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2015 Elections: Uproar Over INEC’s Time-table

The furore which has trailed the recently released time-table for the 2015 general elections may have caught many Nigerians by surprise.

However, watchers of Nigeria’s political terrain think differently. Their thinking is anchored on historical antecedents; chief among which is the deep-rooted suspicion opposition politicians in the country have for decades harboured against the nation’s electoral commission. This suspicion is actually traceable to the nefarious track record of many past electoral commissions.

The time table which was released late in the evening of January 24 by the Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC Mrs Augusta Ogakwu -at the end of a four-day retreat held by the top-echelon of the Commission in Kaduna- placed the Presidential and National Assembly elections to hold on Valentine day February 14, 2015. The governorship and state house of assembly elections are scheduled to hold two weeks later.

Even though, the leading opposition party in the country, the All Progressives Congress APC is yet to take a position on the time-table, several governors and other prominent individuals within the party have condemned the election schedule as a recipe for rigging.

APC Governors oppose time table

The first salvo was fired by Governor of Kano State Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso who alleged that the time-table was designed to create “the bandwagon effect” on Nigerian voters.

Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, shortly after the time-table was released, Kwakwaso reportedly said the present arrangement whereby the presidential election was scheduled to hold before the governorship election was not acceptable as it could be used to intimidate political opponents adding that the ideal thing was for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections to hold before the presidential election.

Jega


He continued: “It is not just the bandwagon effect we are complaining about; they want to intimidate people.”

Obviously referring to the PDP he said their plot is to say “if you don’t vote for me, you do this and we’ll do that.”

”We’ve been in the game long before, so we know they want to use intimidation” he said. He concluded thus: “I don’t think anybody on that side is really serious about winning a free and fair election. To them it is either about INEC or security, or intimidation”.

Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole also faulted the 2015 General Elections time-table saying it leaves a loophole for election rigging.

Speaking to reporters in Asaba after a recent stakeholders’ meeting of APC he said “Nigerians cannot afford to continue to be a laughing stock even by West African standard”.

According to him: “I don’t understand why INEC wants to climb the tree from the top; they do recognize they have some explanations to make. Common sense demands that you climb a tree from the bottom for good reason.”

He continued: “When you want to do Presidential Election first, you are deviating from an old pattern, you have some explanations to do.”

“If you know you still have to do some test- running, you rather try the test-running with smaller units because the governorship election will not be taking place in the 36 States. The election into the Houses of Assembly can’t be as problematic as the Presidential election.”

He urged the leadership of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to have a retrospective view of the already released time table.

Other APC governors who were reported to have condemned the 2015 election time-table include Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State; Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State.

Amaechi, who is the Chairman, of a faction of the Nigeria Governors Forum, insisted that a bottom-up approach was the best for any general election. He said the conduct of the presidential poll before the governorship election would be unfair to the APC.

He spoke through the Chief of Staff, Government House, Mr. Tony Okocha.

According to him: “All the elections should hold on the same day. Holding the presidential election first and later the governorship election will not be fair to us. It should be bottom-up and not from the top to the bottom. The current election timetable, as released by INEC, will give room for unhealthy bandwagon effect.”

Apart from the APC governors, other groups, political parties and individuals have also condemned the time-table.

These include the Allied Congress of Progressive Nigerians ACPN and Arewa Consultative Forum ACF.

Reacting to the timetable in Kaduna, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) urged INEC to conduct the 2015 general elections in one day to reduce cost.

In his own remarks, the National Secretary of ACPN, Alhaji Ganiyu Galadima, stated in Abuja that the timetable would cause confusion among Nigerians.

Said he: “The 2015 general election timetable is a great departure from what we used to have in the past elections in this country. For the first time, INEC is joining the National Assembly election with the Presidential election which I think is not acceptable.”

“It is not acceptable because if the National Assembly and the Presidential elections are held on the same day, it will bring about confusion. Let elections be staggered so that the voting process will be violence- free”, he said.

