• Friday, June 21, 2024
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Despite INEC assurances, Nigerians still worried over postponement ‘promo’

Ondo bye-election: Voters turn out amidst heavy security

Nigerians have continued to call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) never to contemplate the idea of postponing the 2023 general election.

They also urged the Commission to put necessary machinery in proper place to deliver a credible, free and fair election, which it had consistently promised the Nigerian people.

The calls are being made, despite the assurances by the INEC that nothing would hinder the election from taking place according to schedule.

The apprehension followed the recent statement by Abdullahi Zuru, chairman, Board of the Electoral Institute, INEC’s training arm, when he represented Mahmood Yakubu,the Commission’s boss, in Abuja at the validation of election security training resources.

Zuru had said that the spate of insecurity across the country, particularly in some geopolitical zones, could hinder the declaration of election results and precipitate a constitutional crisis.

Zuru’s comment had set off apprehension in the polity and a welter of reactions from the Nigeria citizens, some of whom immediately accused the Commission of “flying a kite.”

Some observers, who spoke with BusinessDay, recalled that it was not the first time the INEC had shifted election despite giving Nigerians the assurances that the dates were sacrosanct.

Peter Nzeako, A Lagos-based Information Communication (ICT) expert, told BusinessDay that he recalled an incident in 2019 when the Commission announced postponement few hours to the election.

“I can vividly recollect how the INEC, a few hours to the commencement of voting, from nowhere announced that the exercise had been moved from Saturday, February 16 to Saturday, February 23 for the president and National Assembly; while governorship and state House of Assembly elections were moved to March 9, 2019.

“That postponement stressed many Nigerians a lot. There were those who had travelled from their base to other parts of the country where they hoped to cast their votes and quickly return, but by the postponement, some of such people returned and never went back to exercise their franchise, out of anger. We must be careful this time around. Nigerians would not accept such shenanigan any more. People are wiser,” Nzeako said.

Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, who is the Transparent International (IT) Nigeria Chief Executive, said the postponement would have huge financial implications on the country.

He cautioned politicians from making statements calling for a shift in the polls, adding that the electoral commission should be equipped to do their job.

According to him, “We see statements like this as counterproductive as they encourage the waste of public funds and can promote the wish of undemocratic agents that do not want Nigerian citizens to exercise their democratic rights.

“We hereby state that this should not be allowed to happen. Security personnel and election officials need to be fully equipped to always deal with challenges”.

Tobiloke Shodipe Dosunmu, Labour Party (LP) House of Representatives candidate for Lagos Island constituency 1, said Nigeria is in a precarious state to warrant postponement of the polls, stressing that Nigeria as a country cannot afford to waste any more time in her quest for redemption.

According to him, “We say no to election postponement, the people would have by now made their respective choices, a few more days or months would not make any difference to the populace as it is only an extension of travails.

“It is no news that she is in the worst state than she has ever been after she gained her independence, every day as time goes by, we keep plunging into the deeper abyss with almost no light beaming at the end of the tunnel in terms of pulling ourselves out of the precarious conditions we are in today”.

Eddy Olafeso, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South West, warned that the consequence of any postponement of the polls would be enormous for all stakeholders.

“Postponement is a constitutional matter, nobody can postpone any election, and we all know the consequence of such a decision on all of us, especially INEC that has spent billions preparing for years. What about the candidates and parties; you can’t quantify the losses,” Olafeso said.

Shortly after the news broke that there was the possibility of postponement, the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, warned the INEC not to fly a dangerous kite, saying that all efforts must be made to ensure that the general election slated for February and March this year is not only held successfully, but that winners must emerge and are sworn in on May 29, as stipulated by relevant laws.

The position was contained in a press statement issued through its National Publicity Secretary, Jare Ajayi in the wake of a comment by the leadership of the INEC that the seeming unabated insecurity may adversely affect the much- expected general election.

“We feel that there is the need to let anyone thinking of postponement or cancellation of the elections that such a thing is and will remain unacceptable, no matter the reason. We recall that in 2015, there was insecurity too to the extent that some local government areas, specifically in Borno State, were in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists. Yet elections were held. There also was insecurity in 2019 and elections were not stopped,” Ajayi said.

Ajayi went further to say that Afenifere felt the need to sound this note of warning so that whoever may be thinking of postponing or altering the elections’ calendar should know that such a thing would not be accepted.

“Most of the time, such kites are on policies or steps that were usually not in the best interest of the Nigerian public. This is why it is very important to clearly sound this note of warning without any ambiguity.

“This is why we are stating clearly that Nigerians are prepared for the elections just as the whole world is awaiting the elections. Nothing whatsoever should alter the schedule or cause its postponement, let alone cancellation.”

Ajayi further noted that the Commission has, so far, demonstrated its commitment to giving the country an election package that will be celebrated positively, adding that it was is in line with various assurances that President Muhammadu Buhari had repeatedly given that this year’s elections will not only hold, but will be free, fair and credible.

