insiders.
“Most of the commissioners were kept in the dark when things were going wrong, and because of the polluted atmosphere, people decided to keep quiet so as not to be accused of trying to usurp other people’s jobs. However, the INEC chairman is also conducting a general election for the first time, so he probably trusted the Mu’azu committee to deliver. Yakubu did not have the benefit of institutional memory which helped his predecessor, Prof. Attahiru Jega,” the insider said.
“Normally, Mu’azu should be giving regular updates to the INEC management on the situation on ground. He did not. The job of the committee was basically to clear and move materials within timelines. Going by the way things worked for us in the past, we should all know that if materials were not at the states by the preceding Saturday, there was going to be a major crisis. But a day to the election, the materials were still at the airports.
“Some states got materials. Katsina and Adamawa, for instance, were not affected. But states in the south-east were affected. Imagine if elections had gone ahead without the south-east. We all know how the narrative would have been shaped by now.”
Mu’azu used to help INEC with movement of materials before he retired form the air force and it was thought by the INEC leadership that he would do a good job if he was saddled with the task for the general election, an insider said.
“But that was a big mistake. Being put in charge of organising logistics for over 100,000 polling units is not the same thing as helping get some air force aircraft to help INEC transport materials. AVM Mu’azu was permanently at the airports as the crisis worsened, but what could he do?” the insider asked.