Mixed Reactions Trail Election Postponement

By Adedayo Ogunleye, Abuja

Mixed reactions have continued to trail the postponement by six weeks the general election in Nigeria, even as President Goodluck Jonathan has reassured Nigerians that the May 29 inauguration date remains sacrosanct.

Reassuring the nation of his commitment to the sanctity of May 29, 2015 as the terminal date of his first term in office, President Jonathan appealed to all stakeholders to accept the adjustment of the election dates by INEC in good faith, stating that the electoral body bears a responsibility to conduct credible elections in which every Nigerian of voting age is afforded the opportunity to exercise their civic right without hindrance.

In a statement released by his senior special adviser on media, Reuben Abati, the President stated that it is not a time to trade blames or make statements that may overheat the polity, but a time to support the electoral commission in its mission to conduct the elections successfully.

Affirming that INEC acted within its powers under the law and after intense consultation with all relevant stakeholders, Jonathan encouraged the international community, civil society and the electorate to continue to support the administration’s commitment to a free, fair, credible, and non-violent electoral process.

But many Nigerians have condemned the postponement of the election, accusing the government and the military of conspiring to pressure INEC into deferring the polls.

The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Muhammadu Buhari condemned the postponement as a “crude and fraudulent attempt to subvert the electoral process” but appealed for calm and restraint amongst his supporters.

The APC presidential candidate stated Sunday evening that as a Nigerian, he shared in the disappointment and frustration of the re-scheduling of the polls.

Alleging that the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, administration had engineered the postponement based on the excuse that security could not be guaranteed across the nation during the polls due to planned military engagement in some states in the North east, he acknowledged that INEC acted within its constitutional powers, even though it was clear that the commission had been pressured to effect the postponement.

“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,” he stated.

Buhari, however, appealed for restraint stating that the nation was in a critical moment at which violence could tip the nation into chaos.

“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,” he stated.

Appealing to his supporters to remain resolute in the struggle for change, Buhari encouraged them to remain committed.

“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,” he said.

Continuing, Buhari said that the people must continue “to trust in the entire democratic process and in INEC”, adding that this would “encourage the electoral body to remain steadfast and remain committed to the rule of law.”

He warned, however, that the APC “will not tolerate any further interference with the electoral process and that the “rescheduled elections of March 28th and April 11th, 2015 must be sacrosanct.”

The national chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun in his own reaction described the election date shift as “a major setback for the nation’s democracy.”

Advising Nigerians not to fall into a trap set by the ruling PDP government through what he called a “provocative postponement”, he charged Nigerians to remain calm and desist from violence or any activity that could trigger unrest.

“This is clearly a major setback for Nigerian democracy. 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,” he stated.

Reacting to the postponement on his Twitter handle, the chairman of the PDP, Adamu Muazu, said that his party continue to support Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in its quest to conduct free, fair and transparent elections but noted that the commission did not tell the public about all the challenges being experienced in the bid to conduct credible elections, and based its decision only on the advice it had received on the security situation.

In its own reaction, the Accord Party, voiced disapproval of the postponement. A chieftain of the party and former governor of Oyo State, Rasheed Ladoja, declared the party’s stance on the issue during a conversation on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Sunday, stating that there was no valid reason for INEC to make such decision.

“We felt that Nigeria must start having the possibility of forecasting what is going to happen. You cannot just give a date about a year ago and all of a sudden you’re changing the date. Irrespective of what must have been happening we believe that a time has come for Nigerians to start having some measure of reliability,” he said.

The former governor said that even though that INEC had given some excuses for the shift in election dates, he was of the opinion that there was more to the sudden postponement than the reasons given.

Criticising the general attitude towards planning, Ladoja said that his frustration was not directed only at the INEC chairman but at the general disregard for proper planning that was prevalent in the nation. He called on all Nigerians to have a general change of attitude towards planning and scheduling.

Citing the low distribution rate for the Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, as a pointer to the possibility of the electoral body not being ready, Ladoja also noted that the INEC chairman’s press briefing on Saturday revealed that about one-third of Nigerians could have been disenfranchised with the challenge of PVC distribution if the election had been conducted as scheduled.

“What he told us was that he will use the opportunity of the six weeks now to step up the collection of the PVC. Why does he have to wait until this postponement? Does it mean that he was expecting that there was going to be a postponement and that was why he wasn’t giving all to the PVC?”  Ladoja queried.

Also reacting to the election postponement, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, under the aegis of The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room has called for the immediate resignation of service chiefs in the country over their self-professed inability to provide security for Nigerians.

In a press release from the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), the Situation Room described the development as “ 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.”

The Situation Room also expressed worries that the military’s position was an attempt to blackmail and arm-twist the election management body away from its constitutional guaranteed function of conducting elections.

Condemning the letter written by the National Security Adviser, NSA, to INEC in which the he acknowledged inability to guarantee security of citizens, election officials and materials if the polls were conducted as scheduled originally, The Situation Room called for the resignation of military chiefs and security heads on account of their inability to exercise their constitutional responsibility to secure lives and property at all times including during the elections.

In his reaction to the shift in polls, human rights lawyer and activist Femi Falana declared that “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, who issued a press release in reaction to the postponement, stated that the NSA’s decision to write to INEC about inability to provide adequate security needed for the successful conduct of the polls was an infraction which in essence “usurped the functions of the National Security Council.”

Falana further stated that “if the satanic Boko Haram sect is not defeated by the armed forces of the republics of Chad, Cameroon and Niger in the next six weeks, the security chiefs are likely to ask for another postponement of the general election on the ground that the operations in the north east region have not been successfully concluded.

According to the human rights lawyer, in the event of such extension which cannot be accommodated under the Electoral Act and the Constitution, the democratic process may eventually be terminated by the security chiefs to pave way for the much touted interim national government.

Reactions from the international community have indicated disappointment in the rescheduling of the general elections with the United States taking the lead with its disapproval of the shift.

In a press statement, the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, expressed Washington’s “deep disappointment” at the decision to postpone the polls, which had been scheduled for February 14”.






     

     

    Kerry said that “interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable, and it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process”, adding that the international community “will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates.”

    “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,” Kerry said.

    The INEC chairman had on Saturday told the world that sequel to advisory from the National Security Adviser, NSA that the electoral body could not proceed with the general elections as scheduled.

    Stating that even though the commission’s level of preparedness was sufficient to conduct free, fair and credible elections as scheduled on February 14 and 28, the INEC chairman said it was necessary to postpone the elections due to the fact that other variables such as security which were equally crucial for successful conduct of the 2015 general elections were outside the control of INEC.

     

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