17 February 2019

Nigeria: PMB, Atiku, Others Fume as INEC Apologises to Nigerians

The last-minute postponement of the general elections has elicited the outpouring of anger and disappointment from President Muhammadu Buhari, his main opponent Atiku Abubakar and other key actors in the vote.

Speaking yesterday from his country home in Daura, Katsina State where he had relocated to cast his vote, President Buhari expressed disappointment that despite the long notice given for preparations, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had to postpone the presidential and National Assembly elections within hours of their commencement.

The president noted, in a statement he personally signed, that many Nigerians had travelled to various locations to exercise their right to vote, in addition to international observers that had converged on Nigeria for the exercise.

He pointed out that INEC had given assurances, day after day, that it was in complete readiness for the elections which made the government and all citizens believe the commission.

The president further noted that his administration had ensured that it did not interfere in any way with the work of INEC except to ensure that all funds were released to the commission.

He urged INEC to ensure not only that materials already distributed are safe and do not get into wrong hands, but that everything should be done to avoid the lapses that resulted in this unfortunate postponement to ensure free and fair elections on the rescheduled dates.

"While I reaffirm my strong commitment to the independence, neutrality of the electoral umpire and the sanctity of the electoral process and ballot, I urge all political stakeholders and Nigerians to continue to rally round INEC at this trying national moment in our democratic journey.

"I, therefore, appeal to all Nigerians to refrain from all civil disorder and remain peaceful, patriotic and united to ensure that no force or conspiracy derail our democratic development.

"I have decided to move back to Abuja to ensure that the 14.00 hours meeting called by INEC with all stakeholders is successful," the president said.

..Atiku Blames PMB, Urges Massive Turnout

The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, has urged Nigerians to come out enmasse on the new dates for the election to vote.

Atiku, in a statement he sent from Yola, Adamawa State, accused the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government of instigating the postponement of the election in order to ensure that turnout is low on the rescheduled date in hopes to disenfranchising the Nigerian electorate.

The PDP candidate, who said the Buhari administration had had more than enough time and money to prepare for the elections, ascribed the postponement to the biblical allusion of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob, an indirect way of accusing the Buhari administration of orchestrating the postponement and allowing INEC to take the blame.

He added that since Nigerians had tolerated the maladministration of this government for four years, they can extend their tolerance a few more days and vote it out.

The statement reads in part: "As you know, the Independent National Electoral Commission has announced a postponement of the elections until February 23 and March 9 respectively.

"The Buhari administration has had more than enough time and money to prepare for these elections and the Nigerian people were poised and ready to perform their civic responsibility by voting in the elections earlier scheduled for Saturday, February 16, 2019.

"This postponement is obviously a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob. By instigating this postponement, the Buhari administration hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turnout is low on the rescheduled date. Nigerians must frustrate their plans by coming out in even greater numbers on Saturday, February 23 and Saturday, March 9 respectively.

"Knowing that the Nigerian people are determined to reject them, they are desperate and will do anything in their power to avoid their rejection by the Nigerian people.

"Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further anti-democratic acts.

"As such, I call on all Nigerians to be patient. We have tolerated the maladministration of this government for four years. We can extend our tolerance a few more days and give them our verdict via our votes."

Atiku urged Nigerians to maintain peace and to be law abiding.

"Do not react to this provocation with anger, violence or any action that might be exploited by those who do not want this election to hold. Remain calm. We will overcome this. You can postpone an election, but you cannot postpone destiny.

"Please come out to vote on Saturday, February 23 and Saturday, March 9 respectively. Frustrate those who do not want this election to hold by coming out in very large numbers. That is the best antidote to their plans."

INEC Blames Poor Weather, Sabotage For Postponement

Meanwhile, INEC yesterday opened up to the circumstances that led to the postponement of the general elections.

INEC had fixed February 16, 2019 for the presidential and the National Assembly elections while the governorship , state assembly and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) area council elections were billed for 2 March, 2019.

But citing logistics problems early yesterday morning, INEC postponed the general elections by one week, with the first vote coming up on February 23 and the latter on March 9, 2019.

But briefing key stakeholders at the International Conference Centre, Abuja yesterday, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, attributed the postponement to poor weather and sabotage.

He, however, apologised to Nigerians over the inconveniences caused by shift in polls.

The Commission's boss also insisted that the last day of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly elections that ended on Thursday would not be extended.

Speaking on the challenge posed to the polls by inclement weather, he said: "There is usually roughly a one-month window for the commission to print ballot papers and result sheets and either fly or transport them to several destinations until they finally get to each polling unit.

