*Consider implications — Security, PDP
*What transpired at the Council of State meeting
By Ben Agande
ABUJA — The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, yesterday, reiterated its readiness for the forthcoming general elections even as strong pressures were brought on its National Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega by contending forces at the National Council of State, NCS, to shift the polls by six weeks.
Jega, who, insisted on holding the election as scheduled was, however, countered by service chiefs present at the meeting who, according to sources, told him that they could not guarantee security for the election.
At the end of the meeting, the commission was told to go and conduct its responsibility within its legal framework. The commission is meeting tomorrow to review the developments, sources said.
However, Mr. Kayode Idowu, the Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman told Vanguard, last night, that nothing new had come up.
All former heads of state with the notable exception of former President Olusegun Obasanjo were present at the meeting which was chaired by President Goodluck Jonathan. Those in attendance included Vice President Namadi Sambo, the president of the Senate, Senator David Mark; Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, governors, and two former chief justices of the country- Justice Dahiru Musdapher and Justice Alfa Belgore.
As the meeting got underway, Jega briefed the council on his readiness for the election and was said to have confidently asserted the readiness of the commission for the election.
He was, however, countered by the service chiefs who claimed that they could not provide security for the elections. The service chiefs were said to have volunteered that at least 17 local government areas in Borno State were still under the occupation of terrorists.
In support of polls as scheduled
All former heads of state with the exception of President Shehu Shagari and Chief Ernest Shonekan, who reportedly did not comment, were said to have advised that the elections should not be postponed.
President Ibrahim Babangida, it was gathered, warned that disrupting the elections would show a negative portrayal of the country and his point was echoed by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.
While the PDP governors urged for a postponement, the APC governors strongly backed Jega on going ahead with the election.
A former Chief Justice of the Federation present, it was learned, also told the meeting that he had consulted all the other living former chief justices and that they were all unanimous that the elections should go on.
Call for polls shift
But those who called for postponement, notably incumbent political office holders from the PDP, were said to have raised issues with INEC’s plans. Among the issues raised were that 34% of the Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs had not been collected and the unreliability of the card readers. The PDP governors, it was learned, argued that the card readers being deployed for the election had never been tested before and that they feared that using them could lead to chaos. However, the major contention was that security could not be guaranteed and that point was pressed both by the service chiefs and the PDP governors.
As the arguments drew to an end with majority of the members urging that the commission should go ahead as scheduled, the president was said to have asked Jega to go and consult with his commissioners in the light of the discussions.
At this point, Gen. Abdulsalami was said to have insisted that a clear message should be given to Nigerians that the council was not divided on the issue and that the commission should be charged to go ahead with its statutory responsibility as it deemed fit.
At the end of the seven-hour meeting, Governors Rochas Okorocha, (Imo), Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo) and Bala Ngilari (Adamawa) were asked to brief the press on the outcome of the council meeting.
Governor Mimiko who spoke first at the press conference stated: “Council of State in a meeting close to seven hours essentially discussed the state of preparedness of INEC. INEC had the benefit of inputs from council members and security chiefs and agencies.
He said: “And based on the very exhaustive discussion and pieces of advice, INEC which is constitutionally empowered on the issue of election on the basis of discussions at the council was asked to brief the nation after consultation with other stakeholders and then the news will be communicated to you”.
Asked if the council agreed to a shift in the date of the election, Governor Mimiko said: “I made it absolutely clear, I am not the INEC chief, INEC will appropriately brief you based on the meeting we just had.
“INEC is going to consult widely with stakeholders and come up with a decision that they will brief the nation soon”.
Mimiko emphasised that “the Council of State is essentially an advisory body. Mr. President in his wisdom has invited INEC to brief us on the state of preparedness based on what INEC briefed and based on perception of council members and security agencies, INEC was properly advised and you will hear from INEC”.
Governor Okorocha, who was seated beside him, insisted that he must speak in order to give a broader perspective on the decision reached by the council. He told State House Correspondents: “National Council of State advised INEC to go and perform its civic responsibility which is to conduct elections. That is what we rose to agree, it was a very challenging moment, and INEC has reaffirmed severally that they are ready, but because of concerns of security agencies in some few local governments, Council asked INEC to go and perform their civic responsibilities, which is the conduct of elections.”
Asked if there was a decision as to change of date for the polls, Governor Okorocha said: “There is no decision as to change of date or postponement at all. But the Council has asked INEC to go and perform their responsibility.”
On whether council agreed on the use of temporary voter cards, he said: “The temporary voters cards are being exchanged for the new ones and once you have given out your temporary voters card, that means you don’t have any more. So they are going for the permanent voter cards, and the PVC would be assumed to have been distributed before Sunday that was the essence of the whole exercise, and Jega has reassured us that they are equal to the task, in-fact, they are more prepared than they were in 2011″.
Asked if the report of alleged resignation of Jega was tabled, Okorocha said: “No there was nothing like that discussed”.
He acknowledged that the PDP and APC governors are not on the same page on the matter.
“As usual we will not be on the same page on any issues of this nature. It is normal that some will be for and others will be against, but the truth is that we looked at the constitution of Nigeria, that is the only binding factor when there are issues of disagreement. The constitution guides every one because that is the fundamental law that guides the whole nation’s policies” .
He, however, emphasised that the APC expects the elections to hold as scheduled.
Governors in attendance were those of Adamawa, Borno (represented by the Deputy Governor), Kano, Osun, Imo, Nasarawa, Sokoto, Anambra and Abia (deputy governor). Others were governors of Taraba,Niger, Lagos, Bayelsa, Kogi, Rivers, Kaduna, Enugu,Ogun, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kwara, Katsina, Ondo, Plateau, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Jigawa, Edo, Delta, Bauchi, Ekiti, Oyo (deputy governor) Gombe.
The president of the senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives were also in attendance. Others in attendance were the Minister of FCT, Bala Mohammed, Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke and the National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (Ret).
Earlier, before the commencement of the meeting, a mild drama played out when General Muhammadu Buhari initially refused to join the president and other former heads of state in the president’s office as it is the tradition. It took the intervention of the Secretary to the government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, the State Chief of Protocol, Senator Mark as well as the Principal Secretary to the President, Hassan Tukur to persuade him to join the other former heads of state.
Meanwhile, the Progressive Governors Forum have expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the Council of State meeting.
A communiqué signed by Owelle Rochas Okorocha and Chairman of the forum expressed satisfaction with the assurance issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and the National Security Adviser, NSA on the state of preparedness for the 14th and 28th February General elections.
The Communiqué said: “The Chairman of INEC assured Council that INEC is ready to proceed with elections scheduled emphasizing, in their own words, that ‘our accomplishments are to such a degree that we can conduct the elections. Compared with the 2011 General Elections.”