Reacting to the proposal by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki, for a postponement of next month’s polls, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said on Thursday that it was not contemplating any shift in the date for the general election.
Dasuki had at a forum in London earlier in the day called for a deferment of the polls in order to give INEC more time to distribute millions of biometric ID cards to voters.
Dasuki said he had told the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, that a postponement within the three months allowed by the law would be a good idea, Reuters reported.
However, INEC’s Director for Voter Education and Publicity, Wale Uzzi, told THISDAY on Thursday that there was no plan so far to shift the polls.
He said: “There is no communication to that effect, and in any case, we are preparing seriously for the election.
“As you can see, there is nothing to suggest that there is any plan to shift the general election. From what we know, the conduct of the general election is in top gear.”
Also, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu, told THISDAY that there was no communication to that effect from any quarter.
He also questioned Dasuki’s claim that 30 million PVCs had not been collected by the electorate, saying, “Where are the 30 million Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs)? There are no 30 million PVCs that are yet to be collected. Eligible voters are busy collecting their PVCs in local government areas where they registered.”
Dasuki’s statement also drew sharp reactions from the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), its presidential candidate, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who rejected the proposal by the NSA, warning that under no circumstances must the elections be scuttled.
The elections, scheduled for February, will be the first where Nigeria's 68.8 million voters must have biometric cards — a measure introduced to guard against fraud that has plagued past polls.
But there have been technical glitches in data collection and officials have not explained how they will hold the election in parts of the North-east gripped by a violent uprising by Islamist Boko Haram rebels.
Dasuki, speaking at London think-tank Chatham House, said INEC had distributed 30 million cards in the past year but had another 30 million to hand out.
He said INEC had assured him it would achieve this on time for the February elections, but he thought it would make more sense to take more time, as there is a 90-day window during which the election could legally take place.
“It costs you nothing, it’s still within the law,” Dasuki said he had told the INEC chairman.
Dasuki said it was for INEC and not for him to decide.
“Why are they not ready? Why should we postpone? We say 'no' to postponement,” Lai Mohammed, spokesman of APC, told Reuters.
“They know that if they don't postpone they can't win. They are just terrified.”
‘Some Troops are Cowards’
Also, the London-based Guardian newspaper said Dasuki rejected suggestions that some Nigerian troops who had been overrun by Boko Haram were ill-equipped, blaming instead “recruitment problems”.
He blamed cowardice for the army’s failure to protect civilians from attacks by Boko Haram extremists, saying some soldiers had joined up because they wanted a job, but were not willing to fight.
He rejected suggestions that the Nigerian garrison in the town of Baga, overrun by Boko Haram at the beginning of the month, had been under-equipped, pointing to the substantial arsenal seized by the attackers and displayed by Abubakar Shekau in a video claiming responsibility.
Dasuki disclosed that the list of equipment lost in Baga included six armoured cars with 4,000 rounds of heavy ammunition in each, as well as artillery pieces.
“Anyone who is saying that they are not well armed is not telling the truth,” the NSA said.
“We had a lot of cowards, and it turned out there was a problem in the recruitment process… There were a lot of people who joined because they wanted a job, not because they wanted a career in the military. These are the people who ran away,” he added.
Dasuki said that the shortcomings in army recruitment were being fixed, and that the army was now going through retraining, with British assistance.
He added that two British-trained army units had helped recapture Mubi in Adamawa State, taken by Boko Haram last October.
He said he was confident the army could be reformed and retrained.
“We have not only laid the blame on the soldiers. We have put officers on trial who have shown very poor judgment,” Dasuki insisted.
But he also had a clear message for the rank and file: “If you don’t want to fight, get out of the army. Don’t make excuses saying that you’re poorly equipped.”
The NSA admitted that the last major procurement of equipment for the army was more than two decades ago, but he stressed that sophisticated equipment was not essential for counter-insurgency.
Dasuki also pointed out that Baga, a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad, was meant to have been the headquarters of a regional multinational force, but the contingents from Niger, Chad and Cameroun had not arrived, leaving the Nigerians in the town to fight on their own.
