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Beyond the Sanctity of Handover Date

 There is more to seeing through a successful and credible general election than just being committed to the handover date, writes the THISDAY Politics Desk

His narrative has not been fortuitous, neither is his body language. Since the idea for election postponement was mooted, President Goodluck Jonathan’s has sustained a particular line of defence – that the handover date is sacrosanct. His meeting with the United States Secretary, John Kerry was not encouraging either. Despite the plea by the American government to have the election hold as scheduled, citing very many cogent reasons for believing so, although Jonathan did not say no to him, he was however emphatic that the “handover date remains sacrosanct.”

Several meetings after that and especially as the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) sustained the battle for the elections to hold as scheduled, Jonathan only promised that the handover date would not change. Reports after the Council of State meeting followed the same suit. And then, his media chat. Although he added during the media chat stated that his government would see to an election and even promised to handover if defeated, he seemed to think the handover date was more important to the Nigerian people.
Unfortunately, a plethora of meanings have been adduced to Jonathan’s “handover date will not change.” While some of the theories contended that if he had his way, he would not hold an election, others argued that the president and his team were working to their answer of Interim National Government.

Whilst it is relieving that the Minster of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Muhammed Adoke has also come out to dismiss the possibility of an ING, government has failed to convincingly prove that this already tension-soaked election would be credible, transparent, free and fair.
However, for the elections to be seen as truly credible, transparent, free and fair, the Jonathan administration must allay the fears of the people in some regards as there are palpable fears of the unknown.

Alleged Clamp Down on Opposition
Lately, there have been foul cries from Nigeria’s main opposition party, the APC that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is resolute about deploying brutal force against its perceived enemies ahead of the elections.  The allegations are numerous and the counter claims are constant too.

Sometime last year, in November to be precise, men of the Department of State Security (DSS) reportedly invaded No 10, Bola Ajibola Street, off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, database office of the APC and carted away computers as well as arrested members of staff at the office on the grounds that the office was working to hack into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) database. The agency alleged that it uncovered hacking tutorials in the office.

While the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and other opposition leaders vehemently rejected the claims as "baseless intimidation," INEC also came out to denounce the DSS when it stated that its software was not being hacked into. NEC national chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega categorically stated that: “As far as I am concerned, our database cannot be hacked.”

Not long after, in January, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, expressed deep displeasure over federal government’s directive through the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) that the fund-raising platforms created to enable Nigerians give financial assistance to the presidential campaign of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo be blocked.

Fashola is the Chairman, Fund Raising Committee of the Buhari/Osinbajo Campaign Organisation. He described the decision of the federal government to shut the 35350 SMS platform as “repression of freedom,” and a violation of the section 39 of the 1999 Constitution. Within the first few hours that the SMS platform was functional, it had attracted well over 5000 patronage from Nigerians willing to support the Buhari campaign, which translates as veritable source of fund raising.

In what the opposition considered undue interference in its activities, the NCC, in a letter dated January 19 with reference No:  NCC/CAB/GEN/2015/VOL.1/004 which was signed by the Director of Consumer Affairs, Mrs. Maryam Bayi, and the Head of Legal and Regulatory Services, Mrs. Yinka Akinloye, on behalf of the Executive Vice-Chairman of Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Juwah, gave the global satellite mobile operators the marching order to discontinue their contractual agreements with the APC.

Fashola alleged the Minister of Communication and Technology, Mrs. Mobolaji Johnson of personally calling to compel the operators not “to carry our campaign message,” adding that “I think this is very low.”
To further underscore the plights of the opposition, on February 11, a chieftain of the APC and former Kwara State governor, Senator Bukola Saraki, alleged that the federal government was planning to clamp down on opposition leaders in the country. He was however quick to say that the opposition was prepared for the clamp down and would not succumb to intimidation.

Saraki therefore cautioned government to desist from acts that are capable of creating constitutional crisis, especially as regards the sanctity of the May 29 handover date. The former governor who made the allegation after a meeting with APC stakeholders in the state, said: “My own concern is that we do not plunge ourselves into any constitutional crisis as you all know that the issue of May 29 is sacrosanct. There is nothing that can happen to that. I think that we don’t want to be pessimistic.”
Less than 24 hours after Saraki’s suspicion, former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu raised the alarm that a truck load of stern-looking and gun-trotting military officers were keeping surveillance on him at his Bourdilon, Ikoyi, Lagos residence.

