Thursday, April 07, 2011

Nigerian News Update: National Elections to Resume After One Week Postponement

The aborted National Assembly election

Nigerian Guardian
Thursday, 07 April 2011 00:00
Editor Opinion

VIEWED against the sudden cancellation of the National Assembly (NASS) Elections originally slated for last Saturday, the latest assurance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) regarding fresh arrangements for the polls is not too comforting.

According to news reports, INEC announced two days ago, that it had resolved the problems of arrival of ballot materials, and transportation, which largely accounted for cancellation of the NASS election, hours after commencement of accreditation and voting.

Barely a week ago however, the commission had issued similar assurances of its full preparedness for the election, only to announce a cancellation on D-day. The challenge before it is not to waste this second opportunity to conduct free, fair and credible general elections in the country.

If anything, the need for such elections remains very crucial, as perhaps the litmus test for the nation’s capability to govern itself in a globally acclaimed and civilized manner, and particularly to make the people’s wish relevant to governance.

The cancellation of last Saturday’s election, as announced by INEC’s Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega at about 12:40p.m. (when accreditation was expected to be concluded nationwide) was indeed unfortunate. Only 12 hours earlier, Jega and other senior officers of the commission, had expressed readiness for the election in all ramifications.

According to the INEC boss, the commission had “prepared adequately in terms of logistics, training of our staff and effective liaison with security.” Among others, INEC said it had recruited more than 400,000 ad hoc staffers, and would deploy electronic surveillance technology to monitor activities in strategic places.

But hours later, Jega attributed the cancellation to “logistics challenges” and “unanticipated emergency”, manifested in the late arrival of result sheets and ballot papers in many parts of the country. He explained that although the emergency situation did not apply to some states such as Lagos, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu states, the commission chose the “difficult but necessary decision” to postpone the election, in order to maintain its integrity and to retain effective control of the process.

Considering the overall importance of the election however, and the huge national and international expectations, INEC ought not to have been taken by surprise by the challenges emanating from non-arrival of ballot papers. In any event, the problem with the aborted election transcended late arrival of result sheets, as even the accreditation was painfully lacking in cohesion. It is largely a case of INEC operating below envisaged capacity.

In many centres across the country, INEC officials were either late or not available at all. Many prospective voters could not locate their designated centres or find their names in the list of accredited voters. In other instances, officials waited endlessly for voting materials. Nevertheless all organizations or persons found to have breached contractual agreements to thwart the election should be made to face the full wrath of the law.

Certainly the arrangement on ground did not reflect the assurances of readiness given earlier by INEC. Nigerians should remain ever ready to participate in this election and to ensure its credibility. For this reason, INEC will do well to respond positively to the challenges raised last Saturday.

INEC had initially moved the election to Monday, April 14, 2011. That decision was made without due consultation with the political parties and other stakeholders. It was hardly surprising therefore that the National Assembly election was again moved to Saturday April 9, 2011.

Political parties had raised objections as to who would bear the cost of the postponement; they also protested that there were flaws in the ballot papers already used in some voting centres. That in itself was a minus for INEC, which was of the erroneous impression that voting was yet to take off last Saturday.

The commission needs to get to grips with these issues. It is yet to explain fully how the postponement will for example affect the original schedule of elections under which arrangement the last of the elections would hold on April 26, 2011.

How does INEC deal with the fear of shortage of ballot papers arising from those already used? If there will be a reprint of papers, will they be ready by Saturday? Has the commission perfected the correction of ballot papers found to be flawed? If for any reason the election will not hold in some areas as INEC had already hinted, what are these areas and why? Will the staggering of the same election not have adverse implications for the whole exercise?

Obviously, the failure or incompetence so far displayed by INEC goes beyond the commission or its senior officers who, by the way should also share in the blame. Have the INEC commissioners fully discharged their responsibility? Or are some of them working to sabotage Jega and by consequence, the nation?

