February Polls: Let’s Just Get It Over With By Steve Ayorinde

imageWith February almost here and the Presidential election barely two weeks away, the naysayers are at it again, getting down to scare mongering; almost concluding that the Federal Government, with the approval of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and, perhaps, the tacit insouciance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are desirous of having the elections shifted. I would be very reluctant to imagine, let alone believe, that an electoral body that has spent more than a whole year preparing for these general elections would be swayed or stampeded into postponing, for example, the presidential election that could further feather President Goodluck Jonathan’s profile as an unusually fortunate Nigerian. But I would not dismiss the notion that a postponement could be tempting to the ruling party if it is either convinced that the electoral umpire is unprepared in a manner that the ill-preparedness might hamper its chances at the polls or if it senses that its popularity has waned so badly that the opposition might coast home to victory. To be candid, there may be no convincing evidence to support either of the two assertions being attributed for the postponement plan. Yes, the Permanent Voters Card exercise has been abysmal in many parts of the country. By INEC’s own admission, about 30 per cent of the cards are still being awaited for roll-out to their respective collection points. For the majority that has been dispatched, almost a quarter is yet to be collected by voters due to bottlenecks frustrating easy collection. But then this is just a man-made error and is temporary. Remarkably, not only has INEC offered to extend collection of PVCs till the eve of presidential election, it has also reiterated its readiness to conduct the presidential poll on February 14th as scheduled as well as the two others on the 21st and 28th of February for the National/State assemblies and the governorship elections respectively. It is pointless to doubt Jega at this stage. His challenge is akin to that of host nations during global sporting tournaments. The preparation continues till the games begin and improvements are allowed as they proceed. And so, considering that Jega’s INEC missed the first shot at goal during the 2011 elections, in which case it had to halt the process and quickly adjust its schedule, it may be necessary for the electoral commission to request for a couple of public holidays in the next two weeks for those who are yet to collect their PVCs to either do so or re-register during that period. And with two dominant parties slugging it out in this election, it may be important for INEC to prepare for a rerun and be seen to have properly explained what might warrant it and the modalities of its conduct. Yet, I am aware that this explanation may not be sufficiently reassuring to naysayers. Even if INEC convinces the nation about its readiness, they say the possibility of an impending defeat would still make a desperate ruling party sideline the electoral commission in its attempt to buy time. One of the things such a party would do, according to the postponement theory, is to fly a kite on the need for such an extension. And what fits this hypothesis perfectly other than Alhaji Sambo Dasuki’s perfidious suggestion at a Chatham House lecture in London last week that a postponement of the polls might be necessary in view of the delay in PVC collection by many eligible voters. From the rash of opposition that trailed his overseas thoughts, Dasuki must have seen the folly of pushing an idea that is not within his purview. Unlike his predecessor, no one has ever heard him analyze the ‘architecture of terror’ that has seized three of the North-East states by the jugular. Nor, did we hear of any treatise as to why the insufficiency of PVCs or even the possibility of not conducting elections in Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa states might have an impact on national security. All Dasuki did was to confirm his role as a kite flyer. Since he had chosen to share his thoughts abroad, shall he not be told, therefore, that all that happens in London stays in London? But naysayers insist that the game-plan was beyond Dasuki’s water-testing role. As one who should be in custody of relevant information as to where the votes might swing, his assignment, if indeed the permutations suggest a likely change of guard at the seat of power, is not to announce a postponement but to drop the sound bites that would ensure a transmutation of the idea. Where else could such an idea frog-jump to if not the courts, which, quite dramatically, now await the avalanche of suits for or against postponement or disqualification of any candidate that appears popular or unstoppable, now that judicial workers have suddenly found it expedient to call off their indefinite strike action. If naysayers are to be believed, the ominous signs are there and discernible and may, in fact, be reminiscent of 1993 when a few rudderless politicians and compromised judiciary connived with the military junta of the day to scuttle the election that is still referred to as Nigeria’s most credible. It’s been almost 22 years since that ignoble annulment of that election between the late MKO Abiola of Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Bashir Tofa’s National Republican Convention. With statistics showing that those below 45 years account for 75 per cent of the expected voters next month, more than half of those who will choose between President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari did not partake in that watershed election of 22 years ago. It is important that they are reminded of the dangers of stifling the voice of the people! Except that there is no military government in power superintending over the fate of the two political parties it created at that time, those who say there is a telling similarity between what Nigeria experienced in 1993 and what it is about to witness next month have a point. There is a dominant presence of the conservatives on the one side, and a vestige of progressive voices on the other side. The ‘change’ mantra seems to have replaced the ‘hope’ slogan of 1993, what remains is a fair and conclusive contest for the people’s will to prevail. Anything short of letting Nigerians proceed with this election is a time-bomb that may return the country yet into the days of the locust.

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