Though the Army authority had denied the allegation, Governor Fashola, while addressing scores of APC supporters at the APC gubernatorial campaign rally at Iyana-Ejigbo in Oshodi-Isolo council area, described the siege on Tinubu’s house as an attempt to intimidate the APC leaders by a government that claims to be democratic.
“The PDP-led government is a government that lies with everything. They have removed security from Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Now they are deploying soldiers to Tinubu’s house. We will not be intimidated. Our votes will speak for us.

“When President Jonathan was begging for our votes in 2011, he did not use soldiers; he was begging us. He was saying he had no shoes. After we helped him, what he has been doing is to inflict pains on us. I remain resolute in my advocacy and support for the rule of law. Jonathan’s government has through the service chiefs staged a coup against Nigerians and the Constitution and now wants to silence his critics.
“I will not be muzzled through the barrel of the gun. The guns and bullets they should use to defeat Boko Haram are now being turned against the opposition and innocent Nigerians,” Fashola said.

Reacting to the development, Mohammed told journalists that, “We are not surprised; this is the beginning of the real militarisation of this politics and the use of the military to hound members of the opposition to either surrender or get crushed. But the question that follows is, are we in democracy or under military rule?”
While the dust was yet to settle over the alleged military surveillance on Tinubu’s residence, the following day, the Imo State Government petitioned the presidency, accusing the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Viola Onwuliri, of drafting military men to the entrance of the Government House.

The petition, which came at the instance of the Imo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, was directed to the Presidency, Army Headquarters, National Security Adviser and human rights groups, alleged that armed soldiers “invaded the Government House and barricaded its main entrance with armoured vehicles for the whole day on the order of the Junior Minister for Education, Prof. Viola Onwuliri.”
Apparently, considering the series of alleged covert actions being taken against it and its chieftains, the APC, has persistently alleged plans by the federal government to use the security agencies, especially the Department of State Security (DSS) and the police, to harass and intimidate the opposition as a way to whittle down their influence ahead of the 2015 elections.

He said the strategy would include the invitation of key opposition figures for questioning by the DSS, starting with himself, to be followed by arrests and detention of notable figures in the party.
“The Minister of Police Affairs said publicly that he has already directed the Inspector-General of Police as well as the DSS to arrest anyone who makes inflammatory statements ahead of the 2015 elections, and then went ahead to castigate the APC, thus exposing the real reason for his directive.

“The minister had barely issued his orders when the DSS, which has unabashedly become a megaphone of the ruling PDP, fired its own warning, directed pointedly at a serving governor calling on men of the armed forces to rise up in protest against constituted authority, when nothing of such happened.
“If the minister and indeed the security agencies were carrying out their duties as officials of state rather than partisans, they would have realised that no one is more guilty of making inflammatory and even treasonable statements than the supporters of the president and members of the PDP.

“Yet, not once had the minister and the security agencies under his control, called these people to order. There is no better indication of the mindset of these threats-issuing minister and the security agencies under his control than their glaring double standards and vexatious partisanship. This is not how to run the affairs of state,” the party said.
A critical check will confirm the opposition’s argument in the sense that a die-hard supporter of President Jonathan, in the person of former militant leader, Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo has persistently said Nigeria will be “set ablaze” if Jonathan loses the election and he has not been reprimanded for such inflammatory statement by relevant authorities.

The Swirling ING Idea
Another growing concern now in the polity is the alleged plans by the government to set up an Interim National Government. Although, there have been arguments both for and against the idea, many believed it was part of plans to avoid an election in which the ruling party is already terrified, allegedly so. Elder statesman, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, was one of the first Nigerians to suggest the Interim National Government (ING) option as a way to douse the prevailing tension in the political atmosphere.

Braithwaite’s concern was predominantly stirred by the strive, regional tension and other sundry issues associated with the coming election, especially in the face of the 1999 constitution which he has always said was lacking the input of Nigerians and therefore not likely to hold the country together in the face of crisis.
"It is for this reasons that I have advocated an interim government rather than these uncertain elections, which those with deep thinking already see as a failure in the making despite assurances from INEC," he said, asking that instead of an election, Nigeria should consider drafting a new constitution from the outcome of the National Conference where he was also an active participant.

Another supporter of the Interim National Government (ING) is the convener of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and founder Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare. Like Braithwaite, Bakare calls for the postponement of the 2015 general election by six months.

