The Federal Government on Tuesday assured citizens that the general elections will hold as scheduled next month.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, gave the assurance at the 17th edition of President Muhammadu Buhari’s scorecard series from 2015-2023 in Abuja.
The minister’s assurance came in the wake of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s alarm that the 2023 polls could be postponed or cancelled if the growing wave of election-related insecurity across the country was not checked.
The Chairman, Board of The Electoral Institute TEI, INEC’s training arm, Professor Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, who represented INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, at the validation of election security training resources, in Abuja, had said on Monday said: “If the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of elections results and precipitate a constitutional crisis.
“This must not be allowed to happen and shall not be allowed to happen. Therefore, security personnel in particular and all elected officials, in general, must be security-conscious and alert to unusual activities in their environment and must be fully equipped to deal with any challenge at all times.”
However, Mohammed said the polls will be held, adding that the Federal Government is aware that INEC is working with security agencies to ensure that the elections are successfully held across the country.
Mohammed spoke as the INEC’s alarm over polls postponement or cancellation raised dust in the polity with the electoral body clarifying issues around security, election postponement and seeking the commitment of all stakeholders to credible polls. The commission is also set to present the voters’ register to political parties, a source told newsmen yesterday.
The Minister said: “Let me use this opportunity to respond to inquiries from the media over a widely-circulated report, credited to an INEC official, that the 2023 general elections face a serious threat of cancellation due to insecurity.
“The position of the Federal Government remains that the 2023 elections will be held as planned. Nothing has happened to change that position. We are aware that INEC is working with security agencies to ensure that the elections are successfully held across the country.
“The security agencies have also continued to assure Nigerians that they are working tirelessly to ensure that the elections are held in a peaceful atmosphere. Therefore, there is no cause for alarm.”
INEC’s alarm irresponsible —Reps
Meanwhile, some members of the House of Representatives have described as irresponsible the statement credited to the electoral commission that the polls could be postponed or cancelled if insecurity persisted.
The members who spoke were Sergius Ogun (Esan North East/Esan South East Federal constituency of Edo State) and Kingsley Chinda (Obior/Akpor federal constituency of Rivers State).
In his reaction, Ogun accused INEC of deliberately diverting attention from its inability to properly conduct the collection of the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) with the statement, counselling the electoral umpire to table its security concerns before the Federal Government.
He said: “They should come out and tell us what they know that the rest of us don’t know. It’s very irresponsible of INEC to be making statements like this at a time they should be working towards delivering credible polls in February and March. INEC might be trying to deflect attention from their inability to properly handle the collection of PVCs as there are complaints by Nigerians who registered and are not able to collect their PVCs as the expiration date for collection is just a couple of weeks away, if they have any serious security concerns, they should take it to the government.
“Let the government tell Nigerians that they have failed to provide security for all hence the election might not hold. It’s not the responsibility of INEC to provide security for its staff, election materials and citizens (voters) but for the government. Section 14.2(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that ‘The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’”
Similarly, Chinda said INEC couldn’t have made such a statement having had ample time to prepare for the elections.
“I doubt the statement is from INEC. If it is, I would say that it amounts to rascality and irresponsibility for INEC to say so, having had time to prepare for the election”, he said.
We mustn’t give in to anti-democratic forces —Labour Party
On its part, the Labour Party, LP, urged INEC and Nigerians not to give in to threats by persons and political parties to frustrate the nation’s march towards a better society by thwarting the forthcoming general elections.
Chief Spokesman of LP Presidential Council, Dr. Tanko Yusuf, said the attacks on INEC facilities were clearly orchestrated by persons, who were afraid of a free and fair electoral process because failure already stares them in the face.
He said: “The threat posed to our electoral process by these people who have been attacking INEC offices and facilities is a clear call for vigilance which is the eternal price to pay for our liberty.
“We urge INEC, the security forces and the generality of Nigerians not to give in to these cowards who are desperate to cause a constitutional crisis because they already know they can’t win in a free, fair and credible electoral process.
“We call on all lovers of democracy at home and abroad to resist the plot to cling onto power by a rejected cabal, who has held Nigeria and Nigerians hostage since independence.
“It is time for our security agencies to up their game by arresting and exposing these enemies of Nigeria and their sponsors.”
