There is some sort of conspiracy in high places to scuttle the general elections scheduled for February 14 and 28, as tempers are rising over the inability of millions of potential voters to get their permanent voter cards. Will the conspirators succeed?
| By Olu Ojewale | Feb. 16, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
AHEAD of February 14 and 28 elections, Nigeria politicians appear to working at cross-purposes. While some leading politicians are busy criss-crossing the country on campaign to get votes, several others are also seriously busy pushing for the postponement of the process while some others have gone to courts to challenge the eligibility of the major candidates in the election. All these have now created an atmosphere of confusion and the attendant theory that there is a high level of conspiracy to either scuttle or postpone the scheduled elections.
Both the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress have accused each other of leading the behind-the-scenes moves to shift the election date. The leaders of the PDP and APC have denied the allegations publicly but in secret they may be actually pushing for a change of date for different selfish reasons. For the PDP, a shift in date will enable it to realign its forces especially when the party leaders tend to think that the shoddy distribution of the permanent voters card, PVC, is not to its advantage as majority of its supporters have not collected their PVC. On the other hand, the APC is pushing for a change in order for an interim government to be sworn in to conduct the election which will making it impossible for President Goodluck Jonathan to use the power of incumbency to influence the outcome of the February elections.
Sources said proponents of postponement of the general election are said to have been considering the month of June for the exercise. It is being reasoned that by then, it would not be Attahiru Jega, a professor of political science and chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, who would conduct the elections as his tenure and those of his national commissioners elapse on June 9. The people in this group are said to be uncomfortable with the way he has been handling the election processes.
But if elections were to be shifted to June, it means President Goodluck Jonathan himself would have to vacate his lofty post because his tenure ends on May 29. That, perhaps, is why there was a rumour that the government was planning to install an interim government to be headed by Kenneth Minima, a lieutenant general and chief of Army Staff. In any case, this has been denied by the military command.
That notwithstanding, sources close to the Presidency and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said that both the Presidency and the ruling party were not ready for the elections. They believed that their chances would be affected if the elections should go ahead. Besides, some of them expressed fears that if Jega remained as the umpire their chances would be affected.
It was also suggested that this was probably why Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and national security adviser, was asked to fly a kite in London, recently by suggesting that the elections be shifted because a lot of electorate were yet to collect their Permanent Voter Cards, PVC.
But it appears that Jega and his commissioners are mindful of the danger they are going to face if elections are shifted beyond one or two months and have thus become unrelenting in their preparation for the elections. Section 132(2) of the Constitution as amended states: “An election to the said office (President) shall be held on a date not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder (President Jonathan) of that office.”
For the INEC boss to hold elections at the stipulated time, Jega was said to have deployed all the national commissioners and other senior officials in the six geopolitical zones to assess level of the preparedness for the purpose of elections in the states.
On Wednesday, February 4, the INEC said that the ballot papers for this month’s general elections were ready. Kayode Idowu, spokesman for the INEC’s national chairman, who made this known also and said that 65.5 per cent of the PVCs had been distributed to registered voters across the country as of Monday, February 2. “We have distributed 45,098,876 which represents 65.5 per cent of the PVCs. We have also taken delivery of ballot papers for the elections.”
Idowu also said in a statement on Wednesday, refuting an earlier report by Reuters, claiming that the elections might be postponed if voter cards distribution was too low. The spokesman said that there was no reason for anyone to suggest that the exercise might be shifted because “the number of PVCs already collected rates highly in comparison to the level of voter turnout historically in Nigerian elections.”
In any case, the Council of State meeting, scheduled for Thursday, February 5 was expected to play a key role as to whether or not the elections should be postponed. The council consists of the president, the vice-president, all former presidents or former heads of state, all former chief justices of Nigeria, the president of the Senate, all state governors and the attorney-general of the Federation. One of the major responsibilities of the council is to advise the president in the exercise of his powers with respect to the INEC, including the appointments of members of the commission.
