Nigeria elections may be postponed

2015-02-05 12:53

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There were strong indications yesterday that the general elections scheduled to start in Nigeria on February 14, only nine days away, may be postponed.

President Goodluck Jonathan has called a meeting today of the National Council of State, an advisory club of former heads of state and sitting governors of the country’s 36 states.

With 21 governors in tow Jonathan, a candidate in the election and leader of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP),  could announce the change as soon as the meeting is over, in spite of protests by the opposition.

The Nigerian constitution provides that an election must be held between 30 and 90 days to the handover date.

Jonathan’s first term expires on May 29 and it is not clear how long an extension he might announce.

Security sources in Abuja, the federal capital, said that they supported the postponement because they could not guarantee public safety at the polls.

“We have been receiving reports from many parts of the country of insufficient distribution of voter cards by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

“We are concerned that if you add the potential fallout from large-scale voter disenfranchisement to the problem in the northeast, the outcome could be explosive,” one of the sources said.

A prominent human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, however, warned yesterday that it was unconstitutional for any authority other than the electoral commission to announce any date change.

“How can Jonathan announce a date change when it is not his responsibility to do so and in spite of the electoral commission saying it is ready for the polls?” Falana asked.

Almost two weeks ago, the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, said in London that he did not believe that the country’s electoral commission was ready for the vote.

The  commission replied that it was prepared, saying about 39 million out of 68 million permanent voter cards had already been distributed.

Last night, insiders said Jonathan appeared confident that he would get the support of the advisory council of state for the date change.

A source, who travelled with a former head of state on his way to the meeting, said six of Nigeria’s former rulers would attend the meeting and at least four of them – Ibrahim Babangida, Ernest Shonekan, Yakubu Gowon and Shehu Shagari – would back Jonathan’s plan.

However, the presidential candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and former military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, who is also expected to attend, will oppose the plan and could lead a walkout of 14 other opposition party governors expected to attend.

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, a member of the ruling PDP, but perhaps one of the most outspoken critics of Jonathan, would not attend today’s meeting, denying the opposition a crucial voice.

The APC has dismissed the claims of insecurity and poor distribution of voter cards, saying it is a trick by the ruling party to install an interim government in the face of imminent defeat at the February 14 poll.

“The PDP has been cornered and its rigging machine disabled. The talk about insecurity and insufficient voter cards is a lame excuse. We would resist it,” APC spokesperson Lai Mohammed said yesterday.

Last night civil society groups were already expressing concern that a unilateral date change by the ruling party could fast-track the violence that the security services claim they want to avoid.

Ezeugo Okafor, the executive secretary of Alliance for Transparency, an Abuja-based non-governmental organisation, said: “This is looking a bit surreal. How can we spend four years to prepare for an election only to postpone it on the eve of the vote?

“It’s like a replay of June 12 1993, when the nation was plunged into a serious political crisis because military president Ibrahim Babangida cancelled the result of a free and fair vote. I don’t think we have learnt our lessons.”

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