By Our Reporters
Stakeholders across the country, yesterday, expressed strong reservation and, sometimes, condemnation over the shift of the presidential andNational Assembly elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Interestingly, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, and their campaign support groups, in separate reactions, accused the election management body of working in cahoots with either of the two major political parties.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also the presidential candidate of the APC, on his part, expressed concern and disappointment but pulled back from further comments pending what, he said, was a full briefing from INEC.
His major contender, Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP, while calming his supporters accused the Presidency of staging the postponement, saying that Buhari can postpone the elections but not thwart the will of the people.
Civil society groups were particularly miffed by the decision and demanded explanations from INEC on the basis of past assurances of fidelity to the election timetable.
A rare praise, however, came for INEC and its embattled Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, from the Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, which said he stood firmly against plans by the Presidency and the APC to stage staggered elections.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that Yakubu’s stoic stance was against the action of two prominent officials of the Commission and the international observers who seriously warned against staggered elections.
Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is Head of ECOWAS Observers Mission, however, pulled back from commenting on the issue when asked by Sunday Vanguard on the development yesterday.
I’m disappointed over elections’ postponement – Buhari
Buhari said he was disappointed with the postponement, saying that INEC, up till the last minute, gave assurance of its readiness to conduct the polls.
In a statement he issued as he was returning to Abuja from Daura, Katsina State, the President said his government gave the electoral body all that it required to conduct free and fair polls as he lamented that the postponement would cause severe hardship for Nigerians.
He said, “I am deeply disappointed that despite the long notice given and our preparations both locally and internationally, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the presidential and National Assembly elections within hours of its commencement.
“While I reaffirm my strong commitment to the independence, neutrality of the electoral umpire and the sanctity of the electoral process and ballot, I urge all political stakeholders and Nigerians to continue to rally round INEC at this trying national moment in our democratic journey.
“I have decided to move back to Abuja to ensure that the 14.00 hrs meeting called by INEC with all stakeholders is successful.”
Speaking in an interview on why he said he was disappointed, he said:
“Yes I am disappointed because INEC has got all the time and resources needed and therefore supposed to work according to their programme.
“They were given all the resources, they had all the time and they kept on telling us up to the last minute that they were ready. The fact that they are not ready means there is some inefficiency along the line.”
It is Presidency plot to demoralize us – Atiku
The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku, while reacting to the shift in a session with journalists in his country home in Yola, urged his supporters to be patient, saying there was no cause for alarm.
“As long as the sensitive materials already sent to some states are in safe hand, then there is no cause for alarm. Next week is just like today as it will come to pass”, he said.
While appealing to Nigerians to keep vigil on what he said would be the next development from the APC-led Federal government, the former Vice President expressed regret that no responsible government or institution will postpone a general election at the eleventh hour.
In a statement subsequently released by his office, the former vice-president said:
“This postponement is obviously a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob. By instigating this postponement, the Buhari administration hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turn out is low on the rescheduled date. Nigerians must frustrate their plans by coming out in even greater numbers on Saturday, 23 February and Saturday, 9 March respectively.
“Knowing that the Nigerian people are determined to reject them, they are desperate and will do anything in their power to avoid their rejection by the Nigerian people.
“Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further anti-democratic acts”.
Obi calls for more sacrifice
The vice presidential candidate of the PDP, Mr. Peter Obi, in a reaction, has expressed dissatisfaction over the postponement of the general elections.
Speaking to newsmen in his Onitsha residence, Obi, who aligned himself to the position of his principal, Atiku, and the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secundus, appealed to Nigerians to remain calm and peaceful.
Obi added that the waste associated with the postponement was staggering in view of the fact that many Nigerians travelled to their states from different parts of the country to fulfill their civic duties only to get the news of the postponement on election day .
A disappointment – Gen. Abubakar
Former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, described the postponement as a disappointment; but called on the citizenry to maintain peace.
Abubakar, who is the Chairman of the National Peace and Reconciliation Committee which brokered the peace accord between Atiku and Buhari, urged Nigerians to pray fervently for the commission to organize a peaceful election next Saturday. He spoke to journalists in his Hilltop residence in Minna.
Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello of Niger State, speaking in the same vein, described the shift as unfortunate but appealed to Nigerians to be understanding and be patient.
Presidency pressurised INEC to shift elections, PDP alleges
The PDP, however, singled out the Presidency for blame for the postponement, saying it was a conspiracy weaved within government to further allow the ruling APC the opportunity to rig the President back to power.
Addressing journalists at a press conference in Abuja yesterday, National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “This decision by INEC is a grand plot to give the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Presidency the space to perfect their rigging plans, which have been resisted by Nigerians to this point.
“The public space is replete with how the Presidency mounted pressure on INEC leadership to postpone the election at the dying minute, so as to place more burdens on voters and frustrate their enthusiasm for the election,” he said.
