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Polls postponment: Criticisms mounts

THE polity  was awash with harsh criticisms, yesterday, over weekend’s postponement of the 2015 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over insecurity concerns and poor arrangements.

The Presidential and National Assembly polls initially fixed for February 14 were shifted to March 28, while the governorship and state assembly elections meant for February 28 will now hold on April 11.

Among those who criticised the move were the Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (Ret); APC Senators, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, the United States of America and some eminent lawyers among others.

However, there were also eminent persons, who said that the polls’ shift was within the law and would pave the way for the conduct of a peaceful and credible election.

FRONT

We must remain calm but resolute – Buhari

In a statement on the postponement, Buhari appealed to APC supporters to remain calm.

He said: “This postponement, which comes on the heels of the bogey of the National Security Adviser that half of the registered voters were being disenfranchised was exposed as a crude and fraudulent attempt to subvert the electoral process. 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 had to bow to pressure. Thus, the independence of INEC has been gravely compromised.

“As a Nigerian and a presidential candidate in the elections, I share in the disappointment and frustration of this decision. This postponement coming a week to the first election has raised so many questions, many of which shall be asked in the days ahead. However, we must not allow ourselves to be tempted into taking actions that could further endanger the democratic process.

“Our country is going through a difficult time in the hands of terrorists. Any act of violence can only complicate the security challenges in the country and provide further justification to those who would want to exploit every situation to frustrate the democratic process in the face of certain defeat at the polls.

“If anything, this postponement should strengthen our resolve and commitment to rescue our country from the current economic and social collapse from this desperate band. Our desire for change must surpass their desperation to hold on to power at all cost. We are clearly dealing with people who feel they can get away with placing their personal interest over those of our nation and its citizens. What is at stake is the very survival of our country. We must not allow this temporary delay to abort this great opportunity. While I share the pains and frustrations of my fellow citizens over this development, my deep faith in the democratic process assures me that this country, with your support, will overcome.

“We must remain resolute and rise above all provocations. We must continue to trust in the entire democratic process and in INEC, which has been brought under so much pressure in the last few days. Our trust can only serve to encourage the electoral body to remain steadfast and remain committed to the rule of law. I wish to state strongly that our party will not tolerate any further interference with the electoral process. The rescheduled elections of March 28th and April 11th, 2015 must be sacrosanct.

“Nigeria is definitely greater than any of us, and much more important than our individual ambitions. Before us there was Nigeria, and long after we are gone there will still be Nigeria. Let us continue to do our part to make it the great country that it should be. We must rescue our dear country. God being on our side, we shall salvage Nigeria together.”

 

It’s a sinister plot to derail democracy —APC senators

APC serving senators, yesterday, condemned the postponement of the polls, saying it is a ‘teleguided plot’ by the Peoples Democratic Party, to derail democracy.

Spokesperson of the APC Senators Forum, Babafemi Ojudu (Ekiti Central) in a statement in Abuja said: “What we are seeing is a desperate and jittery response to the imminent defeat of the PDP. The postponement has shown the helplessness of INEC in the face of a malicious cabal bent on destroying the fabric of democracy.”

Besides, the APC senators claimed that the decision to shift the elections had raised a big credibility question on INEC and the forthcoming polls. “This decision is borne out of fear of defeat and malice against the people of Nigeria”.

INEC was ambushed by FG, PDP – Fashola

Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, yesterday, said the INEC was ambushed by the Federal Government and PDP to postpone the general elections.

Speaking with newsmen after collecting his Permanent Voter’s Card, PVC, at a polling unit within the premises of Itolo State Senior Grammar School, off Eric Moore, Surulere Local Government Area, Fashola, who collected his PVC in the presence of the state Resident Electoral Commission, REC, Mr Akin Orebiyi, condemned the postponement, saying the move was to achieve PDP Federal Government agenda.

Earlier, at Arewa Community rally in Onikan Stadium, Lagos Island, he appealed to them not to be provoked and to remain calm.

According to Fashola, “On the postponement of the elections, I think that the reality is that INEC was ambushed by the PDP and the federal government and I think Nigerians must be disappointed. I use this opportunity to appeal to Nigerians to remain calm, especially to supporters and members of the APC.”

 

US expresses disappointment

The United States government has also expressed ‘deep’ disappointment by the decision to postpone Nigeria’s presidential election, which had been scheduled for February 14.

A statement by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, shortly after the announcement of the poll shift by Jega said political interference with INEC is unacceptable.

The U.S. government in its reaction said: “It is critical that the government does not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process”.

The US said the international community would be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates.

According to Mr Kerry, “the United States underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.

