• May 29 handover date sacrosanct, says President
• Ex-Head of State insists polls hold on March 28
• U.S, Braithwaite, others differ over decision
• PDP group wants 100% PVCs distribution
ALMOST 48 hours after the polls shift announcement, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday okayed the decision but pledged that the May 29 handover date was still sacrosanct.
In the same vein the All Progressives Congress(APC) presidential candidate Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari yesterday endorsed the shift but urged the authorities to ensure the March 28 rescheduled date for the general elections remain sacrosanct.
Meanwhile knocks and kudos have continued to trail the decision as the United States, the Conference of Political Parties (CNPP) and other human rights groups have condemned the postponement.
However, a member of the 2014 National Conference and founder of the defunct National Advance Party (NAP), Dr. Tunji Braithwaite has rejected the international community’s pontification over election shift, saying that the exercise was shifted in the best interest of the country, “therefore it is unacceptable for any foreign nation to dictate or meddle into our internal affairs.”
But the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and the Minister of State for Power, Mohammed Wakil have okayed the shift and called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to address issues leading to the postponement.
In a related development, the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation declared yesterday that only a hundred per cent distribution of the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) to all registered eligible voters before the March 28 Presidential election could ensure a free, fair and credible polls. In a statement yesterday by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, he said that Jonathan was “strongly reaffirming” that May 29 is, has been, and would remain sacrosanct.
According to the statement: “The President appeals to all stakeholders to accept the adjustment of the election dates by INEC in good faith, as the electoral body has a responsibility to conduct credible elections in which every Nigerian of voting age is afforded the opportunity to exercise their civic right without any form of hindrance.
“President Jonathan believes that this is not a time to trade blames or make statements that may overheat the polity, but a time to show understanding and support the electoral commission to conduct the elections successfully.
“It is the President’s understanding that INEC’s decision ought not to generate acrimony since it acted within its powers under the law and in consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
“He calls on the international community, civil society and the electorate to continue to support the administration’s commitment to a free, fair, credible, and non-violent electoral process.”
Addressing journalists yesterday at his campaign headquarters in Abuja, Buhari said the postponement has exposed the intents of the PDP not to allow elections to hold based on the fear of suffering heavy defeat at the polls.
In his address entitled: “We must remain calm but resolute,” Buhari urged his teeming supporters not to be tempted into taking actions that could further endanger the democratic process.
Lamenting the pressures exerted on the INEC by the authorities, he maintained that the electoral umpire has played its “last card” since it is left with no option but conduct elections as specified by the constitution.
Flanked by chieftains of the party, he maintained that the APC would no longer tolerate any further interference in the electoral process.
The U.S in a statement by the Secretary of State, John Kerry said: “The U.S is deeply disappointed by the decision to postpone Nigeria’s presidential election, which had been scheduled for February 14.
“Political interference with the INEC is unacceptable, and it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process.
“The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates. The U.S underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.
“As I reaffirmed when I visited Lagos last month, we support a free, transparent, and credible electoral process in Nigeria and renew our calls on all candidates, their supporters, and Nigerian citizens to maintain calm and reject election-related violence.”
Besides, a concerned Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon disclosed in a statement made in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he is visiting, and released in New York yesterday that he had to speak with President Jonathan on the day the polls were postponed.
What is said to have baffled White House and the U.S State Department is the role reportedly played by some top security agency officials in Nigeria to twist the hands of the INEC leadership.
Similarly, the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, (CANAN) also expressed concerns that the military authorities who were supposed to be apolitical were beginning to be used to play political games.
In a statement by the Secretariat of CANAN, the group said that while it was not going to be partisan, it was worried that security agencies could be allowed to blackmail and rubbish INEC’s independence.
Reacting on the statement by the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry expressed ‘deep’ disappointment by the decision to postpone Nigeria’s presidential election, which had been scheduled for February 14.
Braithwaite said that the decision to shift the polls “is purely our affairs and in our national interest to get our priorities right.
“It would allow us to address foundational issues that are affecting the country. It is regrettable that all the institutions that ought to have made democracy strong and viable in the country are weak except the media.”
He noted that the judiciary, the INEC and others, which are, supposed to be viable institutions, are already weakened.”
Reiterating the need to set up a transition government, he said that except Nigeria went back to the drawing board, any election, would throw the country into unprecedented crisis “The U.S and other world powers knows this fact and it is imperative of them to allow us resolve our issues in a manner that would not jeopardise the unity of the nation.”
A statement by CNPP’s National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu noted: “CNPP has no better definition of the blackmail submission of the security chiefs that they cannot secure the managers of the general elections, if the INEC insist on holding the elections in February, but as Away Without Leave (AWOL), since less than 10% of the country’s local government areas is under the control of the Boko Haram insurgents.
“We are at a loss the mileage the security chiefs will cover between now and March28 to crush the Boko Haram, which warranted the shift of the February polls, or will the poll be shifted again, if the insurgent rages?’’
