With bated breath, the world is waiting for Nigeria to hold its general elections shifted to March 28 and April 11, but the Independent National Electoral Commission says it will all depend on Nigeria security agencies to give the green light for them to hold
| By Olu Ojewale | Mar. 2, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
FOR now, Nigeria is, literarily speaking, in the eye of the world. Having been forced to postpone the general elections initially scheduled for February 14 and February 28, to March 28 and April 11, on accounts of insecurity in the North-East of the country, the world is anxiously waiting to know what happens after the six-week shift. But Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, refused to confirm the new dates as sacrosanct. Addressing the Senate on Wednesday, February 18, where he was summoned to brief senators on the readiness of the electoral commission to conduct credible elections, Jega said that the commission was ready to conduct the polls, but it could not guarantee that the elections would hold as scheduled.
Answering a question put to him by George Akume, Senate minority leader, Jega said the question of security was difficult to answer. “I have said consistently that there are things under the control of electoral commission and there are things that are not under the control of electoral commission. For things that are under our control, I can give definite and categorical assurances.
“On what is not under our control, it is futile, it is fruitless and useless to give a definite guarantee on them. I think that question should be directed appropriately. The questions of security, I will leave it, I don’t think I am competent to answer it sufficiently,” he said.
Jega said only security agencies and services chiefs could guarantee security for the polls. He said: “I kept saying consistently that INEC is not a security organization. We are an election management body. So, we rely a lot on security to be able to ensure that things are done well and that there is no disruption of the electoral process.
“We have been working very closely with the Inter-Agencies Consultative Committee on election security and that is why for us, if the service chiefs say that we can’t guarantee security, give us more time, what is the alternative security arrangement?”
The INEC boss said the commission would use about 700, 000 ad hoc staff and that it would be foolhardy to send people to the field without adequate security for their safety. “Our hope and prayer is that in the next six weeks there will be significant improvement in the security situation for us to be doing elections all over this country in a very secured environment. There are certain questions that we are not really competent to answer. Certain questions should be directed to the military, and they can answer it better.
“I must say that every Nigerian knows that we want elections to hold within the constitutional time-frame. We should be fair also to the military. Soldiers are also patriotic Nigerians. Let us give them the benefit of doubt,” he said.
When asked how he would respond if the security agencies requested a further delay, Jega said doing so would be illegal. He then made reference to a constitutional provision which requires that elections should be concluded at least 30 days before May 29, when a new government must be sworn in.
On Thursday, February 19, President Jonathan allayed fear of any further postponement. He said that with the present onslaught against the members of the notorious sect, the atmosphere in the North-East would be conducive to proper elections by March 28 and April 11, 2015. Speaking at the Nigerian Navy Dockyard, Lagos during the official commissioning of four new warships acquired for the Nigerian Navy to boost the assault against oil thieves and sea pirates in the nation’s territorial waters, President Jonathan said that the government would ensure that elections were conducted in all parts of the country, including areas currently seized by the insurgents.
“We will leave no stone unturned to improve the capacity of the Nigerian Armed Forces. We have improved the technical capacity of the army, and we are working in harmony with the service chiefs to ensure that the country does not disintegrate,” he added. Jonathan further assured Nigerians that the 2015 general elections must hold on scheduled dates, stressing that operations of the terrorist group would not in any way affect elections. “The capacity of the military to fight the insurgents is being increased and officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces are doing well to ensure that the situation in the Northeast is brought under control. This is in line with my transformation agenda and the vision of Nigeria becoming one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020,” he said.
In any case, the military appears to be prosecuting its war against the Boko Haram insurgence in a manner that would not necessitate another postponement of the elections. On Wednesday, February 18, the military announced that it had recaptured 11 communities which were in the hands of insurgents. It said that the military had started a cordon and search operation along with aggressive patrols by troops in newly liberated communities of Monguno, Gabchari, Abba Jabari, Zuntur, Gajigana, Gajiram, Damakar, Kumaliwa, Bosso Wanti, Jeram and Kabrisungul.
Chris Olukolade, a major-general and director of Defence Information, who disclosed this in a statement, assured that “the various phases of the highly coordinated air and land operations is also ongoing in the designated theatres being handled by contingents involved in the renewed counter terrorism campaign in and outside Nigeria.” In the recent operations, troops of the Nigerian Army and personnel of the Air Force had killed more than 300 fighters of the Boko Haram sect. Some of the terrorists and their weapons were captured by the troops.
“Five different types of armoured fighting vehicles, an anti-aircraft gun, about 50 cases of packed bombs and eight different types of machine guns, five rocket-propelled grenade, 49 boxes of various types and calibres of ammunition, as well as 300 motorcycles were destroyed in the fighting,” Olukolade said, adding that “a total of six Hilux vehicles including those mounted with anti-aircraft guns were also destroyed.”
Despite this, the latest suicide attacks being carried out by the insurgents seems to underscore the challenge facing Nigeria and its neighbours such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger. On Tuesday, February 17, there were two suicide attacks in Borno State, North-East where at least 36 people were killed. More than 20 persons were also reported injured.
Reports said three assailants in a motorised rickshaw detonated explosives at a checkpoint at Yamarkumi village, near the town of Biu, at about 1:00 pm on the day. “Most of the victims were child vendors and beggars that usually crowd the checkpoint,” a source was quoted as saying.
