After high staked politics and sleight of hand tactics by powerful interests in the country, the 2015 general elections initially fixed for February 14 and 28 have been finally postponed. Last Saturday, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, ended the waiting game when, after a marathon meeting with relevant stakeholders, he announced the postponement, adducing “security concerns” for it. The new dates will be March 28 for the presidential and National Assembly elections and April 11 for gubernatorial and state assembly elections. If there is any good from the development, it is the temporary release of wearied Nigerians from the trauma and tension of a rancorous and adversarial electioneering of the past five weeks.
It is not difficult to observe that some subterranean forces were arrayed against the conduct of the general elections on the originally scheduled February 14 and 28 dates. The Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly showed their hands in the diabolical plot when in its meeting last week it assailed Professor Jega with the request to postpone the polls, using cheap blackmail as weapon. The nation’s military high command played a not too noble role in the development, when it understated its unpreparedness to release military personnel that would provide security coverage for INEC on the two initial dates for the election. In the face of the overwhelming odds, Jega had to invoke Section 21(1) of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to postpone the elections.
The deed is done, and expectedly Nigerians and the international community have made the feelings on the issue quite clear. President Goodluck Jonathan asked Nigerians to accept the postponement in “good faith”, adding that INEC had a “responsibility to conduct credible elections in which every Nigerian of voting age is afforded the opportunity to exercise their civic right without any form of hindrance”. Commendably, the APC standard bearer, General Muhammadu Buhari, on his part, reacted in a well measured tone to his acceptance of the fait accompli, but with the caveat that the “rescheduled elections of March 28 and April 11, 2015 must be sacrosanct”. He called on his supporters for calm.
This newspaper is elated by the maturity displayed by the nation’s opposition leaders this time around. It shows that some good lessons have been learnt from our sordid past. There were reactions from USA, United Nations and Nigerians in Diaspora and even Nigerians at home to the development. Common to these reactions is the perception that the postponement is untoward. While the US government characteristically talked down on the nation’s leaders over the issue, the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, urged INEC to take advantage of the shift in polls dates to embark on rapid distribution of the remaining permanent voter cards (PVCs) to all registered voters to give credibility to the upcoming elections. The tough talk of the US underscores the need for Nigerian leaders to conduct the affairs of the country with such openness and fairness that would guarantee the unalloyed support of all Nigerians. In the final analysis only Nigerians reserve the right to take their leaders to task over the implementation of things that have strong bearing on the wellbeing and socio-political and economic health of the country.
On this vexed issue of postponement, both INEC and Jega have been unnecessarily exposed to attacks that impugned on their credibility. Until the last minute’s shift in the dates, Jega had consistently maintained INEC’s readiness to conduct the elections. Indeed, not only Nigerians were taken in by the assurance, so also were vested foreign interests, some of who had sent in election observers and monitors in readiness for the postponed elections. Their disappointment over the postponement could only be imagined. In spite of this, all the critical stakeholders of the Nigerian project must leave behind their disappointment.
Organizing election of this magnitude is a multi-stakeholder venture, where the engagement of security agencies is pivotal to its success. If the military required at least six weeks to successfully carry out a major counter-insurgency operation that could remove the threat factor in the success of the conduct of the elections and it has so been willingly obliged, the military high command must know that the entire world is watching its conduct. We do not want to believe that INEC never engaged the security agencies for their input into the decision that led to the fixing of the original dates of the general elections. If this is so, why the perfunctory manner of arm-twisting the Commission to reschedule the dates of elections it held sacrosanct?