The failure of MoU between INEC and three transport unions for logistics may have been one of the reasons behind the postponement of the February 16 presidential and national assembly elections.
“They know what happened. They were trying to do the job by themselves. They gave the jobs to their allies and friends. If you want to build a house, a three-storey building, you give a construction engineer, not your friend who is a mechanic.”
- YusufAdeyemi, general secretary of RTEAN
Silently, it appearsthey have got it right. Barring any act of God the rescheduled presidential andnational assembly elections will hold on Saturday, February 23. By Thursday,Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission,INEC, confirmed that sensitive and non-sensitive materials had reached theCentral Bank of Nigeria, CBN branches across the states and all 774 local governmentheadquarters. The only doubt was the Northeast geo-political zone and Zamfara statewhere Boko Haram and alleged bandits continue to strike at will. There werefears election may not hold in some states in the northeast but INEC iscourageously resisting such possibility.
So what went wrong withINEC’s well laid out logistics for the February 16 election? Why did Yakubuhold on till 2.30 am on the date to confirm that logistics had failed and calloff the exercise? Why was the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, so visiblyangry with INEC for postponing the exercise? Why did the Department of StatesServices, DSS, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, see thepostponement as a threat to national security? Why did the main oppositionparty, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, see it as premeditated?
TELL’s investigation showed that Yakubu is indeed a very courageous man. Caught in a web of subterfuge, intrigues, and sabotage, he faced the devil’s alternatives, whichever one he chose would have tough consequences. Had the election held, the southeast, South-South and most of North Central would have been technically disenfranchised. The result would have produced local and international uproar. He and his officers chose the other option – call off the election and face the wrath of stakeholders. And they took a lot of that in the past one week.
Yakubu said the reasonfor postponement was logistics failure. Tell found it may have been sabotageintended to shut in the votes from PDP strongholds. That is why the oppositionsuspects that the ruling party would have profited from the choice to have theelection as originally scheduled, which would have resulted in having a staggeredpoll. Logistics in election construct means transportation and relatedactivities under it. These include: delivering voting site resources;arrangements with suppliers; security force transportation; communicationssystems and voice communications. Logistics department ensures that equipment,staff and communication methods are in place in time for the successful conductof voting. Logistics planning should be flexible enough to factor in unforeseenscenarios and possible contingency arrangements. Logistics department ensuresdelivery from suppliers to meet an election calendar.
To ensure a smoothlogistics, INEC chairman formed a logistics sub-committee under the electoraloperations and logistics standing committee headed by Okechukwu Ibeanu, aprofessor of political science, with Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu, a retired air vicemarshal as chairman. While he was in active service, Mu’azu was said to havehelped INEC with the airlift of materials and Yakubu thought he was best suitedfor it.
He inaugurated the 17-membercommittee on January 3, 2019. The members are: Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu, aschairman. Members are: Abubakar Nahuche, Mohammed Haruna (both INEC nationalcommissioners), representatives from CBN, customs service, FederalAirports Authority of Nigeria, Federal Road Safety Corps, Immigrationservice, Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, DSS, Army, Navy and Air force. Others are the INEC directors ofelectoral operations department, estate works and transport, procurement, andstores.
The Sub-committee, toensure efficiency, decided to use the Air Force to deliver materials to fourlocations as follows: Lagos for Southwest; Port Harcourt for Southeast andSouth South, Abuja for North Central and Kano for Northwest and Northeast. FromAbuja, which is the centre of Nigeria every state was within a 60 minutesflight time. However, the Committee erred in deciding that the electionmaterials for Southeast must be delivered to Port Harcourt Airport withoutfactoring in the state of the Port Harcourt – Enugu Expressway. By road ittakes up to fours to do the 186 kilometres distance; while from Abuja to EnuguAirport is less than 30 minutes flight. Enugu is an international airport witha standard tarmac that can take whichever plane the Air Force decides to deploythere. The thinking among some Igbos is that this was a deliberate design bythe government in connivance with INEC to ensure the two zones where PresidentBuhari is least popular, do not vote to their capacity.
