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Political Intrigues force INEC to postpone Feb Polls to March 28



After weeks of anxiety, allegation, and counter-allegation, the Independent National Electoral Commission emerged from consultative meetings with stakeholders yesterday in Abuja with a decision to postpone the general election by six weeks.

The Presidential/National Assembly election will now hold March 28, while the Governorship/House of Assembly election has been slated for April 11.
The elections had been fixed for February 14 and 28 for the presidential/National Assembly and governorship/House of Assembly polls, respectively.

But few weeks to the dates that had been appointed by INEC about one year ago, tension began to mount over their feasibility owing, first, to perceived deficits in the distribution of the permanent voter cards by INEC and, second, the state of insecurity in the North-east states, especially, Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, where the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, had intensified its six-year old insurgency.
Even assurances by INEC that it was prepared to hold the elections did not douse the tensions, which culminated in yesterday’s consultations with stakeholders and the decision to postpone the elections. The presidential and National Assembly polls will now hold on March 28 while the governorship and House of Assembly polls will be held on April 11. Jega announced the new dates following meetings yesterday with the INEC commissioners, the political parties, security agencies, and civil society organisations.
THISDAY had earlier exclusively reported on the new dates

Jega said the shift in election dates was for security reasons following an advisory from the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd). The INEC chairman said the commission decided on the postponement after due consideration over the opinions of stakeholder because, “The conduct of elections in a country like Nigeria is invariably a collective venture that involves not just the Election Management Body (EMB), but also a diverse range of stakeholders, notably security agencies, political parties and their candidates, voters, as well as interest groups, such as the civil society organisations and the media.”
Jega talked about his Thursday’s invitation to the meeting of the National Council of State to brief the council on INEC’s preparedness for the poll.

“The summary of my presentation to the National Council of State meeting is that, for matters under its control, INEC is substantially ready for the general elections as scheduled, despite discernible challenges being encountered with some of its processes like the collection of Permanent Voter Cards by registered members of the public,” he said. “In addition, INEC has been doing everything it can to facilitate the collection of the PVCs by registered members of the public. As at 5th February 2015, the total number of PVCs collected was 45, 829, 808, representing 66.58% of the total number of registered voters.”

The INEC boss said, “In the delivery and deployment of electoral materials, INEC is also at a comfort level in its readiness for the general elections as scheduled. The commission’s preparations are not yet perfect or fully accomplished. But our level of preparedness, despite a few challenges, is sufficient to conduct free, fair and credible elections as scheduled on February 14th and February 28th. Compared with 2011 when, within a short time, we conducted general elections that were universally adjudged free, fair and credible and the best in Nigeria’s recent electoral history, our processes are today better refined, more robust and therefore capable of delivering even better elections.”

Jega said “other variables equally crucial for successful conduct of the 2015 general elections that are outside the control of INEC” had prompted the deferment of the general election.

“One important variable is security for the elections. While the commission has a very good working relationship with all security agencies, especially on the platform of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) since its inception in 2010, it has become pertinent for it to seriously consider the security advisory presented to it by the security and intelligence services,” he said.

According to Jega, “Last Wednesday, which was a day before the Council of State meeting, the office of the National Security Adviser wrote a letter to the commission, drawing attention to recent developments in four North-east states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe currently experiencing the challenge of insurgency. The letter stated that security could not be guaranteed during the proposed period in February for the general elections.

“This advisory was reinforced at the Council of State meeting on Thursday where the NSA and all the Armed Services and Intelligence Chiefs unanimously reiterated that the safety and security of our operations cannot be guaranteed, and that the security services needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgency in the North-east; and that during this operation, the military will be concentrating its attention in the theatre of operations such that they may not be able to provide the traditional support they render to the police and other agencies during elections.”

In changing the election dates in line with the advice of the security chiefs, Jega stated that INEC relied on Section 26 (1) of the Electoral 2010 (As Amended), which states, “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”

While responding to questions from journalists after his briefing, Jega dismissed the calls in some quarters for his resignation for his earlier insistence on holding the elections as scheduled, saying he currently has no reason to consider that option. “If there are genuine reasons for me to resign, if my conscience so advises, but where it does not, there is no need to resign. I will not reason. I have not met with any group, rather than do that, I will resign. This is the only condition for me to resign. Anyone can conjure theory, but I advise the media do their investigations before publishing,” Jega said, adding, “My tenure will end June 30, 2015.”
Asked what would be his reaction if he were told to proceed on terminal leave, the INEC chairman responded, “I will cross the bridge when I get there.”

The changes made by INEC still fall within the constitutional context for the elections.
The announcement of the new election dates by Jega was preceded by a tensed waiting game. There was a curious hiatus after his meetings with critical stakeholders, which indicated strong disagreements over the question of election postponement. As the waiting continued tension built up and rumours were rife about the disparity in the positions of the stakeholders.

The INEC chairman was initially billed to address a press conference at 5pm to announce the commission’s resolution after the meetings with stakeholders. But the time was shifted to 9pm, and the briefing eventually began at 10.48pm.