"Unfortunately, in the last one week, flights within the country have been adversely affected by bad weather. For instance, three days ago, we were unable to deliver materials to some locations due to bad weather. We therefore had to rely on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air in spite of the fact that we created five zonal airport hubs Abuja (North Central), Port Harcourt (South South and South East), Kano (North West), Maiduguri and Yobe (North East) and Lagos (South West) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics."

Apart from the logistical challenges, Yakubu said the Commission also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage its preparations which also contributed to the postponement.

He went on: "In a space of two weeks, we had to deal with serious fire incidents in three of our offices in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu'an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and our Anambra State Office at Awka.

"In all three cases. serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents. In lsiala Ngwa South, hundreds of PVCs were burnt, necessitating the recompiling of the affected cards and reprinting in time to ensure that the affected voters are not disenfranchised. I am glad that all the cards were quickly reprinted and made available for collection by their owners.

"ln Qu'an Pan Local Govemment Area, our entire office was razed, destroying all the materials prepared for the elections - printed register of voters, ballot boxes, voting cubicles and several electricity generating sets. Two Registration Areas and over 100 polling units were affected by the fire. We recovered quickly and have since replaced everything destroyed. In addition, we secured a suitable building from which to conduct the elections.

"Perhaps the most serious was the fire incident in our Anambra State Office at Awka which destroyed over 4,600 Smart Card Readers being prepared for the elections. These Card Readers take at least six months to procure. Despite this setback. we have practically recovered from this by mopping up every available spare SCR across the country and, within 24 hours, delivered them for elections to hold in Anambra State.

"All these challenges mean that there have been differences in preparations from one state to another. Our overall assessment is that if the elections went on as planned, polls will not open at 8am in all polling units nationwide. Yet, we are determined that polls must hold at the same time everywhere in the country," Yakubu said.

While stating that the Commission will not conduct staggered elections, Yakubu disclosed that conducting the general elections as scheduled would be very important to public perception of elections as free, fair and credible.

"We promised Nigerians that we shall be open, transparent and responsive. Faced with these challenges, we initially thought that we only required a maximum of 24 hours to resolve the logistics issues involved and complete our deployment for the election. This would mean shifting the elections to commence on Sunday 17th February, 2019. However, given the restriction of movement during elections, that could affect many voters who worship on Sundays. While the Commission was considering the following Monday 18th February, 2019 as an option, our lCT Department advised us that it would require 5 - 6 days to reconfigure about 180,000 Smart Card Readers earlier programmed to work only on election day, Saturday 16th February, 20l9.

"It is for this reason that the Commission decided to adjust the election dates to Saturday 23rd February, 2019 for presidential and National Assembly elections and a consequential adjustment of governorship, state assembly and FCT Area Council elections to Saturday 9th March, 2019.

"Some sensitive materials have been distributed. However, all such materials have been retrieved and will be taken back to custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria. I want to assure you that there will be proper audit to account for all materials," the INEC chairman said.

While appealing to Nigerians and other stakeholders for their understanding in what he described as a very difficult decision for the commission, Yakubu said the electoral body believes the decision is for the good of democracy and Nigeria.

"I wish to assure you of our commitment to free, fair and credible elections. As chairman of INEC, and on behalf of the commission, we take full responsibility for what happened and we regret any inconvenience our decision might have caused.

"This commitment to continue to improve on election administration has informed our preparations for the 2019 general elections. Our goal is to plan carefully, execute meticulously and bring stability. into election management in Nigeria," he said.

"Having settled this, we began the planning quite early, with a Strategic Plan (SP), 3 Strategic Programme of Action (SPA) and an Election Project Plan (EPP). In fact, the plan for the 2019 general elections was ready in November 2017 and we subsequently issued the timetable and schedule of activities for the elections over one year ago on 9th January 2018. We carefully followed the timetable and implemented 13 of the 14 activities as scheduled. We kept to the time frame and have not missed the date fixed for any single activity."

"In preparing for the 2019 general elections, we have come face-to-face with the realities of conducting such an extensive national deployment of men and materials in a developing country like ours. It is said that elections constitute the most extensive mobilization of men and materials that any country could undertake in peacetime. The challenges of doing so, even under the best of circumstances, are enormous. Within a period of 16 months, we registered over 14 million Nigerians as new voters, collecting their names, addresses, photographs and their entire ten fingerprints...

"It is therefore not unexpected that such a tremendous national mobilization of men and materials will encounter operational challenges and we have had our own fair share of such challenges," Yakubu said.