Yakubu was asked at hispress briefing last Tuesday why he decided to set up a sub-committee onlogistics when there was a committee on Electoral Operations and Logistics. Heexplained: “There is a committee called ‘ElectoralOperations and Logistics,’ But in 2015, that committee operated as ‘ElectoralOperations’, distinct from ‘Logistics Committee’, and they were headed by twodifferent commissioners. But in 2015, the two responsibilities were combinedand one commissioner was appointed to be responsible for that… As we approachedthe 2019 general elections, we thought that instead of separating the twocommittees, we should allow the electoral operations committee to continue withits functions for electoral operations, which includes many things includingthe revision of regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections, andthe conduct of the many off-season elections, for which, as was reported onSaturday, we had 195 elections off-season between 2015 and the Osungovernorship election in September last year.
“So, thecommittee retained its responsibilities for electoral operations. But thecommission decided that the responsibility for handling of logistics –basically the movement of materials from some locations to states – should beunder a committee of the commission which is an advisory ad-hoc committee,which I publicly inaugurated. It wasn’t a function necessarily taken behind theback of any commissioner, it was the decision of the commission not to saddlethe committee on electoral operations with the responsibility of handlinglogistics. So a committee was appointed which includes two other nationalcommissioners, a number of directors of the commission, as well as externalmembers. The external members include the Central Bank of Nigeria, the armedforces, the State Security Service, the police, the airports managementauthority, and many others that contribute to moving materials from locations.And that committee was chaired by a commissioner who coincidentally happened tobe a retired Air Vice Marshal of the Nigeria Air Force.
“In terms of thedisposition of the commissioners of the commission, he was the closest personto a logistician on the commission and therefore he headed that committee inthat capacity. Not only that, if you look at his background, in previouselections, while he was serving as an air force officer, he also assisted thecommission in mobilizing aircraft and the movement of materials. So, wethought we were very lucky to have that kind of personnel, retired, as acommissioner of the commission to help in the delivery of logistics.”
As at 2.30am onFebruary 9, the voting materials for the Southeast had not left Port Harcourt.This led to suspicion that it could be deliberate. Representatives of PDP pacedup and down at the CBN branch in Okpara Avenue, smelling sabotage. Abia and Imostates that had boundaries with Rivers State had not got their votingmaterials. Others waited at Ebonyi CBN in vain. Anambra, which has remoteriverine communities had not received any materials either. By the protocols,distribution of materials starts from remote communities. Conversely, Northeastand Northwest had taken delivery of their election materials. Our correspondentsin Katsina, Buhari’s home state confirmed that all the local governmentsreceived voting materials and that the President would have voted at 8.00am.
To transport thematerials from the selected airports to the CBN branches in the states, INEC signeda memorandum of understanding with the three most popular trade unions in thetransport sector on December 12, 2018, before the Mu’azu sub-committee onlogistics was set up. The three unions were to be National Union of RoadTransport Workers, NURTW; National Association of Road Transport Owners, NARTO;and Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria, RTEAN. Out of the three,RETEAN was absent at the ceremony anddid not sign the MoU. Insiders said the union had ‘issues’ with the MoU, whichwere not resolved till February 9.
At the signing ceremony,Yakubu said one of the critical challenges in the conduct of elections inNigeria was logistics. He said INEC required over 100,000 vehicles to deploypersonnel and distribute materials from state offices to 774 local governmentareas, 8,809 electoral wards and 119,973 polling units in the country.
“The logisticalrequirements are beyond the internal resources of INEC. It is for this reasonthat the Commission has been in partnership with NURTW for which an MOU wasfirst signed with the union in January 2015. However, with the increase in thenumber of voters as well as political parties since the last general election,we need to increase the pool of our service providers to meet the consequentialincrease in the number of vehicles. Accordingly, we decided to expand ourcollaboration beyond the NURTW,” he explained.
Yakubu laid out the code of conduct: “We will also require you to swear to an oath of neutrality as your participation in the delivery of electoral logistics requires absolute neutrality and impartiality. The security agencies shall escort all vehicles to locations. In addition, we shall track the movement of all vehicles electronically and real time, as we did in some recent elections.’’