Insecurity not big enough to postpone polls — APC
Reacting to the statement, Director of Public Affairs and Chief Spokesperson of All Progressives Congress, APC, Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Festus Keyamo, said that the INEC might have over-stated the issue of insecurity.
He said: “The election should not be postponed as it would cause a constitutional crisis due to the time allotted.
“We had insecurity in 2015 but did it cause postponing the election? The INEC chairman may have over-stated this but it’s not big enough to cause postponement of the general elections.”
INEC shouldn’t give APC opportunity to continue to punish Nigerians – PDP
Spokesman and Director of Public Affairs of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Presidential Campaign Committee, Senator Dino Melaye, challenged the APC ruling government to show capacity that would secure the forthcoming elections despite the challenge of insecurity.
He said: “Nigerians cannot wait a day longer to kick APC out of power. Everything should be done by the government to protect the electorate and every part of Nigeria to make sure elections take place.
“INEC has no excuse not to conduct the 2023 elections. INEC should not give APC the opportunity to continue to punish and suffer Nigerians as the agitation for Atiku’s presidency cannot be killed.”
Polls are sacrosanct —Afenifere
Also speaking, the pan-Yoruba Socio-political Organization, Afenifere, insisted that the general elections remain sacrosanct, adding that nothing must be done to shift the dates.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Jare Ajayi said: “Every effort must be made to ensure that the general elections slated for February and March this year not only hold successfully, but also that winners emerge and are sworn in on May 29, 2023 as stipulated by relevant laws.
“We recall that in 2015, there was insecurity too to the extent that some local government areas, specifically in Borno State, were in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists. Yet elections were held. There also was insecurity in 2019 and elections were not stopped.”
Nigeria’s democracy under threat — PANDEF
The Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, led by Chief Edwin Clark, saidINEC’s remarks speak to the concerns that Nigeria’s democracy is under threat.
PANDEF, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said the INEC’s statement also “strengthens the speculations making the rounds that some powerful interests in the country do not want the 2023 elections to hold successfully, particularly, the presidential election, to have a basis to truncate the nation’s democracy, for far fetched reasons.
“With the INEC Chairman’s statement coming less than 50 days before the general elections, certainly, all is not right. It’s now apparent that there are cynical ploys to exploit the nation’s security vulnerabilities to provide grounds for postponement or outright cancellation of the 2023 elections to satisfy the yearnings of certain groups and individuals. This could also be the hidden agenda of those who touted the idea of an unconstitutional interim government earlier.
“These situations are unacceptable, and it’s needless to caution that the adventures would result in dire consequences for national peace, unity, and stability.
“PANDEF, therefore, insists that President Muhammadu Buhari and the security agencies must ensure that everything is done, within the law, to provide a conducive atmosphere for the conduct of the elections, in strict compliance with the Electoral Act (as Amended), in all parts of the country. Mr President must also commit to the peaceful handover of power to whoever wins the presidential election, in the interest of the country.”
We’ve not learnt from past postponements — Adewale
Speaking in like manner, Ondo State Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Mr Stephen Adewale, recalled the postponements of 2015 and 2019 and said “one would have thought that by now, government and the electoral umpire had learnt enough lessons on how to avoid such recurrence but from the statement made by INEC, it’s clear that we have all failed to learn anything from history.”
He continued: “While I agree with INEC about the country’s security situation, what I find curious is the timing of the statement. In the past when concerned stakeholders raised the issue of security as the potential clog in the wheel of the 2023 general elections, INEC always claimed that it is ready and that under no circumstance would the insecurity stop or hinder them. The fact that INEC is coming to make this statement when the election is less than 50 days away calls for serious concern.
“The question now is that: at what point did it occur to INEC and its leadership that there are challenges of insecurity? I hope this statement will not be a prelude to something more sinister! We don’t want the repetition of 2019 when the election was postponed Nicodemously in the middle of the night, while most Nigerians were asleep.”
Hold APC responsible for escalating insecurity – Ondo PDP
The Ondo State chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Kennedy Peretei, said: “If INEC appreciates the enormity of the responsibility on their shoulders to deliver credible, free and fair elections in 2023, such utterance of possibility of a cancellation of the elections would not have come from them.
