Outrage, on Sunday, greeted Saturday’s postponement of the February 14 and 28 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Among those that flayed the shift are the United States, the United Kingdom, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Maj.Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd; the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, senators and a senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, at a news conference in Abuja on Saturday night, announced that the elections would hold March 28 and April 1, 2015.
He said that security agencies informed the commission that they would not be available to provide adequate support if the polls were to take place on February 14 and February 28 as earlier scheduled.
The US, in a statement in Washington DC by its Secretary of State, John Kerry, expressed disappointment over the development and cautioned that the Federal Government should not use security as a pretext to derail democracy.
It warned against what it described as “political interference with the duties of INEC, ” but told the Federal Government to ensure that the elections were not delayed any further than the new dates.
The US statement reminded the government that the world was watching Nigeria, adding that Washington’s interest was to see a “free, transparent, and credible electoral process in Nigeria.”
The statement read, “The US is deeply disappointed by the decision to postpone Nigeria’s presidential election, which had been scheduled for February 14.
“Political interference with INEC 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 US underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.
“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.
The UK, in an electronic mail to one of our correspondents by its Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond , said the shift of the elections was a cause for concern.
Like the US, it advised the Federal Government against using the security situation in the North-East as a reason to deny Nigerians the right to exercise their democratic rights.
The email read, “The decision by INEC to postpone the presidential elections is a cause for concern. The Nigerian people have the right to credible, peaceful and transparent elections. There should be no further delay in delivering democracy and we urge all to remain calm during this period of frustration.
“While we support Nigeria in its struggle against terrorism, the security situation should not be used as a reason to deny the Nigerian people from exercising their democratic rights. It is vital that the elections are kept on track and held as soon as possible in accordance with international norms.”
INEC’s independence compromised – Buhari
The APC presidential candidate, Buhari, said by shifting the dates based on the excuse by the military, INEC had shown that its independence had been compromised.
He however added in a statement that the electoral body should not be blamed for the poll shift as it was boxed into a corner.
Buhari urged his supporters to remain calm because the ruling Peoples Democratic Party would not succeed at the polls next month.
He said it was suspicious that after the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), failed to make INEC postpone the elections based on the inability of some Nigerians to get their Permanent Voter Cards, he (Dasuki) then came up with the issue of security at the last minute.
Buhari said, “Following the decision by INEC to postpone the general elections by six weeks, I wish to appeal for utmost restraint and calm by all Nigerians, especially the teeming supporters of our great party, the APC.
“This postponement, which comes on the heels of the bogey of the NSA that half of the registered voters were being disenfranchised, was exposed as a crude and fraudulent attempt to subvert the electoral process.
“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.”
The former Head of State urged his supporters not to take the law into their hands as such could compound the insecurity in the country
He advised them to see the postponement as an opportunity to strengthen their resolve for change.
Buhari said, “As a Nigerian and a presidential candidate in the elections, I share in the disappointment and frustration of this decision. This postponement coming a week to the first election has raised so many questions, many of which shall be asked in the days ahead. However, 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.
“If anything, this postponement should strengthen our resolve and commitment to rescue our country from the current economic and social collapse from this desperate band. Our desire for change must surpass their desperation to hold on to power at all cost.” by those in power.
The pan-northern socio-political organisation, ACF, which also expressed disapointment over the poll shift called on Nigerians to be prayerful and desist from acts that could jeopardise the nation’s democracy.
The ACF noted in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Muhammad Ibrahim, that intimidation, threat and arm-twisting by individuals and groups would not be in the interest of democracy in the country.
It said said, “We received with disappointment the INEC’s decision to re-schedule the elections citing security challenges in the states of Adamawa, Borno, Gombe and Yobe as the main reason.
“ACF commends Nigerians for their patience and perseverance during this trying moment of uncertainty that engulfed the nation in the last three days.
“Nigerians should therefore continue to be prayerful, remain calm and restrain themselves from any act of lawlessness that will jeopardise the democratic process of free and fair election.
“It is only our collective resolve to respect the tenets of democracy that will strengthen our unity and peaceful coexistence.
Also, the Independent Election Monitoring Group, described the INEC shifting of the polls as a coup against democracy.
The National Coordinator of the group, Festus Okoye argued that the IEMG was not convinced with the reason adduced for the shift in the polls.
Okoye said: “the IEMG views the postponement as unwarranted and a coup against the 1999 Constitution and the Nigerian people and therefore unacceptable.
