By Henry Umoru
Against the argument on whether the Presidential and general elections should hold this month or not as fixed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the Presidency said yesterday that there was nothing special or fantastic about this month for an election.
According to the Presidency, 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections were held in April,. They said that they were wondering why INEC must be in a hurry to “throw the country into confusion and turmoil by conducting election this month amidst mirage of complaints of non availability of Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs.”.
Addressing Journalists in Abuja yesterday, Senior Special Assistant to the President on public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe who noted that President Goodluck Jonathan would not engage in any form of subterfuge to mount pressure on the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega to change the dates of the elections, said that it became imperative to clarify the outcome of Thursday’s Council of State meeting.
According to him, there was no time during the meeting held inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja, when Jega, insisted on the February dates as quoted by some media reports. He spoke about the level of preparedness of the electoral body and security situation in some parts of the country as some of the reasons why it was necessary for the electoral umpire to revisit the February dates.
Okupe said, “I called this press conference to correct anomalies and to correct this misinformation based on an event that happened yesterday (Thursday). I have no business talking about INEC except for these wrong information. I just want to correct it. Let INEC decide. Why I brought these up is that there is nothing fantastic or unique or special about February. The law stipulates that it should not be earlier than 150days and it should not be later than 30day. So anything in between is lawful and legal.
“And if we have challenges that will make the entire process faulty or faulted, so that is what INEC has been asked to go and do and consider. And if they consider all situations and say yes, February 14 we can still do it, let’s go ahead then we go ahead.. But if they consider all these things and tell Nigerians what they want we will go by it.
“INEC has the right to conduct the elections 150days to 30days. So you announce a date that is within the law, we don’t have a business with that. But there are two challenges with that: one, all over the nation, governors are crying, people are crying, as I speak before you, I Doyin Okupe do not have PVC. I left Abuja, I flew to Lagos, I went to Iperu my home town and I went to the local government and I was told to move to another place. Eventually we got to a place, my wife that we both registered together, she got a PVC but I didn’t get. They said I should come back. So it is something that most of us are experiencing, so this is something we did not expect but it has happened.
“Also the insurgency was not an issue in 2011 but today it is an issue. The EU told you that they are coming to monitor elections in Nigeria but none of their staff will go to the north east.
On preparation, Okupe who noted that in all INEC’s submissions at the meeting, the only process that was 100% concluded was the preparation and availability of the voters register, stressing that all other processes including provision, distribution and collection of PVCs, printing of ballot papers, distribution of verification machines and other non –sensitive materials, recruitment and training of ad hoc staff were all “work in progress.”
According to Okupe, Jega at the meeting admitted that given a little more time, INEC would be in a better position to perfect the processes and its readiness for the elections, adding, “Also in his presentations to the Council, the INEC Chairman, stated clearly that for the electoral process to be free, fair, and credible, there are other matters which were not under the control of INEC, principal among is the provision and guarantee of security of lives and properties.
“The Security Chiefs were unanimous in their advice to the Council that it will be impossible for them to guarantee security of electoral materials, INEC Staff, and the voting population in the areas currently engulfed by the war against insurgency.”
“President Goodluck Jonathan is not interested, neither is he engaged in in any form of subterfuge to pressurize INEC to change the dates of the 2015 Elections. The President, like many Governors and Citizens of Nigeria is concerned about the state of preparedness of INEC for the 2015 Elections ;especially as it concerns the guarantee of the rights of every Nigerian Citizen who has fulfilled the conditions for INEC’s Voter registration , and may still be disenfranchised from the Process of Voting at the General elections
“The Security situation and the danger that the current war against insurgency in some parts of the country may impose on the conduct of elections in the Affected areas, the impact of the situation above on the overall credibility of the 2015 elections are all considerations that must not be ignored.
“Secondly , I wish to state categorically here that at no time during the entire 7 hour meeting did the INEC Chairman , Prof Attahiru Jega insist that the elections must hold on the Feb 14th and 28th 2015 as published by some Electronic / Print Media. Rather Professor Jega gave the Council a report on the Progress so far made by the INEC on its preparedness for the 2015 elections.
“In all its submissions the only process that was 100% concluded was the preparation and availability of the Voters Register.
All other processes including Provision, distribution and collection of PVC’s, printing of ballot papers, distribution of Verification machines and other non –sensitive materials , recruitment and training of ad hoc Staff were as at 5th Feb 2015 all “Works in progress”; with some assurance that all will be ready on or before 14th of Feb 2015.
“The Chairman also mentioned clearly that given a little more time INEC would be in a better position to perfect these processes and its readiness for the 2015 Elections.
“Also in his Presentations to the Council the INEC Chairman, stated clearly that for the electoral process to be free, fair , and credible there are other matters which were not under the control of INEC principal among which is the issue of provision and guarantee of Security of Lives and Properties.
The Security Chiefs were unanimous in their advice to the Council that it will be impossible for now for them to guarantee security of electoral materials, INEC Staff, and the voting population in the areas currently engulfed by the War against Insurgency.
“Some opinions were therefore proffered that elections may be allowed to hold on the 14th Feb in the 32 states not affected by the current War against terrorism; while local elections may thereafter hold in those areas after the security situation would have improved.
“The President made it clear that he cannot in good conscience endorse an electoral arrangement where people from a section of the Country would be excluded from the Electoral process, due to no fault of theirs, or by virtue of just being unfortunate residents of an area under siege of terrorism.
“According to Mr President, this situation will tend to confirm the deliberate falsehood already being propagated in some parts of the Country that he was encouraging the war in the North East to ensure that voters in the APC states of the North East were not allowed to vote in the 2015 elections.
The final conclusion was that INEC should in view of the several submissions made in the Council, by the Former Presidents, State Governors and the Security Agencies, go and consult further after which they should communicate their decisions to the Nigerian People on the suitability or otherwise of the February 14th and 28th dates.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerians are hereby re-assured that there has never been, and never shall be any plan to cancel the 2015 elections, for any reasons whatsoever. It will not happen, and the May 29th date for the swearing-in is sacrosanct. All talks about interim government arrangement is pure fiction.