BY TUNDE ODESOLA, OLUSOLA FABIYI, OLALEKAN
Members of the Council of State were on Thursday divided over the desirability of the general elections taking place on February 14 and 28as scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The disagreement which characterised the seven-hour meeting again played out during a news conference addressed by Governors Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo); Rochas Okorocha (Imo); and Bala Ngilari (Adamawa).
Mimiko told State House correspondents that based on the presentation made to the council by the INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, and the contributions of council members, the electoral body was advised to communicate its position to the nation.
He said, “ The council , in its meeting, which was close to seven hours, essentially discussed the state of preparedness of INEC for the elections.
“INEC had the benefit of input from council members and security chiefs and relevant agencies.
“Based on the very exhaustive discussion and pieces of advice, INEC is constitutionally empowered with the basis of discussions, to brief the nation and then the news will be communicated to you.”
When asked to be specific on whether the elections would be held as scheduled or would be shifted, Mimiko said, “Like I made it absolutely clear, I am not the INEC chief. INEC will appropriately brief you based on the meeting we just had.
“INEC is going to consult widely with stakeholders and come up with a decision that they will brief the nation on it soon.
“The council is essentially an advisory body. Mr. President, in his wisdom, invited INEC to brief us on its state of preparedness.
“Based on what INEC said and based on the perception of council members and security agencies, INEC was properly advised and you will hear from INEC.”
Immediately after he spoke, Mimiko, Ngilari and President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati, rose and made their ways out of the venue of the briefing.
Apparently not satisfied with the information released by the Ondo State Governor, Okorocha beckoned on them to come back, saying the briefing was one-sided.
Mimiko, Ngilari and Abati reluctantly returned to their seats to listen to him.
Okorocha said after extensive deliberation, INEC was advised to go ahead and perform its constitutional responsibility which is to conduct elections.
He said, “The council advised INEC to go and perform its civic responsibility which is to conduct elections.
“That is what we rose to agree; it was a very challenging moment and INEC has reaffirmed many times that it was ready for the elections.
“Because of concerns of security agencies in some few local governments, the council asked INEC to go and perform its civic responsibilities, which is the conduct of elections.”
Asked specifically if there was a decision regarding change of date for the polls, Okorocha said, “There is no decision as to the change of dates or postponement at all. But the council has asked INEC to go and perform its responsibility.”
When asked if APC expected the elections to hold on the scheduled dates, he replied, “That is what we are expecting definitely.”
When confronted with the fact that it appeared that the PDP and All Progressives Congress governors were not on the same page on the matter going by the discord at the news conference, the governor said, “As usual, we will not be on the same page on any issues of this nature.
“It is normal that some will be for and others will be against, but the truth is that we looked at the Constitution of Nigeria, that is the only binding factor when there are issues of disagreement.
“The Constitution guides every one because that is the fundamental law that guides the whole nation’s policies.”
On the use of Permanent Voter Cards during the elections, Okorocha said, “The temporary voters cards are being exchanged for the new ones and once you have given out your temporary voter card, that means you don’t have anymore.
“So they are going for the PVCs and the PVCs would be assumed to have been distributed before Sunday; that was the essence of the whole exercise and Jega has reassured us that they are equal to the task.
“In fact, they are more prepared than they were in 2011.”
He added that the issue of Jega’s alleged resignation was not discussed at the meeting.
Immediately Okorocha finished his speech, Mimiko who was obviously not comfortable with his colleague’s submission, offered to make further clarification.
He said the meeting reviewed the challenges in the distribution of the PVCs, card readers and security challenges.
The governor added, “For any avoidance of doubt, like I said, INEC had the benefit of inputs and perspectives from council members.
“Issues of distribution of PVCs, card readers, the extent of piloting to ensure that people are familiar with this, security issues, all of these were discussed.
“Issues of the fact that seven days to election, 34 per cent of Nigerians have yet to get PVCs.
“It was a major issue that was discussed – issue of preparedness of security to conduct elections nationwide, issue of the card readers which is a new technology.
“All of these were discussed but ultimately, council being an advisory body, asked INEC to take advantage of the different perspectives of the members to take decision about the election.”
The Progressives Governors Forum, the umbrella body of the APC governors, later issued a statement in which it said that the “council reviewed INEC’s report and the presentation by the NSA on the state of preparedness for the general elections.”
It said in a five-paragraph statement by Okorocha that Jega “ assured the council that INEC is ready to proceed with the elections as scheduled.”
Jega is however expected to meet on Friday (today) with the national commissioners and the Resident Electoral Commissioners on Saturday over the outcome Council of State meeting.
After the departure of all the APC governors, the President engaged PDP governors in a brief meeting at the new banquet hall.
The issues discussed and the outcomes of the short meeting had yet to be made public as of 8.30pm on Thursday.
The presidential candidate of the APC, Muhammadu Buhari, was one of the nation’s former leaders that attended the meeting which started at about 11:30am.
Others included former President Shehu Shagari; former Heads of State – Yakubu Gowon and Abdusalami Abubakar – and the Head of Interim National Government, Ernest Shonekan.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the only former Nigerian leader absent from the meeting presided over by Jonathan.
Vice President Namadi Sambo, the President of the Senate, David Mark; the Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim; and the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, also attended the meeting.
A mild drama however played out before the commencement of the meeting when Buhari did not join other former leaders in the President’s office.
The tradition is that the former leaders would converge and join the President to arrive at the Council Chamber venue of the meeting together.
But Buhari, on arrival, went straight to the Council Chamber.
It took the intervention of Anyim and some other top government officials for him to be prevailed upon to join his colleagues.
At the close of the meeting, Buhari also refused to leave the venue with his colleagues.
He left through a different door.
Before the meeting, 10 registered political parties had earlier insisted that the elections must hold.
They said that the calls by some people, groups and 16 other parties for the postponement of the polls were the handiwork of the PDP.
The 10 parties, under the aegis of the Progressives Political Parties, said in a joint statement signed by their leaders in Abuja that shifting the polls would plunge the country into chaos.
The statement read, “We the undersigned, on behalf of our political parties, are shocked at the conduct of some of our colleagues who have joined the infamous campaign to scuttle Nigeria’s hard-earned democracy by calling for the postponement of the general election barely a week before the election is to commence.
“We condemn, in the strongest terms possible, this underhand and undemocratic tactic meant to plunge our country into anarchy, on top of the debilitating state of insecurity which has become pervasive in the land.
“The call for the postponement of the general election has nothing to do with the preparedness of Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct the election or the pace of distribution and collection of Permanent Voter Cards.
“INEC, the authority empowered by law to fix the date of the election had said, countless times, it is ready and prepared to conduct a free, fair and credible election on February 14 and 28 .
“As a matter of fact, Jega and his colleagues in the commission had stated time and time again, that they had four years to prepare for the election and they will deliver better election this time round.”
But before the statement was made public, some politicians in Yobe State vowed to lead a protest against the postponement of the elections.