Why Logistics Failed INEC

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.”

  • Yusuf Adeyemi, general secretary of RTEAN

Silently, it appears they have got it right. Barring any act of God the rescheduled presidential and national 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 the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN branches across the states and all 774 local government headquarters. The only doubt was the Northeast geo-political zone and Zamfara state where Boko Haram and alleged bandits continue to strike at will. There were fears election may not hold in some states in the northeast but INEC is courageously resisting such possibility.

So what went wrong with INEC’s well laid out logistics for the February 16 election? Why did Yakubu hold on till 2.30 am on the date to confirm that logistics had failed and call off the exercise? Why was the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, so visibly angry with INEC for postponing the exercise? Why did the Department of States Services, DSS, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, see the postponement as a threat to national security? Why did the main opposition party, 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.

Mahmood Yakubu Photo
Mahmood Yakubu

Yakubu said the reason for postponement was logistics failure. Tell found it may have been sabotage intended to shut in the votes from PDP strongholds. That is why the opposition suspects that the ruling party would have profited from the choice to have the election as originally scheduled, which would have resulted in having a staggered poll. Logistics in election construct means transportation and related activities under it. These include: delivering voting site resources; arrangements with suppliers; security force transportation; communications systems and voice communications. Logistics department ensures that equipment, staff and communication methods are in place in time for the successful conduct of voting. Logistics planning should be flexible enough to factor in unforeseen scenarios and possible contingency arrangements. Logistics department ensures delivery from suppliers to meet an election calendar.

To ensure a smooth logistics, INEC chairman formed a logistics sub-committee under the electoral operations and logistics standing committee headed by Okechukwu Ibeanu, a professor of political science, with Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu, a retired air vice marshal as chairman. While he was in active service, Mu’azu was said to have helped INEC with the airlift of materials and Yakubu thought he was best suited for it.

He inaugurated the 17-member committee on January 3, 2019. The members are: Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu, as chairman. Members are: Abubakar Nahuche, Mohammed Haruna (both INEC national commissioners), representatives from CBN, customs service, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Federal Road Safety Corps, Immigration service, Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps,  DSS, Army, Navy and Air force. Others are the INEC directors of electoral operations department, estate works and transport, procurement, and stores.

The Sub-committee, to ensure efficiency, decided to use the Air Force to deliver materials to four locations as follows: Lagos for Southwest; Port Harcourt for Southeast and South South, Abuja for North Central and Kano for Northwest and Northeast. From Abuja, which is the centre of Nigeria every state was within a 60 minutes flight time. However, the Committee erred in deciding that the election materials for Southeast must be delivered to Port Harcourt Airport without factoring in the state of the Port Harcourt – Enugu Expressway. By road it takes up to fours to do the 186 kilometres distance; while from Abuja to Enugu Airport is less than 30 minutes flight. Enugu is an international airport with a standard tarmac that can take whichever plane the Air Force decides to deploy there. The thinking among some Igbos is that this was a deliberate design by the government in connivance with INEC to ensure the two zones where President Buhari is least popular, do not vote to their capacity.

Yakubu was asked at his press briefing last Tuesday why he decided to set up a sub-committee on logistics when there was a committee on Electoral Operations and Logistics. He explained: “There is a committee called ‘Electoral Operations and Logistics,’ But in 2015, that committee operated as ‘Electoral Operations’, distinct from ‘Logistics Committee’, and they were headed by two different commissioners. But in 2015, the two responsibilities were combined and one commissioner was appointed to be responsible for that… As we approached the 2019 general elections, we thought that instead of separating the two committees, we should allow the electoral operations committee to continue with its functions for electoral operations, which includes many things including the revision of regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections, and the conduct of the many off-season elections, for which, as was reported on Saturday, we had 195 elections off-season between 2015 and the Osun governorship election in September last year.

“So, the committee retained its responsibilities for electoral operations. But the commission decided that the responsibility for handling of logistics – basically the movement of materials from some locations to states – should be under a committee of the commission which is an advisory ad-hoc committee, which I publicly inaugurated. It wasn’t a function necessarily taken behind the back of any commissioner, it was the decision of the commission not to saddle the committee on electoral operations with the responsibility of handling logistics. So a committee was appointed which includes two other national commissioners, a number of directors of the commission, as well as external members. The external members include the Central Bank of Nigeria, the armed forces, the State Security Service, the police, the airports management authority, and many others that contribute to moving materials from locations. And that committee was chaired by a commissioner who coincidentally happened to be a retired Air Vice Marshal of the Nigeria Air Force.