“We condemn the decision by the security agencies and forces not to provide security for the February 2015 elections. The said decision is a coup against democracy, the constitutional order, the electoral process and the Nigerian people.”
ASUU, the umbrella body of university teachers also flayed the postponement of the elections but urged Nigerians to concentrate on how to collect their PVCs.
The union said the shift was nothing but a ploy by the Federal Government to buy more time using insecurity as a reason.
ASUU National President, Nasir Fagge, said that the challenge was for Nigerians to be active in ensuring the emergence of a leadership with focus on the people and its institutions.
Fagge said the 1999 Constitution had failed to give solution to some of the fundamental problems facing the nation .
The Chairman of the University of Ibadan chapter of the union, Prof. Segun Ajiboye, said, “Hiding under this security ruse will not help the cabal trying to frustrate the genuine efforts of Nigerian seeking desperately for a change. ‘‘We condemn the shift in the polls but however encourage Nigerians to keep calm in the face of unnecessary provocations by those ruling cabal.”
Also, the APC senators in the National Assembly condemned the decision of INEC to postpone the elections.
The senators, in a statement by their spokesperson, Babafemi Ojudu, described the postponement as a ‘tele-guided plot’ by the PDP to derail democracy in the country.
They said, “What we are seeing is a desperate and jittery response to the imminent defeat of the PDP. The postponement has shown the helplessness of INEC in the face of a malicious cabal bent on destroying the fabric of democracy.
“This decision is borne out of fear of defeat and malice against the people of Nigeria in the face of the overwhelming support the APC command across the country.”
The opposition senators said that the PDP leadership, in collaboration with INEC, had put Nigeria in extremely bad light in the comity of nations.
Earlier, Senator Magnus Abe, an APC senator, had said, “My concern really is not about the postponement but the fact that the military are being used to do the bidding of a political party against the wishes of other stakeholders in the election, including the electorate.
“The fact that the call for the postponement of the election was demanded by the National Security Adviser( Sambo Dasuki) is a proof that the military could be used to obstruct an electoral process and this is a dangerous signal to our democracy.”
Barnabas Gemade, a Peoples Democratic senator, told one of our correspondents that INEC had not told Nigerians the real reasons why the Federal Government and the military forced it to postpone the electionS.
Gemade, a former National Chairman of the PDP, said, “The real reason for the postponement of the elections has not yet been put on the table for us to see.
“I do not see how six weeks would be enough for the military to effectively tackle the Boko Haram insurgency which had remained a threat to our country for years. However our party works according to the laws of the land, we shall wait and see what they would do after the six weeks.”
Also, Senator Adegbenga Kaka of the Social Democratic Party Ogun , said no reason was justifiable enough to postpone the elections.
“In advanced democracies, elections days are made sacrosanct. There are fixed dates for their polls. It is not possible for anybody to wake up one day to contemplate the postponement of elections after we have been given enough notice,” the lawmaker added.
Senator Olufemi Lanlehin of the Accord Party said he was not happy that the election was postponed few days to the scheduled dates but advised that the reason given by INEC should be considered critically.
Falana described the postponement as “a coup against the Nigerian constitution by the nation’s security chiefs.”
He said the security chiefs on whose counsel INEC hinged the postponement of the polls, lacked the constitutional power to do so.
The SAN said, “In a desperate bid to blackmail the INEC to postpone the elections the NSA wrote a letter to the INEC to the effect that the armed forces could not provide security for the election because of the operations in the north east region.
“By writing directly to the INEC on the security situation in the north east region the NSA usurped the functions of the National Security Council.
“That is the only body that has the constitutional duty to “advise the President on matters relating to public security including matters relating to any organisation or agency established by law for ensuring the security of the federation.
“The council which is established under section 153 of the 1999 Constitution comprises the President, the Vice-President, the Defence Minister, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Inspector-General of Police and the NSA.”
The European Union Elections Observation Mission said it was currently assessing all facts and would decide next steps in the coming days.
Its Media Officer, Eberhard Lowen, made this known while responding to questions from The Punch in Abuja on Sunday.
Accept poll shift in good faith –Jonathan
But Jonathan on Sunday appealed to all stakeholders to accept the shift in the dates for the polls in good faith.
He also assured that despite the change , he remained committed to the sanctity of May 29, 2015 as the terminal date of his four-year first term.
Jonathan made his position known in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati.[Punch]