“Nigerians have lost trillions of naira, risked their lives on the road and in the air as well as faced other huge loses just because President Buhari is bent on perpetuating his inordinate quest to remain in office.
“President Buhari in his desperation for power has again exhibited his insensitivity to the sensibilities of Nigerians, particularly in his deceitful attempt to heap blames on INEC for a plot that was hatched and executed by his Presidency.
“APC new plot is to escalate series of challenges that will eventually paralyse INEC’s operation in some states so as to stagger the election and pave way to isolate certain critical states, after which it will use compromised security agents to muzzle the polls in those states in favour of President Buhari.
It will not stop our momentum – Saraki
Senate President and Director General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, said the last-minute postponement has caused a great inconvenience to many Nigerians who were poised to vote for their choice as President and federal legislators.
He, however, said the postponement would not deter the momentum on the way of the PDP as, he said, it would even give the party more time to harvest more votes.
INEC Chairman accused of dereliction duty
The Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), on its part, accused INEC of dereliction of duty and demanded his resignation.
This, it said, was because of the tardiness that led to the postponement which, it claimed, was done in connivance with the PDP.
BMO said, in a statement signed by its Chairman Niyi Akinsiju, and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, that it was disappointed that the INEC Chairman allowed the Commission to be infiltrated by opposition elements.
CUPP praises INEC for sabotaging rigging plot
THE Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, applauded INEC on the polls’postponement decision just as it blamed the APC and security agencies for stage-managing the disruption.
CUPP alleged that the APC showed desperation in winning the rescheduled elections when it allegedly compelled security agencies to compromise the distribution of election materials in over 15 states.
The coalition, in statement, yesterday morning, by its spokesman, Ikenga Ugochinyere, hailed the INEC Chairman for displaying courage.
APC Presidential Campaign Council condemns postponement
The APC Presidential Campaign Council, in a statement, condemned the postponement of the polls which it blamed on desperadoes within the PDP.
While condemning the postponement which, it said, was despite the resources provided by the administration, the campaign council, in a statement issued by Mr. Festus Keyamo, the campaign spokesman, said: “This news is therefore a huge disappointment to us and to our teeming supporters nationwide and around the world, many of whom have come into the country to exercise their franchise.
“We do hope that INEC will remain neutral and impartial in this process as the rumor mill is agog with the suggestion that this postponement has been orchestrated in collusion with the main opposition, the PDP, that was NEVER ready for this election.
“Now, it may be up to its old trick again. We have earlier raised the alarm that the PDP is bent on discrediting this process the moment it realized it cannot make up the numbers to win this election. We are only urging INEC not collude with the PDP on this.
“We are truly worried because as early as Friday morning, some known PDP Social Media influencers unwittingly announced this postponement, but quickly deleted the message and apologized to the public that it was fake news. We do not want to be forced to a situation of announcing our total loss of confidence in INEC, because we know where that would leave our democracy.
“We wish to draw the attention of INEC and the world to observe that the PDP has clearly and openly said it plans to announce parallel results through some funny device it has procured or developed.”
It is part of APC’s plot – Secondus
The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said the postponement was part of a grand design by the APC to thwart the will of Nigerians at all costs, saying it had exposed INEC’ s lack of preparedness for the huge assignment and called on the Chairman of the Commission to resign with immediate effect.
The PDP leader warned that the party will not accept anything short of a well organized electoral process devoid of manipulation, harassment and intimidation of voters and the opposition particularly members of his party.
Buhari to sack INEC chair, appoint Amina Zakari, CUPP alleges
Meanwhile, Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, alleged that Buhari was planning a change of leadership at INEC, following the shift in the conduct of 2019 general elections.
CUPP alleged that the President’s plan was against the backdrop of his unfavorable disposition to the postponement which stopped the staggered elections as allegedly
planned by the APC.
In a statement by its spokesman,Ikenga Ugochinyere,CUPP said it was raising” the alarm over move by Buhari to suspend INEC chairman and appoint Amina Zakari as Acting Chairman under the guise of INEC inability to conduct election today (Saturday)”.
The statement added, “The Coalition of United Political Parties is alerting the world of plan and decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to announce the suspension of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, from office.
“The President has also pencilled down Amina Zakari for appointment as the Acting Chairman citing her experience as the oldest and most experienced National Commissioner of the Commission.
“The President is planning to use the excuse of inability to hold election today as a reason for the imminent suspension. Feigning ignorance of the real reasons behind the shift, the President in his earlier statement today did not have just a word for the shameful and despicable actions of security forces and the central Bank staff who in obedience to Presidency directives deliberately sabotaged the distribution of sensitive materials in selected states”.
International Observer Missions Counsel INEC
On its part, the League of International Observer Missions urged Nigerians to keep faith with the democratic process even as it has called on INEC to use the shift to finalise its preparations for the elections.
