At noon today, 2nd April, 2011, the ongoing National Assembly elections were cut short and postponed to Monday 4th April 2011, by the INEC chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega. This decision was attributed to ‘unanticipated emergency’ due to the late arrival of election materials in many parts of the country.
The exercise was planned to commence at 8am with accreditation of voters at the 120,000 polling units across the nation, and subsequent voting at 12.30pm. Between the hours of 8am and 12noon, there were varied reports from citizens across the nation – some parts of Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu witnessed slow but certain progress, while most other parts of the country including Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Eket reportedly experienced prolonged delays in the arrival of INEC officials with election materials. Asides the delay in the arrival of the officials and their materials, there were several other reported issues with a number of registered voters calling in to radio stations to register complaints about the omission of their names on the available register at the polling booth. There was also the alleged issue of ballot papers showing 3 different names – ACN, ACPN, and AC, for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Another notable issue was the shortfall of about 2 million ballot papers in Plateau State, as stated by the Resident Electoral Commissioner.
The most critical of these issues was the delayed mobilisation of officials to their polling stations all over the nation, caused by a protracted delay in the delivery of the election materials, specifically the result sheets. According to Prof Jega, the vendor contracted to transport these materials failed to meet INEC’s expected delivery date of Thursday Mar 31, 2011, eventually delivering them at 9am this morning, after accreditation should have started nationwide.
Prof Jega, in a swift move, revealed to Nigerians, via a press announcement, that there were major issues on ground hindering the credible conduct of today’s elections and consequently had to postpone the exercise.
His announcement is seen by some as a timely move, depicting Jega as a man of integrity. He, in his address reiterated his commitment to being upfront with Nigerians on the whole process, telling exactly how things are, sharing their successes and difficulties with the general public. In this regard, one cannot fault the INEC chairman. He said he would be open and transparent, and it seems he has demonstrated this. It is opined that his predecessor was probably faced with worse challenges in prior elections but went ahead to conduct them, declaring debatable results afterwards. For a nation where it is not popular to own up to one’s public faults, let alone accept responsibility for them, Jega has won the hearts of many, with his disposition to the current issues. Better cancelled than rigged, they conclude.
Another school of thought recognises his humble and sincere approach of accepting responsibility for the situation as a cry coming a bit too late. They wonder what happened between Thursday and Saturday morning. Since INEC was already aware on Thursday that there were logistics issues with the transportation and delivery of election result sheets, Jega should have been upfront at that moment, possibly postponing the elections then, to avoid the unfortunate waste of time and resources that was witnessed today. Questions are also being raised about the justification for outsourcing the production of result sheets to foreign vendors. Perhaps if the materials had been produced in-country, it would have eliminated the transportation delay?
In general, the issues around today’s election exercise reveal skill gaps in project execution. Every project, including the conduct of elections, should be well scoped and planned via a dynamic process. The activities and tasks should be well laid out and proven to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. A proper and ‘live’ project plan and schedule should guide the implementation of the project. As events unfold, the plan and schedule must be updated to reflect the project’s current status and outlook. The schedule of activities should then be analysed to determine what items have no time slack i.e. the critical path. What activities must be executed in perfect time to avoid impacting the whole schedule? The transportation and delivery of election result sheets would probably fall into this category. When identified beforehand, such activities may be given additional schedule allowances (float) to cater for slippages, thus resulting in a more realistic project timeline. Considering this, maybe April 2nd would not have been a realistic start date?
Also, in project planning, it is important to conduct a “what-if” analysis, to itemise the possible events (including ‘acts of God’) that may occur to disrupt project progress, or even terminate the whole project. Factors must be included in the base project cost and timeline to provide for these ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’. Contingency planning is critical to project success. Even typical engineering construction projects include what is known as a factor of safety in design variables before arriving at a final design. The ‘final’ proposed project start and completion dates should only be announced based on the contingency included in the plan.
INEC needs to gather its planners and strategists together within the next 48hours to determine what else could possibly go wrong, what has been overlooked, what other logistics issues and constraints may hinder the progress of the elections, etc. They should estimate durations for these possibilities and come up with a new election timeline based on their current experiences. Even though this will affect their budget without a doubt, it is just the reality of executing such projects especially within the complex and dynamic Nigerian environment.
Does INEC have a Quality Assurance and Control manager or is this responsibility the REC’s? There should be personnel deployed in this capability to ensure that all the election materials produced including ballot papers, conform to requirements, and display accurate information on the political parties, their symbols and acronyms.
Nigerians are simply looking for change. Cancelling an ongoing election, due to obvious irregularities and logistics failures is definitely a departure from prior national experiences – the 2007 elections were not cancelled even though they were declared the most disputed and fraudulent in Nigeria’s history. The 2003 elections also had their own fair share of challenges, yet took place without cancellation. Today, perhaps what we see is a glimmer of light in a dark tunnel – Jega has cancelled the elections to uphold the credibility of the eventual results. We can only wait and hope that INEC will seize this opportunity to resolve other issues, plan appropriately, deploy the right personnel and get the Nigerian ship sailing in the right direction.