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Anxiety as Council of State discusses INEC’s readiness, calls for polls shift

By Madu Onuorah, Adamu Abuh, Karls Tsokar, Oludare Richards (Abuja) and Njadvara Musa (Maiduguri)
04 February 2015   |   10:54 pm
• APC asks body to reject postponement  • Military denies alleged plan for interim  president  • Condemns campaign mocking Defence chief, • Warns against dragging institution into politics  • British envoy seeks credible, violence-free polls  INDICATIONS have emerged that today’s meeting of the National Council of State is billed to be tough as the nation’s…

Attahiru-Jega

• APC asks body to reject postponement 

• Military denies alleged plan for interim  president 

• Condemns campaign mocking Defence chief,

• Warns against dragging institution into politics 

• British envoy seeks credible, violence-free polls 

INDICATIONS have emerged that today’s meeting of the National Council of State is billed to be tough as the nation’s highest advisory body deals with allegations that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not ready for the conduct of the February 14, 2015 elections and subsequent calls for the postponement of the polls.

    Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has asked members of the National Council of State not to accept any proposal seeking to postpone the presidential election.

     In a related development, the Nigerian Army has denied knowledge of a purported plan to install the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Maj-Gen. Kenneth Minimah as an interim president of the country if the All Progressives Congress (APC) wins the presidential elections. 

   Also, the military has condemned campaign advertorials hypothetically seeking to ridicule the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and efforts of the armed forces in the fight against insurgents and other security challenges. It has described the development as an “unjust objective of tarnishing the reputation of the leadership and individual officers of the nation’s military.”

   Also, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr. Andrew Pocock, has called for a credible election in the country, stressing that poorly conducted polls could create severe problems and grave implications for the nation’s image. 

   The meeting, convened and statutorily presided by the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, also included the Vice-President, all former Presidents or Heads of State, all former Chief Justices of Nigeria, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, governors of the 36 states of the federation and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.

   One of the key responsibilities of the body is to advise the President in the exercise of his powers with respect to the INEC,  including the appointments of members of the commission.

   The Council is billed to review preparations for the elections by INEC and the nation’s security agencies and whether the electoral body is really ready for the elections, especially with allegations that contracts for printing of ballot papers for the February 14 presidential election were awarded last Monday. 

   The Council will hear from the INEC chairman the true state of affairs, especially if the ballot papers would be made ready and actually arrive in Nigeria on time for the February 14 polls.

  In the last one week, calls for the postponement of the elections have been strident from politicians and some civil society groups, hinging on the inability of INEC to distribute enough Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to registered voters.

  Already, 16 of the registered political parties and five of the 14 presidential candidates on Tuesday called for the postponement of the February 14 elections, threatening to boycott the polls if their opinions were not respected.

 The parties included the United Democratic Party, the Citizen Peoples Party, the Peoples Party of Nigeria, the Action Alliance, the Peoples Democratic Congress, the Labour Party; and Unity Party of Nigeria.

  Others are the Alliance for Democracy, the Democratic Peoples Party, the New Nigerian Peoples Party, the Peoples Party of Nigeria and the Independent Democrat.

 The five presidential candidates at the briefing were Godson Okoye, Sam Okoye, C.O. Allagoe, Tunde Anifowose and Ganiu Galadima.

 The APC and allied groups have opposed any postponement of the elections, accusing the Presidency and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of engineering the agitation. Both groups have, however, denied the charge.

  INEC had, however, insisted that there would be no postponement of the elections.

   Indications in Abuja has emerged that as at Tuesday, INEC had distributed just over 44 million Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) but that over 90% of the PVCs are in the states awaiting collection.

 In today’s meeting of the Council, it is expected that governors on the platform of the APC are ready to bang the tables if that will help them win the argument against postponement. The party believes that it is enjoying momentum and that it will win the presidential election as scheduled, which is why all the party organs and campaign machinery are in top gear to ensure the election date remains sacrosanct.

  But indications also showed that the direction of the decision on delaying the next week Saturday’s elections or not will depend on how plausible the information supplied by the INEC chairman to the august body could be.

   As one source told The Guardian, “what is going on here is the determination by the Presidency to ensure that the organisation of the elections is credible and is not bungled by late arrival of materials or mass disenfranchisement of large number of Nigerians. In the process, if in the course of ensuring this, the  President gets some mileage or breathing space to win the elections, so be it. But the President’s decision to table the issue is routine and helps the Council to take full responsibility for the outcome of the organisation instead of the blame going to him if it fails.”

   The party reaffirmed its commitment to fully participate in the general elections on February 14 and 28 as planned, adding that it will not accept any postponement.

   “APC is aware that the Presidency may attempt to drag members of the Council of State into its efforts to postpone the elections during its scheduled meeting today. Members of the Council of State are Nigerians who are held in very high esteem, and their involvement in a project that damages the democratic process will be a serious disservice to our national assets and leaders”.

   Addressing a press conference in Abuja yesterday, the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun said the opposition party  had faith in the distinguished members of the Council of State, and would advise them not to become tools in the hand of an administration that wants to subvert our fragile democratic process. 

  He said INEC should be allowed to perform its duties without overbearing interference from other institutions of state and the evil machinations of the PDP.

   When asked what would be his party’s response if INEC decided to bow to pressures to shift the election date, Oyegun said: “If INEC changes its position on the postponement and gives reasons for the new date, the party will sit down and consider it  before responding”.