He said Nigeria was taking a “holistic” approach to the counter-insurgency, looking at the political and social causes of radicalisation.
He estimated that 70 per cent to 80 per cent of Boko Haram fighters were from the Kanuri, an indigenous group with ancient roots in North-eastern Nigeria, who have since been eclipsed by the Hausa and Fulani people.
NSA: Polls Will be Successful, Violence-free
However, in a contradictory statement issued by PR Nigeria, a media advisory for government security agencies, Dasuki was quoted as assuring his audience in London Thursday that the February general election would be successful and violence-free.
Dasuki said: “The 2015 elections are expected to be relatively peaceful and violence-free. The federal government has taken all necessary measures to ensure this by making adequate provisions for INEC, security agencies and by supporting numerous sensitisation programmes.”
He admitted that there was anxiety in certain quarters about whether elections would hold in the North-east and the ability of the government to ensure that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) would be able to vote but affirmed in the positive.
“Our answer to both of those is yes. As far as is possible, we are determined that adequate security will be in place to enable elections in all the areas in the North-east that are safe, and that the IDPs will be provided with the opportunity to exercise their vote,” he explained.
The NSA commended the emergence of a strong opposition in the polity, saying it was a sign of the growing maturity of the country’s democracy.
“The emergence of a seemingly viable opposition, as well as the closeness of the race is a clear demonstration of our maturing democracy.
"Greater voter awareness also means that people are more engaged in the electoral process and determined to protect their right to vote. We on our part are doing all we can to ensure that every Nigerian who wants to vote is able to and that their vote will count,” he informed his audience.
Speaking on the theme: “Nigeria’s Insecurity: Insurgency, Corruption, Elections and the Management of Multiple Threats”, Dasuki demonstrated that Nigeria’s insecurity challenges were both local and global but challenged the international community to show the same and commensurate concern to the rising terrorism in parts of Nigeria as it does in other parts of the world.
He said that while Nigeria “continues to face the debilitating effects of corruption, we have taken steps to build strong institutions and strengthen our laws in addressing it. As we continue to do this, we call on the global community to further address the corrupting influence of big companies and rich countries”.
He also told his audience that successive elections in Nigeria had improved and the lessons learnt in 2011 were now being practised in preparation towards the 2015 elections.
“INEC has a strong team and government has ensured adequate funding and capacity enhancement while putting in place strong coordination mechanisms between the electoral body and other stakeholders.
“It is my firm belief that Nigeria will emerge stronger, manage her threats better and improve on governance. We are taking these careful but sure steps at the moment. The terrorist threat has focused us on the right path.
“We have developed a new national security strategy that puts our people at the heart of our efforts, a national counter-terrorism strategy that employs both hard and soft power and an economic revitalisation plan that will bring succour to those most vulnerable and those affected by violence.
“We continue to reach out to members of the international community to stand with us as we strive to build a united and prosperous country,” he concluded.
APC, Buhari, Atiku Kick
But APC in a statement yesterday rejected the call by the NSA for the postponement of the elections, ostensibly to give INEC more time to distribute PVCs.
The party warned that under no circumstances must the elections be scuttled.
The National Publicity Secretary, Mohammed, said the call by Dasuki had exposed the clandestine plot by the Jonathan administration to push for the postponement of the polls, using all sorts of cheap tricks.
“Now that we have found the smoking gun, we are urging the international community, in particular, to urgently extract a commitment from President Goodluck Jonathan that the elections will hold as scheduled next month, and that he would respect the outcome, just as we have said,” APC said.
APC accused Dasuki of trying to buy time for the sluggish Jonathan electioneering to gather steam by hinging his postponement call on the delay in PVC distribution, adding: “They know for sure that if they don’t postpone the elections, there is no way they can win. They are just terrified.”
The party also called on Nigerians to reject in its entirety the ongoing orchestrated plot by the Jonathan administration to postpone the elections, saying the constitutional crisis that will be triggered by such postponement was capable of undermining the nation's democracy.