... Political Parties Accept New Poll Dates

Meanwhile, the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPA) chairman, Chief Peter Ameh, said the group was initially angry about the postponement of the elections but that given the peculiarities INEC had found itself, its members had accepted the new dates fixed for the elections.

Ameh, who heads the group comprising all the 91 political parties in Nigeria, said the task of INEC was enormous and suggested that the commission should be unbundled.

"INEC should be unbundled. The work is enormous. Its responsibility should just be on election conduct," Ameh said while urging Nigerians to remain calm and support the commission to conduct a free and fair elections.

"We believe that the election will be credible. We stand by INEC on the non-staggered elections. Yakubu has not disappointed Nigerians and we believe he won't do that," Ameh noted.

On his part, the presidential candidate of Peoples Trust, Gbenga Hashim, said even though the postponement would have adverse effects on the majority of the political parties, however, having a transparent process will be very important.

The representative of the PDP chairman, Osita Chidoka, urged INEC to ensure that companies belonging to partisan politicians are not allowed to be involved in the retrieval of the sensitive election materials.

According to Chidoka, the PDP will continue to give its support for a credible electoral process, adding that the party was satisfied with the postponement if it would lead to a credible outcome.

He advised INEC to ensure that materials returning to the CBN should be verified by a third party.

The APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who was visibly angry over the postponement, said even though the party had confidence in INEC, the commission should have informed the people of the postponement earlier and not when people were sleeping.

Speaking on the matter, the president, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo said no matter the level of disappointment and anger, Nigerians should be determined to vote on Saturday.

Nwankwo who said a lot of Nigerians had travelled to their villages for the voting, encouraged them to be patient with INEC.

"Don't be angry with INEC because you need to vote. INEC has the power to conduct the election and that must be respected. No stakeholder should tamper with INEC's independence because you will be destroying the future of the country," Nwankwo added.

... FG Orders re-opening of borders

Meanwhile, following the postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections, the federal government has ordered the re-opening of all the nation's borders.

The Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd), gave the order in a statement personally signed by the Comptroller-General, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mr Muhammad Babandede.

The federal government had on Thursday, February 14, issued a directive to the Nigeria Immigration Service to close the borders from midnight on Friday to Sunday noon.

According to the statement, Immigration officers would continue "their normal border control and patrol duties to ensure that all persons crossing Nigeria's land, air and sea borders travel with valid and genuine documents".

... Stop Deceiving Nigerians, Secondus Tells PMB

In his reaction, the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, accused President Muhammadu Buhari of taking Nigerians for a ride over his reaction to the postponement of the elections.

Secondus told the president to have a rethink if he believes anybody would be persuaded by his crocodile tears over the postponement of the general election four hours to voting time.

Secondus said that President Buhari's spirited attempt to extricate himself from the issue merely exposed the hypocrisy of his administration.

The PDP national chairman noted that the conducting of general election was the most important national assignment of any government in four years, stressing that it is the height of government insincerity for the president and commander in chief, who is privy to every intelligence report, to feign ignorance of the challenges of INEC.

In a follow-up statement from his media office, Secondus declared that President Buhari's attempt to shift blame was not persuasive enough for any discerning mind.

The national chairman said that the events leading to the postponement could not have come to both the President and the INEC as a surprise given that the president's controversial niece, Amina Zakari, was the chairperson of the Electoral Operations and Logistics Committee, possibly to ensure that the desired agenda is executed.

The PDP leader added that President Buhari's blame game was in line with his usual way of being unaware of anything happening around him.

He advised the president to stop hiding under the cover of being unaware and to accept the reality that he had failed woefully in piloting the affairs of this country, a mandate that was lavishly given to him by Nigerians four years ago.

Kukah Urges Patience

The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah has urged Nigerians not to raise dust over the postponement of the general elections, rather they should remain calm and pray for the best.

Kukah, who is one of the conveners of the recent peace accord between President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDD, reminded Nigerians and politicians alike that God's time is always the best, even as he admonished people to be encouraged rather than be disappointed.

According to him, until God decrees a thing, it will not come to pass, hence the need to put trust in God alone to choose leaders for the country.

"You see, on the issue of INEC's postponement of the general elections, I want Nigerians to note that God's time is the best. Let nobody lose sleep over the development. Let us continue to pray for Nigeria and the success of the process any time INEC is ready. We will fulfil our destiny and God knows who our next president will be," Kukah said.

On his part, Sokoto State governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Hon Sadiq Mohammed, said INEC postponed the elections in good faith.

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