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How Council of State was divided along party line at Thursday meeting

By The Rainbow
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Following a seven-hour meeting of the National Council of State on Thursday on the 2015 general election and security issues in the country, deep divisions along party lines deterred the council from taking a decision on whether to hold the poll as scheduled or not.

Having failed to arrive at a common resolution on the scheduling of the elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), whose chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, was at the meeting to brief its members on the commission's preparedness or otherwise to hold the polls, was instructed to hold consultations with his National Electoral Commissioners, Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and the political parties to arrive at a decision that would be made public on whether the elections should go ahead as planned or be postponed.

However, before Jega was asked to consult and announce INEC's final decision to Nigerians, he had made a brief presentation to the council, a copy of which was obtained by THISDAY last night.

In the document titled, “Preparations for the 2015 General Election: Progress Report”, which was dated February 5, 2015, and signed by Jega, the chairman, while assuring his audience of the commission's readiness for the polls, tacitly expressed reservations about proceeding with them as scheduled.

He cited a new security report he had received from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) the day before on four states in the North-east, stating, “This is a new development that INEC cannot certainly ignore or take lightly.”

Jega's document reads: “Although our state of preparedness may not be 100 per cent or perfect, and although a bit of time of additional preparation will enable us improve and perfect the current level of preparedness, we believe that we are ready for the elections as planned.

“However, we also believe that it is necessary to take into context the things outside the control of the commission such as attitude of politicians, political parties, candidates and voters, and SIGNIFICANTLY, security for election personnel, materials and voters in areas under the insurgency, which only the appropriate authorities can definitively speak on.

“No matter the extent of our readiness, if there are serious security concerns, the successful conduct of free, fair, credible and peaceful elections will be greatly jeopardised.

“INEC has been working with these authorities, especially under the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCESS), but our concerns have not been assuaged.

“I am sure this August body will be appraised of the security situation for the elections by the responsible authority.

“Yesterday, for example, we received a letter from the Office of the National Security Adviser informing us of recent developments in four of the North-east states, stating that safety and security cannot be guaranteed during the proposed election period, adducing reasons why this is so, and strongly advising that INEC considers rescheduling the elections by at least six weeks within the provisions of the electoral legal framework, and within which time span it is hoped to restore sufficient normalcy for elections to hold.

“This is a new development that INEC cannot certainly ignore or take lightly.

“I thank you for the opportunity to provide this briefing.”

After his presentation, THISDAY learnt that members of the council voiced their concerns for or against the postponement of the election.

President Goodluck Jonathan, a presidency source said, impressed it on those present that it would be necessary to shift the dates for the elections in order to guaranty the safety of voters, electoral officials and even security personnel in the North-east.

He expressed concern that if a vital section of the country was left out of the elections, the legitimacy of the candidate(s) who emerge victorious could be challenged on the grounds that millions of voters could not exercise their franchise during the elections.

His position was backed by the Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu, who spoke after the president, and other governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

However, governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who had met the night before to arrive at a common position to press ahead with the polls, insisted that the elections should go ahead as planned.

Alongside the presidential candidate of the APC, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, they argued that heightened insecurity in about 14 Boko Haram-occupied local government areas out of 774 in the country should not stop the elections from going ahead as scheduled.

In their contributions, ex-military heads of state, Generals Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, alongside a former Chief Justice of the Nigeria (CJN), Justice Moddibo Alfa Belgore, acknowledged that the fears over security concerns in the North-east could not be ignored, but advised Jega to proceed with the elections as scheduled in other states of the federation.

Belgore's predecessor, Justice Muhammad Uwais, however, kept quiet throughout the deliberations.

With the council unable to agree on a unified position, a stalemate ensued, compelling the council to instruct Jega to hold further consultations with his commissioners and the political parties, following which INEC would make a final announcement early next week on whether the February polls would hold as planned or be shifted.

In this regard, THISDAY learnt that Jega will today meet the National Electoral Commissioners, then meet with the 37 RECs of the states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) tomorrow.

The aim of the two meetings is to enable the INEC chairman brief his national commissioners on the outcome of the Council of State meeting and obtain situational briefings from the 37 RECs before meeting with the political parties on Monday on the way forward.

It is only after the stakeholders' meeting with the parties on Monday that the nation will be informed whether the elections will go ahead this month or be deferred by a few weeks.