“He has also repeatedly expressed his desire to retire to his country home in Daura, Katsina State immediately he hands over on May 29, 2023. Afenifere therefore called on all concerned to ensure that nothing is done to suggest that these assuring words of President Buhari are a veil that could be used by the unscrupulous to hoodwink Nigerians into a false hope,” he added.

With preparation for general election at an advanced stage, Nigerians were thrown into shock last week when the INEC warned that the polls faced the threat of cancellation and postponement if the waves of insecurity in parts of the country are not addressed.

In recent months, INEC had decried waves of attacks on its offices and facilities since releasing data detailing 50 attacks across 15 states, namely: Imo (11), Osun (7), Enugu (5), Akwa Ibom (5), Ebonyi (4), Cross River (4), and Abia (4), Anambra (2), Taraba (2), Kaduna (1), Borno (1), Bayelsa (1), Ondo (1), Lagos (1), and Ogun (1).

Although the Federal Government moves swiftly to allay the fears being expressed by stakeholders, saying there is no cause for alarm, opposition political parties, civil society organisations and regional groups have expressed mixed feelings over the statement of the electoral body.

Similarly, many Nigerians have also heavily criticised the nation’s electoral commission for even contemplating such a move, alleging conspiracy against democracy, by INEC and the Nigerian government.

Some Nigerians have however, spoken in favour of a shift in the 2023 poll, saying that the election should be postponed because the 1999 Constitution under which the 2023 polls will be held cannot produce new leaders with new ideas.

One of the proponents of such an idea is a legal icon and statesman, Afe Babalola, who on several occasions in the last one year called for a shift of the 2023 polls, saying that an interim government should be in office for six months to chart a new course for Nigeria.

Babalola noted that such a government should be drawn from all living presidents and vice presidents, some selected ministers, governors and delegates of prominent professional organisations.

He said it was regrettable that the current 1999 constitution, foisted on Nigeria by the military, was no longer in tune with the realities of the day.

“The same constitution has made politics become not only very attractive, but the only lucrative business in Nigeria today.

“What this means is that any election that holds under the present scenario will end up producing transactional and recycled leaders, with no ability to turn things around,” Babalola said.

Although, across Nigeria as the date for the 2023 polls get closer, and with the security situation not getting better, observers and stakeholders have constantly expressed fears about the implication of the situation on the conduct of the polls, fearing that the situation was capable of jeopardising the exercise.

They warned that the Federal Government must take drastic steps to end the spate of attacks across the country.

In 2011, 2015 and 2019, Nigeria’s general elections were postponed due to various reasons. Observers have, however, said that there was no need to postpone the 2023 poll as the security situation is not worse than in those years.

“Making a comparative analysis of the security situation between now and past years, the situation is still better to have elections conducted now than to postpone,” Kunle Okunade, a political analyst, said.

“Postponement of elections seems to becoming a political norm for the country because the same was prevalent in 2015 and 2019. The situation at hand to a great extent does not warrant the idea of postponing the election by INEC,” he insisted.

Okunade further pointed out that there must be a genuine security report from the military agencies that the country was not safe for the polls to be conducted before it can be postponed.

“One major reason that could warrant such an idea in an election season is the high rate of insecurity. It is only if the security agencies or intelligence gathering bodies come up with a report that they would not be able to ensure protection of lives and property that the electoral body can postpone or cancel the election,” Okunade added.

A cursory look at the various reasons given by INEC for the postponement of previous general elections shows that insecurity was just one of the only reasons.

The commission’s inadequate preparation and ineptitude also played a part in the shift of the previous polls.

For instance, when the general election was postponed in Nigeria in 2011 and 2015, the commission had cited late arrival of voting materials and insecurity, for the reason it postponed the elections it had years to prepare for.

In 2011, voting had commenced in some places when INEC announced postponement.

In the early hours of April 2, 2011, Attahiru Jega, the then INEC Chairman, announced that the scheduled elections would not go on due to unavailability of materials.

At the time, the commission said “the reason for the postponement was the unanticipated emergency we have experienced with late arrival of result sheets in many parts of the country.”

He had also stated that the result sheets were central to the elections and their integrity, stressing that the Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly election to Monday, April 4, 2011.

Read also: No plans to postpone 2023 elections – INEC

The exercises were again postponed to Saturday, April 16, 2011, for the presidential elections and April 26, 2011 for the state Houses of Assembly and governorship elections.

Similarly in 2015, the general election was postponed after the security chiefs called for postponement of the 2015 election.

The difference this time around was that the commission announced the postponement a week ahead of the scheduled time and gave insecurity as its reason.

The commission said since it could not guarantee protection for its personnel and materials, as well as voters during elections, it agreed to adjust the election calendar for Nigeria’s security agencies to tighten loose ends.