Last week’s President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration during an interview with Al Jazeera, an international broadcast organization, that he had no plans to remove the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, and that there would be no further shifting of the re-scheduled March 28 and April 11 general elections should permanently lay to rest these two issues threatening to sniff life out of the elections.
On the rumoured removal of Jega, the President said, “I can’t wake up and change INEC chairman. I have never discussed with any human being on earth that we are changing INEC chairman… INEC is a very sensitive body.”
Speaking on the further possible postponement of the re-scheduled general elections, President Jonathan said, “I believe the election will hold as (re)scheduled by INEC, that is the national election fixed for 28th of this month (March). I don’t see why we should postpone it again because I’m quite impressed with the successes going on in the North.”
These two major issues had been bones of contention between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, with each party taking the other to the cleaners on the issues and other sundry matters in a manner regarded as untidy and unnecessary by political pundits.
While the APC had consistently insisted that the Jonathan administration had a plan to achieve the two issues under reference for self political gains, the President’s men had fanned the embers of the allegations with their comments and body language, citing alleged illicit affair between Jega and the APC, even as their principal had repeatedly denied them.
As the two parties engaged in battle of words, anxiety and fear seized the nation. The people’s anxiety was exacerbated by the fact that the recent shifting of the election was a product of the rumour mill until it assumed a garb of reality later.
The nation’s fears and anxieties had seemingly dissolved by the President’s assurances of last week. The closest the President had got to the recent assurance he gave the nation and the world was that May 29 handover date was sacrosanct. That, of course, did not suggest that election would be shifted or not.
Although this is not the first time the President would allay the fears of the nation and the world on these two issues that have unfortunately dominated and fouled political discourse and space, it is instructive that Al Jazeera’s interview brought President Jonathan face to face with the nation and the world in unmistakable and undeniable terms and manner.
Besides, for a nation whose leaders have a penchant for talking to foreign media on issues of serious national importance, it is logical perhaps to believe promises made to foreign media more than those made to local media.
President Jonathan spoke as an elder statesman who knows the full weight of his promise to a frightened nation. Issues of logistics, political expediency, national mood and national security make maintaining the status quo and approaching election with the extant tools and agencies the way to go in the present circumstances.
There is no doubt that the possibility of further shifting the election without violating the lower cut of holding the poll at least 30 days to the swearing-in of the President is unattainable. Neither is there any possibility of removing INEC chair less than 30 days to the election without doing a major damage to the credibility of the election realistic. Indeed, now that the President has assured the nation on these two volatile issues, doing otherwise under any guise will diminish his integrity as a person, a stateman and a leader.
The President’s assurances should shatter the rumour mills and nudge the media handlers of the two leading parties to concentrate on issues that will better the lives of Nigerians in the next political dispensation.
It should also put to rest the rancor between the members of the House of Representatives who have been at each other’s throats over the alleged plan to remove the electoral czar.
It is heartening that the President is approaching the election with a renewed confidence that “I will not lose the election”. But the point must be made that in the event that the pendulum swings to the other side, what the nation and the world will regard as statesmanship and courage is to accept the verdict of Nigerians.
There is also the need for President Jonathan to give life to his assurance by reining in Governor Ayodele Fayose who, despite a presidential assurance on Jega and PDP’s support for the President’s position, continues to heat up the polity by calling for the INEC chairman’s removal.
While it is incumbent on the President to live by his word, it is apposite for the political parties, contending candidates and their media and campaign handlers to desist from making these two settled issues objects of propaganda as doing otherwise will be tantamount to propaganda carried too far.
And having overplayed propaganda in the greater part of the ongoing campaigns at the expense of content and the nation, the political parties should use the remaining 14 days – effective from today – to address issues.