Lagos — Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) Presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, alerted on Monday that President Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may force Attahitu Jega to resign as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman.
He warned of surreptitious moves in the days ahead to embark on a media campaign to force Jega to resign so that an INEC Commissioner friendly with the PDP can be appointed as acting INEC Chairman.
A statement issued by Buhari's Spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, alleged the exertion of pressure and influence on Jega by Jonathan and the PDP, "reminiscent of the same shameful approach the late President Umaru Yar'Adua adopted with the then Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Ekiti State, Ayoka Adebayo, as we can all remember."
Odumakin said in any civilised clime, a candidate or party that is participating in an election would keep a distance from the Electoral Commission to avoid any appearance of undue influence or conflict of interest.
"This is why most, if not all, Electoral Commissions throughout the world are supposed to be independent of the various arms of government.
"Regrettably, this is not the case in Nigeria as our so called Independent National Electoral Commission has a track record of being independent more in the breach than in observance.
"That the pattern of abuse by the executive arm and the ruling party on the INEC can continue even in the middle of a critical period of general elections is mind-boggling and totally unacceptable.
"In so doing, Jonathan (like his recent predecessors) is laying the foundation for the forthcoming elections to be anything but free, fair, and credible as Nigerians and the world at large would want it to be."
Odumakin added that the Buhari camp had believed that the National Assembly (NASS) election was aborted and postponed in the middle of voting because of non availability of voting materials as announced by Jega.
"However, we now have reasons to believe that covert as well as overt pressures are being exerted by Jonathan, the PDP, and their agents because of their vested interests in manipulating the outcome of the elections.
"If we had doubts about the widely circulated rumour that senior officers in the legal and operations departments of the INEC deliberately engineered the delay and non availability of the critical materials as an act of sabotage to discredit Jega, such surreptitious or covert moves now pale into relative insignificance in light of the emergency meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Jonathan with Jega and other senior officials of the INEC after the postponed elections."
The statement referred to a newspaper report on Monday that Vice President Namadi Sambo, National Security Adviser, and the Ministers of Defence and Police Affairs and other Service Chiefs were also present at the meeting where accusing fingers were pointed at Jega for the problems that led to the postponement.
It said Jega was chastised for turning down the offer for the military to be involved in the election logistics, and that the government decided to constitute a task force comprising the military and INEC officials to handle all the logistics.
Buhari added that pressure was mounted on Jega not to combine the NASS and Presidential elections on April 9 as demanded by a majority of the opposition parties.
"He was also pressurised to change the modified Open Secret Ballot system that was adopted by the INEC, such that there should be no accreditation of all eligible voters prior to voting.
"The pressures were so strong that Jega succumbed and agreed not to combine the NASS and Presidential elections as has since been publicly announced by him.
"He, however, refused to constitute a task force and change the accreditation procedure as demanded and offered to resign instead.
"Naturally, we and most other Nigerians are disappointed by the postponement of the elections midstream but we strongly believe that Jega made the right call to postpone them rather than continuing with flawed elections.
"So we see no reason for Jonathan and the National Security Council meeting in the first place. The alarm bells and ominous signs to be deduced are as follows:
• "Why should the National Security Council be meeting with the INEC at this stage without other political parties being present?
• "Why embark on duress and undue influence for the rules to be changed in the middle of the game? Why should Jonathan and PDP's preference for the NASS election and the Presidential election not to be combined be imposed on all the other major parties?
• "Why should Jonathan and the PDP be clamouring for the involvement of the military in the conduct of the elections?
• "Will Jega eventually succumb, as did Ayoka Adebayo of Ekiti State, who initially resisted, but later bowed to pressure from the PDP?"
Buhari urged Jonathan and the PDP to stop interfering with the ballot process in the interest of free, fair and credible elections Jonathan promised Nigerians and also in the interest of peace and stability.
He demanded a probe of the role played by INEC Operations Director, Nuru Yakubu, in the bungled vote last Saturday and asked Jega to clear the air on the rumour that two sets of result sheets with the same serial numbers were printed.