Commenting on the controversy, the former National Chairman of the Progressive Parties Alliance PPA Dr Sam Nkire who earlier this week joined the APC train, said the INEC time-table was okay. However, he expressed misgivings about the attitude of INEC staff who he accused of always nurturing the mentality that they were employed to serve the party in power.

PDP endorsement

Nevertheless, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party PDP has endorsed the time-table.

Speaking with Vanguard, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh noted that it was imperative for PDP to ask APC to order its members to boycott the election because it has become a tradition on the part of the opposition to call for boycott of elections.

According to him: “PDP, as a law abiding party, will be guided by the procedure for electoral processes. The APC in the same manner it instructed its members in the National Assembly to stall the passage of the 2014 budget, and screening of the newly nominated ministerial candidates, should do same in the forthcoming elections.”

Apart from PDP, several other groups, parties and individual politicians have welcomed the time-table.

For instance the leader of the Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) in Anambra State, Mr Godwin Ezeemo commended INEC for the early release of the 2015 election time table.

Ezeemo told reporters in Awka that the early release of the timetable had given political parties in the country the opportunity to plan well for their campaigns.

He also said that when elections are held early in the year, it would give room for litigation after the election before the swearing-in of victorious candidates.

On its own part, a Yoruba socio-political Organisation, Afenifere Renewal Group also expressed satisfaction with the 2015 election time table.

According to the group’s Interim National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin “ the timing of the elections gives enough time to have the national conference, complete it and subject it to a referendum.”

He said it was important that several issues which caused tension in the country should be resolved by the national conference before the elections.

Several prominent lawyers across the country have also endorsed the time table.

In his own reaction, Mr Fred Agbaje, a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist urged INEC to put all logistics in place towards the realisation of free and fair polls next year.

He also advised politicians to abide by the relevant electoral laws and put an end to unguarded utterances capable of heating up the polity.

In his own submission, Okey Ibeanu, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka dismissed the fears expressed over the 2015 election time table by opposition politicians.

In a telephone interview he granted to Vanguard last Wednesday, he said: “ I think the argument is the old cliche about band-wagon effect; that is to say, the people would likely vote for the party that wins the presidential elections in subsequent polls. But in my own thinking, that kind of position really belittles Nigerians given the type of political developments we have seen in the country over the years.”

He continued: “For instance, when you look at the South-West, you would recall that they voted against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party PDP in the 2011 governorship elections. That also happened in some parts of the North. So, I don’t think that the bandwagon argument still flies.

”I have also heard arguments on the other side which supports the belief in the bandwagon effect and that the 2015 election schedule was meant to favor the other side. The electoral commission is actually facing a situation it cannot win; this is because whatever decision it takes on the matter it would be like heads you lose, tails you lose.

He advised Nigerian politicians to prepare for next years polls instead of raising frivolous objections about the time-table.

Said he: “The general election has been fixed well ahead of time. All they need to do is to start preparing.

Based on what the electoral commission says, I think the schedule is consistent with best practices; to have the national elections first and later have the regional or state elections.That is actually what is obtainable everywhere. In some places, you have about six months time difference between the national and regional elections.”

Prof. Ibeanu then asked a rhetorical question: “…Why are we not holding all the elections in one day?”

He also provided an answer: “ But INEC has said it can’t handle this yet because of logistics. The logistical demands of holding all elections in one day could break the back of the best electoral body in the world.”

INEC is unperturbed

This notwithstanding, the leadership of the electoral commission doesn’t seem to be perturbed by the controversy the time-table has thrown up.

Responding to an e-mail sent to him last Tuesday regarding the raging debate over the development, Mr Kayode Idowu, Special Adviser on Media to Chairman of the Commission Prof. Attahiru Jega said: “INEC did not take such a decision like it was a fluke. It was a product of concerted deliberation of all principal officers of the Commission.

The Commission, as you know, is not motivated by sentiments or extraneous influences.”

