By Bolaji Adebiyi
A couple of days after the adjustment of the dates of the 2015 general elections from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11, I wandered on my Facebook wall why the All Progressives Congress was making so much fuss about the mere adjustment of election dates. I wanted to know if there was more to their complaint than meets the eye. As it is now usual with the APC and its sympathisers my comment only rubbed salt on their injury. They were vicious in their response, abandoning the substantive issue I had raised: Why only APC out of over 50 other political parties was up in arms.
Every serious minded politician knows that an election time-table is a guide for the preparation for an electoral contest. The 1999 Constitution as amended and the Electoral Act 2010 as amended provide a time band within which the general elections could be held. It is not more than 150 days and not less than 30 days to the expiration of the term of office of the incumbent. It is clear therefore, that the requirement of the law is that election could hold within a maximum of 150 days and minimum of 30 days to May 29, 2015. And the body responsible for determining the dates by law is the Independent National Electoral Commission.
So, any political strategist worth their salt ought to plan for the contest within this time band. This is more so because our electoral history is replete with adjustments of election dates. Indeed the Second Amendment to the 1999 Constitution and subsequently, the Electoral Act 2010 were necessitated by the need to adjust the time band for election owing to the INEC’s inability to comply with the law at that time. This happened under the leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega, who incidentally is still at helm of affairs today.
Even after the amendments and the dates were set for April 2, 2011 the National Assembly election had to be cancelled and rescheduled for April 4 and later April 9 because the electoral body had difficulties with the delivery of electoral materials. Those who do not suffer from selective amnesia would remember clearly how Prof. Jega took responsibility for the lapse and apologised to the nation.
The noise from the APC camp becomes more curious when the evidence that the election dates were no longer feasible were visible to the blind and audible to the deaf weeks before the adjustment. Giving a status report at the inauguration of Prof. Akinola Salawu, the Oyo State Commissioner on INEC, January 7, 2015, Prof. Jega gave an analysis of the distribution of the Permanent Voters Card. It showed that about 35% of the registered voters had not received their PVC. On that occasion President Goodluck Jonathan made it clear that the situation was not acceptable to him and that the INEC must go back and do everything possible within the law to ensure that every eligible voter’s right to vote is protected by ensuring that they get their PVC.
Indeed President Jonathan made the matter an issue at the flag off of his campaign in Lagos on January 8, 2015, saying he would protect the right of every eligible voter to vote. To be fair, INEC responded positively by extending the deadline for the collection of the PVC and decentralising its distribution. But there were other discomforting developments that made the February 14 date illusory: essential materials for election were not ready; ad-hoc staff were being recruited behind schedule; training of permanent and ad-hoc staff were behind schedule; card readers delivery, testing and configuration were behind schedule; and in spite of all remedial measures over 20 million voters, about 30% of registered voters, had not received their PVC. Add to these serious security issues associated with the elections and the on-going war against the insurgency in the North East.
This was the pre-election situation on February 7, seven days to the election, when President Jonathan summoned the Council of State to deliberate on the preparedness of INEC for the general elections. The meeting exposed the insincerity of the APC and its inordinate lust for power. For the first time in many years, its presidential candidate, Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, attended the Council meeting. Other meetings on burning national issues, including the war against insurgency were shunned by him. The party insisted on election going on in spite of reports on the security implication of disenfranchising over 30% of eligible voters as well as the unnecessary but high political tension in the country.
Anyone who doubted the insincerity of the APC would have had that cleared by the skewed account of the outcome of the meeting by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State as distinct from that of Governor Mimiko of Ondo State. Whereas Governor Mimiko reported that the Council advised the INEC, being the body charged by law to conduct elections, to review its preparations for the election and in consultation with stakeholders, determine whether or not to proceed with the election as scheduled; Governor Okorocha in his own report said the Council directed INEC to conduct the election as scheduled. We now know the truth.
It remains interesting to me why the APC and its media allies have not only continued to cry over spilled beans but have decided to isolate the security issues involved in the adjustment of election date and proceed to demonise the military. To be sure, President Jonathan in his media chat on February 11, 2015 made it clear that the security issues were beyond the war against the insurgency in the North East in which case you could not hold the military solely responsible for the adjustment. Reference was consistently made to the advice of the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, that the dates be adjusted because of a couple of security challenges, including the security implication of disenfranchising over 30% of eligible voters and the increasing aggression of politicians in spite of a UN supervised non-violence pact between the two leading candidates and their parties.
So, why is the APC so pained and so desperate over an election President Jonathan has assured Nigerians and the world would hold in compliance with the constitution? Did they not hear him when he said he would leave office if he lost the election? Why all this noise?
•Adebiyi is special assistant on media to President Jonathan