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Lest we forget that prediction…


Buhari and Jonathan

Buhari and Jonathan

IT appeared like eternity, as if it would never come to pass, especially when the elections were controversially and unceremoniously rescheduled.

Now, it is only a matter of days — five to be precise — when Nigerians will troop out to participate in the first of a two-legged balloting in the 2015 general elections.

The Presidential and National Assembly elections, the first in the series of voting, come up this Saturday, March 28, after they were suspended from February 14.

Two weeks later, on April 11, the second leg of the elections — for the Governor and House of Assembly seats — will take place. Those contests were also postponed from February 28.

Yet, there is a huge pall of doubt as to the possibility of the elections holding, thanks to a series of events in the past weeks, including allegation of a plan by the government to scuttle the elections, and settle for an interim government.

The government has debunked such a ploy, with President Goodluck Jonathan labeling the alleged contemplation as “treasonable” against the intents and purposes of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Still, the accusation won’t go away.

Similarly, repeated assurances by the electoral umpire — the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) — that the elections would hold won’t suffice to douse the growing apprehension.

Indeed, the electoral body, either by commission or omission, is in the thick of the storm that may derail the smooth transition — the fifth in the democratic dispensation since 1999.   Intrigues are playing out in the open, as regards the credibility and preparedness of INEC to conduct seamless elections, thus giving a leeway to aggrieved elements to canvass the sacking of the commission’s Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega — a situation that could prompt further postponement of the polls.

The proponents of Jega’s ouster took the matter to a new level last week when they staged demonstrations on major roads in Lagos, bearing illegal arms in the presence of security agents.   It was a prelude to what may happen should the protesters and the backers fail in their mission to send Jega out of office, and from the conduct of the elections.

Jega had repeatedly vowed to the readiness of the INEC to deliver an election that would surpass the 2011 polls.   But the lie was given to this avowal barely a week to the February 14 Presidential and National Assembly elections when the commission was discovered to have scarcely crossed the half mark in the distribution — not to talk of actual collection — of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), which entitle voters to present themselves for voting on Election Day.

So, under the cover of absence of security, which the Security Chiefs said the Military wouldn’t be able to provide — as that would be directed towards fighting the Boko Haram insurgents at the same time as the elections would hold; INEC agreed to and announced a postponement of the elections: Presidential and National Assembly polls from February 14 to March 28, and Governorship and House of Assembly elections from February 28 to April 11, 2015.   Despite the hullabaloo that attended those postponements, several eye-openers had since been learned.

• Going by INEC’s revelation, close to 15 million additional PVCs had been distributed/collected in the period under review.

• Tests had been carried out in 12 states in the use of the Card Reader — a hand-held machine that identifies the voter as the owner of the PVC presented for balloting.

• More training had been organised for INEC staff, particularly the Ad-hoc ones, who comprise mainly of present and/or past members of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

• Above all, the Military, according to the promise it made on the threshold of the election rescheduling, has intensified the fight against insurgents in the Northeast of the country where it had recaptured almost 90 per cent of the areas occupied by the mutineers — giving a faint chance that elections could hold in the liberated parts.

Let’s have recourse to a cliché: If INEC were (allowed) to conduct the February elections, as scheduled, it would have been an “unmitigated disaster.”

So, whatever their shortcomings, as human beings, the Military Chiefs, who instigated the postponement of the elections, saved the INEC from itself and Nigeria a huge embarrassment.

But there remains disparity in the distribution and collection of the PVCs across the country, the most troubling being the claim that thousands, if not millions of PVCs were yet to be received by INEC from their producers, both within and outside the country.

For instance, Ogun State, due to the commission’s fault in sorting and distribution of PVCs, had marginally attained 50 per cent of collection as at press time. A bulk of the PVCs in the state was meant for other state(s) and vice versa.

This anomaly, and several others, has opened the INEC to allegation of a deliberate plot to disenfranchise many prospective voters in sections of the country, in order to favour a particular political party at the elections.

Can INEC, and specifically Prof. Jega, come clean with this allegation? Perhaps! But that is only through the conduct of free, fair, transparent and credible polls that satisfy nearly or all democratic parameters.

