By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
It was a drama of sorts atthe Tinapa Business Resortand Leisure Conference hall last Monday when the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, met with the Chairmen of Political Parties in the country. Before the commencement of the two-day retreat which was the first meeting organized by the INEC in collaboration with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, IFES to review the April general elections and possibly look for ways to correct areas that witnessed hiccups during the exercise.
INEC officials it was gathered, came with the mind to review the last elections which has been adjudged as one of the best elections conducted recently in Nigeria.
The commission was, however, ignorant of the grievances of the political party chairmen who were harboring misgivings on the conduct of the elections and felt that honoring the invitation from the nation’s electoral umpire was the best opportunity to express their anger on both the outcome of the elections and what they called ill treatment meted out to them by the commission and the President Goodluck Jonathan led administration.
Shortly after the meeting commenced that Monday, chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council, IPAC, a forum for political party chairmen, Chief Osita Emma Okereke organized his members for a walk out on the INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega and some of his principal staff.
This was not the first time the party chairmen had expressed their anger on the activities of the commission. It would be recalled that before the last general elections, the commission met with the party chairmen in Tinapa to brief them on the preparations for the polls and also present the Code of Conduct to them. The meeting nearly ended abruptly as the chairmen accused the INEC of showing disrespect to them. At that occasion they alleged that the commission did not seek their input while preparing the code of conduct, but the commission was able to persuade the party chairmen to see reasons behind any actions taken.
But it was a different ball game last Monday as the chairmen turned down every effort made to reconcile them with the INEC. It was perhaps their way of telling Prof. Jega that they were not satisfied the way things were going as they staged what was undoubtedly a pre-planned walk out from the retreat arranged for them.
Among the grievances of the chairmen it was gathered was the lack of recognition of the political parties by the president, the return of about N7 billion by the commission as unspent funds and the use of foreign agencies/media organizations to convene meeting with political parties in the country.
The chairmen insisted that they would not attend any meeting spearheaded by any foreign body like the IFES, Republican and Democratic Institutes in the country, describing the involvement of such bodies in the conduct of elections in the country as another form of neo-colonialism.
Speaking why they took the action, Okereke who is also National Chairman of African Liberation Party, explained that they made it possible for President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the last April Presidential elections, regrettably, after the elections, the 46 political parties that urged him to run the election have been abandoned.
Chief Okereke said, “Political Parties have the report of the April elections, Inter-Party Advisory Council has the report of the elections. We endorsed Goodluck Jonathan, we led the delegation of 46 political parties to Aso Rock. Jonathan had no capacity to declare that he wanted to contest the election, but we urged him to contest and promised to support him.
“Today nobody remembers us any longer. Any democracy without opposition does not last. Opposition is the key to democracy. When you are thinking that you can do without opposition, you are joking with your life. If there should be a government of National Unity, we must go to the round table and discuss it. INEC must stop using political parties as a stooge. We are not stooges, we are men of integrity”, he said.
Also giving reasons why the party chairmen decided to stage the walk out, chairman of the National Democratic Party, NDP, Prince Chudi Chukwuani said that the invitation which passed through IPAC for the chairmen of political parties was sent very late and that the retreat was organized by a foreign body which the chairmen opposed.
Chukwuani said, “The issues are very simple. INEC sent out a letter about 48 hours ago (Saturday) that they wanted to have a post election retreat with us political parties. The letter was sent by INEC office but the meeting is being coordinated by a foreign agency, IFES. So, we political parties who reacted to the letter came down here and we resolved that we are going to tell INEC that for once things must be done correctly in our nation.
“We said that INEC should stop using foreign agencies to convene meetings for political parties in Nigeria. If INEC desires to meet with political parties, INEC should be able to call a meeting on its own with political parties without any foreign interference.
“There is a serious problem, we political parties have discovered that there is a serious problems in the elections that took place in the Southern part of Nigeria, particularly, South East and South-South and we are saying until there is a forensic confirmation of that election, it is totally unacceptable.
“We also said that you cannot be claiming and be saying to the outside world and making us a laughing stock in the eyes of the world that you conducted an election where over a thousand innocent Nigerians lost their lives because of post elections violence.
I think you cannot be saying that you conducted any meaningful elections where half of the nation was burning, houses and properties were destroyed due to post election violence, we said we as Nigerians and we as political leaders owe it a duty to this country and to the future generation of Nigerians that we should begin the process whereby we will acknowledge first and foremost irregularities in our electoral process; acknowledge that the irregularities caused serious destruction of peace, stability and security of our nation and then resolve that we can never again allow such irregularities to play out so that we should be able to promote and maintain proper peace, stability and security of the nation.
We said that the 2011 elections have led to a serious division along religious line and along ethnic line. It is not for the best interest of Nigeria.
He also added that, “when there is a serious matter in Court, you do not begin to do things that will heat up the polity or the court. We cannot begin to make definitive statements on the election until at least one of the court orders is obeyed. The court order that was issued by the Court of Appeal in Abuja was a forensic examination of ballot papers that is the minimum, let that result of forensic examination come out and let us see whether even a credible election took place, it is after you have established that fundamental point that you can now begin to advise what can be done, without it, you will be overheating the court”.
Following the abortion of the meeting, Mr. Kayode Idowu, Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman said that the commission was forced to postpone the meeting as a result of unforeseen circumstances.
“Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC is compelled to postpone the two-day post election retreat with political parties scheduled to begin today (Monday), July 4, 2011, at Tinapa Resort, Calabar.
“INEC called the summit which is facilitated by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, to review the April 2011 general elections and draw lessons that could be applied to improve the conduct of future elections.
“Unfortunately, representatives of some political parties within the Inter-Parties Advisory Committee, IPAC, upon arrival in Calabar, have made demands on the Commission that are rather unreasonable and unfortunate”, he said.
The statement further added that the demands of the party chairmen were made on the floor of the meeting without any prior case being made to INEC, stressing that the commission could not accede to the demands as preconditions for the retreat.
“In the circumstance, INEC had no option than to request that the retreat be postponed to a more auspicious time for all concerned. The Commission wishes to extend both its gratitude and regrets to our partner, IFES.
We also appeal to all stakeholders including political parties to continue to show commitment to exploring ways of consolidating the modest gains of the April 2011 general elections”, the statement read.
It was however gathered that some of the party chairmen claimed that they spent about N120 million in the botched April 2, elections which was the money they paid to mobilize their agents to go to the polling booths and that for the fact that INEC was responsible for the postponement of the election, the commission should refund the parties the money spent. On the side of INEC, an impeccable source with the commission revealed that the issue of deregistration of political parties that did not make any appreciable impart during the elections was among the things to be deliberated upon pointing out that the Constitution was clear on that.