By Samuel Ogundipe
Standing on Section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act (as amended), the Independent National Electoral Commissioner has finally bowed to pressure from several quarters, including the presidency, for the postponement of the 2015 general elections, the commissioner announced late Saturday.
Announcing the postponement during a press conference held at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, the Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, noted it has become imperative for the electoral umpire to shift the date of the elections because of the prevailing circumstances.
Jega said he’d been told by security chiefs that security cannot be guaranteed for the elections because the military is concentrating its efforts on battling the insurgency in the northeast, noting that “it would be unconscionable of the commission to deploy its personnel out without security.”
He then announced that “INEC has concluded the elections to March 28 and April 11” for presidential and National Assembly and gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections respectively.
Jega said the two critical questions the commission seriously deliberated on were the questions about if it should proceed to conduct the elections without guaranteed security and if it could reschedule the elections within the framework of the Constitution.
Jega also dismissed the call for him to resign based on the allegation that he’s working in connivance with the All Progressives Congress in order to declare General Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the elections, but said “if there are grounds for me to resign, I will willingly resign.”
The commission had previously scheduled February 14 and 28 for presidential and National Assembly and gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections, respectively. But the electoral empire now says it needs more time to properly perfect its preparedness for the much-anticipated elections.
The call for postponement of the elections gained widespread momentum following a pronouncement by the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, at the Chatham House in London two weeks ago, in which he called for the postponement of the elections on security grounds.
Several elder statesmen with apparent sympathy for the Jonathan’s administration immediately swooned on the statement and began to call for postponement of the elections. Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo called for the postponement of the elections “amid prevailing issues across the country.”
Elders on the platform of Southern Nigerian Peoples Assembly, a southern nationalists think-tank, also held a meeting where it made case for the polls to be postponed as it alleged connivance between INEC chairman and northern elders.
“We authoritatively gathered with unassailable and incontrovertible evidence that the INEC Chairman, who was away in Lagos for an official engagement, through one of his National Commissioners that represented him, met with select leaders of the Northern Elders Forum, led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi, on the 20th August 2014, where strategies and modalities for enthroning a President of Northern extraction through vote rigging were discussed and agreed upon,” according to a statement signed by one of its members Chief Femi Okurounmu.
Those who attended the meeting included Chief Edwin Clark, Ezeife
Some opposition parties, especially the All Progressives Congress, have continued to express their anger over the postponement. They argue that it is an attempt for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to buy time for itself while demoralising their own supporters across the country.
“It is shameful that those who should be working hard to promote peaceful elections as scheduled are the same ones doing everything possible to trigger violence. Those who should ordinarily be seen as elder statesmen have degenerated to dangerous partisans and shameless promoters of a narrow, parochial interest, at the expense of the national interest,” said Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC.
The election has been extremely difficult to predict as the candidate of APC, General Muhammadu Buhari, and President Goodluck Jonathan continue to run neck and neck in the opinion polls. But many believe the ruling party will be better favored by the postponement.
Earlier, INEC held a meeting with representatives of all the 28 political parties in the country overt the lingering crisis bordering on the distribution of Permanent Voters’ Cards. It was reported that 17 of the 28 political parties demanded for postponement of the elections. Eight political parties, including the APC, were said to have demanded that the election must go on as previously scheduled; while 3 political parties, including the PDP, abstained.
Jega also reportedly said during a meeting with 25 civil society groups that he’d received written statements from several security agencies that they cannot provide the much needed security during the election because of the protracted unrest in the northeastern part of the country.
Some aggrieved Nigerians believed to be sympathetic to the APC have taken over the streets Lagos, Abuja and Kano to protest the development.