In a bid to allay concerns over the postponement of the polls originally scheduled to commence this Saturday, President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday said he remained committed to the sanctity of May 29 as the terminal date of his first term in office.
His assurance to the public came on the back of the condemnation by the United States of America of the postponement of the polls, and the grudging acceptance by the All Progressives Congress (APC), which however warned that it would not tolerate a further attempt to defer the general election.
In a statement by the president's spokesman, Dr. Rueben Abati, the presidency said: “Following the adjustment of the dates for the 2015 general election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11, President Goodluck Jonathan has reassured the nation of his commitment to the sanctity of May 29, 2015 as the terminal date of his first term in office.
“He strongly reaffirms that May 29 is, has been, and will remain sacrosanct.”
Abati said the president is appealing to all stakeholders to accept the adjustment of the election dates by INEC in good faith, as the electoral body has a responsibility to conduct credible elections in which every Nigerian of voting age is afforded the opportunity to exercise his/her civic right without any form of hindrance.
“President Jonathan believes that this is not a time to trade blame or make statements that may overheat the polity, but a time to show understanding and support the electoral commission to conduct the elections successfully.
“It is the president’s understanding that INEC’s decision ought not to generate acrimony since it acted within its powers under the law and in consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
“He calls on the international community, civil society and the electorate to continue to support the administration’s commitment to a free, fair, credible, and non-violent electoral process,” he said.
However, the US yesterday expressed its deep disappointment over the decision to postpone the general election under the pretext of security concerns.
In a statement from the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, the State Department described as unacceptable what it called political interference with INEC.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, announced the postponement last Saturday, citing security concerns.
“There are a number of issues that are critical to the elections like security which is not under the control of INEC,” Jega had said.
“The security agencies reiterated that they will be concentrating their attention on the insurgency and may not be able to play the traditional role of providing security during the elections,” he added.
Reacting to the excuse provided by Jega, Kerry said: “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable, and it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process.
“The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates. The United States underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.
“As I reaffirmed when I visited Lagos last month, we support a free, transparent, and credible electoral process in Nigeria and renew our calls on all candidates, their supporters, and Nigerian citizens to maintain calm and reject election-related violence.”
Despite the US’ concern over the polls’ postponement, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) again gave the thumbs up to the shift in the dates of the elections, saying it was in the nation’s interest.
The party’s presidential campaign organisation, in a statement by its Director of Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, yesterday said the PDP concurred with the decision to shift the elections, stressing that it was in the interest of deepening democracy in the country and in the national interest.
“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.
“We commend INEC’s courage and obvious commitment to ensuring a free and fair election, ” he said.
He said with the postponement, INEC had allayed the fears of many Nigerians that may not have the opportunity to vote for the candidates and parties of their choice on election days.
Fani-Kayode maintained that INEC had by the decision, ensured that no one would be disenfranchised and had helped to guarantee the safety and security of Nigerians during the elections.
He added that the shift would enable the nation’s security agencies to put better measures in place to secure the North-east and ensure that the elections are held in the region.
He disagreed with the APC's stance on the polls’ shift, saying:
“By insisting that the elections should be conducted on February 14, the opposition was not only dangerously flirting with chaos, but also putting our country firmly on the path of confrontation, division, injustice, disaster and destruction.
“This is especially so, given the fact that no less than 34 per cent of eligible voters have not been able to access their permanent voters’ cards (PVCs).
“A situation where such a large percentage of our people would have been disenfranchised is unacceptable and the fact that the APC was insensitive to that fact speaks volumes.”
The campaign organisation’s spokesman said INEC must have drawn a useful guide from available security reports from the North-east, following acts of insurgency.
He urged PDP supporters to remain calm and patient, stressing that the party was strong.
“Our candidate is confident; our course is just; our God is mighty and our victory is assured. No matter what happens and no matter how long it takes, we shall prevail,” he said.
However, in its second statement since the postponement of the polls, the APC said that it would no longer accept any further postponement in the election dates under any guise or excuses.
The main opposition party also said INEC’s autonomy had been greatly impaired by the military’s refusal to guaranty security for the February polls.
Addressing journalists at the APC presidential campaign office in Abuja, its presidential candidate, Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), accused the PDP administration of engineering the postponement using the threat of security.
“We will not tolerate any further interference because it is unconstitutional. INEC has played its last card. So it is up to the government to empower the military to make sure that INEC feels secure and the constituents feel secure enough to go out and vote,” he said.
Buhari said from all indications, INEC had acted as if it was compelled by external forces to change the dates of the elections.
“I am a member of the National Council of State and INEC gave us a comprehensive plan of its readiness to go ahead with the elections. INEC is the body that will organise and conduct elections in this country.
“It is up to the government to secure INEC. But with the military we have, if for five years the Nigerian military could not secure 14 local governments – 10 in Borno, two in Yobe and two in Adamawa – out of 774 local governments in this country, does that mean it is a delay tactics? What they couldn’t do in six years, can they do it in six weeks?
“If you listened to the explanation of the Chairman of INEC, 30 days to 29th of May, elections must be held and having shifted the date to March 28 and April 11 that is the last card.
“So the federal government has to secure this country on the 28th of March and 11th of April respectively for the elections to take place. Otherwise, whatever they do is going to be unconstitutional and it is up to Nigerians to accept or reject it.
“The PDP administration has now engineered a postponement using the threat that security will not be guaranteed across the length and breadth of Nigeria because of military engagement in some states in the North-east.
“It is important to note that although INEC acted within its constitutional powers, it is clear that it has been boxed into a situation where it has had to bow to pressure. Thus the independence of INEC has been gravely compromised,” he said.
Nonetheless, Buhari stressed that the elections must hold at least 30 days before May 29, adding: “So this is the last card INEC and the government has. We don’t know the type of government they want to bring, whether a military government or a civilian government. But an elected government must be in place 30 days before May 29."
The former military head of state, who was flanked by party leaders including the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Oyegun; former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu; Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; Senator Chris Ngige; Senator Lawan Shauibu; Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi; Senator Bukola Saraki; Senator Danjuma Goje; Audu Ogbeh; and former Governor of Ekiti State, Segun Oni, warned that INEC and the federal government had played their last card with the latest postponement.
He said the commission had no alternative than to conduct the election within the stipulated time limit of 30 days before the May 29 handover date, adding that the government must ensure that elections are held and that the May 29 handover date remained sacrosanct.
“I wish to appeal for utmost restraint and calm by all Nigerians, especially the teeming supporters of our great party. This postponement, which comes on the heels of the bogey of the National Security Adviser that half of the registered voters were being disenfranchised was exposed as a crude and fraudulent attempt to subvert the electoral process,” Buhari said.
He noted that the postponement coming a week to the election had raised so many questions, many of which shall be asked in the days ahead.
However, Buhari enjoined party supporters to remain calm and avoid any recourse to violent protests.
“We must not allow ourselves to be tempted into taking actions that could further endanger the democratic process. Our country is going through a difficult time in the hands of terrorists.
“Any act of violence can only complicate the security challenges in the country and provide further justification to those who would want to exploit every situation to frustrate the democratic process in the face of certain defeat at the polls.
“Nigeria is definitely greater than any of us, and much more important than our individual ambitions. Before us there was Nigeria, and long after we are gone there will still be Nigeria.
“What is at stake is the very survival of our country and no one must allow this temporary delay to abort this great opportunity,” he said.