The Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria (INEC) has announced a shift in the general elections dates to March 28 and April 11.
The new schedule was announced on Saturday by the Chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, after meetings with political stakeholders.
Professor Jega said that the Presidential Election would hold on March 28 while the Governorship election would hold on April 11.
At a press briefing after the last meeting for the day between Professor Jega and other top officials of the INEC, Professor Jega said that the commission’s decision was not influenced by any group or individuals.
“We have done wide reaching consultations to enable us have as much input as necessary before taking an informed decision.
“In the series of consultations that we had with stakeholders, the questions constantly posed to them for consideration are; in view of the latest developments, should INEC proceed with the conduct of the general elections as scheduled in spite of the strong advice and if so, what alternative security arrangements are available to be put in place.
“The second is; should INEC take the advice of the security chiefs and adjust the schedules of the general elections within the framework of the constitutional provisions,” Professor Jega said.
‘Concerned About Security’
According to him, the commission decided to take the advice of the security chiefs and adjust the dates of the elections in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“We have done this, relying on section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act, as amended.
“Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct an election as a result of natural disaster or other emergencies, the commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area or areas concerned appoint another day for the holding of the postponed election provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”
The chairman of the INEC pointed out that for the fact the commission was not a security agency that could guarantee protection of personnel, voters during elections and observers, the commission could not likely wave-off the advice by the nation’s security chiefs.
“The commission is concerned about the security of our ad-hoc staff, the young men and women of the NYSC and students of the tertiary education who constitute at least 600,000 young men and women that we will use in the election,” he said.
Professor Jega further said that the concern was not limited to the areas in the north-eastern part of the nation that has witnessed series of attacks by the members of a terrorist group, the Boko Haram but to the security of the commission’s officials and the observers.
“We believe that few election management bodies around the world will contemplate conducting elections under these circumstances,” he said, emphasising that “the prospect for free, fair and credible elections will not be guaranteed if the election was held as scheduled”.
In the new schedule, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on March 28 while the Governorship and State Assemblies elections will hold on April 11.
In the initial schedule, the elections were meant to hold on February 14 and 28.
Taken In Good Faith
The commission’s boss said that the rescheduling fell within the constitutional framework for the conduct of the election, stressing that the INEC will, “under no circumstances approve an arrangement that is not in line with the provisions of our rules”.
Professor Jega said that the decision to shift the election was taken in good faith and in the best interest of democracy in Nigeria.
The commission expressed hopes that the security services would ensure that the security environment needed for safe and peaceful conduct of the elections were rapidly put in place, promising that it would do everything within the law to conduct a free fair and credible election.
“We call on security agencies to restore sufficient normalcy for elections to take place within the period of extension.
“Nigerians and political parties candidates were urged to accept the decision in good faith and ensure the maintenance of peace.”
The issue of Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) distribution had also been raised at different occasions, with some electorates lamenting that the process of distribution was slow. Professor Jega said that out of the 68.8 million numbers of registered voters 66.58 per cent of the PVCs have been distributed, promising that the commission would continue to do its best to resolve all issues in respect of non-collection of the PVC.
He further said that the commission had considered the effect the postponement would have, but decided to take the decision in the interest of the nation’s democracy.
Few days ago, the National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan had advised the INEC to postpone the elections citing cases of insecurity in the north-east that has scuttled the chances of conducting election in the region.
On Friday, a spokesman for the President, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said that the president had called for the postponement of the elections to ensure that persons in the nation’s north-east would be able to take part in the elections, expressing worries that people would be disenfranchised, if elections were held as scheduled.
The opposition APC had asked the INEC to go ahead and hold the elections as scheduled, alleging that the presidency was pushing for a postponement because his party was not ready for the election.
But INEC’s boss said that the commission was not forced by anybody to postpone the elections. The postponement of the election will further give political parties more time to seek supports votes.