Last minute attempts by the Nigerian Air Force to ensure that the Presidential and National Assembly polls held as initially scheduled on February 16 were not successful. The deployment of two additional aircraft less than 48 hours to the polls for an intervention exercise to airlift sensitive election materials to the states was only completed in the early hours of Saturday.
Speaking exclusively to MediaDimensions, spokesperson of the Air Force, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola confirmed that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reached out to the Force late after contracting the airlifting of the sensitive materials to private air logistic handlers who could not deliver as expected.
Air Commodore Daramola said the Air Force only commenced the airlift of sensitive and non-sensitive election materials in batches from the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja on Monday, February 11. He explained that only one aircraft, the C-130 Hercules was deployed by the Force to handle the consignments it was assigned by the Commission to deliver.
However, when the private logistics contractor could not meet his schedule of delivery more consignments were allocated to the Air Force 72 hours after it began the airlift. This necessitated the deployment of “2 additional aircraft for the exercise…the ATR-42 transport aircraft (NAF 930 and 931)…joining the C-130H, which has conducted several day and night missions delivering materials across the country since 11 Feb 19”.
It was gathered that as recent as February 1, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar during his meeting with Air Officers Commanding (AOCs) and NAF Field Commanders openly “expressed the readiness of the NAF to avail INEC its transport aircraft to enable expeditious movement of electoral materials, as done in the past”. For fear that its intention may be misconstrued, Air Marshal Abubakar was quick to say “that the transport aircraft are deployed solely to provide airlift support to meet INEC’s logistics requirements, in fulfillment of NAF’s constitutional role of providing Military Aid to Civil Authority”.
INEC however did not take advantage of the facilities and capacity of the Air Force until it was less than one week to the polls. Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmud Yakubu while announcing the postponement of the elections after a close door meeting of the Commission said “Following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plans and with the determination to conduct free, fair and credible polls, the Commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the election as scheduled is no longer feasible”. Unconfirmed reports say as at the time INEC postponed the elections at about 2.40pm on Saturday, about 10 of the 36 states had not taken delivery of the sensitive election materials including those transported at the last minute by the Nigeria Air Force.
Investigations also reveal that though there are airport facilities in most states of the federation the three Air Force aircraft used for the airlift exercise could not deliver the election materials directly to each state as this was not the plan of the Commission. The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Oyo State, Mutiu Agboke had confirmed that the sensitive election materials for the State were delivered in Lagos State. Arrangements had to be made to convey the materials to Abeokuta for onward distribution to the local governments. The items were still been expected as at Friday night.
The sensitive election materials for other states like Bauchi and Gombe States that have international airport facilities were also taken to Kano State. As at Friday night the materials had not been moved by road as was eventually done to get to the respective states.
Addressing stakeholders on Saturday afternoon at an emergency meeting after the postponement, Professor Yakubu admitted that “five zonal airport hubs” were created “in Abuja (North Central), Port Harcourt (South South and South East), Kano (North West), Maiduguri and Yola (North East) and Lagos (South West) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics”. He however claimed that “three days ago, we were unable to deliver materials to some locations due to bad weather”. This was for the obvious reason that the private air logistic airliner contracted by the Commission use civilian aircraft that cannot fly under certain weather conditions because “unfortunately, in the last one week, flights within the country have been adversely affected by bad weather”. The Commission therefore resorted to relying “on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air” under the bad weather before the Air Force was requested to intervene with the deployment of two additional aircraft for the airlift of more materials.
Analysts say the challenge with handling the election logistics may have started in October 2018 with the shake-up in the Commission that saw the deployment of Okechukwu Ibeanu as the National Commissioner in charge of Electoral Operations and Logistics. However, in January 2019, committees for the 2019 elections were set up with another National Commissioner AVM Ahmed Tijjani Mu’azu appointed chairman of the Committee on Electoral Logistics with two other National Commissioners Abubakar Nahuche and Mohammed Haruna as members. The membership of the Committee also included representatives from the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigeria Immigration Service, the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. Others are representatives of the Department of State Services, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force and the Directors of INEC in charge Electoral Operations, Estate Works and Transport, Procurement, and Stores who serves as Secretary #NigeriaDecides2019