Bakare, who made the call recently during a State of the Nation titled: “The Gathering Storm and Avoidable Shipwreck: How to Avoid Catastrophic Euroclydon”, suggested among other things that the shift in the date of the polls would serve as breather for INEC, to review the election timetable and correct what may result in the disenfranchisement of Nigerians as a result of its inability to distribute the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
The Man of God who was part of the National Conference also suggested that it was preferable for Nigeria to implement the reports of the conference before going ahead with the election, fearing that with the current situation of things in Nigeria, the potential for post-election violence is high, irrespective of who wins the election.

“I must state that the proposal for suspension of elections is not with a view to giving the president an avenue for undue tenure elongation but for the purpose of building a coalition that will bring lasting solutions to our problems. I have clearly painted a picture of where we are. A disaster is ahead of us. If a Northerner emerges as winner, whether he has won that election fair and square or not, people will allege rigging. If Jonathan wins the election, fair and square, they will allege that he used his power of incumbency to rig the election,” Bakare said.

Ordinarily, calls for the postponement of the election or inauguration of ING are considered a way to avoid the imminent defeat of President Jonathan by members of the opposition and the anti-Jonathan elements. Aside the fact that the president had reassured Nigerians that May 29 hand over date is sacrosanct and that he was prepared to hand over power if defeated, the recent statement by Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), that there is no provision for Interim National Government in the 1999 Constitution is a kind of prove that government is aware of the unconstitutionality of such a move.
Clarifying the issue, Adoke said: “My attention has been drawn to recent calls in the media by some Nigerians for the constitution of an Interim National Government to ostensibly mid-wife the 2015 general election to usher in a new democratic government.

“For avoidance of doubt, it is pertinent to state that the framers of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 did not envisage the constitution of Interim National Government to superintend over the affairs of government. It is therefore not surprising to observe that no provision for Interim National Government was made in the constitution.
“The contraption called ‘Interim National Government’ is therefore alien to Nigeria’s constitutional framework and the arrangement should not be promoted by well-meaning Nigerians under any guise or circumstance,” he said.
As convincing as Adoke might have sounded, many in the political circle are of the opinion that the government has a joker up its sleeves and that the joker is likely to be an ING, as unconstitutional as it may be.

Possible Shift in Dates Again
While it is important to hold President Jonathan to his promise that the election will hold and that he would handover to an elected person on May 29 as stipulated by the 1999 constitution, it is not out of place to presume that there is the likelihood that the election date may still change given the prevailing contradictions. Indeed, many believe the president is not reliable as he is wont to break promises. Thus, giving his words on the election, they reckon, is not assuring.

During the presidential media chat where the president promised that the election would hold and that he would hand over, he also made a categorical statement that was not checked by the anchors when he said: “It is key (security); without security you can’t do election.”
Though there have been attempts to attribute the decision to postpone the election by six weeks to the unpreparedness of INEC, there is also the security aspect to the shift in the dates. There was need to repel the insurgent and enable Nigerians in the Boko Haram ravaged states participate in the election.

Not a few Nigerians have expressed doubts that the fight against the insurgent could be won decisively in six weeks, but since the postponement is not the first of its kind in Nigeria’s contemporary political history and also because it is accommodated in the Nigerian constitution, all eyes are on March 28 and April 11 and a change in those dates, even where it must happen, is not expected to affect the handover date for constitutional reasons.

Militarisation of Electoral Process
Jega, a professor of political science, has on several occasions stated his position on the use of the military during election. When after the Ekiti election the opposition APC decried the use of the military, Jega saw it as a ploy.

At an interactive session in Abuja, Jega who maintained that the military assisted in ensuring a peaceful and successful conduct of the election, said it was wrong to view the deployment of soldiers in Ekiti State as militarisation.
According to him, this definition was a ploy by some politicians to create excuses to undermine the electoral process.
“People raised the issue of militarisation in Ekiti State. By the strict definition of militarisation, I am a student of politics and military rules. I have even published papers on militarisation, so I know the definition.

“There is no way anybody can conceivably define what happened in Ekiti as militarisation of electoral process. The electoral process in Ekiti Election was not militarised. Yes there was heavy security presence but I don’t think it can be conceived as militarisation. I think we must choose our concepts carefully and use them carefully,” Jega cautioned.

