- Commission makes final decision today
by Abdullahi Idris
Military service chiefs have told the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] that no soldiers will be available to provide security anywhere in the country if it goes ahead with its plans to hold the presidential elections on Saturday next week because they are too busy with operations in the North East region. The commission is expected to table this position, which has created for it a huge dilemma, at meetings planned for this morning with registered political parties, civil society groups and its resident electoral commissioners before it announces its final decision on whether or not to go ahead with the polls as scheduled.
Weekly Trust learnt yesterday that while all national attention was focused on last Thursday’s meeting of the National Council of State which failed to reach a consensus on whether or not the polls should be shifted, the military service chiefs had already advised INEC in writing to postpone the polls for at least six weeks. The letter, Weekly Trust learnt, was sent to INEC chairman Professor Attahiru Jega on Wednesday by the President’s National Security Adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki. The NSA said he was “strongly advising” INEC to postpone the polls on the basis of a letter which he received from Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.
Badeh’s letter to the NSA, which he said had the concurrence of all the service chiefs, said the military had just launched a major effort with the collaboration of Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic to rid the North East region of Boko Haram insurgents once and for all. He said while the operation lasts, it will not be possible to hold elections in Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Gombe states. The CDS therefore advised the NSA to advise INEC to either defer elections in the four states or alternatively to postpone elections throughout the country for at least six weeks. He indicated that the military preferred the second option.
Weekly Trust learnt that when the INEC chairman made his presentation at the Council of State meeting, he essentially said INEC was ready to go ahead with the polls as planned. He however added that INEC had received a new security report which could change the equation but did not elaborate on it. Afterwards, the NSA briefed the council and restated the military brass’ call for an election postponement while the operation in the North East lasts. When Army Chief Lt Gen Kenneth Minimah was asked to speak, sources said he added another joker. He said if INEC decides to go ahead with the polls next week there will be no soldiers available anywhere to provide election security. Director General of the State Security Service then followed up by warning that Boko Haram’s terrorist ambitions are national and not just regional. He said the service recently caught terrorists in Abuja and Uyo as they were planning to carry out major attacks. He strongly supported the call for election postponement.
Weekly Trust learnt that APC presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari spoke against election postponement, saying as a military man himself he knew that the arrival of new weapons alone could not end the Boko Haram carnage because the weapons have to be unpacked and tested and the personnel must be trained to handle them. His position was supported by all the APC governors notably Rochas Okorocha and Rauf Aregbesola. However, Vice President Mohamed Namadi Sambo said he did not believe that INEC was ready to conduct the elections next week, saying its chairman’s report failed to align systems and timing. All the PDP governors then supported Sambo, saying more time was needed to enable Nigerians collect their permanent voters’ cards.
General Ibrahim Babangida then spoke, saying the INEC chairman should explain if it was okay to hold the elections in the rest of the country without the four troubled states. General Yakubu Gowon and General Abdulsalami Abubakar both supported IBB’s view but President Goodluck Jonathan brushed the suggestion aside, saying he would not allow elections to be held without the North East states. If that happened, he said, it would lend support to the charge that he allowed the Boko Haram to fester or even created it in order to disenfranchise a part of the country. The meeting ended after eight hours with the president saying INEC heard all the views expressed and should go and consult before making its final decision known to the public.
Weekly Trust learnt last night that the commission has scheduled a series of meetings for today. Professor Jega and his commissioners will meet with political party representatives at 10 am, meet with civil society groups at noon, meet with Resident Electoral Commissioners [RECs] at 2 pm and then hold a full meeting of the commission at 4pm. Afterwards, INEC would announce its final decision to the public. Informed sources told Weekly Trust that contrary to the impression created by many newspapers yesterday that the Council of State okayed the polls to go ahead next week, the military service chiefs’ “strong advice” to INEC to postpone the polls could be the game changer. The sources said it was difficult to see how elections could go ahead with security agencies washing their hands off the provision of security but the final decision would only be known this afternoon.