However, in this case, the Council advice will be based on the briefings of Jega, who has insisted, perhaps, for the umpteenth time that the INEC was ready to go ahead with the elections.
What perhaps, may also be of concern is that the 26 registered political parties are divided over the calls for the postponement of the elections. On Tuesday, February 4, 16 of them and five presidential candidates emerged from a meeting to support the call for the postponement of the elections.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, in Abuja, the parties threatened to boycott the polls if their opinions were not respected. The parties include the United Democratic Party, UNDP; the Citizen Peoples Party, APP; the Peoples Party of Nigeria, PPN; the Action Alliance, AA; the Peoples Democratic Congress, PDC; the Labour Party, LP, and Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN. Others are the Alliance for Democracy, AD; the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP; the New Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP; the Peoples Party of Nigeria, PPN, and the Independent Democrat, ID.
The five presidential candidates at the briefing were Godson Okoye, UDP; Sam Okoye, CPP; C.O. Allagoe, PPN; Tunde Anifowose, AA, and Ganiu Galadima, ACPN.
The political parties said: “We the concerned leaders of political parties have observed some dangerous trends, which if not checked may negatively and adversely affect our democracy.” The parties premised their argument for the postponement on security, distribution of PVCs and people deserting their places of abode for their villages. Okoye, who spoke on behalf the parties, called on the federal government to take all necessary steps to provide adequate security for Nigerians to go out and collect their PVCs so they could exercise their civic and constitutional duty. He said the INEC should consider shifting the date of elections to sometime either in March or April.
“We are not urging the INEC to do anything that is unlawful, illegal or unconstitutional. It is unfortunately becoming clear by the day that most Nigerians appear not to be ready for election but are ready for violence,” he said.
But in a swift reaction and at a different news conference, Chekwas Okorie, presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party, condemned the call for the postponement of the elections, describing it as a “mischievously contrived clamour.” According to him, “The reasons given by the proponents of the postponement that a great number of Nigerians will be disenfranchised having not been given their Permanent Voter Cards which will enable them to participate in the election is a contrived reason and to a large extent pedestrian. As we speak, over 80 percent of registered voters have received their PVCs, according to latest figures released by the INEC and this may increase to 90 percent or above after the close of distribution of PVCs on February 8, 2015, as planned by INEC.”
A group of Nigerian youths, who apparently, were not favourably disposed to the election dates because of inability of some persons to get their PVCs has also called for postponement. The youths carried their protest to the headquarters of the INEC on Monday, February 2.
The group, under the aegis of the Forum for Democratic Change, FDC, led by Solomon Chuks, national coordinator, said holding the elections this month as scheduled would disenfranchise Nigerians. Chucks, who presented the group’s protest letter to Jega, insisted that going ahead with the polls would deny many Nigerians their constitutional rights to choose their preferred leaders through ballot. “The PVC which is supposed to be one of the instruments of votes has not been fully circulated around Nigeria. Those people who actually remain under scorching sun to sign their names for these PVCs have not gotten these things, yet elections are fast approaching,” he said.
He said the action of the group was the demonstration of its anger against the commission to effectively and successfully distribute the items to their legitimate owners before the commencement of the polls, asking INEC to shift the elections so that it could take care of the situation before the commencement of the elections.
Some of the placards raised by the marching youths had inscriptions such as: “An injustice to one is an injustice to all; “INEC do the right thing”; “We demand for the extension of election to allow Nigerians exercise their franchise”; “Election is for general participation, not for selective few” and “Don’t disenfranchise Nigerians,” among others.
But the idea of postponement does not excite the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. In its arguments, the NLC said that postponing the general elections was not a solution to address the country’s insecurity situation. It, therefore, urged government to immediately put in place a conducive environment to the conduct of the elections. In a statement by Peter Ozo-Eson, general-secretary, in Abuja, the umbrella body of Nigerian workers said it was not in support of those calling for the postponement of the elections. The statement said in part: “Recently, the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, citing security concerns, urged the government to postpone the general elections. While we at the Congress appreciate the security situation in the country, especially in the Northeast, we stand to be counted on the side of those who argue for holding of elections on their prescribed dates.”
