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Don’t Despair, Let Your Vote Count Manasseh F. Paul-Worika

Lagos, NIGERIA: A man drops his voters card in a ballot box at a polling station in Lagos 14 April 2007. Nigerians voted 14 April in elections for governors and legislators in 36 states, with security forces on high alert and violence reported in two southern oil towns. Major parties see the polls as an indicator of their chances in the April 21 election of a successor to President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is ending his second four-year term. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

INEC’s decision to postpone the presidential and national assembly elections slated for 16th February, 2019 has left many Nigerians disappointed and even  frustrated.

With the clock winding down to the final hours of Friday, February 15th, 2019, Nigerians were close to trooping to the polls for the elections. Unease soon spread across the nation when news filtered that the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, was presiding over an emergency meeting with relevant stakeholders. This led to speculation that the commission was considering postponing the elections, leading to outrage on social media.

In the early hours of Saturday, 16th February, 2019, the elections day, Yakubu confirmed Nigerians’ worst fears when he officially announced that the elections has been postponed  by one week. He said proceeding with the elections was no longer feasible after a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan.

The February 16 elections will now take place this Saturday, February 23rd while the governorship and state House of Assembly elections initially scheduled for March 2nd have also been postponed to March 9th.

The postponement of the elections is no doubt a big blow to a nation that has been raring to go the polls for months to elect leaders that’ll steer the course of the country for the next four years, and the ripple effect of the decision is staggering.

One of the biggest problem with the postponement is how it will affect the turnout of voters on Saturday, Nigerians had made their plans around the event.

Significantly, millions of Nigerians, including the president himself, had travelled great distances to various localities to cast their votes at their polling units. Many of them took leave from work, paid exorbitant fares to travels (and some, to pay for temporary accommodation) so they could exercise their civic rights.

Not only did INEC’s decision to postpone the elections make victims out of these Nigerians, it also puts election observers, mostly foreigners, in a tough spot as everyone is left hanging.

The most palpable fear here is that the postponement could lead to voter apathy and deter Nigerians from eventually participating in the elections, especially those that crossed several state, and even international lines to exercise their franchise.

Mr. Lawrence Oputuboye, a political analyst, said the postponement may cause voter apathy as people who had earlier traveled to their home towns to vote may not want to travel again.

“It is quite discouraging. The postponement has indeed discouraged a large number of Nigerians. The postponement is going to create apathy because of the cost the people are going to incur. A lot of people may not be able to turn out to vote on the rescheduled dates”, Oputuboye said.

A legal practitioner in Port Harcourt, who pleaded anonymity, expressed concern that the postponement would result in voter apathy on the rescheduled dates stating that, a lot of Nigerians have been demoralized by the actions of INEC and the flair to be part of the electoral process may have been lost.

Enwongo C. Cleopas, a port Harcourt based medical practitioner narrated her ordeal. “I left my home a day to the elections to join my parents at their place so we could leave to the village early in the morning of the elections before the restrictions of movement begins. We were up by 4am, preparing and we were just about to leave the house when I came online and saw postponements everywhere. We slept early and we woke up with no much attention to any news because we wanted to leave early”.

“When I joined them, my mom was telling me how she cooked to cover for breakfast, lunch and dinner so that no matter what happens, we are not distracted from performing our civic duty at our respective units. My dad’s delay in ironing his shirt was what made me wander online to see the news of the postponement before we turned to the TV.

“I felt disappointed. I mean, for the first time I’ll be picking interest in voting and this is happening. The stress and all I had to go through with my family just to ensure we cast our votes amount to nothing. I don’t think I’ll be going through this on the rescheduled date. I’ll rather sit at home”.

For so many Nigerian’s, just like Enwongo, the initial flair and zeal to participate in the electoral process has been lost. Nigerians, especially those who travelled to remote locations inspite of the hike in transportation fare to cast their votes may not want to go through all the stress involved. This may be a bad signal, especially as we drive towards building an all-inclusive society where every individual is free to decide what is best for them.

But whichever way one may look at it, Nigerians should ensure they perform their civic responsibility no matter what it costs, as the future of the nation lies in our hands.

With few days left to sort out the mess that has been created by INEC’s clumsy handling of its operations, one can only hope it doesn’t jeopardize the entire process and set the nation’s democratic journey back a few more years.

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