Nigeria’s general election will not be postponed past March 28, National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), said on Monday, after he successfully lobbied for a poll delay because of Boko Haram violence.
“Those dates will not be shifted again,” Dasuki told AFP when asked if the polls, initially scheduled for February 14, could be pushed back further.
Dasuki had urged election officials to postpone the vote on the grounds that the military could not provide nationwide election security because all available resources were being deployed in the North-east to fight Boko Haram.
His justification for the delay was widely criticised, in part because the military is not primarily responsible for election security in Nigeria.
However, soldiers are always deployed as reinforcement for the police and civil defence corps during elections.â€¨â€¨
In the interview, Dasuki suggested the main motivation for the delay was the need to assure safe voting in the North-east states where Boko Haram is most active and controls some territory: Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
But the opposition and some observers said the poll was delayed to allow more time for President Goodluck Jonathan to revive his campaign, which was facing a tough challenge from ex-military ruler, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari.
Dasuki, however, insisted there was no political motive underlying his call for a delay. “It’s not everybody who does things for selfish reasons. Some of us have a conscience,” he said.
He said the postponement could easily help the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), because improved security could boost turnout in the North-east, an APC stronghold. The NSA said he believed the new military cooperation agreed two weeks ago between Nigeria and its neighbours – Cameroun, Chad and Niger – would prove decisive against Boko Haram. Nigeria’s military has on its own largely failed to contain the uprising over the last six years.
Dasuki’s statement came just as the Nigerian military also gave its commitment to secure the country ahead of the rescheduled elections.
Defence Headquarters spokesman, Major-General Chris Olukolade, in an interview with Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau vowed in one of three new videos released on Sunday that the terror group would defeat a regional force fighting the extremists in Nigeria’s far northeast, Niger and Cameroun.
“Your alliance will not achieve anything. Amass all your weapons and face us. We welcome you,” he said in a 28-minute speech, one of three videos posted by the sect on YouTube.
Troops from Nigeria have been backed by soldiers from Chad, Cameroun and Niger in recent weeks because of increased concerns about Boko Haram’s threat to regional security.
In the second of the latest videos, images of the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are shown along with archive footage and a voiceover recalling a battle between British colonial soldiers and fighters from the Sokoto Caliphate in northern Nigeria.
Shekau has name-checked al-Baghdadi before but appears to be positioning Boko Haram in a wider jihadi context by showing the Sokoto Caliphate, which was dismantled by the British in the early 20th century.
“We never rose up to fight Africa. We rose up to fight the world,” he said.
“We are going to fight the world on the principle that whoever doesn’t obey Allah and the Prophet to either obey or die or become a slave.”
On Sunday, Boko Haram militants waged twin attacks in the town of Diffa in southeast Niger, opening a new front in its offensive after repeated attacks in Cameroun’s far northern region.
The six-year uprising has become a regional crisis and on Saturday, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroun and Benin agreed to muster 8,700 troops, police and civilians to fight the group.
But Shekau dismissed the size of the force, which had previously been set at about 7,500.
“You send 7,000 troops? Why don’t you send 70 million? This is small. Only 7,000? By Allah, it is small. We can seize them one-by-one. We can seize them one-by-one,” he said in Arabic.
Shekau also directly threatened Chad’s President Idriss Deby, whose forces have attacked Boko Haram in the northeast Nigerian towns of Gamboru and Malam Fatori in recent days.
In the videos, Shekau first spoke in Arabic and later translated in Hausa, vowing to continue attacking and killing those he described as “infidels”.
In the first video, the sect leader appeared in combat gear in front of Hilux vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns and an AK47 rifle on his shoulder. He was between two masked men who were both holding AK47 rifles.
Seen reading a prepared text, Shekau insisted that the alliance forces would not deter the group from carrying out its rein of violence across the region.
He also vowed to ensure that the sect hampers the progress of democracy and continues the mission of Islamisation of not only Nigeria, but her neighboring countries.