“I think the concern of people is that there should not be overbearing presence of military on Election Day. And the way we have defined the role of security is very clear. The military performs what we describe as peripheral outer cordon. It is the mobile police that handle internal movement in terms of movements in the towns but away from polling unit. And it is unarmed policemen that you have an average of three per polling units,” said Jega, noting that this was exactly what happened in Ekiti.

Jega is not alone in this. President Jonathan and the military leadership have also maintained that it was necessary to allow the military minimal participation in the electoral process to ensure that the elections were conducted peaceably and not hijacked by political thugs.

But the opposition APC views this as a militarisation of the electoral process. They complained that the military was partisan by favouring members and supporters of the PDP. Before and on the day of the election, arrests of APC members and supporters were reportedly made by the security personnel.

The APC insisted that the role the military was expected to play can be adequately covered by the Nigerian Police Force. In previous elections before 2011, the police were overran by political thugs who were in the habit of carting away ballot boxes. Partly, this aberration gave room for the introduction of the military into the electoral process of Nigeria.

Findings have revealed that this practice has not always been decried by the APC if it pays off with them. When the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, a member of the APC, won his re-election in 2012, the party did not frown at the use of the military. But when the same military was used in Anambra and Ekiti States, elections where there was massive turnout of electorate that voted peacefully, the APC coined the phrase the ‘militarisation’ of the electoral processes.

In the Edo election, Governor Oshiomhole visited Aso Rock to thank President Jonathan. In a chat with newsmen, he was quoted as saying: “What the Edo election has confirmed is that when the president and Commander-in-Chief puts the country first and conducts himself as a statesman, not just as a party leader, credible elections are possible, because people were apprehensive that the Nigerian Army could be misused.

“I told them I didn’t think they were right, but the president’s clear directive was that the votes must count. He warned that there will be no rigging, no manipulation, no ballot snatching and orders were given to the Army to ensure none of those things happened and the Army carried out the order.
“The Police IG was similarly instructed. He deployed his men probably much more than we probably needed and they delivered on the president’s orders. The SSS were fantastic because they were always at the collating centres where some of the manipulations can take place.

“If you are familiar with the architecture of rigging, you will know the various levels of manipulation. I have been victim of it and so you will understand why I am familiar with it. And the SSS did a fantastic job, two plus two was four, not five, not 15; and a lot of that made a lot of difference”.

Although this was not so with Fayemi in Ekiti, the election was nonetheless considered by both local and foreign observers as being free, fair, transparent and credible. The military was said to have done a good job. This we know through a statement by the US diplomatic mission in Abuja.

“The INEC oversaw a credible, efficient process and by all accounts, the result reflected the will of the Ekiti voters. The security forces collaborated effectively and provided a safe and secure environment free of major incidents. The parties and their supporters acted responsibly during and after the election, and the magnanimity exhibited by all candidates afterwards speaks highly of them and the people of the state.”

Fear of the Unknown
Towards the end of last year, there were rumours that elections won’t hold this year. It was a rumour because it was not evidenced by facts. Jega during a public presentation of the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage in Lagos tried to allay the fear. “A lot of the information being spread about elections not holding next year is just rumours and nothing more,” Jega told the gathering.

Jega’s assurance did not succeed in dousing the agitation. The postponement of the election has not helped either. The APC believes strongly that there are plans by the ruling PDP, with the aid of the military, to scuttle the election if results of the presidential election does not favour the candidate of the ruling party, President Jonathan.

When in Nairobi, Kenya, where former President Olusegun Obasanjo, launched his 1,500-page autobiography, a book highly critical of Jonathan, Obasanjo said in an interview: “I sincerely hope that the president is not going for broke and saying ‘look damn it, it’s either I have it or nobody has it’. I hope that we will not have a coup… I hope we can avoid it.”
But the military has disputed the claim. A recent statement by the Director of Defence Information, Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, in Abuja stressed that the military remained non-partisan to politics, and would not back any plans to have an interim government, subvert the electoral processes or anything capable of truncating the nation’s democracy.

“The Defence Headquarters has noted the palpable tension being generated in certain quarters with regards to the roles of the Nigerian military in the ongoing political activities and recent developments especially in relation to the electioneering programmes in the country.
“Accordingly, it has become necessary to reassure all citizens that the Nigerian armed forces remains committed to its duty in working to ensure the sustenance of peace, law, order and stability in the country before, during and after the forthcoming elections.

