Our Stand: Don’t Mess With February 14 Date

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LEADERSHIP EDITORIAL

Just 19 days to the commencement of the 2015 general elections, calls for their postponement have become more strident. Coteries of voices are converging, once more, on a road to damnation. And Nigeria democracy is, yet again, being attacked at the roots.

What are the reasons for these calls? Non-distribution of a substantial number of the permanent voter cards (PVCs), terrorist attacks in the north-east, fear of violence in many other parts of the country, the tension-soaked atmosphere, and perhaps non-readiness of some politicians that are now dangling yet-invisible legal hurdles.

Every round of elections in the country has always been preceded by tension and seeming lack of preparedness to conduct them. This one is obviously not different. And none of these fears is one that the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has recognised. Although some 30million out of 68.9million PVCs had not been distributed by a fortnight ago, INEC has stated that the number has reduced drastically and will become insignificant as Election Day approaches. INEC chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega has confirmed that money for the procurement of materials and other logistics has been made available. Even displaced people will have a chance to vote, he noted. As for the fear of violence, it is not really the business of INEC but that of the Nigerian armed forces and security agencies that are sustained by public funds.

INEC has had four years to prepare for this year’s polls. A storm foretold cannot take the cripple by surprise. The National Assembly has had four years to put in place enabling legislations that could have removed all hurdles to free, fair, transparent and credible elections. The executive and judiciary arms have had four years to do what is right.

We are aware that there are many out there that are working hard to use the judiciary to scuttle the polls. Pressure is being mounted on striking judiciary workers to resume so the anti-democracy forces could approach corrupt judges for injunctions and possibly attempt to render any elections that may be held “illegal”. While we are also uncomfortable with the lingering strike, judiciary workers should not allow themselves to be used by those who do not wish the country well to destroy democracy.

Some people may have been sincere in expressing fears: Pastor Tunde Bakare who cited insecurity across the land for warning against “walking into a disaster”; Chief Dan Nwanyanwu, immediate past national chairman of the Labour Party, who wants an allowance made for people to collect their voter cards and not be denied the right to vote; Governor James Ngillari of Adamawa State who is worried that terrorists have seized seven out of 21 local government areas of his state; and perhaps the national security adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), who, citing non-distribution of PVCs, believes that INEC is not yet prepared for the polls.

Patriotic as their ideas may be, sincere proponents of postponement ought to understand that they cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. The nation faces a far greater danger in postponing the polls than in trying to right all wrongs before calling for polls. Shifting of the polls is bound to put the democratic structure in serious threat.

We therefore agree with the official position of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and all other views clearly against postponement under any guise. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been inexplicably silent, even as there is a clear signal that an extension by six months or even one year would be attractive to many incumbent officeholders that are already sure of not returning to their seats.

If the polls were to be postponed by two months because of Boko Haram in the north-east, for instance, what is the assurance that the insurgent group will be routed before May? Why can’t all parties work with INEC to use the PVCs along with the Temporary Voter’s Card, if it is necessary to do so?

Need we remind Nigerians that the current hysteria is a throwback to 1993? There were similar calls for the postponement of the presidential election of that year. A nebulous group named Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), led by then Senator Arthur Nzeribe, procured a midnight judgement, hours before the election was to take place, ordering that it should not hold. But the electoral chief then, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, promptly intervened by explaining how the electoral law had nullified moves like ABN’s to stop the National Electoral Commission (NEC) from conducting elections. The forces of darkness continued their onslaught. Nigeria has yet to recover from that annulment.

Now, they have come again – those who thrive only in crisis but would not hesitate to migrate to safer climes after waging war on their nation. After nearly 23 years, they are pushing the country, once again, to the precipice. Unnecessarily. Wickedly.

We must stand and resist those who wish to exploit the provisions of Section 64 (2) and Section 135 (3) of the 1999 Constitution to their sinister advantage.

Is it the reason why the fighting power of our gallant troops has been weakened in the war on Boko Haram? In any case, there is no National Assembly to debate any proposal to this effect and pass a resolution before February 14; the legislators are on recess and hope to resume on February 17.

As a newspaper, we vote for peace in these elections because we consider the precarious condition to which ordinary people would be subjected as a result of prolonged political instability. Nigeria has yet to recover from the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.

Anyone who values peace should now give INEC all the support it needs to conduct these elections in February. Statesmen are urged to speak up now and not wait until the political train is derailed.

Jega and his INEC should not allow themselves to be distracted. The electoral body, security agents and the government in power have ample opportunity to chip off any envisaged rough edges in the next two weeks.

Let the elections hold on February 14. There is no going back on the INEC timetable.

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