“In terms of the disposition of the commissioners of the commission, he was the closest person to a logistician on the commission and therefore he headed that committee in that capacity. Not only that, if you look at his background, in previous elections, while he was serving as an air force officer, he also assisted the commission in mobilizing aircraft and the movement of materials. So, we thought we were very lucky to have that kind of personnel, retired, as a commissioner of the commission to help in the delivery of logistics.”

As at 2.30am on February 9, the voting materials for the Southeast had not left Port Harcourt. This led to suspicion that it could be deliberate. Representatives of PDP paced up and down at the CBN branch in Okpara Avenue, smelling sabotage. Abia and Imo states that had boundaries with Rivers State had not got their voting materials. Others waited at Ebonyi CBN in vain. Anambra, which has remote riverine communities had not received any materials either. By the protocols, distribution of materials starts from remote communities. Conversely, Northeast and Northwest had taken delivery of their election materials. Our correspondents in Katsina, Buhari’s home state confirmed that all the local governments received voting materials and that the President would have voted at 8.00am.

To transport the materials from the selected airports to the CBN branches in the states, INEC signed a memorandum of understanding with the three most popular trade unions in the transport sector on December 12, 2018, before the Mu’azu sub-committee on logistics was set up. The three unions were to be National Union of Road Transport 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 and did not sign the MoU. Insiders said the union had ‘issues’ with the MoU, which were not resolved till February 9.

At the signing ceremony, Yakubu said one of the critical challenges in the conduct of elections in Nigeria was logistics. He said INEC required over 100,000 vehicles to deploy personnel and distribute materials from state offices to 774 local government areas, 8,809 electoral wards and 119,973 polling units in the country.

“The logistical requirements are beyond the internal resources of INEC. It is for this reason that the Commission has been in partnership with NURTW for which an MOU was first signed with the union in January 2015. However, with the increase in the number 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 consequential increase in the number of vehicles. Accordingly, we decided to expand our collaboration 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 target was to keep to the stated timelines.  He said, “We have been working hard to ensure that personnel and materials will be on location awaiting the arrival of voters rather than the other way round.’’

By the MOU, the unions would certify the quality of the vehicles to be used on Election Day, so they meet the required safety standard and ensure the required vehicles were assembled at required locations at stated time.

 Najeem Yasin, national president of NURTW assured the Commission, “We will do our best than what we did in 2015…We will do everything possible to carry out our duty effectively for the deployment of personnel and materials and other logistics for the elections.”

The Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, were to certify the vehicles to be deployed for the election.

TELL gathered that the unions failed to deliver on the MoU due to internal problems. It was alleged that the cost of deliveries was a source of conflict as only 50 percent of the normal price for given locations were offered to owners of the selected vehicles. As NURTW, who are the principal partners in the MoU are not owners of the vehicles, they needed the unions of transport owners to work with them for the deal to work. Transport Employees Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, for instance, never bought into the terms of the understanding, which they feel were skewed in favour of NURTW. They felt that in a business involving vehicles, owners should be at the centre, not their workers. 

And despite their supposed oath of neutrality, NURTW allegedly pledged their support to a political party, APC. In most of the motor parks in Abuja being operated by the union only APC adverts were allowed, to the detriment of other political parties.

Najeeb Usman announced the partnership of the group with APC in a mass rally organised by the Kebbi State branch of the union in support of APC at the federal and state levels. According to him, “President Buhari more than any other president this country had has embarked on improving our roads across the country which has rekindled confidence of travelers, he has also restored security and tranquility in Nigeria.”

Expectedly, PDP kicked against the MoU.  Adegbola Dominic. Lagos State party chairman, expressed serious concern over NURTW’s partisanship.  “The Lagos State PDP condemn and reject in totality the announced agreement between the INEC and NURTW with respect to transportation and delivery of election materials before and during the polls. We hinge our rejection on the admission and confession of the Lagos APC spokesman, Mr Joe Igbokwe, that officers and members of the NURTW are card carrying members of the APC. The viral videos and pictures confirming notorious NURTW officers and members support for APC in Ekiti, Osun and Kwara states and the rally in Lagos shows the union is clearly partisan. Consequently, we declare that the NURTW cannot be fair in the distribution and delivery of election materials to all voting centres, especially where PDP voters dominate. We seek that INEC should terminate the agreement and seek collaboration elsewhere.”

The Commission and NURTW 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 a telephone interview thus:

We understand that the logistics problems that caused the postponement of the general election last Saturday was caused by your organization because you failed to deliver?