   The party said it was encouraged by the fact that INEC has restated in clear and unambiguous terms its determination and ability to conduct the elections as planned.

  In a statement, the Department of Army Public Relations (DAPR) said yesterday that the line of reasoning was not only capable of dividing the Nigerian Army by creating disaffection among its ranks but could also erode public confidence in the military, as such “will not be tolerated and the masterminds of these campaigns of calumny are advised to desist from their nefarious activities forthwith.”

  The statement signed by the acting Director Army Public Relations Col. Sani Usman indicates that the group behind the buzz of the purported plot is the same that “wrote a petition to the president making all sorts of unfounded allegations,” using a stolen identity of a lieutenant colonel, but were later found to be untrue.

  “The latest effort by the same groups and their collaborators is the sensational and outrageous claim that Minimah is preparing to assume the leadership of this country through an interim government, in the event that the opposition party wins the 2015 general elections at the federal level. 

  “This is dangerous, condemnable and a great disservice, given the tremendous sacrifices of the Nigerian Army in support of democracy in our nation.”

  He further stated: “These efforts are renewed attempts by the same faceless groups who since last year have made futile efforts to politicise ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations of the Nigerian Army and other security agencies.

  “Unfortunately for these individuals, their efforts which are reminiscent of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) days are obviously aimed at reversing the gains made and the renewed efforts in fighting terrorism and insurgency in the country are failing woefully.”

  While debunking the online report that two Major-Generals of the Nigerian Army have tendered their resignation letters after disagreeing with the COAS, the statement said “there has been no resignation whatsoever in the Army on account of the disagreement with the Chief of Army Staff.” 

  The statement also refuted the story that some soldiers of the Operation Zaman Lafiya wrote a letter to complain of their welfare and other issues.

  “The Army is conscious and committed to its subordination to constituted civil authorities. Politicians and their agents and agencies should please desist from attempts to drag the Nigerian Army into their political issues.” 

  A statement yesterday by the Director Defence Information (DDI) Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade said that the media campaign by a political party aimed at getting some political leverage over the opponent was insensitive as it “is divisive and aimed at the morale and cohesion in the nation’s Armed Forces.”

  According to the statement: “The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) views with strong exception the political campaign advert…targeting the person and office of the CDS, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh for denigration. In the said advert, vile references were made about the chief’s leadership of the ongoing counter terrorism operation in some parts of the country…The advert is simply typical of the now very common use of the media to propagate the campaign of attacking or ridiculing the Nigerian Armed Forces all with the intention of scoring political points,” it  said.

  While emphasizing that the issues being raised in the said adverts were long clarified by the DHQ as efforts as also being upped towards effective prosecution of the fight against Boko Haram, Olukolade said: “It is therefore unfortunate that a lot of fabrications, exaggeration, misrepresentation of facts and outright falsehood are being disseminated to achieve this unjust objective of tarnishing the reputation of the leadership and individual officers of the nation’s military, all with the aim of getting at the government of the day.

  “It is rather disappointing that some politicians are yet to understand the need to separate sensitive national security issues from their zealous political activities. It is, to say the least, very unbecoming of any political party to drag the name and office of a serving Chief of Defence Staff into their political campaigns.

  “This tendency is divisive and aimed at the morale and cohesion in the nation’s Armed Forces. Those who are so desperate to drag the military into political campaigns should realise that no political party or politician should hope to benefit from any effort to destroy the fabric of the nation’s military.” 

  It also restated that as a Federal Government institution owned by Nigeria, it does not belong nor work for any political party.

   “The DHQ therefore urges politicians to always know when and where to draw the lines and keep the military out of their political machinations,” he added.

  Pocock made the call on Tuesday at the hosting of the graduates and alumni of the British Government’s Chevening Scholarship Scheme held at the British High Commissioner’s residence.

  He noted the measures put in place by the British Government to ensure peaceful polls in Nigeria.

  He said: “We are trying to do a number of things. We are not doing it just by ourselves, we are doing it with international friends of Nigeria. We are first of all trying to help the process of this election.”

  He further stressed: “We say to everyone, we are not involved with the politics of this election. That is for the Nigerian electorate. But the process, which means helping the electoral commission where we can, talking to the media, talking to the parties about non-violence, about the need for a credible and transparent election process.” 

  He continued: “We are bringing in observers in from the European Union (EU), which the UK is a part. Some other countries are doing the same as well.

  So, helping to bolster the election process and the electoral commission, talking about non-violent and credible elections and bringing in international observers, these are contributions to producing an electoral process that we hope will result in credible elections and a government that emerges with a genuine mandate.”

  He added: “Ultimately, the responsibility for a credible and peaceful elections rests very much with Nigerians.  It also rests with the political parties and their leaders and with the supporters of those parties. The most the international community can do is to help the people of goodwill here including the civil societies, which is very active. We cannot make the election happen in a particular way, only Nigerians can do that.

  “My message to Nigerians is this: This election is very important for your country. It is a chance to move Nigeria’s democracy onto a new level. If it works in that way, that is a huge success. If however it goes wrong or violent or is not properly conducted, the difficulties it will create within Nigeria are severe, and the complications that it creates for Nigeria’s image in the outside world with investors, friendly governments, etcetera, are also severe. This is a very important time. Nigeria’s friends want to help but can only help if Nigeria helps itself.”

  He also implored youths to steer clear from being used as tools for violence during elections. He advised the youths to rather seek productive avenues to direct their energies.