The postponement of the 2015 elections earlier scheduled for February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11 respectively has pushed the nation’s democracy to a political brink where failure is not an option.
What the proponents of the poll shift are telling the nation is that the mill of the elections will run without hitch. And the nation and the world expect nothing less.
The writers of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) had given 150 to 30 days window to the expiration of the tenure of incumbents within which elections should be conducted.
The wisdom behind giving 150 days to the time the tenure of incumbents will expire is, among others, to accommodate litigation by aggrieved parties and to make a way for the conduct of a run-off in the event of a tie or any electoral eventuality.
The 30 days option represents rare situations of exigencies where the elastic option of 150 days is unachievable.
As situations currently stand, counting from April 11 election date, the nation has 48 days to the May 29 handover date, meaning that further poll shift is hardly realistic. Even if it is achievable, it is unacceptable in the face of the public angst and distrust that greeted the first postponement.
Besides, the loser also has a slim chance to contest election results before the swearing-in of the winner. Run-off is hardly achievable within this time frame.
These brazen realities put the nation in a difficult position and heap huge responsibilities on all stakeholders, especially the dominant political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Alliance, APC, who have been approaching the forthcoming elections like cat and dog, to exercise restraint and put the interest of the nation and democracy above all considerations.
The nation and, indeed, the world, expect that, given this scenario, the campaign of calumny and other shenanigans that had dogged the campaigns before this period would give way to political decency and politics of issues.
Besides, the delicate political situation requires collaboration by all stakeholders to ensure a smooth and credible electoral process. Unfortunately, politicians, especially the dominant Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress still do political business as usual, carrying newspaper adverts to disparage each other.
To all intents and purposes, the postponement of the elections presupposes admission of ill-preparedness by INEC and the security agencies. But it also presumes that the period of blame game is over and that the six weeks adopted should be for corrective measures.
It is shocking that, rather than going back to the drawing board, some politicians are still pulling the strings that brought to the impasse that necessitated poll shift.
Last week, the Director-General of the Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Organization, Senator Ahmadu Ali, accused INEC of bias over the distribution of voter cards. Citing low distribution of PVCs and card readers, Senator Ali said that “from all indications, INEC is not fully prepared for the elections.”
There are also sponsored adverts in the media accusing INEC of sundry allegations. INEC was accused of having distributed over 70 per cent Permanent Voter Cards in the states ravaged by insurgency where citizens have been displaced while recording 40 per cent distribution in peaceful states of the Federation. The electoral body was also accused of deliberately delaying production and distribution of PVCs to Lagos and other states.
INEC was accused of distributing card readers, a device it introduced to avoid rigging and other forms of electoral malpractices, to selected states. The list of accusations is endless.
No doubt, these are grave allegations against the electoral umpire and a tacit way of building evidence for discrediting the elections by fifth columnists. As elections must not only be free, fair and credible in a democracy but must also be seen to be so, INEC must publicly react to these allegations and address concerns.
While there may be substance in some of the concerns expressed above, it is hardly wise for stakeholders to be throwing political banters that may rubbish the electoral process. The horrendous political atmosphere requires all the stakeholders to exercise restraint and collaborate with INEC and the security organizations to achieve success.
As the present electoral arrangement forecloses further postponement and run-off, stakeholders must avoid pronouncements and acts that may cause political impasse and land the nation in constitutional crisis.
The current poll shift presupposes foolproof performance from the security agencies which have promised defeat of insurgency in six weeks and INEC that has promised effective distribution of PVCs and efficient working of card readers during the same period.
While INEC must redouble its efforts to ensure speedy distribution of PVCs, efficient working of card readers and training of ad hoc staff to achieve an enviable outing, the security agencies must make good the pledge made on their behalf by the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, that the insurgents “will be dismantled” before the March 28 presidential election date.
But where both or either of these agencies is unable to deliver, elections should hold as scheduled. Some nations have proved that this is doable. During last year’s elections in Ekiti State, 350, 000 of the 750, 000 (less than 50 per cent) of the voters collected their PVCs. Yet, the election was widely adjudged credible. This is slim figure compared to about 70 per cent PVC distribution compliance recorded by INEC.
While a civil-war ravaged Syria conducted a successful presidential election in 2014, Ukraine held presidential and parliamentary elections in the face of excruciating rebel insurgency and Russian attack.
APC and PDP should rein in their overzealous supporters who have turned these elections into a do-or-die affair and allow the will of the people to prevail.
The citizenry, the civil society, the media and the political class should be vigilant. The remaining five weeks to the election should be spent to educate the electorate to come out en masse to vote and to defend their votes.