It is not true. It’s untrue. We made a publication about 10 days to the election warning that there may be some logistics failure because of some certain reasons. 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 the logistics problem is not from your organization?

Go and ask them to clarify the situation. But if they insist the problem is still with road transport, then we will bring the snake out of its shell.

What exactly do you mean by that?

No. Get in touch with them. Let them tell you the truth. They’re not saying the truth; they’re not telling the truth about where the failure came from. Let them say it out and we can be of help to them. Within the next 48 hours we can fill the vacuum.

Are you saying your organization delivered on the agreement?

There is no any agreement in the first place. It is when you have been asked to do something that you can talk about delivering or not. We didn’t have anything going on. 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 3-storey building, you give a construction engineer, not your friend who is a mechanic. You cannot give a mechanic the job of building a 12-storey building and expect to stay alive in that kind of building. So that is it, I won’t say more than that.

Similarly, Nageem Yasin, , national chairman of NURTW said in a telephone interview with TELL that his union was not to blame for the failure of logistics. “Did Prof Mahood tell you that? That we didn’t deliver? When they were talking that the ballot material, everything, were not delivered at the CBN. When our vehicles were there 24 hours before the elections?”

Yakubu attributed the failure of logistics to bad weather, which he said affected flights. However, Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation, refuted the claim. The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, also confirmed that the weather was normal and there were no disruptions caused by poor weather. According to the agency in 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 February 2019 to facilitate the transportation of INEC materials nationwide.” 

Rotimi Oyekami, spokesperson for INEC chairman, in a telephone interview with the Magazine said the problem did not come from NURTW. “This had nothing to do with NURTW. What the INEC chairman said was right. The issue was bad weather. We had delivered to 90 percent of the locations. All we needed was a 24-hours window.”

The Magazine reminded him that NAMA, Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, said the weather was perfect on the day. And he wondered: “Is the person a meteorologist?” Yes; NAMA is very competent on weather and flights safety in Nigeria.

So who was INEC’s meteorologist on the day that gave the adverse weather report? The flights were not civil aviation, so where did the Air Force pilots take their weather report from? Who over ruled NAMA?

That is where the theory of sabotage comes in. If the weather was good for voting materials to be delivered to Katsina, Kano and other northern extremes in the harmattan haze, how could it turn nasty for Port International Airport with night landing facility? 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 flights to Port Harcourt?

The ruling APC was visibly angry with INEC. Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the party took the INEC chairman to task at the meeting with political parties on February 16 and insisted the postponement was unacceptable.

Buhari toed the same line 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 not take us for granted. We do not understand why this inefficiency. And we have to go into details after the election to find out who is responsible.”

However, the President could not wait till after the election. The next day, DSS summoned some staff of INEC to appear before it by 2pm for interrogation over what it saw as a threat to national security.  Ibeanu who is the chairman of the Electoral Logistics Committee but not the Logistics sub-committee chairman, Mu’azu, was invited. Others were: Chidi Nwafor, INEC’s director of Information and Communication Technology (ICT); Ken Ukeagu; Osaze Uzzi, the director of Voter Education and Publicity; and Bimbo Oladunjoye, assistant director of ICT. Sources close to Ibeanu revealed that his residence in Enugu and his car have been broken into, with his personal computer and iPad thereafter missing.

An immediate national outcry against what was seen as intimidation of the Commission made the agency withdrew the invitation hurriedly. Department of State services is under the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, who answers directly to the President. It was unprecedented in the history of electoral management bodies in Nigeria and seen as an act of desperation by the government.

The theory of sabotage increased last Wednesday when Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of PDP raised alarm over APC’s alleged plans to rig the elections. The ruling party had also been suspicious that the postponement was orchestrated by INEC to favour PDP. Abubakar alleged that APC had trained operatives in China to disrupt the functioning of the card readers and slow them down in the southeast, south south and north central. Conversely, “If you’re in the Northwest, Northeast and Southwest, the tendency is that they will use this machine to fast-track the readings of your card readers so that many of their supporters can vote while disenfranchising the other three zones.”

Yakubu thinks the Commission has got the logistics right now.   “We didn’t quite anticipate what happened last week, we have said so and we regret the inconvenience this has caused the nation. And as a result of what happened on Saturday, I want to seize this opportunity to assure you and to assure Nigerians that this will not happen to the elections on the 9th of March, the governorship, state assembly and FCT Area Council elections.”

Nigerians are watching.

Additional repot: Tajudeen Sulieman

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