Contrary to opinion in some places, Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of aviation and spokesman of the PDP presidential campaign organisation, said the party was ready for the elections. “We have done that public service; but as to whether election is to be postponed or not is the INEC’s sole decision. Whichever way, we are very well prepared for elections. Let it be clear that the APC leaders and members are the ones who are afraid of elections,” Fani-Kayode said.
Party members are not the only threats to the general elections. A pocket of individuals appear to be in the conspiracy to postpone the elections. For instance, on Wednesday, February 4, another suit was filed a federal high court, Abuja, against Buhari, seeking to stop him from the election. The suit appears to be part of the desperate plot by elements in the PDP to get Buhari out of the presidential contest because he is seen as the only threat to President Jonathan’s re-election bid.
The suit filed by Ayakeme Whiskey, is seeking an order declaring Buhari ineligible to contest the February 14 election is the third of its kind since preparations for the election began. An earlier suit bordering on direct criminal complaint against Buhari is already pending before an Abuja Magistrate’s Court in Abuja, praying for an order to direct that the APC presidential candidate “be brought to book” for allegedly claiming on oath that he had a certificate he did not obtain.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the federal high court in Abuja fixed February 9, for hearing in the two previous suits, as he had on Monday and Tuesday ordered that the processes be served on Buhari through publication in newspapers. Joined in the suit as defendants are Buhari and the INEC. In the fresh suit, the plaintiff, Whiskey, is anchoring his case on the same grounds of alleged failure by Buhari to accompany his Form CF001 submitted to the INEC with his certificates of academic qualifications.
Whiskey contended that failure of Buhari to do so had rendered him ineligible to participate in the election as he failed to comply with provisions of sections 131 and 318 of the 1999 Constitution and section 31(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010.
Another federal high court in Abuja has fixed February 11 for the hearing of a fresh suit seeking an order declaring President Goodluck Jonathan unfit to contest in the February 14 poll. Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who also presides over two other suits challenging Jonathan’s eligibility to seek another term in office, fixed hearing date for the fresh suit on Tuesday, February 3.
The plaintiffs in the fresh suit are Tunde Samuel, Junaidu Mohammed, Rasak Adeogun and Yahaya Ezeemoo Ndu.
Yusuf Ali, SAN, counsel to the plaintiffs, in an originating summons he filed on behalf of the plaintiffs contended that Jonathan was ineligible to re-contest for the office of the president, arguing that allowing him to do so could amount to spending more than eight years allowed for anyone to serve in the office.
They want the court to declare that it was “unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal and not permissible for any person to occupy the office of the president of Nigeria for more than a cumulative and aggregate period of eight years when the country was not at war.”
They are contending that if Jonathan won another term of four years from 2015, he would have been permitted to occupy the office of the President for more than eight years.
They want the court to declare that in computing the period already spent in office as president by Jonathan, the period from May 6, 2010 to May 28, 2011 should be reckoned with. They also seek a declaration that having spent a period of more than four years in office as President since May 6, 2010, Jonathan no longer had the “competence, authority or entitlement to contest for the same office for another term of four years.”
President Jonathan is the only defendant in the suit and was yet to file his response at press time.
But the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation said it was ready to defend the eligibility of Jonathan to contest the February 14, presidential election in court. Reacting to the suit, Adetokunbo Kayode, SAN, director of Legal Affairs of the campaign, described the suit as a political game being played for the umpteenth time, affirming that “we will meet in court.” He said the case was a flagrant and desperate abuse of court process.
Although he does not believe that any of the cases against Buhari and Jonathan will succeed in court, Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, said disqualifying any of them by a court order could upset the whole election process. “That is why the CJN has warned the judges to be careful about the orders they give in this election period,” he said.
That notwithstanding, it is a common knowledge that both the PDP and the APC are at their wits end as they try to outdo each other in the political game. But whether the conspiracy aimed at scuttling the coming elections will be allowed to succeed is yet to be seen.