Reaction of the Political Parties
The two main political parties – All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party – reacted differently to the poll shift. PDP saw the postponement as a welcome development, while APC said it was a major setback to the democratic process.
The Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Organisation said in a statement last night that the shift would deepen democracy because INEC’s “state of preparedness was not 100 per cent.”

Director, media and publicity of PDPPCO Femi Fani-Kayode stated, “Since this decision has been taken in the interest of deepening democracy and in national interest, we accept it in good faith and we commend INEC’s courage and obvious commitment to ensuring a free and fair election.

“With this decision, INEC has allayed the fears of many of our citizens that they may not have had the opportunity to vote for the candidates and parties of their choice on Election Day.

“INEC has, by the decision, ensured that no one will be disenfranchised and has helped to guarantee the safety and security of every single one of our citizens during the course of the elections.”
PDP dismissed suspicions about underhand intentions by the federal government regarding the poll shift, saying they are products of delusive conspiracy theories by the opposition APC.
“By insisting that the elections should be conducted on February 14th the opposition was not only dangerously flirting with chaos but was also putting our country firmly on the path of confrontation, division, injustice, disaster and destruction.

“This is especially so, given the fact that no less than 34 per cent of eligible voters have not been able to access their Permanent Voter Cards up till today – just seven days before the original date of the election. A situation where such a large percentage of our people would have been disenfranchised is unacceptable and the fact that the APC was insensitive to that fact speaks volumes,” Fani-Kayode alleged.

However, in a statement by its national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, APC said it had “just heard over the news media that the Independent National Electoral Commission has decided to postpone the elections by six weeks on the strength of a letter by the security chiefs that they cannot provide security for the elections nationwide because of the commitment of its resources to fight insurgency in the north-eastern part of the country.
“This is clearly a major setback for Nigerian democracy, and our party is meeting in emergency session to study its implications and will inform Nigerians of its decisions in the next few days.

“In the meantime, though, what has happened is highly provocative, I strongly appeal to all Nigerians to remain calm and desist from violence and any activity which will compound this unfortunate development. We must not fall into this obvious trap. Change we must. They can only delay it; No one can stop it.
“I want to assure all Nigerians that the All Progressives Congress will not abandon its commitment to change and will sustain the struggle to establish a new Nigeria.”

At a meeting between the INEC chairman and the political parties yesterday in Abuja, 14 parties had supported the rescheduling of the general election, while 10 rejected the idea. Those that favoured postponement included Action Alliance, Action Congress of Democrats, Alliance for Democracy, African Democratic Congress, Citizens popular Party, Democratic Peoples Party, Labour Party, Mega Peoples Party, New Nigeria Peoples Party, United Democratic Party, Peoples Popular Movement, Progressives People Alliance, PDP, and Unity Party of Nigeria.

The parties that opposed deferment of the elections during the meeting with the INEC chairman were Peoples Democratic Movement, APC, United Peoples Party, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, Social Democratic Party, KOWA Party, Independent Democrats, Hope Democratic Party, African Peoples Alliance, and Accord.

All Progressives Grand Alliance abstained while National Conscience Party was indifferent.

The 14 political parties that supported poll shift, apart from PDP, were among those that had met in Abuja on Tuesday and alongside some of their presidential candidates resolved that the elections scheduled for February 14 and 28 should be postponed. Their reasons included insecurity in the North-east, shortfalls in the distribution of the PVCs, and the exodus of people from the insurgency-ravaged communities of the North-east.
Similarly, the 10 political parties that opposed election postponement, besides APC, included those that had equally met on Thursday in Abuja to reject the attempt to shift the election.

Civil society organisations in the country, under the aegis of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, also met with the INEC chairman, with all of the commission’s 12 National Commissioners in attendance. At the meeting yesterday, the group, also called Situation Room, rejected the suggestion by the security services that the elections should be shifted because they would be too occupied with anti-insurgency operations in the North-east to provide security for the polls.
The Situation Room called for the resignation of the service chiefs for their failure to perform their constitutional role of guaranteeing the security of the lives and property of citizens at all times.

In a statement after their meeting with INEC, signed by the senior programme officer for Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Agianpe Ashang, the Situation Room said, “At the meeting, INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, conveyed that he had received a letter from the security services advising that he postpones the general elections on the grounds that the security agencies were engaged in a renewed battle against insurgency in the North-east that would require their full concentration. In the letter, the military was demanding a rescheduling of elections by at least six weeks in the first instance.

“Situation room conveyed to INEC its disappointment with the letter from the security agencies pointing out that this amounted to the military’s abdication of its constitutional duties to provide security to citizens and to the commission to enable it conduct elections and appeared contrived to truncate the democratic process in Nigeria.

“Situation Room is further worried that the military’s position also aims to blackmail and arm-twist the Election Management Body away from its constitutionally guaranteed function of conducting elections. Situation Room also condemns this advisory by security agents that they cannot guarantee the security of citizens, election officials and materials during the election.
“The Situation Room calls for the resignation of military chiefs and security heads including the Police on account of their inability to exercise their constitutional responsibility to secure lives and property at all times including during the elections.”

ThisDay, February 08, 2015

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