“As I reaffirmed when I visited Lagos last month, 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,” Mr. Kerry said.

 

Ensure credible election—UN

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his reaction to the postponement urged electoral authorities “to take all necessary measures to enable the citizens exercise their right to vote in a timely manner,” including the rapid distribution of voters’ cards. “This is imperative for ensuring a credible, free and transparent election,” his spokesman said in a statement.

 

It’s a bad omen – Chekwas Okorie

The Presidential Candidate and National Chairman of the United Progressive Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie described the polls’ shift as a sinister design by manipulators of the electoral process, which he said is a bad omen for the growth of democracy in the country.

His words: “The development is a bad omen for Nigeria’s democracy. The capitulation of INEC to the executive pressure does not speak well of INEC’s constitutional independence.

“The letter written by the National Security Adviser, NSA, triggered off this interference, it is bad. The somersault of the Chief of Defence Staff who recently assured of readiness of the military towards ensuring adequate security only to change his statement is scandalous to a General of his standing.

“There are security challenges in five local government areas of the North East and Nigeria is made up of 774 local government areas. This will be a bad precedence if because of the five local government areas elections are shifted in the entire 774 council areas.

“I urge Nigerians to remain calm, but to be vigilant. This shift to six weeks is a prelude of more sinister design by the manipulators of the electoral process.”

 

Conducting polls in a hurry is dangerous

–Abba-Gana

However, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Engr. Mohammadu Abba-Gana, said the it would be dangerous and reckless if the INEC conducted elections in a hurry without tackling all the challenges before it.

Abba-Gana advised the INEC to listen to wise counsel during the presentation of a book titled, “Why President Goodluck Jonathan should be re-elected in 2015” written by Odiche Monday Odiche and sponsored by Change Initiative Forum, CIF, in Abuja.

“Since about 20 million Permanent Voters Card, PVC, are yet to be distributed and since it is legal to conduct the elections not earlier than 90 days and not later than one month (30 days), it is legal now within the constitution and Electoral Act, to say that the election can be shifted to April this year so that INEC will have the whole of February and March to conclude all the challenges which they are grappling with.”

 

Postponement is unfortunate, unpatriotic—Tsav

Former Lagos State Commissioner Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav picked holes in the postponement, saying: “If the polls shift is to truly enable the military carry out the final onslaught against Boko Haram, this is quite reasonable. But if it is to prepare ground for the PDP to perfect its rigging machinery as they did in Ekiti State, then it is tragically unfortunate and unpatriotic. But did the military not think of this onslaught five years ago? Why wait until a few days to the scheduled presidential election?”

 

It is a coup against the constitution —Festus Okoye

Also speaking, National Coordinator of the Independent Election Monitoring Group, IEMG, Mr. Festus Okoye, said: ‘’The IEMG is not convinced and will not accept the postponement of the February 2015 elections as the reasons given for the said postponement are not cogent and verifiable.

“We view the postponement as unwarranted and a coup against the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Nigerian people and therefore unacceptable.

“We condemn the decision by the security agencies and forces not to provide security for the February 2015. The said decision is a coup against democracy, the constitutional order, the electoral process and the Nigerian people.”

 

Postponement is constitutional – Agbaje

However, Lagos State Governorship Candidate of the PDP, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, said that the postponement of the elections fell in line with the Nigerian constitution.

Agbaje spoke, yesterday, when his campaign train stopped at Eti-Osa. According to him, the postponement would facilitate the holding of more credible and better inclusive elections by INEC.

He said that a slight delay in the polls should raise no eyebrows so long as the May 29 handover date remained sacrosanct.

“It is apparent to everyone now that the postponement is within the confines of the Constitution and the electoral guidelines,” he said. “As long as May 29 remains sacrosanct, everything is in order. And it is obvious that May 29 remains sacrosanct.”

 

Nyiam, Odumakin, Opara hail move, want Jega probed

Former delegates to the 2014 National Conference, Messrs Tony Nyiam and Yinka Odumakin have called on the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Sulieman Abba, to investigate allegations levelled against the Chairman of the INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, that he is colluding with the Northern Elders Forum to manipulate the general elections in favour of a particular presidential candidate.

Speaking, yesterday, in Lagos under the aegis of the Transition Resurgent Group, they said Jega had continued to gloss over the allegation made against him by the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly where he was said to have met with leaders of the NEF.

Mr Odumakin, who read the communique of the group said: “They (SNPA) accused Jega among others of attending meetings with leaders of Northern Elders Forum where plots were hatched to compromise the integrity of the electoral process in Nigeria. The group claimed further that the INEC boss accepted a donation of 150 laptops for each state of the North from the Northern Elders which were given to youth activists to compromise the registration process among legion of other charges.”