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The Commission’s targetwas to keep to the stated timelines. He said,“We have been working hard to ensure that personnel and materials will be onlocation awaiting the arrival of voters rather than the other way round.’’
By the MOU, the unionswould certify the quality of the vehicles to be used on Election Day, so theymeet the required safety standard and ensure the required vehicles wereassembled at required locations at stated time.
Najeem Yasin, national president of NURTWassured the Commission, “We will do our best than what we did in 2015…We willdo everything possible to carry out our duty effectively for the deployment ofpersonnel and materials and other logistics for the elections.”
The Federal Road SafetyCorps, FRSC, were to certify the vehicles to be deployed for the election.
TELL gathered that theunions failed to deliver on the MoU due to internal problems. It was allegedthat the cost of deliveries was a source of conflict as only 50 percent of thenormal price for given locations were offered to owners of the selectedvehicles. As NURTW, who are the principal partners in the MoU are not owners ofthe vehicles, they needed the unions of transport owners to work with them forthe deal to work. Transport Employees Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, forinstance, never bought into the terms of the understanding, which they feelwere skewed in favour of NURTW. They felt that in a business involvingvehicles, owners should be at the centre, not their workers.
And despite theirsupposed oath of neutrality, NURTW allegedly pledged their support to apolitical party, APC. In most of the motor parks in Abuja being operated by theunion only APC adverts were allowed, to the detriment of other politicalparties.
Najeeb Usman announcedthe partnership of the group with APC in a mass rally organised by the KebbiState branch of the union in support of APC at the federal and statelevels. According to him, “President Buhari more than any other president thiscountry had has embarked on improving our roads across the country whichhas rekindled confidence of travelers, he has also restored security andtranquility in Nigeria.”
Expectedly, PDP kickedagainst the MoU. Adegbola Dominic. LagosState party chairman, expressed serious concern over NURTW’s partisanship. “The Lagos State PDP condemn and reject intotality the announced agreement between the INEC and NURTW with respect totransportation and delivery of election materials before and during the polls.We hinge our rejection on the admission and confession of the Lagos APCspokesman, Mr Joe Igbokwe, that officers and members of the NURTW are cardcarrying members of the APC. The viral videos and pictures confirming notoriousNURTW officers and members support for APC in Ekiti, Osun and Kwara states andthe rally in Lagos shows the union is clearly partisan. Consequently, wedeclare that the NURTW cannot be fair in the distribution and delivery ofelection materials to all voting centres, especially where PDP voters dominate.We seek that INEC should terminate the agreement and seek collaborationelsewhere.”
The Commission andNURTW were not known to have addressed this concern before February 9.
Yusuf Adeyemi,general secretary of RTEAN, confirmed the union’s position to the Magazine in atelephone interview thus:
We understand that thelogistics problems that caused the postponement of the general election lastSaturday was caused by your organization because you failed to deliver?
Itis not true. It’s untrue. We made a publication about 10 days to the electionwarning that there may be some logistics failure because of some certainreasons. We warned them. So if they have now said they had logistics problem,it is not from us. They should look elsewhere, it’s not from our organization.
Are you saying thelogistics problem is not from your organization?
Goand ask them to clarify the situation. But if they insist the problem is stillwith road transport, then we will bring the snake out of its shell.
What exactly do youmean by that?
No.Get in touch with them. Let them tell you the truth. They’re not saying thetruth; they’re not telling the truth about where the failure came from. Letthem say it out and we can be of help to them. Within the next 48 hours we canfill the vacuum.
Are you saying yourorganization delivered on the agreement?
Thereis no any agreement in the first place. It is when you have been asked to dosomething that you can talk about delivering or not. We didn’t have anythinggoing on. They know what happened. They were trying to do the job bythemselves. They gave the jobs to their allies and friends. If you want tobuild a house, a 3-storey building, you give a construction engineer, not yourfriend who is a mechanic. You cannot give a mechanic the job of building a12-storey building and expect to stay alive in that kind of building. So thatis it, I won’t say more than that.
