Since Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission announced new dates for the general elections, there have been arguments for or against the move; but the Southern Peoples Assembly is insisting that INEC boss should resign
| By Olu Ojewale | Feb. 16, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
MIXED reactions have continued to dog the postponement of general elections by six weeks announced by the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC. On Saturday, February 7. The INEC shifted the dates from February 14 and 28 general elections to March 18 and April 11. Attahiru Jega, a professor of political science and chairman of the INEC, at a news conference in Abuja on Saturday night, said the elections had to be postponed because security agencies had informed the commission that they would not be capable to provide adequate security and support if the elections were to go ahead as originally planned for February 14 and February 28.
Since the announcement, reactions have been mixed from different people and institutions across the globe. President Goodluck Jonathan, in a statement by Reuben Abati, his spokesman, appealed to all stakeholders to accept the shift in the dates for the polls in good faith. He also assured that notwithstanding shift in election dates, the handover date of May 29, as the terminal date of his four-year first term, remained sacrosanct.
General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the main challenger to Jonathan’s re-election bid, said by shifting the dates based on the excuse by the military, the INEC had shown that its independence had been compromised. In a statement, Buhari appealed to his supporters to remain calm because the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, would not succeed at the polls next month. He said it was suspicious that after Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and national security adviser, failed to make the INEC postpone the elections based on the inability of some Nigerians to get their Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, he (Dasuki) then came up with the issue of security at the last minute.
“The PDP administration has now engineered a postponement using the threat that security will not be guaranteed across the length and breadth of Nigeria because of military engagement in some states in the North-East. It is important to note that although INEC acted within its constitutional powers, it is clear that it has been boxed into a situation where it has had to bow to pressure. Thus, the independence of INEC has been gravely compromised,” he said.
Femi Falana, SAN and human rights activist, in an article, described the postponement as “a coup against the Nigerian constitution by the nation’s security chiefs.” He said the security chiefs on whose advice the INEC based the postponement of the polls, lacked the constitutional power to do so. “Since the president could not persuade the National Assembly to pass a resolution for tenure elongation on spurious grounds the service chiefs allowed themselves to be manipulated to subvert the democratic process. Thus, by causing the election to be postponed the NSA and the security chiefs have staged a coup against the Constitution. They are liable to be prosecuted for the grave offence of treason at the appropriate time,” Falana argued.
On its part, the Academic Staff of Universities Union, ASUU, the umbrella body of Nigerian university lecturers in criticising the postponement of the elections, said the shift was nothing but a ploy by the federal government to buy more time, using insecurity as a reason.
Nasir Fagge, national president of the ASUU, who urged electorate to use the opportunity to get their PVCs, also asked Nigerians to be active in ensuring the emergence of a leadership with focus on the people and its institutions.
The United States in a statement in Washington DC, by John Kerry, its secretary of state, expressed disappointment over the postponement and cautioned that the federal government should not use security as a pretext to derail democracy. While it warned against “political interference with the duties of the INEC,” Kerry also told the federal government to ensure that the elections were not delayed any further than the new dates. He added: “We support a free, transparent, and credible electoral process in Nigeria and renew our calls on all candidates, their supporters, and Nigerian citizens to maintain calm and reject election-related violence.”
Similarly, the United Kingdom in a statement by Philip Hammond, its foreign secretary, said the shift of the elections was a cause for concern. It, therefore, advised the Nigerian government against using the security situation in the North-East as an excuse to deny Nigerians the right to exercise their democratic rights. “While we support Nigeria in its struggle against terrorism, the security situation should not be used as a reason to deny the Nigerian people from exercising their democratic rights. It is vital that the elections are kept on track and held as soon as possible in accordance with international norms,” Hammond said.
But the shift in elections dates was a sort of vindication for some supporters of the action. Leo Ogor, House deputy majority leader of the PDP, said that the INEC had done the right thing by its decision. Ogor said that if the INEC had gone ahead to conduct the polls “with many Nigerians yet to collect their PVCs,” the outcome would have continued to haunt the commission and its leadership.
“The main issue here is the PVC. The INEC would have denied millions of Nigerians their constitutional right to vote had they proceeded with the elections. You cannot tell me that because majority of voters have PVC, then others have become inconsequential. So, why did they register to vote? The majority will have their way, but the minority must still have their say. That is the only way we can begin to talk about justice and fairness, else it is a wrong step that will continue to haunt the nation,” Ogor said.
Jerry Manwe, chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, said the shift in elections dates was in order and was unlikely to have been influenced by President Jonathan. Manwe, a member of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, noted that the INEC became helpless soon after security reports did not support the conduct of the polls.
“Insecurity is the key issue; I am sure if people are to die because they have to vote, that is more serious than the elections. The national security adviser and the service chiefs are in a position to know the security situation of the North-East. The North-East is in trouble and you have to be there to appreciate what is happening,” Manwe said.
Nonetheless, Femi Okurounmu, a senator and a member, Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, said the postponement was only an aspect of the demand of the group. He said that Jega could not deny that he had been hobnobbing with elders in the North to enthrone “a candidate of Northern extraction to become president because they believe that it is their turn to produce a president.” Okurounmu, who was speaking at a radio programme on Monday, February 9, said Jega should resign to preserve and sustain the integrity of the commission. “We have presented all the evidences we have against him and they are now in the public domain. It is not for us to go to security operatives to ask for his arrest; that’s why we presented all the facts to the public. Jega has not controverted any of our statement. If he has anything against what we have said he should go to court,” Okurounmu said.
But in his response, Jega said his conscience was clear and he would not resign. Kayode Idowu, spokesman of the INEC chairman, said Jega was not ready to trade words with any elder in the land, but he would not resign because there was no truth in the all allegations.