By Emmanuel Aziken, Clifford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, Joseph Erunke & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—Ahead of today’s National Council of State meeting, All Progressives Congress, APC, governors were, yesterday, mobilizing to fend off pressures to use the platform to push forward agitations for the postponement of this month’s scheduled elections.
A number of APC governors, who had in the past stayed away from the meeting, were last night headed for Abuja to add verve to the opposition to the postponement. APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, who had in the past three years also ignored the meeting according to feelers, could show up today. There were also speculations that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had also been absent in recent meetings, could attend the meeting.
Conflicting views on holding the election were, yesterday, projected by different political platforms even as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, put forth a strong rebuttal to a Reuters dispatch of the possibility of a postponement.
A group of activists, yesterday, laid siege to the gates of INEC, demanding the postponement of the election based on sundry reasons, including unavailability of the Permanent Voters’ Cards, PVCs in the south and alleged failure to cater for Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs in the North-East.
Presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, however, condemned the calls as he warned that a postponement could lead to anarchy.
Give INEC free hand — Buhari
Buhari in a statement ahead of today’s meeting said that there was no basis for a postponement given what he said was the assurance by the election management body that it was set for the polls.
Buhari’s reaction, articulated by Garba Shehu, media director of the Buhari Campaign Organisation read thus:
“The Independent National Electoral Commission is the custodian of the electoral process and should, therefore, be given a free hand to conduct the 2015 general elections in line with the laws of the land.”
He thus reminded members of the National Council of State that their honour and integrity are at stake, and, therefore, they must weigh the implications of election postponement.
He said the incredible enthusiasm with which Nigerians are ready to vote during the February general election should not be dampened and ruined by any idea of election postponement to serve expedient political objectives.
“As at the last count all stakeholders have committed to the conduct of the general election as scheduled. INEC had expressed its preparedness, the military and police have committed to providing adequate security and even the PDP says it is prepared for the election. From all indications the only person who is not prepared for the election appears to be President Jonathan who has seen defeat staring him in the face and is pulling all the strings to re-enact the June 12, 1993 scenario.”
The National Council of State consists of the following persons: President, who is the Chairman; Vice-President, who is the Deputy Chairman; all former presidents of the Federation and all former Heads of the Government of the Federation; all former Chief Justices of Nigeria; President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, all the governors and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The duties of the council include to “advise the President whenever requested to do so on the maintenance of public order within the Federation or any part thereof and on such other matters as the President may direct.”
Buhari who has not attended the council’s meetings for three years, it was learnt, could show up at today’s meeting to give energy to those opposed to a shift. A number of APC governors were also last night headed for Abuja.
Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, who is normally a strange face at meetings in the Presidential Villa, a source revealed, was last night on the road to Abuja and is expected to be a strong advocate for the retention of the scheduled dates for the election.
There were also indications that Obasanjo could also attend. Suggestions to that effect gained ground after Leadership Newspaper which was to honour the former president and two governors cancelled today’s ceremony.
Group seeks postponement
The group which laid siege to the gates of INEC, known as Hope Alive Initiative, demanded the extension of the election date by 60 days, saying such would allow for the proper collections of PVCs by Nigerians.
The aggrieved protesters, who stormed the commission’s headquarters, as early as 11:30 am, blocked the INEC gate preventing either entry or exit of workers and visitors.
The protesters, who alleged marginalization of certain parts of the country, particularly southerners in the distribution of the PVCs, called on the commission to extend the elections by two months, to give room for what they called equitable distribution of the cards.
The group’s coordinator, Comrade Termunus Brods, called on INEC to also cater for the plight of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) whom he said are also Nigerians.
INEC Assistant Director of Security, B. O. Edoh, who addressed the group, said INEC had made adequate arrangements for the collection of the cards by their owners, saying that there was no reason why the election should be postponed.
“It is not correct that INEC is still keeping about 30 million cards, it is not correct. Attempts and reasonable steps have been taken by the honourable chairman of the commission to distribute these voter cards at the ward levels, it is not even at the local government offices. Men have been in the field and are still in the field now distributing them.
“On the issue of extension, against the background of the two reasons I have given you now, it would not be justifiable to postpone the election. It is not as if the heaven will fall if the election is postponed or extended, heaven will not fall. It is not sacrosanct, but we have not been persuaded enough to take that action,” he said.
That point against postponement was reiterated by Mr. Kayode Idowu, Chief Press Secretary to Professor Attahiru Jega, the chairman of INEC.
In a strong rebuttal to a dispatch by Reuters quoting a national commissioner as saying that INEC could postpone the election, Idowu said:
“I write to refute your story in Reuters attributing National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Amina Zakari, as saying that the 2015 general elections may be delayed if the number of Permanent Voter Cards collected by voters is too low.
“I was at the Situation Room Dialogue with INEC in Abuja this morning (yesterday) and I know that the Commissioner spoke in regard to the February 8 deadline for the collection of PVCs, nothing about the schedule of the general elections.
INEC refutes claim
“The inference you’ve made for the schedule of elections is entirely yours, and misrepresents the conversation that took place at the event this morning. You will do well to correct the report urgently, please.”
Also yesterday, Chief Edwin Clark, a former federal commissioner for information had urged Jega to speak on the readiness or otherwise of the commission for the election.
Against the backdrop of calls for the postponement of the February 14 and 28 general elections by some persons in the country, Chief Clark said the onus was on Jega to tell Nigerians the position of INEC in this regard.
“I don’t want to comment on whether the election should be postponed or not. But what is more important is whether INEC is ready. That is the most important statement.
“You remember in 2011 when INEC messed us up in the election for National Assembly and had to postpone it. If they are ready, let them tell us. But if they are not ready, let Jega come out and tell Nigerians that they are not.”
Presidential candidate of the UPP, Chief Okorie at a press conference in Abuja denounced the calls for poll shift, saying: “I condemn in the strongest terms the recent mischievously contrived clamour for the postponement of the 2015 General Elections to another date outside the dates and timetable announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in February 2014, over 12 months ago.
The reasons given by the proponents of the postponement that a great number of Nigerians will be disenfranchised having not been given their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) which will enable them to participate in the election is a contrived reason and to a large extent pedestrian.”