With the clock winding down to the final hours of Friday, February 15, 2019, Nigerians were pumped to be so close to trooping to the polls for the February 16 Presidential and National Assembly elections.

However, unease soon spread across the nation when news filtered out that the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, was presiding over an emergency meeting with relevant stakeholders. This very quickly led to speculation that the commission was considering postponing the elections, leading to outrage on social media.

In the early hours of Saturday, the supposed election day, Yakubu confirmed Nigerians' worst fears when he officially announced that the elections have been postponed by a week. He said proceeding with the elections was no longer feasible after a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan.

The February 16 elections will now take place on Saturday, February 23 while the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections initially scheduled for March 2 have also been postponed till March 9.

INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu
INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu

The postponement of the elections is no doubt a big blow to a nation that has been raring to go to the polls for months to elect leaders that'll steer the course of the country for the next four years, and the ripple effect of the decision is staggering.

The most immediate problem with the postponement is how badly it affects the integrity of the process.

For months, a lot of concerns have been raised over INEC's capacity to conduct free, fair and credible elections while fighting off alleged interference from the ruling government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has made allegation after allegation about how the electoral umpire is working with or working under pressure from the ruling government to rig the elections in its favour.

The international community has also made several statements appealing to the commission to conduct elections that are not only free, fair and credible but must appear to be so.

Saturday's postponement is set to make those concerns grow even louder and cast a pall over INEC's credibility. In his reaction to the postponement, PDP national chairman, Uche Secondus, said it is further proof of the APC's rigging plans.

"Having failed in all their nefarious options to enable them cling on to power, the APC and the INEC came up with the idea of shifting election, an action that is dangerous to our democracy and is therefore unacceptable.

"With several of their rigging options failing, they have to force INEC to agree to a shift in the election or a staggered election with flimsy excuses pre-manufactured for the purpose," he said.

Many in the opposition have accused President Muhammadu Buhari of trying to rig his way into staying in power [Twitter/@BashirAhmaad]
Many in the opposition have accused President Muhammadu Buhari of trying to rig his way into staying in power [Twitter/@BashirAhmaad]

These concerns have also been echoed by many Nigerians who have reacted to the development with frustration and disappointment with the commission, and it doesn't bode well for how the results of the elections will be accepted when Nigerians eventually vote. This is very disconcerting, and the credibility of the elections is not the only casualty of INEC's decision.

With the elections officially postponed only hours before the polls were supposed to open, many Nigerians had made their plans around the monumental event.

More significantly, thousands of Nigerians, including the president himself, had travelled great distances to their localities to have the chance to cast their votes at their polling units. Many of them took leave from work, paid exorbitant fares to travel (and some, to pay for temporary accommodation) so that they could exercise their civic rights as enshrined in the nation's laws.

Not only did INEC's decision to postpone the elections make victims out of these Nigerians, it also puts election observers, mostly foreigners, in a tough spot as everyone is left hanging for another week.

The economic implication of the decision is another problem to think about as these people have to readjust their lives and finances around the new timetable if they're to perform their roles in the electoral process that many hope strengthens Nigeria's democratic process.

The most palpable fear here is that the postponement could lead to a bit of voter apathy and deter some Nigerians from eventually participating in the elections, especially those that crossed state, and even international, lines to exercise their rights.

INEC's decision to postpone the elections has not been favourably received by everyone
INEC's decision to postpone the elections has not been favourably received by everyone

When Yakubu made his decision known on Saturday, he said it was due to a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan without going into any particular details.

However, its recent problems with three offices suffering from fire incidents, some of its officials attacked and reported mix ups of election materials in some states, or shortage in other states are well-documented.

Announcing the postponement of the elections just hours to the polls means it's not a decision that INEC took very lightly, especially considering the ripple effects, but it doesn't place the commission in a good position, a situation it cannot afford to create.

The commission has had years to work on the elections and perfect its processes to accommodate all manner of hitches that could occur for such a gigantic project, so it's inexcusable that it has failed spectacularly at its job, and Nigerians are the victims.

Even though this is not the first time that elections have been postponed in Nigeria, as some people have so eagerly pointed out, the plan is to usually avoid mistakes of the past and that has clearly not happened here.

With another week to sort out the mess that has been created by INEC's clumsy handling of its operations, one can only hope it doesn't jeopardise the entire process and set the nation's democratic journey back a few more years.