Also, in the second video, armed men were shown punishing those who “violated” Islamic laws, two young men were seen receiving lashes for “committing adultery”.
Similarly, the video showed another man whose right hand was being amputated for “stealing” while a third who was shown being stoned to death for “fornication” had his entire body with the exception of the head buried in a ditch.
Also shown were hundreds of people, including women adorned in hijabs and children with hundreds of Boko Haram fighters chanting "Allahu Akbar", meaning “God is Great”, driving towards an unknown destination on a deserted highway.
In the third video clip, the sect featured the “temporary” invasion of Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State on December 1, 2014. In the video, hundreds of insurgents in a convoy of utility vehicles and motorcycles were led by an armoured personnel carrier driven through Gujba road.
They later emerged in front of the Yobe Government House along Maiduguri road where an exchange of gunshots ensued before they got access into the premises.
An unidentified spokesman, surrounded by hooded fighters later appeared in a bush where he showcased over 50 vehicles and ammunition which he said were the “spoils of war” they got from Damaturu.
He also debunked claims by the Nigerian armed forces that the December 1 attack by the group on Damaturu was repelled, insisting, “We had a field day in Damaturu, ate and dined, took what we wanted and thereafter drove out of the town at our own volition, with all the vehicles, ammunitions and other things we wanted to take along.”
Meanwhile Boko Haram members launched a new attack in neighbouring Niger yesterday, as the country’s parliament in Niamey was set to vote on joining a regional force against the terror group, AFP reported.
The insurgents raided a prison in the southeastern border town of Diffa but were repelled after a heavy exchange of fire, humanitarian sources said.
“The attack failed. The assailants were quite easily pushed back,” one source told AFP.
No casualty toll was immediately available after the raid by Boko Haram.
A journalist in Diffa said he saw the bodies of Boko Haram fighters in a hearse despatched by the town hall, but he was unable to count them.
Some Boko Haram fighters sought to hide out in the town. “The soldiers are looking for them, weapons at the ready. The army has encircled Diffa,” the journalist said.
Another journalist said some of the fighters were being held in the prison they attacked.
Niger’s parliament was expected to support a proposal to deploy troops inside Nigeria to help in the battle, along with soldiers from Chad and Cameroun.
In another incident, suspected members of the Islamist group also hijacked a bus in northern Cameroun, abducting at least 20 people, residents said yesterday.
The insurgents reportedly seized a bus carrying market-goers and drove it towards the border with Nigeria.
Some reports put the total number kidnapped in Cameroon as high as 30.
The bus was seized near the border area of Koza and driven towards the Nigerian border 18km (11 miles) away, a resident told the Associated Press news agency.
Voice of America (VOA) yesterday expressed optimism that the goal was achievable, given the increased regional cooperation that Nigeria is receiving at the moment.
“We have committed ourselves to working to ensure that we achieve the result of making the whole place secure and every effort is being made towards that end in the sense that we are improving our fire power, and improving on collaboration with other forces.
“What should interest you is what is now different about it. For the period we have said it has passed through different stages.
“You will recall that when the state of emergency was initially declared, we were able to curtail them and they simply left our shores and went elsewhere to improve on their mischief.
“Now we are enlisting the support of other nations around us and hopefully that should make it difficult for them to have any other place to escape to after this mission.
“We believe that every hand will be on deck. Not just the military but everyone involved in securing our country will put in their best to ensure that we have the right atmosphere for elections to be conducted.
“The military is equally a stakeholder in the promotion of our nation’s democracy and anything that is done now is in good faith,” Olukolade said.
Despite the assurance provided by Dasuki and Olukolade to the Nigerian public, Jonathan and his main rival in the presidential election, Buhari clashed yesterday at a conference in Abuja on the prosecution of the war against the insurgency and on the 2015 elections.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 11th delegates’ conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Jonathan for the umpteenth time assured his audience that with current strategies being put in place, the attacks by the Boko Haram sect would soon be a thing of the past.
