THE general election earlier scheduled to hold on 14th and 28th February, 2015 have been postponed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to March 28 and April 11, 2015, Announcing the postponement on Saturday 7th February, 2015 in a press briefing, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega told Nigerians that the postponement was due to security report by the Service chiefs of the security agencies in Nigeria.
According to the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, the issue of security that led to the postponement of the elections is not under the control of his commission even though INEC was ready to conduct the, the safety of persons, materials and other stakeholders cannot be compromised or undermined. Besides, the postponement is in line with the provision in section 26 sub section one of the electoral act 2010 amended.
Basically, the insecurity occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgents in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno States were among reasons why the security agents advised INEC for the postponement, saying that it cannot guarantee the security of voters, personnel and materials for the elections under the circumstance.
According to Prof. Jega under such circumstances, INEC had no option than to postpone the elections. However, INEC had been contending with the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC), as millions of registered voters have been unable to collect their PVC as at the time of the announcement of the postponement by INEC Chairman, despite the extension of the collection exercise.
There is a saying in our local parlance that when the Owl flew at night and at down a misfortune happen in the neighbouhood, without doubt, such misfortune is likely to be attributed to the owl that flew at night. In the same vain, there was an earlier call for the postponement of the February elections by the National Security Adviser to the president, Sambo Dasuki. Although, many Nigerian did not take him seriously, but it generated tension and debates in the political circles. But today, the call by the National Security Adviser has become a reality.
Could it be that the National Security Adviser was saying the obvious or was he speaking the mind of the leadership of the ruling political party which he represents?
Be that as it may, the postponement is hopefully, to allow extra time for the newly constituted multinational security force to secure the North-East, especially Adamawa, Yobe and Borno States currently been invaded by Boko Haram terrorists. Importantly, it would also enable the commission to continue the distribution of Permanent Voters Cards to eligible voters to prevent mass disenfranchisement.
Since the announcement of the shift in the election date, it has attracted wide debate. The strongest opposition political party APC, the United State government and a cross section of Nigerians and other stakeholders condemned the postponement. In the words of the US Secretary of State. John Kerry “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC is unacceptable, and it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process”. The US Secretary of State had warned Nigeria against postponing the elections when he visited the country on January 25th, 2015.
Besides, the postponement of the elections is coming against the decision of the council of State meeting held on February 4, 2015 during which the plan to shift the election was rejected.
The APC Presidential candidate, Gen. Mohammadu Buhari retired, described the postponement as highly provocative, but advised Nigerians to remain calm and desist from violence, saying “change may be postponed but it cannot be denied”. APC leader, Ahmed Tinubu said Nigeria’s democracy is now at the mercy of the gun. However. President Goodluck Jonathan urged Nigerians to accept the postponement in good faith. The leadership of the Peoples Democratic in Good faith. The leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP commended the postponement, calling it a courageous act of INEC.
With the postponement of the elections due to insecurity in parts of the country, it therefore means that the Boko Haram insurgency which has been treated as a non issue by the military and Federal government has become a serious issue over night.
Nevertheless, the question that is on the lips of most Nigerians is whether the additional six weeks would make any difference. Will the military be able to flush out the Boko Haram terrorists from the North-Eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe? If they are unable to do so, would there be further postponement of the elections? Is there any hope that the military would be able to guarantee the security of voters, adhoc staff, INEC staff and materials for the elections in six weeks time?.
The only thing that is certain is that INEC will have more time to conclude its preparations for the conduct of free and fair elections, and cover up lapses that were obvious up till the day the election was postponed. More voters will be able to collect their Permanent Voters Card, INEC will be able to recruit and train its adhoc staff which was not concluded before the postponement. Furthermore, INEC will have time to print and distribute its voter register as well as procure enough card readers to take care of the various polling units in the country.
It must be stressed at this point that INEC should use the opportunity of the postponement to fine-tune all the electoral processes in order to be able to conduct a free, fair, acceptable and credible elections. On the part part of the security agencies, they should use the additional six weeks to put machineries in place to provide adequate security that will guarantee the safety of all Nigerians, including electoral materials as well as ensure violence free conduct of the elections.
If the INEC play it part and the security agencies play their part effectively and efficiently, we would be able to conduct the elections devoid of violence and rancour. It is only then that the reason for the postponement could be justifiable, but if it turn out otherwise, the consequence would be better imagine than experience.
God bless Nigeria.
Desmond Agbama is the chairman Edo State Council of the Nigeria union of journalists (NUJ