Additionally, there is something fundamentally wrong with the entire country, having to practically shut down its entire network because of the conduct of elections. Other nations surely don’t stop work or movement for days to enable citizens to vote. Nor do they need to print election materials abroad, and thus subject the electoral process to the vagaries of circumstances.

The commission should strive to resolve these posers before Saturday, so as to avoid the confusion experienced on April 2, 2011. It must be conscious of the frustration of some stakeholders who are consequently calling for Jega’s removal as INEC chairman.

We believe that these calls are premature, just as President Goodluck Jonathan has expressed continued confidence in the present INEC. The commission must however justify this vote of confidence by deed and not merely by words.

Rather than dampening the enthusiasm of Nigerians, the cancellation and postponement of the NASS election have in fact raised their expectations. They expect INEC to use last week’s disappointment as a wake up call to conduct credible elections from this Saturday. INEC cannot afford to disappoint again or expose the people to undeserved hardship and waste of time and resources.

We therefore enjoin all Nigerians to remain optimistic and to come out en masse to exercise their civic duties in electing men and women of their choice to represent them in government. INEC should tie the loose ends and sharpen the grey areas. The whole world is watching and waiting.

Parties tackle members on spectre of violence

Nigerian Guardian
Thursday, 07 April 2011 00:00 From John-Abba Ogbodo, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh (Abuja), Iyabo Lawal (Ibadan), John Akubo (Dutse)

LEADERS of registered political parties in Nigeria yesterday moved against incendiary utterances from their members and candidates seeking various elective offices in the forthcoming elections. Their decision came on the heels of discovery of arms and ammunition being stockpiled by some politicians.

The leaders under the platform of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), said it was no longer in their interest and the country for their followers and candidates to continue to make inflammatory statements capable of overheating the polity and impeding the current transition programme.

To demonstrate its commitment to peace in the country, IPAC has undertaken a profile on each party, detailing violent acts, tendencies and preachments as well as overall compliance and non-compliance with members’ Code of Conduct, adding that a report would be made to INEC and other relevant agencies for necessary actions.

Last March 8, IPAC, comprising representatives of the nation’s political parties, signed up to a Code of Conduct to eschew violence during and after the elections and to sanction members over any breach of the code.

It was this same group that held a meeting with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Sunday, where the decision to shift the National Assembly polls from last Monday to Saturday.

Chairman of IPAC, Chief Osita Okereke, warned yesterday in Abuja that the Council would not tolerate any resort to violence by any political party before, during and after the elections, which start on Saturday, beginning with the National Assembly polls.

Okereke said IPAC would also not condone a situation where political parties trade unfounded allegations and even extend such to the Federal Government and the INEC. Such allegations, he noted, were capable of undermining these institutions and precipitating crisis in the polity.

According to him, “IPAC, among others, has the responsibility to observe and monitor the implementation of the Code of Conduct 2011 and shall identify, investigate and sanction violation of the code by any political party in accordance with existing laws.

“IPAC is committed to ensuring strict compliance with the Code of Conduct because we believe it will conduce to peaceful electoral process. Violence will take us nowhere. It will only cause hysteria in the polity and put the nation on the edge. The nation can make progress peacefully and that is what IPAC seeks to achieve in concert with INEC.”

He cautioned that even in politics, there should be morality, adding that allegations should be properly channelled.

“There is need to reinforce the integrity of the electoral process. This cannot be done by making spurious and unfounded allegations as some parties and their leaders are now wont to do. Even if there are allegations that are genuine, there are formal and decorous processes of making them. It is not by resorting to bashing or crucifixion in the media and it becomes really unfair in situations where such allegations are mere propaganda,” he said.

He appealed to Nigerians to go out en masse on Saturday to cast their votes for candidates of their choice, saying free, fair and credible elections would strengthen the nation’s democratic institutions.

