The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra and the O’odua People’s Congress in Enugu and Lagos, respectively, are protesting against Attahiru Jega, chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, alleging that he is planning to rig elections for the opposition. But the electoral umpire remains unmoved
| By Olu Ojewale | Mar. 30, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
IT IS no longer news that some Nigerians don’t want Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to superintend over the coming general elections. But the manner that the anti-Jega campaign has been going on appears to be dividing and creating tension in the country. In past few days, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, and the O’odua People’s Congress, OPC, in Enugu and Lagos, respectively, held protest marches in which they called for the dismissal of Jega, whom they accused of trying to disenfranchise millions of Nigerians ahead of the general elections. But the opposition alleged that the protest was sponsored by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The OPC and the Coalition of Concerned Nigerians members loyal to the PDP were on three major roads in Lagos on Monday demanding the sacking of Jega. The protesters, who wore T-shirts with the PDP inscriptions and pictures of President Jonathan, started gathering in front of the Federal Road Safety Commission near the old Lagos Toll Gate on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway as early as 7am.
From there, they proceeded on foot to the front of the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere, causing traffic snarl on the ever busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ikorodu Road and Funso Williams (Western) Avenue in the city. The demonstrators, who wielded broken bottles and knives, also displayed banners and posters calling for Jega’s removal. Some of them destroyed outdoor adverts of APC along the highways.
The protesters, who were given protection by policemen from the state command and soldiers attached to OP MESA, used the occasion to distribute Jonathan’s campaign leaflets to passers-by and motorists stuck in traffic. The leaflets enumerated the achievements of the Jonathan administration.
The protesters also gave out fliers listing containing allegations against Jega. One of the fliers read: “Over five million people have yet to obtain their Permanent Voter Cards in the South-West; over 2.5 million persons in the South-South and two million in the South-East while Jega claimed to have recorded 90 per cent distribution in the North, despite the high level of insecurity in the North-East.
“The creation of over 30, 000 polling units now termed voting centres in the North against the South-West and awarding the contract of sensitive the INEC materials such as the PVCs and ballot papers to foreign companies traced to the APC leaders.
“Plotting to create chaos and unrest in Nigeria by insisting on holding elections on February 14 when he was aware that 34 percent of Nigerians in the South-West had yet to obtain their PVCs.” Some of their placards read, “Jega must go”, Jega pushing Northern agenda.”
Gani Adams, national coordinator of the OPC, dismissed the allegation that PDP had sponsored the protest. Adams, who claimed to have six million followers behind him, said the protest was to rally support for the re-election of the president so that he could implement the 2014 National Conference report. He declared: “Mr President is not using the OPC to cause trouble for the election. The protest was against Jega for him to cancel more than 30,000 polling units he created in the North to rig election for the opposition,” Adams said.
Addressing the protesters at the entrance to the Teslim Balogun Stadium, on Monday, Adams said that Jega would have embarrassed Nigeria if the elections had held on February 14, and expressed his displeasure with Jega’s handling of the election process. He insisted that the peaceful protest was to inform Jonathan that the Yoruba in the South-West were behind him.
He said: “We just had a peaceful protest to register our displeasure with Jega on the way he has been handling the preparations for these important elections. We also made our position known to Jonathan. Jega should proceed on terminal leave and let a credible Nigerian be appointed to conduct the elections.”
Adams, who led the protest, had some popular actors and musicians such as Zack Orji, Alex Usifo, Funke Adesiyan, Paul Obazele, Obesere and Saheed Osupa, in his company.
But the protest itself was not supported by every member of the OPC. A faction led by Shina Akinpelu, one of the OPC founding members, accused Adams of betraying the people of Yoruba land for organising the protest. Akinpelu, who addressed a news conference in Lagos, on Tuesday, alongside prominent other founding members such as Monsuru Akande, Sunday Adebayo, Kilanko Oladipupo, Kehinde Ogunyale and Gbenga Eegunlusi, among others, said the factional leader’s action was the height of disrespect he could think of.
“What you witnessed on Monday in Lagos, was the highest level of political violence sponsored and funded by certain elements in the President Goodluck Jonathan government. Adams is on his own and does not enjoy the support of a large size of our membership spread across the country. He is working for the sponsors of violence against our people who want the March 28, elections not to hold. Unleashing terror on innocent citizens and killing them is not the way of democracy. It is not our idea of a people-oriented advocacy. Adams is on a dubious project,” he said.
Akinpelu alleged that Adams was using the proceeds of the pipeline contract he got from President Jonathan as a ploy or excuse “to recruit people to work for Jonathan and the PDP in the South-West. Gani Adams is apparently acting against Yoruba interest.”
While asking the Yoruba race not support Adams’ anti-democratic tendencies, he said: “We must renounce him and remind him he cannot sell the Yoruba race to Jonathan and PDP on the cheap. He also has no authority to speak on behalf of the Yoruba people. We pity those who rely on him to win votes.”
But the protest is not likely to make Jega to quit. At a town hall meeting organised by Reinvent Media in conjunction with Ford Foundation and Kukah Centre in Abuja on Monday, 16, the day of the protest, Jega in response to questions, said that he intended to superintend the polls and that he was ready to do it.
“I am not under pressure to resign. It would be unfair for me to say that I will resign when I have a job to do. I remain focused,” Jega said. He also said that there was no truth in the insinuation that he was being asked to proceed on a terminal leave.
“Terminal leave is not an option. Nobody has asked me to proceed on terminal leave other than what I read in the newspapers. As I have said earlier, I have a job to do till April 11,” he said.
Jega said the calls for his resignation were politically motivated and diversionary. He insisted that the permanent voters’ cards, PVCs, and card readers would add value to the elections, adding: “We are ready for peaceful, credible and transparent elections with the new innovations and help of the six weeks rescheduling. We are adequately prepared to provide a free and fair election that is better than the 2011 elections.”
However, a group of eminent Nigerians, under the auspices of the Council of the Wise, on Tuesday, March 17, expressed worry at the gale of protests by armed militias in some parts of the country, describing the situation as “unfortunate and partisan.”
Ibrahim Gambari, coordinator of the council and former Nigerian representative at the United Nations, told newsmen after a closed-door meeting with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, at his hilltop residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State, on Tuesday, March 17, that such protests were “not the proper thing to do at this critical period.” He argued: “It is unfortunate. You cannot change a referee in a middle of a game for partisan reason. But the INEC has principal responsibility to conduct free and fair elections for all of us and we should join hands to support the electoral body to conduct credible elections that will not undermine our security and development.”
He, therefore, cautioned Nigerians, including Patient Jonathan, first lady, against making utterances that could undermine peaceful elections. Gambari warned that whoever plunges the country into violence by his or her action would be made to account for it at the International Criminal Court, ICC. “As the most populous black country in Africa and one with the largest economy, we have a greater responsibility to conduct our elections as an example to others. So, free and fair election is important, peace is important and a reason Nigeria should show good example,” he said.
Similarly, Tony Momoh, veteran journalist and chieftain of the APC, said he recognised the fact that democracy allow for freedom of expression either in speech or action, but such expression should not go beyond permissible level. “OPC going all over the place harassing people is obviously wrong. And if you are demonstrating, you demonstrate within the law. You don’t carry cutlass and guns. All those things are wrong and unacceptable. People want to protest, you protest within the law. But we know that they are agents of a particular perspective that is either there is no election or election in the terms of the (Peoples Democratic Party) PDP. and their leader who is the field marshal in that respect now is the president who is wanting to destabilise the very system he is supposed to build,” Momoh said.