The Nigeria’s Presidency has expressed its discomfort with the February 14 and 28 general elections in the country, listing some of the reasons to justify the fear and discomfort that holding the elections on the dates will “throw the country into turmoil and confusion.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, who conveyed the feelings of the Presidency today at a press conference, said however that President Goodluck Jonathan would not engage in any form of subterfuge to pressurise Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to change the dates of the elections.
Dr. Okupe said there was no time during the meeting of the National Council of State yesterday, held inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja, that the chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, insisted on the February dates as quoted by some media reports.
He listed the level of preparedness of the electoral body and security situation in some parts of the country as some of the reasons why it will be wise to revisit the February dates.
On the issue of preparation, Dr. Okupe said that in all INEC’s submissions at the meeting, the only process that was 100 percent concluded was the preparation and availability of the voters register.
According to him, all other processes including provision, distribution and collection of PVCs, printing of ballot papers, distribution of verification machines and other non –sensitive materials, recruitment and training of ad hoc staff are all “work in progress.”
He added that Jega himself admitted that given a little more time, INEC would be in a better position to perfect the processes and its readiness for the elections.
“Also in his presentations to the Council, the INEC Chairman, stated clearly that for the electoral process to be free, fair, and credible, there are other matters which were not under the control of INEC, principal among which is the issue of provision and guarantee of security of lives and properties.
“The Security Chiefs were unanimous in their advice to the Council that it will be impossible for now for them to guarantee security of electoral materials, INEC Staff, and the voting population in the areas currently engulfed by the war against insurgency.”
Dr. Okupe said that while some opinions were proffered that elections could be allowed to hold on February 14 in 32 states not affected by insurgency, Jonathan made it clear that he would not allow an election where some people will be excluded for no fault of theirs.
He quoted the President as further saying that endorsing such would tend to confirm the falsehood already being propagated in some parts of the country that he was encouraging the war in the North East to ensure that voters in the APC states were not allowed to vote in the 2015 elections.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerians are hereby re-assured that there has never been, and never shall be any plan to cancel the 2015 elections, for any reasons whatsoever. It will not happen, and the May 29th date for the swearing-in is sacrosanct. All talks about interim government arrangement is pure fiction.
“The consideration behind the possibility of change of date is to allow those who may be disfranchised from voting on the 14th February to have an opportunity to exercise their lawful rights to vote and participate in the general elections.
“The new wave of successes being recorded by the Military in the War against insurgency, especially with the arrival of new effective combatant equipment and machinery, plus the newly revamped cross border co-operation with Niger, Chad and Cameroonian Military, offer a very genuine hope that in a very short while, the situation in the affected states will be brought under such reasonable control that will guarantee safety of the electoral process and electorate in the war front region of the North–East at a no distant future.
“We repeat that the only set of people who stand to benefit from a shift in election dates are Nigerians who desire to vote and have not been able to collect their Permanent Voters Cards and other innocent citizens living in the war zone who may not be able to vote on the 14th February.
“We also wish to recollect that in 2003, 2007, and 2011 the elections were held in April, and the hand over date was not affected.
“We therefore challenge the opposition to tell Nigerians in clear terms, what dangers the change of date from February 14th portends to the electoral process or to the Nigerian electorate. It will also be good if the opposition tells us who stands to benefit or be disadvantaged from any shifting of date and how.”
Dr. Okupe said that INEC is not fully ready for the elections, and dared the commission to direct its Resident Electoral Commissioners to swear to an affidavit to prove their readiness for the polls.
“It will be very re-assuring if the INEC can get its RECs to attach their state of readiness to a sworn affidavit and show it to Nigerians.
“The interest of this government is to ensure that we do not have a rancorous and poorly conducted general elections that will throw the country into turmoil and confusion with the likelihood of an unnecessary internal and external rejection and condemnation.”
Dr. Okupe claimed that in Sokoto State, nine local government areas are yet to receive PVC for the continuous voters registration, barely nine days to the election.
He also claimed that the majority of the 960,000 ad hoc staff needed by the commission are yet to be recruited and trained especially on the operations of card readers that are yet to be made available.
He added that Lagos State is yet to receive a balance of about 12,000 card readers.
Also, the former Nigeria Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and a member of the board of trustees of the People Democratic Party, Mohammed Abba Gana has said that it will be dangerous and illegal to hold the general elections later this month.
He called for the postponement of the elections to April this year, stressing that the Electoral Act permits the shift of the polls considering the fact that over 20 million voters had yet to collect their permanent voter cards.
Gana, who spoke todat at the sidelines of an event organised by the Change Initiative Forum in Abuja to formally present the book: ‘Why Goodluck Jonathan should be re-elected,’ said that it is legal to shift the dates for the conduction of the elections.
“The extension of the election is both a legal and technical issue. What we are saying is that since about 20 million PVCs have yet been distributed, and also since it is legal and within the electoral law to shift the elections to sometime in April, then it should be shifted. The electoral law says elections will be held not earlier than 90 days before the handing over ceremony on May 29, and not later than one month before, therefore it is legal and within the constitution or the electoral Act to say that election should be shifted to April this year.
“This will enable INEC to use two months, the whole of February and March, to conclude all these challenges they are facing because anything worth doing must be done very well. And I am sure that is the reason why the Council of State yesterday (Thursday) advised INEC to consult very widely and inform the nation since they are the only institution empowered by the constitution to conduct elections.
“And now since we have problems of logistics, shortages and other things, and since there are clear two months with which INEC can help if they want to because the elections can be done in April and since it is within the law and the electoral Act, they can do all the elections in April.
“I’m sure the Council of State properly advised Prof. Jega and his team to consult widely and to do what is right for the country. Doing it in a hurry is very, very dangerous, because if 20 million voter cards have not been distributed and you say you are going to conduct elections; that is unkind. Because you will be disenfranchising 20 million people and this is extremely reckless.” [myad]