“After realising it will be rejected by Nigerians who have borne the brunt of its mis-governance over the years, after realising that its campaign of calumny against our presidential candidate has failed, the Jonathan administration has now started to play its last card, which is the postponement of the election,” it said.
APC said the importance of elections could not be over-emphasised, adding that the elections are the lifeblood of democracies, the mechanism by which modern representative democracies operate.
“It is the only way for the citizenry to renew and refresh the governing process so they can get the most benefits out of democracy. Therefore, anyone that tries to sabotage this mechanism is aiming a dagger straight at the heart of democracy,” it said.
The party accused the Jonathan administration of using all the tricks in the books to scuttle the forthcoming polls, including the plot to hide under the insurgency in the North-east, the needless controversy over the secondary school leaving certificate of its presidential candidate, the concocted report by the DSS alleging a plan to hack into INEC's database and the fabricated report of Buhari's ill-health.
Similary, Buhari and Atiku yesterday rejected any plan to move the February general election forward.
Speaking through his campaign organisation, Buhari said he was opposed to the plot by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to postpone next month’s general election as was canvassed by the NSA.
In a statement by the organisation’s spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, he said such a proposal as being contemplated was ill-advised.
“We smelled the plot that this unpopular PDP-led federal government would do anything to stay put in power, elongation of tenure has always been on the president’s agenda; no wonder he and his party want the election delayed or cancelled outright to effect an extension of their lacklustre administration,” Shehu said.
“Gone are the days when a few persons can hold the destiny of our dear nation to ransom. In fact, Nigerians would have called for an earlier election than February if our political system was parliamentary, for Jonathan’s government is worse than a rotten egg.
“It is smelly, full of sleaze, neck deep in corruption and uncaring. Two vital organs of government have downed tools for nearly two months – the health and judicial sectors and he does not give a damn!
“The nation’s currency (naira) is plummeting daily in value, the oil sector in virtually comatose, the economy runs on a deficit, unemployment skyrocketing, insecurity on the loose, decaying infrastructure, and a loss of sound national image.
“Nigerians have never had it so bad. Hence, any delay or postponement of the elections amounts to testing the patience of the people. We are all tired of a corrupt government, one full of ineptitude, incompetence and lack of ideas. Nobody can scuttle our hard-earned democracy in Nigeria,” he said.
Also, the former vice-president and chieftain of the APC said that the general election should hold as scheduled next month, and that government must not tinker with the option of postponing the timelines for the elections.
“Yes, we have a problem with the distribution of PVCs but the position of my party, the APC, is that since we have a voters’ register then that should be used in conducting the elections.
“I also believe there is enough time between now and the elections to issue everyone with their PVCs,” Atiku said shortly on arrival in the country.
The former vice-president, who landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja yesterday after a medical vacation trip, said the statement by Dasuki was uncalled for and portends a dangerous signal about the intentions of the federal government to conduct a free, fair and credible poll in February.
CSO Rejects Calls for Postponement
In the same breath, a civil society organisation, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (Situation Room), rejected the call by Dasuki for the postponement of the 2015 general election.
In a statement signed by a Senior Programme Officer at the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Agianpe Ashang, the orgnanisation expressed concern over the proposal for the postponement of the general election.
The Situation Room described the NSA’s statement as an unnecessary interference in the independence of INEC as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution, stating that dates for the elections could only be set by INEC.
The statement read: “Prof. Attahiru Jega, in a recent meeting with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) assured that every effort would be made to ensure that intending voters collect their PVCs before the February elections.
“The Situation Room called on the political parties and civic groups including religious organisations, labour unions, etc, to mobilise citizens to pick up their PVCs in the centres designated by INEC.
“The Situation Room called on INEC to put in place every measure to ensure unhindered and speedy distribution of any outstanding and uncollected PVCs.
“We continue to urge INEC to update the public on PVC distribution in states that have been most impacted by delays.”
The group called on Nigerians to go out en masse to collect their PVCs, and prepare to cast their votes for candidates of their choice in the upcoming elections.