Over four weeks ago, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, bowed to pressure to shift the general elections. The service chiefs said they could not guarantee security in the three troubled states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – all in the Northeast. On Tuesday, the service chiefs appeared to be singing the same familiar tunes. Will the electoral agency hold the elections on March 28 and April 11 as scheduled? Group Political Editor EMMAMUEL OLADESU examines the politics of polls postponement and the implications for the electoral process.
Another coup against the electoral process may be in the offing. Democracy is on crutches. For six hours on Tuesday, President Goodluck Jonathan presided over a crucial security meeting. At the end of the meeting, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Kenneth Minimah, made a shocking disclosure. He could not categorically tell Nigerians that the troubled Northeast region is now safe for elections. He said the area has not fully met the conditions for elections. The implication of the statement is that the cloud of uncertainty over the election has not fizzled out, more than four weeks after the elections were postponed.
The army chief was tactful. He refrained from clarifying whether the polls will hold in local governments yet to be liberated. But, he released security information, which may influence cardinal decisions germane to the conduct of the federal and state elections on March 28 and April 11 respectively.
Gen. Minimah regressed into an innovative excuse, saying that there may be no full return of governance structures and infrastructural facilities in the liberated communities to warrant elections. He maintained that these two conditions, despite the liberation of the areas, are also critical to the elections.
He, however, said that the onus was on the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, who was at the enlarged security parley, to decide on whether elections can still be held in the affected areas, in the light of the new reality.
“I am not competent to speak on the elections. INEC is still there. INEC has to re-assess the situation and evaluate because the areas have been liberated. But, I can also tell you that not all structures of governance have been reinstated so that citizens can go back to their areas and I think it is then that they can exercise their rights to vote,” he stressed.
Before the elections were postponed, the presidency asked for six weeks for the military to restore order in the Hoko Haram-ravaged areas. Barely few days after the polls shift, the military, backed by forces from neighbouring countries, launched a full-scale onslaught on insurgents. In fact, the National Security Council, as pointed out by Gen. Minimah, passed a vote of confidence on the military, following the successful anti-terrorism operations in the region. But, he could not give a definite time for the conclusion of military operations in the zone. Although the presidency said that six weeks would be enough, the army chief said the conclusion of the special military assignment before March 28 may be illusory. The time frame may be unrealistic. Minimah said: “War is war. War, sometimes, is not fought on some platforms of permutations.”
Before the polls shift, 14 local governments in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states were considered unsafe for the elections. But, it appears that substantial success has been achieved on the battle fronts in Yobe and Adamawa. Out of 27 local government areas in Borno State, only three – Abadam, Kalabadi and Gwoza – are yet to be liberated. If they are not freed from the dreadful sect between now and next week, the hope of conducting elections there is dim.
In the Northeast, Jega now has two challenges, which may be amplified by advocates of polls postponement, who may blackmail the agency to further shift the eections. The first is the challenge of restoring what has been described as “governance structures and infrastructural facilities.” This is not INEC’s primary duty. The second is the anti-terror war that is now half-won, contrary to an assurance that there would be a respite in six weeks. Since these may not be fixed before the rescheduled polls, as hinted by the Chief of Army Staff, there may be new pressures on Jega to consider fresh postponement.
Indeed, Jega was lonely at the meeting. Some observers described him as a sheep among wolves. The general elections have become a herculean task. No INEC Chairman has gone through these inexplicable ordeals since the birth of the Fourth Republic. Summoning the chief electoral officer to Aso Rock often generates the nasty feeling that the agency is about to be compromised by those avoiding elections without justification. Critics have warmed that the independence of INEC is ebbing away.
A source close to INEC said that, although the agency is ready, but it cannot proceed, unless the government is ready. The Presidency and the PDP may have bought some time, but it is now grossly insufficient. Between then and now, it appears that public opinion has not changed. Thus, the fear of losing the elections is the bedrock of the dummy being sold to the public that the Northeast is still a no-go area for polling staff.
What would Jega have said to convince the security meeting about INEC’s readiness? The meeting was presided over by the embattled Commander-in-Chief and candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the general elections. Some have questioned the propriety of his attendance because his partisan interest aptly conflicted with political neutrality.
Vice President Namadi Sambo, who was at the meeting, has rejected the proposed use of Smart Card Readers (SCRs) by INEC. Military chiefs who have taken a position on the correlates of security and elections were present. So were Secretary to Government of Federation (SGF) Senator Pius Ayim and Police Affairs Minister Mr. Jelili Adesiyan. Adesiyan, who allegedly played a controversial role in the Ekiti State governorship election rigging. Ayim is linked with the campaign group, the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN), which has been collating unverifiable signatures and submitting to him.
If the coast, as the impression is being created, is not clear, what are the options before the umpire?
Is it in the national interest to postpone the polls again? What message will Nigeria be sending to the world? Will the credibility of the electoral process not be jeopardised? If the date is shifted again, can May 29 be sacrosanct? Are there no plausible options for INEC to explore, now that the government is indirectly saying that the security problem has not been fully resolved?
There are other questions begging for answers: Should the presidential and governorship elections be shifted again because three local governments have not been liberated in Borno? Why is it that those who were dislodged from their homes cannot perform their civic duties at Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs’) camps, once their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) are authenticated by card readers?
The Northeast Coordinator of the APC Publicity Secretaries, Rev Phineas Padio of Adamawa State, acknowledged the tension in Borno State. But he said the IDPs from the state can vote at their camps in Yola, the Adamawa State.
“Elections can hold in those camps. Displaced persons have lived there for months. Yola is safe. So, this is not an excuse. Yola is always peaceful. No bombing has been recorded in Yola. We have never had any gunshot,” he said.
House of Representatives and Assembly elections are more of local elections in the affected local governments. Is it against the electoral law to postpone these fractional elections and hold by-elections later, instead of holding the entire country to ransom? If the polls are shifted again, what is the assurance that it will not be shifted the third time by those already allegedly brainstorming on the structures and elements of the interim government? If the security challenge cannot be resolved fully in six weeks, what is the assurance that it will be resolved before May 29?
More questions. Yet, more elusive answers.
source: the nation