Nigeria Puts Off Polls but Situation is Under Control
Yesterday’s announcement (Saturday 16 February) by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that general elections would be postponed by a week came just hours before polling booths were meant to open for the much-anticipated general elections.
INEC chair Mahmoud Yakubu said his team took the decision due to logistical difficulties, ‘attempts to sabotage our operations’ and court orders requiring a reprint of ballots. The suspected arsons took place in the southeastern and central northern stateswhere the opposition is especially strong. Additionally, Yakubu said that bad weather prevented the air force from delivering poll materials around the country, such that they had to be delivered by road. Poll equipment and materials were also destroyed in fires in three states a few days to election day, leaving inadequate time for replacements.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have expressed disapproval with the last-minute deferment, and so have most other stakeholders. The sense of widespread disappointment around the country is palpable.
The presidential and parliamentary elections will now be held on 23 February while the governorship elections will be held on 9 March.
Nigerians are moving about thus far, without much change to their daily lives, in spite of INEC’s volte-face. Yet, the deferment itself speaks to institutional inefficiencies and raises questions as to preparedness by the new date. There are of course uncertainties around the credibility of the polls and even the depth of political will, especially when viewed alongside recent risk events such as the president’s suspension of the supreme court chief in January.
However, there are some positives from a governance perspective which can be drawn from the nature of INEC’s decision to defer. By calling for a nationwide postponement rather than a rescheduling of elections only in the states where the sabotage occurred, the argument that INEC is penalising opposition strongholds is attenuated and claws back some level of credence that there could be a desire for fairness. We have seen instances where the singling out of opposition strongholds has been exploited by the power of incumbency. This was the case in last year’s governorship election in Osun State in which a rerun was declared in opposition districts and the government concentrated security forces there. Alongside INEC staff, security officials looked on as political agents bribed voters and physically blocked opposition supporters from voting. The ruling party won that rerun.
At this juncture, the sense we’re getting locally is that deferment will unlikely affect voter turnout in a way that could reshape the poll results differently to what we already anticipated. Polls were also postponed in 2011 and 2015, but voting records comparatively do not indicate a significant impact on voter turnout. Therefore, the turnout and results of this year’s elections will be as if they were held on the original dates.
Our forecast consequently still stands, that both APC and PDP will try to rig the polls in their respective strongholds, but that the PDP is in a stronger position to win this election considering: divisions within the ruling APC; the support PDP has received from key decision makers; and President Buhari’s waning popularity in areas that helped him win in 2015.
Abia, Anambra and Plateau states.