Millions of Nigerians went to bed on Friday evening hoping to wake up on Saturday to cast their votes. By the time they woke up on Saturday, a familiar story had played out: the elections had been postponed. For the third successive general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to keep its oft-repeated promise of “we’re ready”.
Immediately, theories started pouring forth from various factories. Uche Secondus, the national chairman of the the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), accused INEC of working hand-in-glove with the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), because of imminent defeat. The APC, in return, accused INEC of acting out PDP’s agenda. Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, said it was “hand of Esau and voice of Jacob” — accusing APC of being behind the poll shift. On social media, APC supporters wondered why PDP fans already tweeted that the elections would be shifted at a time other Nigerians did not have any inkling. And so on and so forth.
After sifting through the various conspiracy theories, herr are three major categories.
THEORY NO. 1: INEC WAS PRODDED BY FOREIGN POWERS
This theory, suspected to be coming from the PDP, says APC wanted INEC to conduct “staggered elections” in which only 26 states would vote on Saturday while elections would be postponed in 10 states. The presidential poll would be declared inconclusive. Based on the pattern of results, APC, using federal might, would then deploy full security and financial resources to the remaining 10 states to suppress PDP’s votes and claim victory. This strategy, according to the conspiracy theory, was used effectively by APC in Osun state whereby the governorship election was declared inconclusive and voting was allegedly suppressed in the run-off and APC carried the day. This theory says the US, UK and EU, sensing what APC wanted to do, mounted pressure on Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, not to stagger the elections but shift them to a date on which every state could vote simultaneously.
THEORY NO. 2: PDP COLLUDED WITH INEC TO AVOID DEFEAT
Faced with the reality that most pre-election opinion polls did not favour them, PDP decided to collude with INEC to postpone the elections and buy time — according to another conspiracy theory propounded by some APC supporters. It is alleged that most of the personnel at INEC were appointed or recruited when PDP was in power and they still owe their allegiance to the party. Therefore, the theory goes, the INEC personnel decided to sabotage the elections at the prompting of PDP so that there would be more time to gain support for Atiku Abubakar, the party’s presidential candidate. PDP supporters have countered this claim, asking why the same INEC staff did not sabotage 2015 elections in favour of the PDP government. Meanwhile, some APC supporters are asking why PDP fans knew beforehand that the elections would be postponed if indeed their party was not working in tandem with INEC.
THEORY NO. 3: APC, SENSING DEFEAT, SABOTAGED LOGISTICS
There is yet another theory — that APC leaders met in Abuja on Wednesday and concluded that the elections were not looking good for them. Security agencies and other government agencies were directed to sabotage the election, thus paving the way for INEC offices and card readers to be burnt, the theorists allege. They further claim that working with INEC insiders, the APC made sure materials did not get to some locations ahead of Saturday so that elections would not hold simultaneously across the country. Those who believe in this theory also link it to theory no. 1 above, concluding that but for the international community, INEC would have gone ahead with staggering the elections. APC supporters have a counter-argument: why would they want the elections moved when they were the favourites to win?
No matter the conspiracy theory that you believe, there is a consensus that INEC was right to have postponed the elections as a result of the issues it highlighted. Many commentators have blamed the electoral body for poor preparations, but Yakubu, in his address to stakeholders on Saturday after the postponement, said there was sabotage, although he did not point his fingers at any particular direction. Whatever theory is right, the indisputable conclusion is that the postponement has created room for conjectures and allegations. It would be difficult to persuade the purveyors that there was no political motive behind the postponement, either in favour of APC or PDP.