But politicians in Ibadan, Oyo State appear indifferent to the bold initiative of IPAC, as the followers caused confusion at the Agodi gate yesterday. Hoodlums suspected to be sympathetic to the Accord Party (AP) and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were involved in the mayhem.

Trouble started when the podium erected by AP supporters at the Motor Parks Dealer Market at Agodi gate for their gubernatorial candidate, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, for a political rally ahead of Saturday’s National Assembly polls was allegedly destroyed by some armed youths.

The armed youths, who arrived the venue in a bus belonging to one of the local councils was said to have infuriated the AP supporters who mounted the podium, which resulted in a free for all.

Dangerous weapons, including guns, cutlasses and charms were used by the hoodlums during the crisis, which disrupted activities in the market as traders abandoned their wares to run for their lives.

In the ensuing melee, seven persons sustained various degrees of injury while three persons were arrested in connection with the mayhem.

The arrival of policemen saved the situation from degenerating as they moved to restore sanity by arresting culprits.

When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer, Tunji Ajimuda, confirmed the incident saying three persons were being held for the violence.

Ladoja also yesterday accused Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala of directing the caretaker chairmen of the 33 local councils in the state to deliver their areas to the PDP in the Saturday’s National Assembly election or risk losing their jobs.

Alao-Akala was said to have given the order after reviewing the performance of the PDP in the botched National Assembly election at a stakeholders’ meeting on Tuesday at the Government House.

Ladoja, who spoke through the Director- General of his campaign organisation, Mr. Adeolu Adeleke, warned that the governor’s directive was an invitation to anarchy.

He called on the Inspector-General of Police, the Director-General of the SSS as well as INEC to probe the governor’s directive.

The Deputy Speaker of the Jigawa State House of Assembly, Alhaji Inuwa Sule Udi, has alleged that nocturnal attempts were being made by some opposition parties to disrupt the conduct of the forthcoming elections in the state.

At a stakeholders’ meeting convened by the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Abdulrahman Akano in Dutse, Udi claimed that a series of clandestine meetings were held by the opposition to undermine peace in the state.

Meanwhile, the Administrative Secretary of INEC, Alhaji Bala Shittu, has said the omission of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) candidate’s names was responsible for the crisis within the party.

In Abuja yesterday, a member of the House of Representatives from Ondo State, Emmanuel Olutayo Adedeji, alleged that his opponents were threatening his life.

Adedeji, who represents the Ileoluji/Okeigbo/Odigbo Federal Constituency and the Chairman of the House Committee on States and Local Government Affairs, in a statement, claimed that those who were jittery as a result of his popularity had perfected plans to eliminate him before the Saturday’s elections.

He said: “I was hinted this morning that the PDP has perfected plans to kidnap me and take me out of circulation before the election. I reliably gathered that they are not comfortable with my electoral values in the constituency and would stop at nothing to ensure that they stop me.”

Adedeji recently defected from the PDP to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Another member of the Lower House, Lanre Agoro, has also raised an alarm over alleged threat to his life by suspected agents of the Oyo State government.

Agoro, who represents Irepo-Olorunsogo-Orelope Federal Constituency, recently decamped from the PDP to the ACN.

Addressing reporters at the party’s Yemetu office in Ibadan, Agoro fingered Governor Alao-Akala in the ploy to eliminate him by using police and officials of the SSS to harass him and his supporters.

But in his reaction, the Director of Publicity of Akala/Arapaja Campaign Organisation, Dr. Morounkola Thomas, said Agoro’s allegation was a criminal one that should be ignored.

Thomas said Agoro belongs to a violent and desperate party and should not be given any serious attention.

Since his defection to the ACN, Agoro alleged that he had been under incessant attacks and harassment from the PDP on trumped up allegations.

One of such is the arrest of two of his supporters by SSS officials last Thursday and their subsequent transfer to Abuja without being charged for any offence.