Accusing the INEC chairman of having a hidden agenda, Odumakin said: “We are calling on the Inspector-General of Police to investigate the allegations against Jega and if Jega does not admit that there are lapses, then he should step aside.”

On the postponement, Odumakin said it offered an “opportunity to beam a searchlight on Jega and INEC.”

In his remarks, Col Tony Nyiam (Ret) chided the INEC boss for failing to ensure even distribution of the Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs) wondering why more PVCs were distributed in the North East that is contending with serious security challenges than the South that is relatively calm.

Nyiam said “there are some communities that have been battling to get their PVCs in the South and this raises some concern. It is left for Nigerians to decide whether Jega should resign or not but we have no confidence in Jega. Also, if the allegations against Jega are not cleared, he should step aside.”

 

Reps divided

Members of the House of Representatives shared divergent views on the development. Some of the lawmakers who spoke to Vanguard were of the view that INEC must have been influenced by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Others argued that the apex electoral body took the right decision in the right direction and that no law was violated due to the shift by INEC.

 

INEC did not violate any law –Ogor

Deputy Majority Leader, Leo Ogor (PDP, Isoko Federal constituency), in his reaction said: “I think INEC did the right thing by shifting the polls because it has no right to disenchafranchise any Nigerian as many till date do not have their Permanent Voters Card, PVCs. Since no law was violated, I think INEC did the right thing to move Nigeria forward and that I fervently support it”.

 

It’s the proverbial hand of Esau, voice of Jacob – Gbajabiamila

Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Surulere Federal Constituency, Lagos), on his part said: “We must concede INEC’s general powers to fix and cancel election dates. INEC’s reason for postponement also seems logical on the surface. However a deeper analysis and closer scrutiny reveals a lot more. It reveals perhaps the proverbial hand of Esau and voice of Jacob. A complete about turn barely 24 hours after INEC’s clear ready to go to presentation to the council of state says a lot.

“The independence of INEC has been put to question because the sum of what we heard from INEC now is that its powers to determine election dates have been usurped and the military now determines when we have elections in this country simply by their saying so. That is a dangerous precedent.”

 

It is a step in the right direction – Gujbawu

Hon Kyari Gujbawu (PDP, Maiduguri Federal Metropolis), in his contribution said: “I believe, it’s the right step in the right direction. Democracy is all about participation through the right to exercise voting for one’s choice in a free and fair election, and of course under a fearless atmosphere.

“So, for me it’s only natural that INEC considered all these variables as germane for them to conduct the election for it to be a credible one. I don’t understand the whole anti-attitude to shifting a date within the ambit of our law so as to have a credible election.”

 

Akintola, Ozekhome offer legal perspectives

Speaking on the development, some leading lawyers and senior advocates including Niyi Akintyola (SAN) Mike Ozekhome (SAN) offered some legal insights.

 

Things can’t be same again — Akintola

Commenting on the issue, Akintola said: “The prevailing development has upset the calculations of many political pundits. The shifting of the polls may upset the apple cat in spite of the political arithmetic that favours or disfavours the major candidates. Things can certainly not be the same again.”

 

There’ll be constitutional crisis if… —Ozekhome

On his part, Ozekhome said: “My initial reaction had been that the elections must go on as scheduled because of the hopes, aspirations and expectations that Nigerians had invested in the electoral process. However, INEC is the only electoral umpire that we have in this country and it had said that the situation it found itself is such that it could not go on with the election. Jega said that he had consulted widely with the civil society, all stakeholders, security agencies and even the Director General of the NYSC which INEC relies on for adhoc staff and that he had come to the conclusion without pressure that it was better to shift the election.

“The constitutional provision and the electoral act provisions are that the election must not be earlier than 150 days before May 29 and not later than 30 days before swearing in. What the electoral act demands of INEC is that the reason for shifting the election has to be cogent and verifiable and it is now left for Nigerians to decide whether the issue of insurgency is not cogent and verifiable.

“There is a constitutional crisis that may arise if election holds in 32 states out of 36 because the entire country is the constituency of the president, he must (apart from having majority of votes) score 25 per cent of the votes in two third of the states of the federation and Abuja.

“So, if the election is conducted in 32 states without fulfilling the constitutional requirement, there will be a constitutional crisis. This is what INEC considered and postponed the elections. There may be anger and disappointment over the postponement but my appeal to Nigerians is that it is better late than never. We should not sacrifice the unity and cohesion of Nigeria because of a little delay in the conduct of the election.”

 

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