The general elections for the National Assembly have been sensationally postponed across all the states in the Federation until Monday 4th April.
In a statement by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) chairman, Attahiru Jega, an “unprecedented late arrival of result sheets” was the reason for the postponement.
Mr. Jega was quick to apologise to the millions of voters who had turned out as early as 6am and said he “deeply regrets” the shift in date.
He blamed unspecified vendors for the late arrival of the material which only reached Abuja at 9am on Saturday. According to Mr. Jega, the vendors equally blamed the situation in Japan for compelling them to divert the supply of result sheets.
The INEC chairman said that the lack of ballot papers was not really the issue but that it was the complete absence of results sheets in the 36 states that forced the postponement.
He could not comment on whether Monday 4th April would now be a public holiday but said that he expected the authorities would make an announcement imminently.
Mr. Jega expressed his confidence that there would be no further delays to the process because all electoral material had now arrived in the country.
The elections had not started well as thousands of polling booths reported the late arrival of electoral material and INEC officials.
In Plateau, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Habu Hinna Zarma, revealed that almost 2 and a half million ballot papers failed to arrive in the state.
In Gombe, an administrative error saw gubernatorial electoral material sent to the state instead of National Assembly ballot papers.
Many polling booths in Abuja only received ballot papers for the House of Assemble and not for the Senate.
Dear Compatriots: Since this Commission started work in July 2010, I have repeatedly promised Nigerians that in carrying out our duties we shall always be sincere and truthful with Nigerians. I have always said that this INEC will be upfront with Nigerians, telling you exactly how things are – sharing both our successes and difficulties with you.
This is one such occasion. Indeed, it is an emergency. As you know the National Assembly (House of Representatives and Senate) elections are supposed to be taking place as I speak. You would also have noticed that things have not proceeded smoothly as expected with the elections. The reason for this is the unanticipated emergency we have experienced with late arrival of result sheets in many parts of the country. The result sheets are central to the elections and their integrity. Accordingly, in many places, our officials have not reported at the polling units, making it now difficult to implement the Modified Open Ballot Procedure that we have adopted. Not only do we have to enter the results in the sheets, the number of accredited voters is also to be entered in the result sheet. While we could have proceeded with the elections in a few States of the country, where all the materials are available, such as Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu, among others, in order to maintain the integrity of the elections and retain effective overall control of the process, the Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly elections to Monday, April 4, 2011.
I appeal to all Nigerians for their understanding in this difficult situation. We as a Commission appreciate the profound sacrifice that you have all made not just in turning out today, but also throughout this election season. We are greatly encouraged by you and our appeal is that you remain steadfast in this last lap of this electoral process in the interest of all Nigerians and in the cause of democracy.
The Commission will immediately be contacting all political parties, as major stakeholders to explain the situation. I appeal for their support in explaining the situation to their members and supporters.
May I also appeal to all other stakeholders, particularly national and international observers and our development partners for continued understanding. I realize that they have committed enormous resources to this process, especially in deploying observers in the field. However, we think that what is worth doing is worth doing well.
Finally, while we deeply regret this situation and apologise to Nigerians for the hardship this may have created, I would like to reiterate that we are fully committed to conducting free, fair and credible elections for Nigerians. The decision the Commission has taken is weighty; but it is also a very important step in further ensuring the credibility of the elections.
Professor Attahiru M. Jega, OFR,