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When council poll postponement raises dust on the plateau

By Isa Abdusalami Ahovi, Jos
27 February 2018   |   4:26 am
The excuse of unfavourable security reports given by the state government for the sudden postponement of a scheduled local council election after huge preparations and expectations, is not going down well with opposition elements in Plateau who alleged that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was only afraid of defeat. An uneasy calm is pervading…

The excuse of unfavourable security reports given by the state government for the sudden postponement of a scheduled local council election after huge preparations and expectations, is not going down well with opposition elements in Plateau who alleged that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was only afraid of defeat.

An uneasy calm is pervading the political atmosphere of Plateau State following sudden postponement of local council elections scheduled to hold mid-February after all the participating political parties have fully prepared for the exercise.

Although the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) said the poll was postponed because of unfavourable security reports, opposition elements pointed accusing fingers at the All Progressives Congress (APC)-controlled state government, saying the action of the electoral body was suspect.

Signs that the election was not going to be were evident early enough when even two weeks to the exercise, PLASIEC had not put anything on ground to suggest that it was serious with the conduct of the poll.

When questions were raised about the umpire not doing anything about raising awareness of voters about the impending poll, among others, PLASIEC’s Director of Press, Emmanuel Samuel Nanle, told The Guardian, “Elections will hold and as far as government is concerned, there is no reason for its postponement. Activities will certainly be activated as the days come by. Further to this, the political parties are the ones who should do the aggressive voter education and not necessarily PLASIEC. All have been put in place for the election to hold.”

Unconvinced about the commitment of PLASIEC to conduct the exercise, the major opposition platform, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it smelled a rat especially when the law governing the exercise was yet to be signed by the state governor, Simon Lalong.

The PDP, speaking through its state chairman, Damishi Sango, also said “the Voters’ Register (as collected form INEC) is supposed to be on display at least one month before the conduct of the council polls, but with just two weeks to go, this has not yet been done. Therefore, we are not sure of those qualified to cast votes on Election Day.”

It was at this stage of speculations that the electoral body suddenly announced the postponement of the exercise citing security reasons.

Announcing the decision, PLASIEC chairman, Fabian Ari Ntung said, “The general public and particularly stakeholders in the political process in the state are hereby informed that the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) is in receipt of a communication from the Plateau State Security Council stating that the present security atmosphere in the state generally is not conducive for the conduct of the forthcoming local government council election which is scheduled for Saturday, 17th February, 2018.

“Accordingly, it has advised that the election be postponed pending the return to a conducive atmosphere for the conduct of the exercise. In line with the foregoing advice, the Commission wishes to inform the general public, that the local government election is hereby postponed until further notice.”

Ntung also told curious journalists that the commission had been well prepared and fully mobilized towards the conduct of the exercise and that all concerned are assured that as soon as the commission was advised to go ahead, a new date will be announced.

The PDP however described the excuse given for the postponement of the exercise as “not only laughable but most unfortunate.”

According to Sango in a swift response same day, “Here is a state that has returned to peace following the appointment of a Hausa-Fulani as a commissioner in the Lalong administration. It would be recalled that Governor Lalong went on air to tell the whole world that following his appointment of a Hausa-Fulani as a Information Commissioner, peace had returned to the state.

“On January 12th, 2018, while condemning his Benue State counterpart at the Presidential Villa for the killings in the state, Governor Lalong boasted before the President that Plateau state is enjoying peace now. Has the commissioner been sacked? Governor Lalong is enjoying the dividends of democracy but hates democracy. He wants to be enjoying illegality. We cannot challenge this in court because it will continue from the High Court up to the Supreme Court.”

He disclosed that PDP candidates had already paid about N61 million thinking that the government meant business in the plan to conduct the election adding the postponement has given the APC some relief as they were not prepared at all for the elections and they would have been disgraced at the poll, a situation they were trying to avoid by the postponement.

Sango said, “What has suddenly happened to the peace now as being canvassed almost every day by the governor? We find it not only surprising but also embarrassing that PLASIEC is advancing security concerns as the reason for the said postponement of the election.

“It would be recalled that during the Jang administration when we had serious security challenges in the state, local government elections were conducted in all the local government areas with the exception of Jos North and Wase. Furthermore, the 2015 general elections were held in all the local government areas of the state. We now ask: What security challenges can be more intimidating than the Borno State experience where election materials were taken to the IDP camps in 2015 and elections successfully held?”

PDP added the APC administration in the state has either been feeding Nigerians and the people of Plateau State with falsehood regarding the security situation in the state or one excuse has just been manufactured to perpetrate the illegal stay of non-elected officials at the local government level.

“At this point, we wish to reject in totality the reason advanced for the postponement of the elections as it is a calculated attempt to save their faces from the embarrassment that would follow their defeat at the polls. Recall, we have stated time and time again that we are ready for the elections.

“We denounce in very strong terms the perpetuation of undemocratic administration and leadership at the local government level and call on the people of Plateau State to reject the postponement in its entirety as this has further murdered democracy at this tier. We challenge Governor Lalong to tell the public when it will be more conducive for the elections to hold. Elections will be held after the APC perfects its rigging machinery. It is very unfortunate.”

Speaking in the same vein, Action Democratic Party (ADP) chairman, Ambassador Nanyak Daman, said the party was contemplating suing PLASIEC for the postponement because there is peace everywhere.

According to Daman, “Political parties in the state are not fighting against one another, no curfew was in the offing and security was not openly threatened. Are there signs that the state will be invaded from outside the state? Or are Plateau communities fighting one another? Or are the party candidates and supporters clashing at campaign rallies?”

However state chairman of APC, Latep Dabang said that they were all handicapped as far as issues of security are concerned adding that human beings should not be sacrificed because of local government elections as elections are not held only to lose lives of human beings.

According to Dabang, security operatives should even be commended for the early warning that the exercise should not be held for security concerns. He said it was even a divine intervention for the security agencies to have alerted them not to go ahead with the elections, stressing that security issues should not be handled with levity. Expectedly, he supported the postponement in totality.

Investigations by The Guardian however revealed that the outcome of the exercise in Jos North local council was actually the reason why the elections in all the 17 councils were postponed.

Inhabited mainly by the politically conscious Hausa-Fulani settlers who provided massive support for the emergence of Lalong as governor in 2015, there were fears that in a straight election, one of them will emerge as the chairman of the council.

Although Lalong had compensated the Hausa-Fulani by appointing one of them into his cabinet, a win by them, which is possible because of their political consciousness and population strength in Jos North, would raise ethnic tension in the state.

A source close to one of the two major political parties told The Guardian that if council elections are conducted 100 times, the Hausa-Fulani will win 100 times in free and credible elections, but because the governor knows that ethnic tensions would be raised, he had to postpone the exercise.

The source said that the elections would have been conducted in other councils without Jos North, but that the governor, by excluding the area would not be fair to the settlers.

Besides, the source added that since the creation of Plateau State, Jos the state capital has always been manned by natives as elected chairmen and that Lalong would not want to be the first governor to superintend an election that would produce a settler as chairman.

“So, to prevent himself from the dilemma of hurting the Hausa-Fulani by denying them victory or incurring the wrath of the natives, the governor had to postpone the election,” the source said.