“Come to think of it, the incumbent APC-led government is the architect of the present level of insecurity in Nigeria. Therefore, using insecurity as an excuse to truncate or subvert the elections will be a direct invitation to anarchy and chaos.
“Sometimes, one is tempted to think that the APC government, having failed Nigerians is behind this new song of election cancellation to avoid the electoral defeat awaiting them in the 2023 general elections.”
INEC lacks power to postpone or cancel election – Olajide
To former Secretary General of the Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, Dr Kunle Olajide, the INEC does not have the power to postpone or cancel polls.
“The power to postpone or cancel elections does not lie with the INEC. It is a constitutional matter. However, I did not begrudge INEC for raising the issue of insecurity, it is very paramount and there is need to call the attention of the executive arm of government to the situation.
It is not only for INEC to do so, we should all put pressure on the Federal Government to ensure adequate security throughout the duration of the poll. It is funny that of about 500,000 policemen in Nigeria only around 200,000 will be available for election duty, others are with VIPs. So it is important that FG provides and guarantees adequate security before, during and after the election,” he said.
INEC clarifies issues around security, postponement of polls
Meanwhile, barring last minute change of plans, the INEC is set to present the final copy of the Voters’ Register to participating political parties in the general elections scheduled to hold on Saturday, February 25 and March 11, 2023.
The presentation, which will be chaired by Professor Yakubu, is a statutory obligation of INEC and it will afford the chairman the opportunity to speak to the raging controversy over the possible postponement of the elections as a result of insecurity.
Vanguard was told yesterday that there was palpable anxiety at the Commission’s Zambezi Street headquarters in Abuja, as well as Aso Rock Presidential Villa, when the news of a possible postponement hit the airwaves.
While the leadership of the Commission was attempting to wriggle out of the controversy, the feeling from the presidency was one of weariness.
A source in the Office of the INEC Chairman told Vanguard that “while the amplification of the issue of insecurity is not in itself bad, and the concerns of Nigerians show the level of mobilisation and voter readiness to participate, we are only saying that we must keep up the tempo within the context of preparedness and not necessarily wishing to use insecurity as a pretext to postpone the elections. Mind you, we have always appealed to all stakeholders to do their part.”
At Aso Rock Presidential Villa, a presidency source expressed frustration at the disclosure “after the Commission’s chairman had given both verbal and written commitment and assurances that INEC was good to go. That is why the military has also upped its attacks on insurgents in the North-West and Niger State with a view to securing the environment for the polls. We are awaiting further clarifications so that the needful can be done.”
Presentation of Voters’ Register to political parties
But today’s event, which is captured in Section 15 of the Electoral Act, 2022, is significant because the Voters Register to be presented to the political parties will be the final register in terms of the final number of voters who will participate in the elections of February and March, 2023. This means the Commission is going ahead with its plans to hold the elections as scheduled contrary to fears expressed by Professor Zuru.
Issues on insecurity
Vanguard was told at the Commission’s headquarters that whereas Professor Zuru was representing the INEC Chairman at the event, the “latter had always called on all stakeholders who have roles to play to perform their own duties.”
The source said: “The Chairman and the Commission have called on the judiciary before to do its job with respect to the issue of 719 cases pending before the courts that need to be dispensed with. The Commission has also called on political parties to put their houses in order.
“The Commission has also called on voters to ensure that they perform their civic responsibilities and shun vote-selling and vote-buying.
“The point about security is a call to duty that we need to do more to contain the activities of non-state actors.
“Who would have believed that the Commission would be able to pull through with the Anambra governorship election? The Anambra election was held and we do not have a situation that is so severe like we had in Anambra in every part of Nigeria and the Commission can substantially comply and carry out its functions.
“And even if we were to have such a situation, these are scattered instances which we do not believe would be enough to cause a postponement.
“At best, the call to the security agencies to up their game, which they are doing, is to restate the need for more work.”
In fact, Vanguard was made to understand that past elections that had been postponed were postponed on the basis of inappropriate logistical arrangements and not necessarily because of insecurity.
To this end, the source said “the Commission has pledged to ensure that it will deliver a legacy of free, fair and credible elections to Nigerians.”