About four hours later, in Potiskum, the economic capital of neighbouring Yobe State, a bomber blew himself up inside Al-Amir restaurant. According to the police, the restaurant manager and a steward were killed in the incident, while 13 staff and customers were seriously injured. Also, 13 people were killed when a female suicide bomber entered the main bus station, Damaturu, capital of Yobe State, and blew herself up among the crowds, on Sunday, February 15. “The death toll from the suicide attack at the Damaturu motor park now stands at 13, with the death of six more victims at the hospital,” Toyin Gbadegesin, police public relations officer, Yobe State, said. He said more than 30 persons were also injured in the attack.
Nigeria had long complained that lack of action from its neighbours had hampered efforts against Boko Haram, but the new cooperation among the neighbouring countries could prove decisive.
On Monday, February 16, Niger said that more than 200 rebels were killed in its first cross-border raid on the South-East of the country, and on Tuesday, February 17, it claimed to have averted a suicide attack in the Diffa region.
According to police in Diffa, which is currently under a state of emergency, more than 160 people suspected to be members or allies of the Islamic sect were being detained.
In a separate incident, Cameroon’s army announced that it had killed 86 militants and detained more than 1,000 people suspected of having links to Boko Haram in the country’s far north.
Also in Chad, the army said its troops had engaged in fierce combat with Boko Haram militants near the town of Dikwa, some 90 kilometres from Maiduguri, Borno State. Two Chadian soldiers and unspecified number of militants reportedly killed in the clashes.
Despite all this, the Islamic insurgents remain defiant. Reports from Al Jazeera and the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, said Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Islamist group, had again, threatened to strike and disrupt Nigeria’s presidential election scheduled for March 28. Shekau, in a new video purportedly released by the group on Tuesday, February 17, obtained by the United States-based SITE Intelligence Group, warned that next month’s elections would be disrupted with violence.
“Allah will not leave you to proceed with these elections even after us, because you are saying that authority is from people to people, which means that people should rule each other, but Allah says that the authority is only to him, only his rule is the one which applies on this land. And finally we say that these elections that you are planning to do, will not happen in peace, even if that costs us our lives,” Shekau said in the video. The 15-minute film which was released via the group’s newly created Twitter account, has prompted some analysts to question whether the group had been influenced by Islamic State. Besides, it was the first time Boko Haram would be using Twitter to send its video message.
The Islamist insurgency has already forced the postponement of the polls initially scheduled for February 14, and the new thinking among Nigerian neighbours is that a regional military offensive could contain the offensive bloodletting of the sect ahead of March 28 presidential election day.
Speaking before Shekau’s threat, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger vowed that his country would herald the end for the rebels, whose six-year insurgency has been responsible for more than 13,000 deaths and more than 250,000 internally displaced persons. “Niger will be the death of Boko Haram,” he told a cheering crowd after a protest against the insurgents in Niamey, capital of Niger.
But it is not only Boko Haram insurgence that has been raising security concern in the country. A number of violence unrelated to the Boko Haram uprising, explosions and gunfire at rallies are not uncommon these days. One of the most recent was that of Okrika in Rivers State, where a policeman was killed and injured four others, while a reporter covering the event was stabbed and taken to hospital. The crisis happened in the hometown of President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife Patience. As characterised the political situation in the country, the motive was blamed on the tensions running high between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the main opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, who are always quick to point accusing finger to one another.
Although the political rivalry of the two parties is not regarded as serious enough a threat to the general elections, it appears no one would like the Jonathan administration to find any excuse for postponing the rescheduled elections. The Transition Monitoring Group on Wednesday, February 18, warned the president and the INEC not to further postpone the general elections. The TMG, in a statement by Ibrahim Zikirullahi, its chairman, warned that any attempt to change the dates of the elections would be resisted by Nigerians. The group accused the federal government and some persons in the ruling party of “pushing the military further into partisan political terrain, in a manner that portends grave danger to our democracy.” It said further: “It is disturbing that the military, an institution that should at every point be seen as a symbol of Nigeria’s national unity, has allowed itself to be dragged into the partisan arena, to the extent that Nigerians are increasingly losing confidence in it.”
But Victor Okhai, a lawyer and public commentator, would like the INEC to be grateful to the military for saving it from the kind of embarrassment it would have faced if the commission had gone ahead with the February dates. “It was obvious that the INEC was not ready at the time the elections were to be conducted. The security situation was also bad and it was only reasonable for the government to use the window provided in the constitution to shift the elections. In my opinion, the military has done very well to advise that the elections be shifted so they could provide the needed security for the elections,” Okhai said.
That notwithstanding, Abubakar Tsav, retired commissioner of police, insisted that involving the military in elections is bad and should not be condoned. “The police is in charge of security. Everything about internal security is referred to the police. So, the issue of security should be in the hands of inspector general of police. It is only if he cannot cope that he will invite the military. That’s what the law provides for,” Tsav said.
The retired commissioner of police in Lagos, argued that using the issue of security to postpone elections was untenable. He made references to places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and many others where insurrections did not stop them from conducting elections. “They said Borno State is not safe, yet (General Muhammadu) Buhari, candidate of the APC still went there for campaign and he was welcomed by a large crowd of people. What I think is happening is that some people don’t want elections to hold so that they can remain in office. That’s all. The unfortunate thing is that these people don’t love this country. What interest them is how much they can loot the country. This is a very sad development,” he said.
Tsav said from the situation in the country he saw no reasons why the INEC should not hold elections as now scheduled. He, however, advised politicians to stop heating the polity by adhering to the rules of the game.
That appears to be a tall order. But what seem to interest Nigerians most is for the elections to be free, fair, credible and without any rancour. The hope is that the security situation in the country would have improved and that INEC would have gotten its act together by ensuring that the permanent voters card got to all registered voters.