The president also promised that the 2015 polls would be better than that of 2011 which were adjudged free and fair following the implementation of recommendations for the amendment of the Electoral Act.
But Buhari reminded the audience that $32.88 billion had been expended by the Jonathan administration on defence in five years but had not ended the insurgency in the North-east.
Jonathan, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim, said the issue of insecurity caused by the activities of Boko Haram has dominated the minds of all Nigerians.
“But with the re-engineering of the security apparatus of our country, let me assure you that the issue of the Boko Haram insurgency would soon be a thing of the past,” he said.
He said that his government remained committed to all issues pertaining to the welfare of Nigerian workers.
Anyim, who disclosed that he had been mandated by the president not to dwell on political issues or campaign for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while representing him because some of the workers at the conference may be Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ad hoc staff, expressed surprise that Buhari was not conscious of the sensitivity of the gathering when he spoke at the conference.
“I was also surprised that when our elder statesman and APC presidential candidate spoke, he was not conscious of the sensitivity of this gathering,” he said.
In his remarks, the presidential candidate of the APC, who was the special guest of honour, said the sum of $32.88 billion had been expended on defence in the last five years, yet Boko Haram has continued to wreak havoc in several states of the country.
He also cited the militancy in the Niger Delta, communal violence in the Middle Belt, cult wars in the south, and kidnappings, armed robberies, and common acts of thuggery throughout the country.
“Most Nigerians are left to fend for themselves. Those who turn to the police, the army or any other state security agencies usually have the means and personal connections to buy help and protection.
“Those who don't simply move on or resign to the fate that befalls them. The bitter ones may form vigilante groups, others join mobs that dispense jungle justice on suspects and scapegoats alike.
“Too many believe they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, and the most alienated are easy prey for terrorists, militant, and thugs. This must change,” he said
Buhari added that with the failing economy, hard times were ahead for Nigerians, arguing that to reverse this the country needed a group of people who know what to do to tackle the impending hardship.
“As you all know, I am aspiring for the office of president of Nigeria, not just to hold office, but to join you in securing and rebuilding a nation, our nation. I pray that you will support me in this quest.
“I hope that you will give me a chance. Together, you and I can start to build a peaceful, secure and prosperous Nigeria of our dreams,” he said.
Meanwhile, the former Governor of Kwara State and senator representing Kwara Central senatorial district at the National Assembly, Senator Bukola Saraki, yesterday hinted that the federal legislature would review the postponement of the general election by INEC as soon as the National Assembly reconvenes so as to ensure the nation’s electoral process is not tampered with in the future.
Saraki, in a statement issued in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, also faulted the deferment of the elections using security as reason for the delay in the polls.
He said the issue of insecurity in the country was not new, as it had been almost a year since Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, while thousands of men, women and children had died in the hands of Boko Haram and thousands had been displaced, yet nothing was done to reverse the onslaught on people and communities in the North-east.
“INEC is expected to act independently but unfortunately is being guided by government which believes they are about to lose an election and have decided to stop the election to re-strategise.
“For over three years, President Jonathan has failed to make national security a priority. How then does President Jonathan now expect the people to believe him when he says he will tackle the terrorist group in six weeks?
“The international community has continued to support our view that there must be peaceful, free, transparent and credible electoral processes in Nigeria and that the country’s security forces should remain impartial so that Nigerians can vote safely and without undue delay.
“They are disappointed about the recently announced postponement. President Jonathan and INEC must be aware that the eyes of the world are on them.
“I charge Nigerians to be calm, non-violent and steadfast. We must be determined to make sure the postponement does not demoralise or disenfranchise us.
“We must see this as a challenge for us to remain resolute in yearning for a new democratic government, one that will not see itself as above the people,” he said.
Saraki promised that the postponement of the polls would be tabled at the National Assembly once the legislators resume to ensure that the polls are not delayed or deferred under any guise in the future.