A mild tussle ensued on Wednesday at a special briefing in Washington DC when members of an American pre-election mission disputed claims by two Nigerian security chiefs that their delegation endorsed postponement of the elections.
Giving updates on preparations for the re-scheduled elections, Ambassador Ayodele Oke, Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, and Rear-Admiral Gabriel E. Okoi, Director of Defence Intelligence, said the Nigerian government has overcome most of the security and logistic problems that led to the postponement of the election.
Mr. Oke said the election delay was occasioned by incidences of criminal violence, widespread tension and Boko Haram insurgency, which were occurring in tandem with considerable shortfall in the electoral calendar.
“INEC was having challenges with regards to the distribution of permanent voter cards (PVCs)”, he said, “while another important tool, the card reader machine were not fully yet tested and deployed” across the country.
Speaking on the insurgency, Mr. Okoi confirmed that Boko Haram effectively controlled 14 local government areas in the run-up to February 14, the day elections were scheduled to commence.
The terrorists’ threat virtually preempted any form of electoral activity in the occupied areas, the intelligence chiefs said.
“Consequently INEC, after robust consultation with key stakeholders, deferred the elections by six weeks in accordance with constitutional provisions”
Re-emphasizing the gravity of the conditions that led to the decision to postpone the elections, Mr. Oke said that “that when the election was postponed, the NDI and IRI who are both on the ground issued a joint statement which corroborated and gave fuller explanation as to the reason why INEC took the decision it took,” adding that the statement is on their website.
But speaking after the security chiefs’ presentations, representatives of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), who were present at the event, took an exception to Nigerian officials’ representation of their statement.
Former US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, Ambassador George Moose, said “nothing in the statement justified postponement”.
Mr. Moose led the eight-person joint pre-election assessment mission that visited Nigeria January 15-20, this year.
He said while the delegation’s statement recounted the prevailing conditions of the electoral process and specific challenges to the polls, it did not recommend any change to the electoral calendar.
On the contrary, the delegation expressed “concern that postponement would increase post-election risks”. Other members of the NDI, IRI delegation spoke in the same vein.