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Zikirullahi: No Excuse For Polls Postponement

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Zikirullahi--

Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi is the Chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of over 460 civil society organisations. In this interview with ARMSFREE AJANAKU, he puts forward TMG’s reasoning behind civil society’s rejection of the calls for postponement of the 2015 general elections.

Why are some civil society groups against postponement of the 2015 pools, when a shift is still within the law and there are PVCs to be distributed?

THE distribution of PVC is essentially the responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC has consistently and persistently informed the nation that the distribution is doable and they can distribute PVCs before the elections. INEC has worked out modalities for this distribution. Even from TMG’s pre-election reports across the 774 LGAs, where TMG has its structures, the report reaching us is that largely, very few are yet to collect their PVCs. 

  So, if we go by the estimation, less than five million people out of 68.8million voters are yet to collect their PVCs. Apart from that, the responsibility of producing PVCs and having designated venues for distribution is the responsibility of INEC. 

  INEC cannot force people out of their bedrooms to come and collect their cards. Even some of the people who are to pick up their cards, whether they still exist or not, we cannot tell. Don’t forget that Boko Haram have been wreaking havoc in the North East. 

     And so we cannot heap the blame solely at the doorsteps of INEC. That begs the question about when INEC budget was finally released by the Federal Government. As I speak to you, the necessary laws that INEC has initiated to improve on the 2015 general elections are still pending before the National Assembly. So, while INEC may have shortcomings in the distribution of PVCs, we don’t think it is right at this moment in time to be calling for any postponement of the general elections. 

  For us at TMG, the National Security Adviser is only speaking for himself because he has one vote, he is not speaking for Nigerians. With his position as NSA, what we want to hear from him is the release of Chibok girls, and that Boko Haram have been pushed out of Nigeria. What we want to hear from the NSA are the plans he has to secure life and property in Nigeria. 

  It is not for him to dabble into politics and make that kind of call. The call for postponement is uncalled for and we reject it in its entirety because we know he is not speaking for anybody in this country. The office of the NSA has not benefitted the Nigerian people; rather it has further created insecurity in Nigeria. I say so because since his appointment, it has been killings upon killings. 

 So what does TMG make of the discordant tunes emanating from the government, especially as the President has since distanced himself from the call for postponement claiming not to have authorised it?

    It could be out of over zealousness in trying to please his master. But we really want to see how the statement of the Presidency in saying he wasn’t speaking for them, would match their action. The NSA’s statement is putting unnecessary pressure on the electoral body. All we need do now is for the security agencies, the Presidency, political parties and civil society to give adequate support to INEC to enable it pull through this transition.

We hear that INEC has already started distributing the card readers; this is no doubt an innovation to prevent rigging, but it has not been tested. The INEC guidelines provide that if the card reader malfunctions and cannot be replaced by 1pm on Election Day, the polls should be shifted to the following day. So, those arguing for postponement now are of the view that we should get everything right so that we don’t have these pockets of issues on that day… 

  From the analysis given by INEC during the meeting with civil society, we were told that instead of 120,000 polling unit card readers originally to be procured, they had ordered 180,000 card readers meaning that they have an excess of over 50,000as backup. In the event of any mishap, these back up card readers will come handy. 

      We live in a society where we have problems like epileptic electricity and we cannot blame it on INEC. We have problems of insecurity in the country and many other challenges.   So we have to think through these challenges and come up with a solution. What this means is that we should have a Plan B in the event we fail in any regard. If a polling unit has a problem and they could not deploy the card reader on time, simply because of logistics, those voters would be requested to vote the next day. 

  If not for the way our country is, we have seen elections in other countries and how on Election Day, you leave your office and cast your vote. In our own case, we are hampered by the way our society is structured. That is why we must always think of an alternative and it would have been foolish on the part of INEC not to think of alternatives. That however does not in any way call for the postponement of election.

So, TMG’s position is in tandem with the United States’ recent call for the elections to hold as scheduled? 

   Yes, and one thing we must also understand is that the United States has a well-organised system. It is not like Nigeria where anything happens or anything goes. Here, we do things with impunity. This is the type of society we find ourselves in. So for America to have said no to postponement of election, they must have seen far beyond us and they must have weighed the gravity of postponing the elections. 