The eight international observer missions, in a joint statement, pledged to continue to monitor the process and to stand in solidarity with the Nigerian people.
The joint statement read: “We, the Heads of the international election observation missions and the United Nations present in Nigeria, have taken note of the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the 2019 general elections due to logistical and operational challenges.
“While we note that this decision has caused disappointment for many, we call on all Nigerians to continue to remain calm and supportive of the electoral process as INEC works to implement its new timeline.
“We urge INEC to use this time to finalise all preparations and ensure that the new election dates are strictly adhered to. We encourage INEC to provide regular updates and information to the public on its preparations in the coming days and weeks to enhance confidence and trust in the process.
“As we continue to closely observe preparations across the country, we stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria in their desire for credible and peaceful elections.”
The missions which made the joint declaration included Economic Community of West African States Election Observation Mission led by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia; African Union Election Observation Mission led by His Excellency Hailemariam Desalegn, Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia; Commonwealth Observer Group led by Dr Jakaya Kikwete, Former President of the United Republic of Tanzania; Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa Election Observation Mission led by Rupiah Banda, Former President of Zambia and European Union Election Observation Mission led by Maria Arena, Belgian Member of the European Parliament.
The others are National Democratic Institute/International Republican Institute Election Observation Mission led by Festus Mogae, Former President of Botswana and Vaira V+7e-Freiberga, Former President of Latvia and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation led by Ambassador Boubakar Adamou, Director of African Political Affairs and the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, led by Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas
CAN expresses shock
The North-West Zone of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, expressed shock at the postponement of the general elections, saying some Nigerians had travelled from far and near to cast their votes.
The Secretary of the North-West Zone of CAN, Elder Sunday Oibe, said: “Nigerians are still suspicious that INEC is acting a script, but since we cannot place which script they are acting, lets give them benefits of the doubt that they have failed. Lets give them another chance so that we can have elections that is credible, acceptable and transparent so that we can say Nigeria has started getting it right. That’s my advice.”
Action Aid flays shift
Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi, decried the action of INEC and called for explanation on the logistics challenges it mentioned.
Obi said: “Postponing elections is becoming a reoccurring dismal in Nigeria. Looking at the trend from 2011, 2015 and now 2019, we expect that INEC would have used their learning from those experiences and not have it reoccur again. Election is about trust and we fear that the mismanagement or miscommunication on the part of INEC can degenerate to a trust issue between the commission and the citizens.”
TMG, HEDA disappointed
The Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA, and the Election Observation Platform expressed disappointment and regret over the last minute postponement of the elections.
Speaking in Lagos, TMG Chairperson, Dr Abiola Akiode-Afolabi, said that despite repeated assurance of preparedness by INEC, it was sad that the agency could come out to tell Nigerians, at the last minute, that election had been postponed due to logistics and operational challenges.
Postponement, a serious question mark on INEC’s sincerity – PANDEF
NATIONAL Secretary of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Dr. Alfred Mulade, said the postponement of elections posed “a serious question mark on the sincerity, capacity, integrity, willingness and readiness of INEC to deliver free, fair and credible elections to Nigerians.”
Mulade added: “Any attempt by INEC, to manipulate the process towards any sinister predetermined outcome, suppress and circumvent the sovereign will of the people of Nigeria will be resisted by Nigerians with monumental consequences,” he said in a statement reacting to the postponement.
A former Chairman of the PDP, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, said he had a premonition that the polls were going to be shifted despite the assurances by the electoral commission.
He said, “I had feelings even before yesterday (Friday) that INEC was more likely going to postpone the polls because it was getting to a situation that one didn’t know what or who to believe”.
On his part, elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai described the late postponement of the elections as unfortunate, saying many Nigerians would henceforth take INEC’s assurance of readiness for the polls with a pinch of salt.
According to the nonagenarian, the letter purportedly written by the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, to the Commission may have forced the hand of the umpire.
Governor Ishaku, APC, PDP, Other Stakeholders In Taraba Frown
Stakeholders in Taraba State expressed disappointment over the decision of the election umpire.
Reacting to the development in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan-Abu, Governor Darius Ishaku, said his principal took the decision of INEC to reschedule the elections with mixed feelings.
This he attributed to the late arrival of sensitive materials, which according to the state governor would have disenfranchised eligible voters in some difficult terrains across the state.
APC only buying time – Governor Ortom
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State said the APC was only buying time to delay the day of its colossal defeat.
The governor, who spoke in Makurdi while reacting to the decision of INEC to shift the polls, said, “Whether they shift it to any date, Benue People and Nigerians would still reject APC at the polls.
“It is an unfortunate development, for INEC to postpone the elections that took more than three years to plan, few hours to the commencement of voting when people had travelled from far places to exercise their franchise, is a rape on democracy”.