Briefing State House correspondents who had kept vigil for the outcome of the council meeting, Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, and his Ondo State counterpart, Olusegun Mimiko, at a joint press briefing gave conflicting information reflecting the division among those who attended the meeting.

Okorocha told expectant reporters that INEC had been advised by the council to perform its civic responsibility with regards to this month's elections.

Mimiko, on the other hand, said INEC was advised by the council to embark on consultations with stakeholders and see if it was possible to go ahead with the election or not.

The Ondo governor said: “Council of State, in a meeting close to seven hours, discussed essentially the state of preparedness of INEC (for the elections). INEC had the benefit of input from council members and security chiefs and agencies.

“And based on the very exhaustive discussion and advice, INEC is constitutionally empowered with the basis of the discussion, to brief the nation and then the news will be communicated to you.”

Asked if there was a shift in date, the Ondo State governor said: “Like I made it absolutely clear, I am not INEC. The INEC chief 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 soon.

“The Council of State is essentially an advisory body. Mr. President, in his wisdom, invited INEC to brief us on the state of preparedness and based on what INEC briefed us and based on the perception of council members and security agencies, INEC was properly advised and you will hear from INEC.”

He stressed: “For any avoidance of doubt, like I said, INEC had the benefit of inputs and perspectives from council members. Issues of distribution of PVCs (permanent voters' cards), card readers, the extent of piloting to ensure that people are familiar with this, security issues, all of these were discussed.

“The issue of the fact that seven days to election 34 per cent of Nigerians are yet to get their PVCs was also raised. It was a major issue that was discussed.

“Issues of preparedness and security to conduct elections nationwide, issue of extensive pilot of the card readers, which is a new technology was also brought to the fore.

“All of these were discussed but ultimately, council being an advisory body to take advantage of the different perspectives of the council members, allowed everyone to air their views on the election.”

However, Okorocha said: “NCS 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 severally that they are ready.

“But because of the concern of security agencies in some few local government areas, council asked INEC to go and perform its civic responsibility, which is the conduct of elections.”

Asked if there was a decision on the change of date for the polls, he said: “There was no decision as to the change of dates or postponement at all. But the council has asked INEC to go and perform its responsibility.”

Asked if any decision was taken on the use of temporary voters' card (TVCs), Okorocha said: “Temporary voters cards are being exchanged for the new ones and once you have given out your temporary voters' card, that means you don't have one anymore.

“So they are going for the permanent voters' cards, and the PVCs would be assumed to have been distributed before Sunday (February 8) 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.”

When asked if reports on the alleged resignation of Jega was tabled, he said nothing like that was discussed.

“It does appear that PDP and APC are not on the same page on this matter going by the discord between your submissions.

“As usual, we will not be on the same page on any issue 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 everyone because that is the fundamental law that guides the nation's policies,” he said.

Reacting to what APC interpreted as a rejection of the shift of the polls by the Council of State, spokesman of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, Malam Garba Shehu, said in a statement last night that the decision of the council was the “triumph of the nation and its people over parochial individual and political interest”.

APC said that the position of the council vindicated the position of millions of Nigerians who are ready and keen on the elections and who want to change the circumstances of the country.

The statement added that upholding the February 14 date and other scheduled dates for the election, confirmed the sacrosanct nature of those dates as well as the May 29, 2015 handover date.

“We are heartened that a major crisis of a political and constitutional nature has been averted which would have made Nigeria the laughing stock of the civilised world.

“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has always said it is ready for the polls, likewise all the security and intelligence agencies and more importantly, the Nigerian people, who are the voters.

“It would have been a terrible disservice if on the basis of personal interests the elections were postponed.

“No nation learns all the lessons of democracy at once. Thus it is the belief of our campaign that INEC, the electoral umpire, still has the chance and is indeed determined and ready to organise credible polls next week and thereafter.

“We congratulate the masses of our people for the decision of the Council of State. This is a sure sign that Nigerian people are ready to sacrifice and to back their country from the locusts which have turned it into a barren land,” the party stated.

ELECTIONS FACT
Number of registered voters – 68.8m
Number of PVCs printed and delivered – 66.3m
Number of PVCs yet to be delivered but paid for – 1.3m

Number of PVCs stolen to be replaced – 1.1m
Number of PVCs collected as at Feb 5 – 45.09m,
representing 65.8% of registered voters
source: inec
This Day
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