By Chukwudi Nweje / Acting Features Editor
The 2015 general elections earlier scheduled for February 14 and 28 for the Presidential and National Assembly polls have finally been postponed to March 28 and April 11 respectively. In postponing the polls by six weeks on Saturday, Independent National Electoral commission (INEC) chairman, Prof.
Attahiru Jega had insisted that “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 (PVCs) by registered members of the public… 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… our processes are today better refined, more robust and therefore capable of delivering even better elections.”
According to Jega INEC is an Election Management Body and not a security agency. “It relies on the security services to provide a safe environment for personnel, voters, election observers and election materials to conduct elections wherever it deploys. Where the security services strongly advise otherwise, it would be unconscionable of the Commission to deploy personnel and call voters out in such a situation…
“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.”
The excuse that security agencies cannot assure security at least for another six weeks however raises more questions than answers. No doubt, the security concerns in the North East are common knowledge locally and internationally. But the specifics of the operation that will prevent the security agencies from guaranteeing INEC adequate security for the conduct of the election are unknown. Some feel that there is more to these security issues and postponement of the polls than meets the eyes. Thus, stakeholders who view the development with scepticism question what the security agencies will do in the North East in six weeks that they could not do in the past six years.
As a matter of fact, some analysts argue that the postponement of the polls had long been orchestrated. Baba Aye, National Convener, United Action for Democracy (UAD) argued that the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) may have put the events in motion when early in January, he suggested the postponement of the polls at the Chatham House, a London think-tank. Then, the NSA had called for a postponement to give the INEC time to distribute over 30 million outstanding PVCs he said were yet to be collected. He had also argued that a postponement within the time allowed by law would make more sense as “it costs you (INEC) nothing; it’s still within the law.” He added that the decision was however that of INEC.
Incidentally, INEC, despite the pressure, decided to hold the election and the concerns suddenly changed from the distribution of PVCs to insurgency in the North East. Aye further argued, “It is a statement of fact that INEC started the issuance of PVCs rather late in the day providing a foothold for adventurists keen on manipulating the electoral process for their self-serving interests. It is now clear that this postponement is premeditated.
“The more worrying of the reasons given for the postponement is the war in the North East… It needs to be asked how Nigerians are expected to believe that an insurgency that could not be curtailed in six years would all of a sudden be curtailed in six weeks.”
The UAD is not alone in their thinking. Human rights and constitutional lawyer, Chief Femi Falana (SAN), has described the postponement of the polls as a coup against the Nigerian Constitution. In a statement signed personally by him, Falana called on Nigerians to “Beware Of The Ides Of March.” He alleged that Jega was blackmailed into postponing the polls by Col. Dasuki (rted) and the security chiefs. He alleged it was all part of the Presidency’s plan for an Interim National Government.
The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) also wondered why the sudden postponement after INEC had “spent long periods assuring Nigerians and the international community that it was ready for the polls, even as it has also invested so much energy, emotion and resources into the preparation for election.” Debo Adeniran, Executive Chairman of the Coalition asked, “Why it is that election that had been scheduled for more than almost a year ago is being postponed almost at the eve of the election date? This raises the anxiety of the people that they might be up for some kind of game. Almost everybody is expectant, especially those who believe that voting is sequenced to participating in the governance of the country. They were already preparing for the big show and now they have been let down. Letting them down is enough to cause disorderliness.”