Similarly, Nageem Yasin, , national chairman of NURTW said in atelephone interview with TELL that his union was not to blame for the failureof logistics. “Did Prof Mahood tell you that? That we didn’t deliver? When theywere talking that the ballot material, everything, were not delivered at theCBN. When our vehicles were there 24 hours before the elections?”
Yakubu attributed thefailure of logistics to bad weather, which he said affected flights. However,Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation, refuted the claim. The NigerianAirspace Management Agency, NAMA, also confirmed that the weather was normaland there were no disruptions caused by poor weather. According to the agencyin a statement on February 17, in line with the directive of Sirika, they“ensured a 24-hour operation at all Nigerian airports on Friday 15th February2019 to facilitate the transportation of INEC materials nationwide.”
Rotimi Oyekami,spokesperson for INEC chairman, in a telephone interview with the Magazine saidthe problem did not come from NURTW. “This had nothing to do with NURTW. Whatthe INEC chairman said was right. The issue was bad weather. We had deliveredto 90 percent of the locations. All we needed was a 24-hours window.”
The Magazine remindedhim that NAMA, Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, said the weather was perfecton the day. And he wondered: “Is the person a meteorologist?” Yes; NAMA is verycompetent on weather and flights safety in Nigeria.
So who was INEC’s meteorologiston the day that gave the adverse weather report? The flights were not civilaviation, so where did the Air Force pilots take their weather report from? Whoover ruled NAMA?
That is where thetheory of sabotage comes in. If the weather was good for voting materials to bedelivered to Katsina, Kano and other northern extremes in the harmattan haze,how could it turn nasty for Port International Airport with night landingfacility? How did voting materials get to Akwa Ibom State in the ‘bad weather’?Why did the Air Force not divert the flights to Enugu International Airport,which is free of ocean currents from the Atlantic Ocean that may hinder flightsto Port Harcourt?
The ruling APC was visiblyangry with INEC. Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the party took theINEC chairman to task at the meeting with political parties on February 16 andinsisted the postponement was unacceptable.
Buhari toed the sameline at APC caucus meeting in Abuja, describing the postponement as a show of“incompetence.” He threatened INEC with dire consequences. “After the election,we have to know exactly what happened… The laws protect INEC, but they must nottake us for granted. We do not understand why this inefficiency. And we have togo into details after the election to find out who is responsible.”
However, the Presidentcould not wait till after the election. The next day, DSS summoned some staffof INEC to appear before it by 2pm for interrogation over what it saw as athreat to national security. Ibeanu whois the chairman of the Electoral Logistics Committee but not the Logisticssub-committee chairman, Mu’azu, was invited. Others were: Chidi Nwafor, INEC’sdirector of Information and Communication Technology (ICT); Ken Ukeagu; OsazeUzzi, the director of Voter Education and Publicity; and Bimbo Oladunjoye,assistant director of ICT. Sources close to Ibeanu revealed that his residencein Enugu and his car have been broken into, with his personal computer and iPadthereafter missing.
An immediate nationaloutcry against what was seen as intimidation of the Commission made the agencywithdrew the invitation hurriedly. Department of State services is under theoffice of the National Security Adviser, NSA, who answers directly to thePresident. It was unprecedented in the history of electoral management bodiesin Nigeria and seen as an act of desperation by the government.
The theory of sabotageincreased last Wednesday when Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of PDPraised alarm over APC’s alleged plans to rig the elections. The ruling partyhad also been suspicious that the postponement was orchestrated by INEC tofavour PDP. Abubakar alleged that APC had trained operatives in China todisrupt the functioning of the card readers and slow them down in thesoutheast, south south and north central. Conversely, “If you’re in the Northwest, Northeast and Southwest, thetendency is that they will use this machine to fast-track the readings of yourcard readers so that many of their supporters can vote while disenfranchisingthe other three zones.”
Yakubu thinks theCommission has got the logistics right now. “We didn’t quite anticipate what happened last week, we have said so andwe regret the inconvenience this has caused the nation. And as a result of whathappened on Saturday, I want to seize this opportunity to assure you and toassure Nigerians that this will not happen to the elections on the 9th ofMarch, the governorship, state assembly and FCT Area Council elections.”
Additional repot: Tajudeen Sulieman