By Tunde Olowu.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria has announced the shifting of the February 14 presidential/national elections in the country by six weeks.
Also shifted were the governorship and /house of assembly polls originally fixed for February 28.
The INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega who made the announcement while briefing the media in Abuja at about 11pm on Saturday said the presidential/ and national assembly elections will now take place on March 28, to be followed on April 11 by the governorship/and state assembly polls.
Attahiru Jega told journalists that the cancellation of the elections was made after separate meetings with Federal and Resident Electoral Commissioners, the political parties and civil society groups in Abuja.
This development is taking place after President Goodluck Jonathan had tabled before the Council of State, at its meeting last week, a six week shift of the elections on account of the security challenge in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
Jega said the elections postponement was necessitated by security concern, denying insinuations that the commission was coerced nor forced to shift the polls.
He said the shift became inevitable because of advise from security agencies and there was no way INEC could expose over 600,000 Ad hoc staff and others to danger,denying insinuations that he was acting a particular script on behalf of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or holding any secret meeting with the Arewa Consultative Forum to ensure victory for any candidate.
He said: ” It should be noted that this rescheduling falls within the constitutional framework for the conduct of the elections, notably, Sections 76(2), 116(2), 132(2) and 178(2). See also Section 25 of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended).
“For the avoidance of doubt, we will under no circumstances approve an arrangement that is not in line with the provisions of our laws.
“Our hope is that with this rescheduling, the security services will do their best to ensure that the security environment needed for safe and peaceful conduct of the 2015 elections is rapidly put in place.”
Explaining the circumstances which led to the postponement of the elections, he said: “Last Wednesday, which was a day before the Council of State meeting, the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) wrote a letter to the Commission, drawing attention to recent developments in four Northeast states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe currently experiencing the challenge of insurgency. The letter stated that security could not be guaranteed during the proposed period in February for the general elections.
“This advisory was reinforced at the Council of State meeting on Thursday where the NSA and all the Armed Services and Intelligence Chiefs unanimously reiterated that the safety and security of our operations cannot be guaranteed, and that the Security Services needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgency in the North-East; and that during this operation, the military will be concentrating its attention in the theatre of operations such that they may not be able to provide the traditional support they render to the Police and other agencies during elections.
“We have done wide ranging consultation to enable us have as much input as is necessary before taking an informed decision.
“The Commission held a meeting after the consultations, and decided to take the advice of the Security Chiefs and adjust the dates of the elections. We have done this relying on Section 26(1) of the Electoral 2010 (As Amended), which states thus:
“Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable”.
“INEC not being a security agency that could by itself guarantee protection for personnel and materials, as well as voters during elections, the Commission cannot lightly wave off the advice by the nation’s Security Chiefs.
“The Commission is specifically concerned about the security of our ad hoc staff who constitute at least 600,000 young men and women, together with our regular staff, voters, election observers as well as election materials painstakingly acquired over the last one and half years.
“This concern is limited not just to the areas in the North-eastern part of Nigeria experiencing insurgency; the risk of deploying young men and women and calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility. Under such circumstances, few EMBs across the world, if any, would contemplate proceeding with the elections as scheduled.
“No matter the extent of INEC’s preparedness, therefore, if the security of personnel, voters, election observers and election materials cannot be guaranteed, the life of innocent young men and women as well the prospects of free, fair, credible and peaceful elections would be greatly jeopardized.
Jega reassured Nigerians and the international community that INEC would still conduct a free and fair poll,begging Nigerians to accept the poll shift in good
National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress,APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in a statement said: “The news of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) postponement of the elections by six weeks on the strength of a letter by the security chiefs that they cannot provide security for the elections nationwide because of the commitment of its resources to fight insurgency in the north eastern part of the country is clearly a major setback for Nigerian democracy, and our Party is meeting in emergency session to study its implications and will inform Nigerians of its decisions in the next few days.
“In the meantime though what has happened is highly provocative, I strongly appeal to all Nigerians to remain calm and desist from violence and any activity which will compound this unfortunate development. We must not fall into this obvious trap. Change we must. They can only delay it; no one can stop it.
“I want to assure all Nigerians that the All Progressives Congress will not abandon its commitment to change and will sustain the struggle to establish a new Nigeria.”Oyegun stressed.
Meanwhile,The Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Organisation (PDPPCO) in welcoming the postponement of the elections said it was “in the best interest of deepening democracy and in the national interest.”
The Director of Media and Publicity of the PDPPCO, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, said INEC “must be commended for showing the courage to shift the elections after acknowledging the fact that its state of preparedness was not 100 per cent.”
“Since this decision has been taken in the interest of deepening democracy and in national interest, we accept it in good faith and we commend INEC’s courage and obvious commitment to ensuring a free and fair election.
“With this decision, INEC has allayed the fears of many of our citizens that they may not have had the opportunity to vote for the candidates and parties of their choice on Election day.