The statements from the Security Council meeting convened by President Goodluck Jonathan last Tuesday to review the situations in the liberated communities of the North- East ahead of next week’s presidential and national assembly elections, have created another cloud of uncertainty over whether the elections will hold on their rescheduled dates of March 28 and April 11. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the general elections initially scheduled for February 14 and 28, one week to the date because the military was engaged in operations against the Boko Haram insurgents in the North East and could not provide security. The army said it needed six weeks to defeat the insurgents before elections could take place. Since then, the military has recorded impressive exploits and retaken most of the areas previously occupied by Boko Haram.
However, rather that exude hope, statements from the Security Council meeting may have created more anxiety in the minds of discerning Nigerians. INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, who spoke first on the preparedness for the polls, simply said that his presentation to the meeting “went well”. Nevertheless, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-General Kenneth Minimah said despite the successes recorded by the military in the affected areas, full democratic governance could hardly be restored before the elections to allow the people exercise their voting rights.
Just like in February, the army again stressed that the issue of conducting elections in those areas remained the decision of INEC. The conflicting positions were exactly the same stand the electoral umpire and the Army had maintained in February.
The contradictory postures of the electoral umpire and the army are at best buck passing and therefore unacceptable. In February, one week to the election, the military had assured the citizenry that all it required was six weeks to defeat the insurgents and then elections would hold. Now, barely ten days to the new date of the elections, the army is singing a different song. In effect, what the COAS is saying is that after the six weeks that the army asked for, that he can still not guarantee the security of the electorate in the North East. It is also sad that INEC which is constitutionally charged with the conduct of election failed to give a definite answer on whether elections will hold in the liberated areas.
The army and INEC must understand that Nigerians will not accept another postponement of the election. The implications of not conducting elections in the liberated areas of the North East are also grave because Nigeria cannot validly elect a president in an election where a section of the country is excluded. Agreed, Section 134 of the 1999 Constitution states that all a candidate for an election to the office of President required to be elected where there are two candidates is that: (a) he has the majority of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Or if there are more than two candidates; (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
However, conducting elections and a candidate wining in two-thirds of all the States is not the same as excluding a section of the country from the election. Besides, those liberated areas that are now at risk of not performing their civic duty could be the area of strength of a particular candidate and such candidate will be put in a disadvantage position if elections are not held there.
INEC must therefore come out bold to say that it will conduct elections in the liberated areas. Let it be that the military did not provide security.