Going further the statement posited: “CNPP is making this assertion, based on our phobia of possible truncation of our fledgling democracy; for we witnessed first hand how our member political parties, some of whom have no candidate for any parliamentary bid or governorship were manipulated and compromised by the presidency to support poll elongation.
"We however commend the 21 Resident Electoral Commissioners and 12 political parties that opposed poll-tenure- elongation and pray that there is no further elongation: they should take solace on the truism that postponement of examinations cannot assist an indolent student."
Finally, the statement proclaimed, “we wish once again to appeal to President Jonathan to place the collective interest of our dear country above personal political survival; for whatever happens he should thank his stars for ruling this country for six years.”
In the same vein, the Coalition of Registered Political Parties (CRPP) yesterday condemned the shift, describing the action as a set-back on Nigeria’s democracy.
The CRPP in an emergency meeting in Benin City, Edo State capital, said that it believed the INEC might have been blackmailed into taking such decision because according to it, Nigerians were ready for election.
It wondered how security chiefs suddenly believed there would be relative peace for election in six weeks “when they could not guarantee security for the past five years” and therefore called for their removal.
A statement signed by its Chairman, Samson Isibor and Secretary, Charles Aguebor reads in part: “We condemn and reject in its entirety the postponement of the February 14 and February 28, 2014 election by six weeks and the reasons given are unacceptable.
“CRPP also denounce the role of the security chiefs in collusion with the Presidency and the PDP. We therefore call for their immediate resignation or be removed by the National Assembly for being a tool to truncate our nascent democracy so as to pave the way for military autocracy. We will never accept that.”
In a statement by the PDP Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, it said: “The INEC chairman had cited an advisory from security forces that they were unable to provide adequate security for the election at the earlier scheduled dates due to the on-going anti-insurgency operations in the northeast part of the country.”
Prof. Jega also said that this advisory was reinforced at the Council of State meeting on Thursday by the National Security Adviser and all the armed services and intelligence chief, who according to him stated that they needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgents in the northeast, and that during the operation, the military would be concentrating its attention on the theatre of operations such that they might not be able to provide the traditional support they rendered to the Police and other agencies during elections.
“This announcement has not come without the attendant cost of time and great expense to our party and candidates nationwide. However, on account of the reasons adduced by the security forces and INEC, we believe that this shift, which is still within the constitutionally allowed period, can be accommodated.
“The thoughts and prayers of PDP members nationwide and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians remain with our security agencies as they confront this enormous challenge at this critical period.
“However, while we understand and appreciate the security reasons given by INEC for the rescheduling of the elections, we hold Jega to his promise when he said, ‘as for us in INEC, we’ll endeavor to use the period of the extension to keep on perfecting our systems and processes for conducting the best elections in Nigeria’s history. In particular, we believe that we will resolve all outstanding issues in relation to non-collection of PVCs which agitate the minds of Nigerians.’
“This is especially as the INEC chairman himself acknowledged that only 45, 829, 808 representing 66.58 per cent of the total number of registered voters have received their PVCs.
“INEC itself has confirmed that as at last week, well over two million voter cards were either not yet delivered to INEC by its contractors, lost or stolen.
“We demand that INEC should look inwards and thoroughly investigate the apparent involvement of some of its personnel including ad-hoc staff on the issue of the lopsided distribution of the PVCs. INEC must also use this period to attend to our earlier call to address the issue of denial of PVCs to non-indigenes in select states.
“For instance, we are aware that in Borno State, 90 per cent of the PVCs were handed over to state government officials, who distributed them by proxy contrary to laid-down procedures.
“Also, in Owerri North Local Government of Imo State, the LGA of our National Woman Leader, only newly registered voters have received their PVCs.
“Citizens with old voters’ cards have not had any replaced and this scenario abounds in other places.
“We do hope that INEC will use the period to ensure that all identified irregularities are eliminated to guarantee that registered voters across the country receive their PVCs urgently.
“Also, INEC ahead of the polls should adequately demonstrate to Nigerians the application and practicability of card readers to the allotted time for vote.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we state clearly that the postponement neither confers advantage on our party and our candidates, nor can it ever be described as a set back to our democracy. The ultimate issue in this regard is the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
“Lastly, we restate that the PDP position on these issues remains our commitment to the sustenance of free, fair and credible elections, which is one of the greatest legacies of President Jonathan.
“At this historic period in our national life, let nobody irresponsibly politicise what is clearly a practical and administrative decision that affects everyone and all parties equally. At this present time, Nigeria needs men of history and not hysteria.”
Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaigns Organisation, Femi Fani-Kayode, at a news conference in Abuja yesterday also urged the INEC to accelerate efforts in training it’s permanent and ad-hoc staff for the conduct of the polls.
Fani-Kayode stated that the six weeks extension period would be utilised by the PDP to sell its candidates for all elections including that of the president.
The PDP expressed its readiness to collaborate with the APC in the business of sensitising party supporters to collect their PVCs.
Wakil in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Olawale Rasheed in Maiduguri, explained that going ahead with the polls would have amounted to a great error.