Monday, March 23, 2015 12:36 pm
Barely one week to the commencement of the 2015 general elections, Nigerians anxiously await the exercise that may further strengthen or mar the nation’s democracy.
“Will this election hold?”
That has been the question agitating the minds of Nigerians as the election date draws near. Expectations were so high that the much desired change that Nigerians clamour for was about to be experienced as the excitement peaked close to the earlier scheduled 14 February date for the Presidential election. It didn’t happen then, as the Prof Attahiru Jega led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was pressured by the military authorities to shift the polls by six weeks, ostensibly, to enable the Nigerian Armed Forces to tackle the Boko Haram terrorists who had occupied a swath of Nigerian teritories in the Northeastern part of the country.
Following the announcement by Jega postponing the election to 28 March and 11 April for federal and states elections respectively, speculations over another possible postponement of the polls became rampant as fears were commonly expressed over the conduct of the polls. These concerns were fueled by reports making the rounds that the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, may be toying with the idea of buying more time to enable its Presidential candidate, Goodluk Jonathan, resuscitate his dwindling popularity before the commencement of the election. It is believed that another slight shift from the rescheduled polls date of 28 March would still fall within the 30-day limit before the 29 May handover date and would make further postponements still within the constitutional time frame and legal.
In a bid to douse the growing doubts over the conduct of the polls, President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Security Adviser, Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, had severally attempted to allay such fears of any further shifts in the dates of the polls and had both repeatedly reiterated that the 29 May handover date remains sacrosanct. Just last week, the Coordinator of the National Information Centre, Mr. Mike Omeri, stated that the insurgency-hit Northeastern region will be secure enough for voting to take place on 28 March following the high measure of success recorded in the region in a renewed military onslaught against Boko Haram. “Now we have the security cooperation of our neighbours, there’s nowhere to go for the militants. Citizens will be able to cast their votes,” Omeri noted.
According to reports credited to Defence spokesman, Gen. Chris Olukolade, security forces routed Boko Haram militants from the Northeastern town of Bama in Borno state, while Goniri, the last insurgent stronghold in the neighbouring state of Yobe state has been recaptured by Nigerian troops. As a fall out of this development, INEC’s chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, last Monday, also stated that the security situation has improved since the postponement of the polls and that INEC is set to hold credible elections. He added that out of 68.8 million people on the electoral register, 81 per cent have collected their voter cards.
Furthermore, the INEC boss last Wednesday in Abuja stated that the last batch of 500,000 permanent voters’ cards would be ready before last Saturday and that 11 states had so far achieved over 90 per cent PVCs collection. He noted that the commission had put to good use, the six-week extension for the polls. “We are adequately prepared for the rescheduled elections. I have not seen any indication from anywhere for further postponement. We are now adequately ready for the elections which have been rescheduled to hold on March 28 and April 11. And I want to say that I’ve not seen any indication from anywhere that there is a desire for another postponement of this election. So we are all focused on 28 March and 11 April,” Jega stated.
He INEC boss was also pleased about the remarkable improvement in security in the territories affected by insurgency and expressed more confidence in the conduct of the polls at the rescheduled dates. “But we know that the insurgents are very desperate and a lot of bombings and the use of incendiary devices has been happening even though in isolated places. However, we are working very closely with the security agencies to ensure that measures are put in place to check this and ensure that they do not disrupt the electoral process. We also have plans to arrange voting for IDPs. The plans are still on the ground. We have said that in areas where people have moved back and it is confirmed that it is safe, then it is better for us to go back to the polling units there and organise the elections. And we have tasked our Resident Electoral Commissioners to make that assessment now. But we know that in many cases, IDPs are not going back. So if there are still people in IDP camps and they are not going back, we will go ahead with the elections as we had planned in the designated places for the IDPs,” he added.
However, despite the reassurances of President Jonathan, the INEC boss and other state functionaries, fresh trends are emerging to indicate that the polls may not hold, or if it holds, may happen under an environment of heightened anxieties and tension following recent snippets of pockets of violence by ethnic militia groups who were alleged to have received funds from the Nigerian government to protest over the proposed use of electronic card readers and push for Jega’s removal.