Earlier on Jega had responded to the controversy while fielding questions from the audience after a presentation he made at a well-attended forum at Chatham House, London last week. He dismissed suggestions that INEC was under external pressure in designing the election timetable the way it did.

According to him: “…The timetable for the 2015 general election recently announced by the Commission was informed by rational and logical considerations, not sentimental or ulterior motivations.”

He continued: “Nobody has put us under any pressure. We did these things logically and rationally, in terms of what we considered best for our country”.

He further stated that the Commission was mindful of its own operational effectiveness and global best practice in grouping national elections together on one day, and state elections together on another day.

Jega explained that Nigeria was not yet logistically strong enough to have all the elections in one day. He also disagreed with suggestions that the elections were drastically reordered, when compared to 2011.

He continued: As far as we are concerned, the presidential election is not positioned first. What we did is that we combined the National elections, so you can’t say that presidential election is placed first.

Some Nigerians wonder why we can’t have all the elections in one day. It is true that in some countries, they conduct all their elections in one day. From our own assessment, the enormity of challenges associated with that is such that we are not yet prepared in the electoral commission to do all the elections in one day. But then, we felt that instead of having three elections, let us have two. In 2011, we had three: we did the National Assembly elections first; then, the Presidential; and then, the Governorship as well as State Assembly elections. But we felt that in 2015, let us have two elections rather than three.

”Then we asked ourselves: what is the best combination in line with global best practice? The global best practice is that you do national elections separate from state elections, if you can’t do all together. So, rather than have the Presidential and Governorship elections together, or the National Assembly with State Assembly elections; we said, let us have all the national elections together, and then the state elections.”

Jega further assured that INEC is sparing no effort to ensure that the challenge of logistics which marred past elections is prevented in future elections, beginning with the Ekiti and Osun governorships polls slated to hold later this year and the 2015 general election. He, however, regretted that reports of that challenge during the November 2013 Anambra State governorship election were overblown.

Said he: “The issue of logistics is a major challenge for INEC, and we are doing our best to address it. But for Anambra, the state has 31 local government areas, and the challenge we faced was with regard to one local government – Idemili North. Since the Edo State governorship election, we started customising result sheets to specific wards and polling units. In the past, politicians would get result sheets and move them around. So, we started to customise the result sheets. And so, if there was a mix-up in the distribution among polling units, you would have the kind of crisis we had in Anambra.

”Of course, there was no reason why there should be that kind of mix-up, and we were not satisfied by the explanation given by the Electoral Officer in charge of that local government.

But the fact was that before we could retrieve and redistribute those result sheets, time had lapsed and the people had become agitated. Some even blocked our officials from proceeding with the process of redistribution, because they suspected that something funny was happening.

“What we have done is to have that officer arraigned in court. He has been charged, because it is a criminal offence to obstruct the electoral process or undermine elections. The matter is in court, and is being prosecuted. So, we are doing our best. You cannot stop people from interpreting what happened one way or the other, especially as it is true that Idemili is an area considered a stronghold of one of the candidates.

He asked: “Was it done deliberately?”

”That is what the court case will be addressing. But we cannot allow this to continue to happen. And that is why we are paying a lot of attention to addressing the challenge. We have demonstrated a capacity to identify people who are responsible for failures, and to hold them accountable. And that is another thing that wasn’t the case in the past. It is a big challenge and we will continue to do our best in that regard.”

Jega is also certain that the challenge of people not finding their names on the biometric register of voters on Election Day will not reoccur if every voter makes the effort to ascertain his status during the impending display of the register before the commencement of Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) nationwide.

He also reassured Nigerians that additional measures are being put in place by the Commission to facilitate voter enquiry about the register.

However, some analysts believe the major benefit of the opposition’s loud protest against the 2015 election schedule is that it would keep INEC on its toes. Some watchers of political events in the country actually believe that when the opposition puts INEC on the defensive, it would send the signal to everybody in the electoral commission that the days of electoral manipulation are over.






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