By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor

Around 3.30 pm, Saturday, February 7, journalists converged on the headquarters of   the Independent National Electoral Commission,   INEC, Maitama, Abuja waiting for the 5 pm appointment when the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, was billed to brief the media on the general   elections. The nation had been in suspense over the anticipated shift in dates for the elections – February 14 and 29. As journalists waited eagerly to hear from the man of the moment, time dragged till 11 pm and finally he came out to address them.
Invoking the provisions of  the 1999 Constitution as amended at Section 76(2), Section 116(2), Section 132(2), Section178(2) and Section 25 of the Electoral Act 2010 as Amended,  Jega announced the shifting of dates for the polls.

The shift for a period of six weeks came after weeks of anxiety, tension, allegations and counter allegations as well as   INEC’s series of meetings with political stakeholders.

The INEC boss, who gave reasons why the Commission had to change the dates, stressed that the postponement of the elections became imperative against the backdrop of the security situation in the country, just as he disclosed that   the security agencies had said they could not guarantee the safety of the INEC staff, election materials and the electorate, and that since the electoral body could not compromise the safety of its staff, with no such powers to provide security, the elections had to be shifted.

Jega explained that the polls shift would, among other things, allow extra time for a newly constituted multinational force to secure the North-East, currently being ravaged by Boko   Haram  that has engaged in massive killings and wanton destruction of property.
According to the INEC boss, the Presidential and National Assembly elections, earlier slated for Saturday, February 14, will now hold on Saturday, March 28, while the governorship and state Houses of Assembly polls will hold on April 11.

How has the shift affected the PDP?

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, heard about the news of the polls postponement by INEC like other Nigerians, but there were insinuation and allegation by the major opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, that the PDP presidential candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan, and his party were aware of the shift, knowing fully well that the ruling party was aware that it was on its way out.
Prior to the postponement, the PDP, in line with its time table for presidential campaign rallies, would have rounded off with the Federal Capital Territory, Saturday, February 7, with debriefing Sunday and Monday, February 8 and 9 respectively, but like what Jega said that the postponement of the elections will further give political parties more time to solicit for votes, the ruling party will now put its house in order, put up new plans, re- strategise, draw up new programmes, improve on its campaigns, increase awareness campaigns to its supporters and members   on the need to increase the collection of permanent voter cards, PVCs, and the wage and salary budget would be reviewed against the backdrop that their terms of engagement would have elapsed at the end of this month.

The PDP would have also stopped advertisements in newspapers and television stations, but a new budget for that must be drawn to ensure that they continue with the momentum of engaging in very aggressive campaigns.  The party, which would have been looking into its accounts to know  what was spent by the headquarters and   nine directorates of the Presidential Campaign Organisation as well as the committees, will now expand its budget, new contractors would be accommodated, there will be increase in spending.

President Goodluck Jonathan had, on Tuesday, January 6, inaugurated the Goodluck/ Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation, PCO,  with the Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees,   BoT, Chief Tony Anenih, as National Campaign Adviser; Dr. Ahmadu Ali as the Director- General with nine other members; the Directorate of Administration and Logistics; Directorate of Contact and Mobilisation with Prof. Jerry Gana as Director; Directorate of Media and Publicity with Chief Femi Fani- Kayode as the Director; Directorate of Planning, Research and Strategy with Senator Nimi Barigha Amange as the Director; Directorate of Finance with Senator Esther Nenadi Usman as the Director, among others.

Reflections
The good aspect of the shift in the dates for the elections for the ruling party would be for a serious self examination of how they have been doing, it is a period for self assessment by the National Working Committee, NWC, to see if they are working on the same pace, it would be a period for the leadership of the party to end internal crisis as they must work together and in synergy with the PCO to ensure that it does not become an opposition party as that would be very dangerous for them.

The postponement would afford the leadership of the party, the PDP governors, lawmakers, members to tell themselves the home that they cannot afford to, at this very critical and crucial moment where the party was facing a very stiff opposition, to disagree and work separately. The party needs the more of Fani- Kayodes, or they must be seen to be doing their own jobs in their areas like what Fani- Kayode, his team and Jerry Gana are doing. There must be improved synergy between the Office of the National Publicity Secretary with the Directorate of Media and Publicity and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr.   Doyin Okupe, must be on the same pace with the Campaign Directorate by collapsing his structure into that for now if same purpose of working for the re- election of Jonathan must be achieved.

New campaign strategy
With the postponement, the PDP is planning to change its campaign strategy of state capitals  rallies which have become a resemblance of carnivals to local government to local government, ward to ward, clan to clan, village to village campaigns, even as the PDP has now started showcasing the achievements of Jonathan in agriculture, aviation, energy, transportation, education, among others. The polls shift will  afford PDP the time to make up for those shortcomings, and to fix any problem not yet addressed prior to the new dates.

Words on marble
Speaking on the postponement and how the PDP would take advantage of it to sharpen things,   the Director, Media and Publicity of PDP PCO, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, said, “ INEC ‘must be commended for showing the courage to shift the elections after acknowledging the fact that its state of preparedness was not 100 per cent. Since this decision has been taken in the interest of deepening democracy and in national interest, we accept it in good faith and we commend INEC’s courage and obvious commitment to ensuring a free and fair election.

“With this decision, INEC has allayed the fears of many of our citizens that they may not have had the opportunity to vote for the candidates and parties of their choice on Election Day. INEC has, by the decision, ensured that no one will be disenfranchised and has helped to guarantee the safety and security of every single one of our citizens during the course of the elections”.

Also speaking on the shift of election dates, PDP Deputy National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, said, “The APC is just playing to the gallery and unnecessarily overheating the system by beating the drums of war and shouting wolves where there is none. The truth is that INEC was not ready for the elections and lacks the ability and strength to say so. How can INEC say that the basic reason for the shift of the elections was the security crisis in the Northeast states of Borno, Adamawa, Yobe and Borno without   telling Nigerians the challenges it is facing in the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards.

“Let INEC tell Nigerians the details of the report submitted to it by the two United States Democracy Institutes. I mean the reports from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). INEC is keeping quite on the report that was submitted to it as far back as January 20 or thereabout. If INEC is not for mischief, let the commission tell the world its level of preparedness in terms of training of more than 900,000 ad-hoc staff and the distribution of all sensitive materials.

“ How can INEC claim to be ready for the elections when in some states, about 50 percent of the voters are yet to have collected the voter cards. In Lagos state with the highest number of voters, more than 33 percent are yet to collect their PVCs. Yet INEC says it is ready to conduct the elections. Is INEC out   to disenfranchise eligible voters and then find another way to discredit the entire electoral system. What of the Card Reading Machines, has INEC text run these machines, is all the PVCs for the elections in the country. We have it on good authority that the PVCs for five or four states are not yet distributed, let alone collected by the eligible voters. INEC should be honest enough to tell Nigerians the truth than hiding under security reports”.

Also reacting on the polls shift, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Metuh, who noted   that the PDP would hold Jega to his promise of perfecting the   systems and processes to conduct the best poll in the nation’s political history, however, warned politicians against politicising the decision of INEC, a decision which it said was in the overall interest of the country, adding, “At 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.”

Metuh, who urged Jega to use the present period to ensure that all identified irregularities were eliminated to guarantee that registered voters across the country as a matter of urgency get their permanent voter cards, to avoid disenfranchising any eligible and registered voter, called on the INEC boss to bring to book all the Commission’s ad-hoc staff that were allegedly involved in what he termed lopsided distribution of PVCs.
As Nigerians await the elections to hold on the new dates, we look forward to seeing how Jega   would use the six weeks window to do the work he is being paid for.

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