“It is also important to reassure Nigerians that the military will, while working with all security agencies and stakeholders in the process, remain professional, apolitical and non-partisan in all operations or activities related to this crucial exercise.
“Indeed, the leadership, in particular, the Chief of Defence Staff and the service chiefs, being products and beneficiaries of the nation’s democratic processes themselves, continue to cherish highly the nation’s democracy. They will, therefore, not engage in, condone or encourage any act that has capacity to undermine or subvert any aspect of the democratic processes.”
On Obasanjo’s allegation that the federal government could also be considering an interim government as another plan, Adoke said such a call was not provided for in the Constitution.

The Six Weeks Buffer
At the last Council of State meeting in Abuja, when the National Security Adviser to President Jonathan, Sambo Dasuki, along with the service chiefs, made a case for the postponement of the elections, he cited insecurity in the North-east as cogent.

The security chiefs warned that they could not guarantee security for the elections as earlier scheduled and that they needed six weeks to flush out Boko Haram insurgents from the 14 local government areas in the North-east states before elections could hold. They asked for time to quell the attacks of the Boko Haram insurgents, and got it days later when Jega postponed the election till March 28 and April 11.

Subsequently, Dasuki, in an interview with the AFP said all known Boko Haram camps will be taken out within the six weeks. “They won’t be there. They will be dismantled.” This was even as he accepted that although it may be impossible to completely wipe out the insurgents, “the situation then would surely be conducive enough for elections.”

Dasuki said the challenges Nigeria had in the past which made it difficult to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents are being taken care of. “Now we are having support. We are having additional troops. We are having additional equipment coming in. We are better equipped and better placed now to take on that thing than we were before.”
Like Dasuki, Jonathan also seemed confident of considerable success within the extra six weeks. He gave this indication while speaking with members of the diplomatic community in Nigeria.

“The security people are not saying that they will wipe out Boko Haram before elections will be conducted,” this he reiterated during his recent media chat.
“But there are Boko Haram-related security issues and there were other security issues that were noticed during the period of campaigns which if we don't prepare properly and modify the security architecture we normally use for elections, the country may go up in flames.

“This period will give them the opportunity to clean up the three states. If at all they cannot clean up the three states, at least two states will be recovered completely and more local governments even from the remaining state. So that elections could be conducted even in Borno State.

“Even if we don't take over all the territories in Borno State, definitely in Adamawa and Yobe States, we will take over completely. Even in Borno State, the headquarters of Boko Haram, even if we don't take over completely, at least 70 per cent of that state will be free for elections to be conducted,” the president said.

The Patriots Are Worried
In the view of the prevailing political situation in the country, prominent Nigerians, including foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze; Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; former Chief of Army Staff, Gen., Chris Ali, Sir Chris Okoye; Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Relations, Senator Ben Obi, Dr. Philip Asiodu, Mr. Solomon Asemota (SAN) and Mr. Michael Orobator under the aegis of The Patriots said it was pertinent that security agents are politically neutral in the discharge of their duties during and after the elections.
The chairman, Nwabueze, who addressed the media after a recent meeting of the body, disagreed with calls for a transition government on the grounds that it lacks constitutional backing and noted that such move was capable creating protracted problem in the country.

“On what provision would you base Interim Government? There is no provision for that in the constitution. You will be acting unconstitutionally. You could create a problem that the country will never recover from. On what laws will you be relying? Some people are arguing without knowing the implication,” he said.

Like Braithwaite and Bakare, the Patriots want the implementation of the reports of the 2014 National Conference, but in their own case it could be implemented by the next administration, stressing that “At this point in our history, our national interest demands one united Nigeria under a constitution respected and observed by all as the supreme law of the land, overriding all other laws, and as the glue, however weak, holding us together as one polity.
“A constitution anchored on the people as the source of its authority. A constitution adopted and approved by the people at a referendum after mature deliberation in a national conference.”

There is no doubting the fact that the handover date is sacrosanct. It is not however automatic. This is why the processes leading to May 29 must be observed and anchored consciously with caution. There is no gainsaying the fact that there are existential fears about obnoxious developments should anything go wrong.

But the collateral effect of that will certainly leave no one out. This is why both the government and the opposition must see beyond their desire to retain or take over power but ponder the collective good. Otherwise, what seems to lie ahead knows not even its own architect and its aftermath will be dastardly because it will consume all.

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