Govt pledges not to interfere in INEC conduct of polls

Nigerian Guardian
Thursday, 07 April 2011 00:00 From Madu Onuorah, Abuja

AFTER a review of last Saturday’s botched National Assembly elections at its weekly meeting yesterday, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) restated its resolve not to interfere with the activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The government said it would continue to respect the independence of INEC despite the embarrassment its inadequate preparations for the elections caused Nigerians last weekend.

Minister of Information and Communications, Mr. Labaran Maku, said the meeting, presided over by President Goodluck Jonathan, agreed that there is need to respect the autonomy of the electoral umpire.

Maku told journalists at the end of the Council session at the Presidential Villa that the Executive arm of government had done all that is needful to ensure that INEC got all the funds to conduct the elections. It therefore concluded that INEC has the capacity to tackle whatever problems that cropped up.

According to the minister, “INEC is independent of the Executive arm of government, because INEC is an ombudsman.

“We have done everything possible, especially under President Goodluck Jonathan, to remove the last vestiges of any control of the federal executive on INEC. So, INEC is an independent body, with its own budget, with its own planning, it deploys its own resources. What we have done, especially since last year, is to make available to INEC every requirement, every financial requirement that INEC has asked for, for the successful conduct of the general elections. Yes, there were several concerns last weekend in the elections that were subsequently postponed and the logistics and deployment in some places showed room for concern.

“INEC is handling all the issues that were raised by observers, politicians and actors concerning the level of preparations that we saw last week. It is our hope and belief that, come this week, INEC will now have the opportunity of using the postponement to address all the issues, especially the question of having adequate vehicles to transport materials from distribution centres to polling booths, and back to collation centres. It is very important because if those logistics arrangements are inadequate, then they create room for individuals to go in and help, and that help indeed can tamper with the security of materials and the outcome of elections,” he said.

The government’s spokesman therefore urged all stakeholders, including the media, the political class and members of the public to support and pray for INEC while helping in monitoring and providing useful suggestions to surmount the problems.

Maku further said: “It is our belief that all of us as stakeholders, the media, the political class, and members of the public, would be working along with INEC in terms of support, in terms of prayers, in terms of monitoring and indeed in suggestions, so that most of these problems would be addressed in the forthcoming, rescheduled elections.”

On the possibility of further postponement of the polls in some states, Maku said the Council does not delve into such issues, especially as it had not been informed by INEC.

“We also read those reports but the only authority that can take decisions in terms of the postponement of elections is INEC. And INEC has not informed the government and the public if there are some states where elections might not hold.”

The Council also approved that the Ebonyi State Fistula Centre, Abakaliki, be designated as a National Free Standing Treatment Centre.

As a centre of excellence, it will be involved in training, rehabilitation, prevention and research.

The Council further directed that the centre be renamed as Josephine Elechi National VVF Centre, Abakiliki.

At present, there are 16 centres offering surgical care to only about 400 fistula women yearly, implying that it will take about 250 years to deal with the backlog while ignoring new cases.

Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, who presented the memo seeking the Council’s approval to re-designate the Ebonyi facility, said it was highlighted as a significant public health issue by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Abakaliki.

Subsequently, the agency assisted the state government to establish a VVF unit within the state University Teaching Hospital in 2001. The unit was upgraded to the free-standing Ebonyi State VVF Centre in 2007, and commissioned in 2008.

The 53rd National Council for Health meeting in March 2010 approved the designation of the Ebonyi VVF Centre as a National Fistula Centre on the premise that it is a dedicated, stand alone VVF unit that has been offering free, holistic services for patients drawn from across states in the federation.

Maku, who also spoke on the approval, noted that “from 2007 till date, over 743 clients from within and outside the state have benefited from the free services, which are supported by the government of Ebonyi State and partners.”

The minister stated that the Council was “renamed as Josephine Elechi National VVF Centre, Abakaliki in honour of the founder of the centre, the wife of Governor Martin Elechi.”

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