Nigeria: Fear Grips Opposition Parties Ahead of Polls

Photo: This Day
Atiku Abubakar and President Muhammadu Buhari
6 February 2019

With less than two weeks to the conduct of the 2019 general elections, some political parties participating in the election seem to be pessimistic about the integrity of the elections.

While some are of the opinion that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is poised to manipulate state institutions to compromise the electoral process, others allege that the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to frustrate the amendment of the 2010 electoral act was a sign that the current administration is not interested in a free, fair and credible elections.

For instance, the major opposition political party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) on Monday raised the alarm that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been taking directives from the Presidency and the APC on how to manipulate the electoral process at various levels.

The PDP alleged that INEC has collected a list of people that will serve as electoral officials, including ad-hoc staff and returning officers at the polling units, from APC state governors and candidates, across the federation, on the directives of the presidency.

National Publicity Secretary of the Party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement noted that following the directive of the APC in such dubious rigging scheme, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, has violated section 29 (1) of the Electoral Act (as amended) and shows that he is in clear deficit of the required political will to conduct a credible, free and fair election.

Sequel to this allegation, the PDP demanded that INEC should publish names of all its officials and ad-hoc staff for verification by stakeholders.

"In the light of the foregoing, the PDP demands that INEC, within the next 48 hours, publish the list of all officials and ad-hoc staff that will play any form of role in the election at all levels for verification by stakeholders. Any delay or refusal by INEC to publish the list with 48 hours would be a clear acceptance that it has been compromised by the APC and this could lead to a very serious crisis with very dire consequences as the PDP will never allow anybody to rig it out in this election.

The PDP also called attention of the international community to the electoral process and the party demanded that a travel ban should be placed on individuals who compromised the sanctity and integrity of the 2019 election.

"The PDP wants Prof. Mahmood Yakubu to note that the fate of our nation lies in his hands. It is left to him to decide whether he would end as a national hero or as a villain.

"Furthermore, the PDP calls on the international community to place the INEC Chairman, Directors and Commissioners in INEC responsible for this election on their watch list and proceed to impose travel ban on them as well as hold them directly responsible should there be any form of rigging in the February 16, 2019 Presidential elections. If President Buhari believes he is popular, he should make himself available for a free, fair, transparent and credible election. Anything short of this is completely unacceptable to Nigerians," Ologbodiyan stated.

Similarly, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) has alleged that the only option left in the elections for the Presidency and the ruling APC is to massively rig the elections for which they have already deployed machinery.

CUPP in a statement released by its spokesperson, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere also accused the federal government of plotting to scare away members of the international community from monitoring the forthcoming elections.

While reacting to claims by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed over alleged plots by the opposition to rig the election, CUPP said the federal government having sensed that it would lose at the polls has resorted to claims that the opposition are lobbying countries to discredit the outcome of the forthcoming polls.

"The Presidency has realised albeit too late in the day that their game is up thus their red herring. They cannot bamboozle the Nigerian people anymore with their propaganda and come February 16th, Nigerians will massively vote for the opposition consensus candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and he will win the elections fair and square.

"Who is attempting to buy votes through the fraudulent Tradermoni which has failed? Who is plotting to import voters from neighboring countries which has been exposed? Who is deploying security agencies particularly the military through the hurriedly put together Operation Python Dance Three will not avail them much to intimidate voters? All these have failed hence the have purchased like they purchased an order with which the Chief Justice of Nigeria was unlawfully forced out of office, a

Magistrate Court order to arrest key opposition leaders including Senator Bukola Saraki, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, Senator Ben Murray Bruce, Uche Secondus and 16 other leaders of the opposition," Ugochinyere alleged.

The coalition however insisted that Nigerians would reject the 2019 election if the result does not reflect the real winner.

"Let it be known to the Presidency that any election result which is not a reflection of the will of the Nigerian people will be rejected and that the real winner of the election will form a government of Nigerian people by Nigerian people and for Nigerian people," Ugochinyere added.