     They must have known that the consequences of postponing would be far dangerous than having it and that is why they gave their candid advice. It is for us now to take that advice and work with it. Just like in the past when they talked to us about issues like the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections, we refused to heed their advice and the consequences were bad. 

Let’s move on to the issue of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in the states under emergency rule in the North East, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete road map in terms of how people who had to move away from areas under the control of the insurgents would vote, meaning a large number of IDPs would be disenfranchised…

  I don’t agree with that assertion, because INEC has worked out special centres for IDPs within a given state to vote. They are being given some special concession as far as the voting process is concerned. The only thing INEC has said is that it wouldn’t be possible for them to get those who have moved out of their respective states to vote. For those who have moved out of their respective states, what is expected is for them to do a transfer and if that is not done, then it would be difficult for them to vote.

  Then we know that what we are seeing today is not the creation of INEC, if our government was up and doing, those areas we have said we can’t conduct elections would have been secured for us. It is even a shame on the part of the government to say they have ceded some Local Government Areas (LGAs) to Boko Haram. 

  So when we talk of Nigeria today, it means the 774 LGAs recognised by the constitution have changed. We ought to begin to amend because some LGAs have been ceded and if put together the number of LGAs ceded to Boko Haram, you will find that they are more than two states. 

    There are some states in this country that have 12 LGAs, while some have just eight LGAs. And we are talking about 30 L.G.As that have been ceded to Boko Haram. 

     Nigeria is a peculiar state, where we don’t plan. I was in Liberia in 2011 to observe the Presidential Elections under the Carter Centre, we travelled from Monrovia down to a county. The driver who took us registered in Monrovia, the capital, but he was able to vote in another state. If that is happening in Liberia, why can’t we do it here? 

  But we find that the National Assembly out of selfish interest will make one law and guard it in a way that it will be of their own interest. So if we have had a robust electoral law that permits that wherever you are, you can vote, then we won’t be talking about IDPs today. Wherever they are, if they are so interested in voting, they will go out and simply cast their vote. Whether you travel to Lagos, Sokoto or Nnewi, you will be able to vote as a citizen of this country. But because of the way we keep playing ethnic and tribal politics of ‘you don’t belong here’, we will refuse to promote national consciousness, citizenship and patriotism.

  It is really absurd what we experience in this country. It’s not just the IDPs. For example, TMG will be fielding over 15,000 observers in this election across the country. What that means is that those 15,000 observers will not vote. I registered in Kano, but I will be working at the Quick Count Election Observation National Information Centre in Abuja on E-Day. It then means I cannot vote. I have my Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), but because I am not in my location of registration, I cannot vote. So also the 15,000 we are posting across the country. That’s the trouble we are having in this country and so until we begin to make things right, we will continue to have these challenges and then we will see those who have created the bubbles, then wanting to take advantage of those hiccups to begin to call for postponement, we find it unacceptable.

Finally to the problem of violence; we are now seeing very dangerous manifestations of violence and a lot of hate speeches in the electoral environment; the stoning of campaign convoys, clashes among party supporters and threats from even militants are becoming rife. TMG has been observing the election environment, using the Quick Count structure? How do you assess these problems?

  It takes a few to change things in a society, but if you have a leader that doesn’t have a political will to deal with issues that are militating against due process, definitely what we are seeing today would be the case. 

     We talk about corruption today and we have the people that are saddled with the responsibility that ought to be fighting corruption. But they look the other way, except it is the case of a common man who steals a goat and is then made to spend the rest of his life in prison. But those stashing away our billions walk free in the country. They even steal with police escorts and whenever they are visiting their hometown, crowds are hired to celebrate them. So we have a system and a government that condones corruption and impunity. With a system like that, all these things happening today are bound to happen. 

       What we at the TMG expect from the candidates is their perspectives on the issues affecting Nigerians. We want to see how they can deliver their promises over a period of time so we can track those promises. We need them to give us indicators to measure achievements they intend to make within a stipulated time.



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