And the first step to achieving that goal is to ensure that PVCs are available to all eligible and registered voters. Whether they want to collect them and/or vote on Election Day is another matter beyond the ambit of the commission.

A new kind of contest
ALL in all, this year’s elections, principally the presidential contest, are like no other in the history of politicking in Nigeria. The difference is not so much in the number of presidential candidates, but in the acrimonious campaigns between the two leading political parties and their respective flagbearers.

The same spiteful campaigns percolate down the line in the states, with many lives already lost and unaccountable property destroyed in violent confrontations by party roughnecks.

Nigeria has had series of electoral rumpus, resulting primarily from poll heists, such as the ones that took place in the Western Region in the Fist Republic, which the Military capitalised on to come into governance of the country in 1966.

Even after the Civil War between 1967 and 1970, the Military remained in power till 1979, only to return in 1983 on the excuse of civilian misbehaviour, and stayed till 1999 when the current democratic dispensation was ushered in.

During these periods, from the First Republic (1960-1966), Second Republic (1979-1983), Third Republic (1990-1993) and Fourth Republic (1999-till date), elections were held, elections were disputed up to the Supreme Court and elections were annulled (as the Military did to the 1993 presidential poll won by the late Chief MKO Abiola); still Nigeria was never as divided along tribal, sectional and religious fault lines as it is today.

The elections are polarised laterally between the North and South, and Muslims and Christians, while the campaigns are dripping with foul language, venom and bitterness.

The hate campaigns that accompany this election cycle are on display on the streets of the country, typified in the destruction of political opponents’ posters and billboards by hoodlums.

A glaring example was exhibited on Friday (March 20, 2015) on the Idimu dual carriageway in Lagos. By 10am, three of the poster stands of the Buhari/Osinbajo and/or Akinwunmi Ambode (All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in Lagos) campaigns, erected on the median, were observed to have been completely stripped of their photographs and the accompanying messages, leaving bare the planks holding them.

Not even the posters of Buhari, Osinbajo and school children, who the candidates promised to feed daily if elected into office, were spared.   Ironically, some of the posters were in front of a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) mini campaign office, where political mobilising was going on that morning.

Some distance away were poster stands of the governorship candidate of the PDP in Lagos State, Mr. Jimi Agbaje. As at that morning, about six of the posters were torn from the facial region of the photographs, leaving only the exhorting messages to the voters.

However, the worst was to come as the day wore on. It was observed in the evening that many of the Agbaje campaign posters, arranged beautifully to attract the attention and admiration of passersby — and they certainly did attract attention — were defaced in broad daylight.

Similarly, about nine additional poster stands of the Buhari/Osinbajo and Ambode campaigns, three of them in front of the Area Commander’s office of the Nigeria Police, were stripped to the planks left standing or lying on the median.

In all this vandalisation of the campaign messages of political opponents, no one had been brought to account regardless of the sabotage happening in broad daylight, and some in the presence of security operatives.

It only shows the extent of the failings — self-imposed or induced — of the institutions of state, such as the security agencies, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) and the INEC that’s supposed to midwife unblemished elections.

Besides, political leaders, who should preach peace in accordance with the Peace Accords signed among the political parties and their candidates in Abuja, the state capital cities and local government headquarters across the country are, by their actions and body language, the very promoters and breakers of those agreements.

Thus, party followers, many of them easy to fool, take a cue from the utterances and behaviours of their benefactors to unleash mayhem on otherwise law-abiding citizens simply for holding or perceived to be holding contrary views or preferences to those of their paymasters.

In the last count, about 60 people had been killed in the name of Election 2015, and more may go the same way if the situation is not tackled frontally before Saturday.   The signs of the times are, indeed, foreboding to the prediction ascribed to some Americans, years back, that Nigeria could break up in 2015.

Rightly or wrongly, patriotic Nigerians were infuriated, and were quick to shut up the Americans. But from current happenings nationwide, how would you say the forecasters were naysayers?  For now, a war is raging in the Northeast of the country, prompted by people who want to convert Nigeria into a brand of Islamic state, which has no respect for life and human dignity.

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