In the same vein, National Chairman of Progressives People's Party (PPA) and Chairman Inter-party Advisory Committee (IPAC) Chief Peter Ameh, while speaking exclusively to Leadership noted that rejection of the Electoral Act amendment bill by President Buhari raises suspicion among stakeholders about the credibility of the elections.

"There are issues, like el-Rufai himself said, there was no need for the President to have rejected the Electoral Act amendment bill, the amendment is what would have given stakeholders more confidence in the electoral process, and since the electoral act amendment was rejected, there were undertones and certain presumptions and views that it's because they want it susceptible to some manipulations, that is why the amendment was not given he needed signing authority it deserves," Ameh said.

When pointedly asked if the INEC guideline could make-up for lapses addressed by the amendment, Ameh said; "Although the Electoral Act gives INEC the power to make bylaws, the constitution is very supreme, there is no way any guideline or manual can be supreme to an Act made by the National Assembly. But by and large, the INEC has requested the police to allow access to observers and the media at the pooling centers and collation centers, the INEC Chairman said that last week, so it is key for stakeholders to continue to discus, those who have agitation should continue to express it, that is the proper way of handling this election, because this election is supposed to be the true representation of the will of the people, it supposed to represent the true wishes and aspirations of our people, it must be credible, free and transparent."

Meanwhile, National Chairman of the United People's Congress (UPC), Dr. Kenneth Ibe-Kalu while responding to Leadership inquiries noted that his party has no reason whatsoever to doubt the credibility of the election.

Ibe-kalu observed that the fears being expressed are unfounded, adding that the opposition political parties most time come-up with unsubstantiated issues to gain public sympathy.

"We don't really have any fear, the fears being expressed are unfounded. The opposition will always come-up with reasons to attract sympathy that is the way I look at it. I believe that the structure compared to what we have had in 1999, I don't think there is anyway elections can be rigged again. The Goodluck Jonathan regime laid a solid foundation by conceding defeat when he lost, and that is what we expect in the next election. I don't think there is a way manipulation can happen," Ibe-kalu stated.

He also observed that the ruling APC does not appear too desperate in the course of its campaigns.

"Also in the course of the campaigns, I have not seen any sign of desperation, even the 2015 election was more desperate. In any case, it is not the government that conducts election, yes, the government appoints INEC chairman, but it is called an Independent commission, so the independence is as much as the chairman wants it to be, government cannot forcefully remove him, once the chairman is appointed, he has responsibility to decisions and has his own name to protect. The government cannot force the chairman except he caves in to their pressure, or he wants to be corrupt. But if he wants to stand tall, there is nothing any government can do to the INEC chairman or INEC as an institution," he added.

He however noted that the National Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu and his team have been responsive to complains and observations by stakeholders, which according to him is an indication that the electoral umpire in truly independent.

"I have observed the current INEC chairman and its team, they have be very responsive to so many complains on past methods and processes used in conducting elections. For instance, on the issue of vote buying, it was a very serious issue, but when we had the last consultative meeting in January, we looked into it, a lot of party leaders made positions and eventually, in January, we discovered that the electoral guidelines have taken care of it.

"They have been able to come-up with a new polling booth and a new system of casting the ballots to ensure that no one can sell his votes and for those who want to buy votes, the new guidelines have made it more difficult for them. The use of smartphones and other phones with camera has been prohibited, so they are very responsive to change, so I don't think there is any fear to entertain, I also do not think that there is any plan by the APC government to compromise this election.

"You must also remember that the card readers is still going to be used, and it has been made more reliable. For instance, look at the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, nobody could manipulate, they couldn't have been able to manipulate trough the card reader, it was votes buying that took place in Ekiti state, while in the Osun re-run, the areas affected are the stronghold of a particular politician, Sen, Iyiola Omisore who had to trade with the APC, if not, the PDP would have won in Osun state," Ibe-kalu stated.

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