Eleven political parties have allied together under a new group to protest the postponement of Nigeria’s general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The group, Coalition of Progressives Political Parties, expressed disappointment with the decision by INEC to reschedule the general elections by six weeks.
It however asked Nigerians to accept the new dates proposed for the election in good faith just as it warned that the May 29 handover date should not be tampered with.
The parties are the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM; African Peoples Alliance, APA; Kowa Party; Social Democratic Party, SDP; African Democratic Congress, ADC; Hope Democratic Party, HDP; Democratic Peoples Party, DPP; United Progressives Party, UPP; Accord Party, AP, Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN: and Independent Democrat, ID.
There are 28 registered parties in Nigeria.
After consultative meetings with relevant groups in the electoral system on Saturday, INEC announced the postponement of the polls from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11, citing the security challenge in the north eastern zone of Nigeria.
At a press conference in Abuja, the coalition regretted that the postponement came in spite of the reactions of Nigerians rejecting the idea first mooted by the National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki, three weeks ago.
The National Chairman of the PDM, Bashir Yusuf, spoke for the group at the press conference Monday.
The group recalled that the first reason given for the postponement of the election by Mr. Dasuki was the low number of distribution and collection of Permanent Voters Cards and the fear of disenfranchisement of eligible voters.
It said when it became clear from the numbers released by INEC that this reason would not fly, the NSA came up with another reason barely a day before the Council of State was to meet to consider the earlier reason given in support of the postponement.
It said this time around, Mr. Dasuki “disingenuously” offered a different reason totally unrelated to the first “new developments” related to the insurgency raging in the North East and the inability of the armed forces to provide security for the election arising therefrom.
According to the group, the NSA, on behalf of the Service Chiefs, asked INEC to “reschedule” the elections for at least the next six weeks in the first instance to enable the armed forces secure the areas affected by the insurgency for the elections to hold.
“Both the first and the second reasons advanced by the NSA cannot stand the test of scrutiny,” it said.
The group explained that the reasons adduced by Mr. Dasuki could not stand because INEC had repeatedly and consistently expressed its readiness to conduct the elections as earlier scheduled on the basis of the Permanent Voters Card, PVCs distributed and collected and the totality of preparedness to conduct the election as recent as one week ago.
It stated that the commission had said 96% of the PVCs had already been produced and distributed across the 36 states and the FCT while rate of collection stood at about 68% across board. It also said INEC had stated that the balance of 4% had also been produced and was being distributed.
It said, “In the history of Nigeria’s election, there was never a time the nation recorded anywhere up to 60% of voter turnout.”
The group also argued that the insurgency in the North East had raged for over five years and the armed forces under its Commander-in-Chief had been on the retreat in the last one year leading to the loss of a total of 24 Local Government Areas to the insurgents in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States.
“These constitute 3% of the total number of 774 LGAs in the country that are safe and not threatened by insurgents and therefore not in any security zone,” it said.
“INEC had already designed a plan to enable over one million Internally Displaced Persons from these 24 LGAs to cast their votes, which plan was presented to and approved by stakeholders from the areas concerned as recent as mid-January, 2015.”
The group also said the Council of State whose members include former leaders, who were chief security officers of the nation and army generals who fought wars to keep Nigeria one, had in their wisdom decided not to advise INEC to postpone the election on the basis of the case made to it by the NSA on behalf of the Service Chiefs.
It argued that if the security situation in the North East was so dire as to threaten the conduct of the election, these leaders would not have advised INEC to engage in further consultations but instead promptly advised for the postponement of the election there and then.
“After all, elections have been known to hold in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Iraq, Liberia, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Syria etc and their armed forces never offered an excuse about inability to provide security for the elections in those countries,” it stated
The group said in the last four years, Nigeria had spent upward of N4.4trn on security, most of it spent in the operation against Boko Haram in the North East.
“It is therefore untenable and unacceptable for the National Security Advisor and the Service Chiefs to offer insecurity as an excuse for their inability to provide complimentary support to the police so the elections could hold as earlier scheduled,” it said.
“This failure ultimately is the failure of the Commander-in-Chief, who is also a candidate in the election and who may have a vested interest in making sure the election does not hold as scheduled.”
The group asked the INEC, the NSA, the security forces and the President Goodluck Jonathan as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces have a responsibility to ensure the general election are held on the rescheduled dates and must ensure that the new dates are not rescheduled again, under any circumstance.
It also said the May 29 handover date was not negotiable and must remain sacrosanct “as any attempt to tamper with it will amount to truncating our democracy and putting the peace, unity and political stability of our nation at risk.”
It also said the composition of the current INEC leadership must not be undermined or tampered with as this would constitute a deliberate attempt to undermine the election itself and influence its outcome
The group added, “We call on all Nigerians to accept the new election dates in good faith in spite of the provocation and the unease which the rescheduling has caused.
“We must put the interest of the peace, unity and stability of Nigeria ahead of any other consideration and must not give its detractors an excuse to plunge our nation into chaos.
“We appeal to our members and supporters to remain calm and law-abiding and not do anything or take any action that may lead to the breach of the peace.”