The Independent National Electoral Commission on Wednesday said that the ballot papers for this month’s general elections were ready.
The spokesman for the INEC’s National Chairman, Kayode Idowu, made this known to The PUNCH just as feelers indicated that in Abuja that Thursday’s(today) Council of State meeting might be stormy.
The council, which consists of the President, the Vice President, all former Presidents and ex- Heads of State as well as all state governors, is expected to deliberate on the calls for the postponement of the elections.
Other members of the council are all former Chief Justices of Nigeria, the President of the Senate and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
One of the key responsibilities of the body is to advise the President in the exercise of his powers with respect to INEC, including the appointments of members of the commission.
The Presidency is believed to be favourably disposed to the postponement of the elections while the APC insists that the elections must hold as scheduled.
But while the Presidency and the APC were busy strategising on Wednesday evening on how to have an upper hand, Idowu told The PUNCH that INEC still stood by its timetable for the polls.
He said that apart from the ballot papers being ready, 65.5 per cent of the Permanent Voter Cards had as of Monday been distributed to registered voters across the country.
He said, “We have distributed 48,098,000 which represents 65.5 per cent of the PVCs . We have also taken delivery of ballot papers for the elections.”
Asked to be specific on whether the elections would be postponed as being canvassed in some quarters, he replied, “Has the commission issued any statement reneging on its earlier timetable?
“If we have not done that, that means nothing has changed.”
The PUNCH gathered on Wednesday night that the commission had commenced the movement of materials to states and local government areas ahead of the February 14 presidential and National Assembly elections.
Idowu, had in a statement on Wednesday, refuted an earlier report by Reuters, claiming that the elections might be postponed if voter cards distribution was too low.
He said that there was no reason for anyone to suggest that the exercise might be shifted because “the number of PVCs already collected rates highly in comparison to the level of voter turnout historically in Nigerian elections.”
He explained that a National Commissioner of INEC, Amina Zakari, gave a hint that the deadline for PVC collection might be further extended.
The statement read, “I write to refute your story in Reuters attributing National Commissioner of INEC, Zakari, as saying that the 2015 general elections may be delayed if the number of PVCs collected by voters is too low.
“I was at the Situation Room Dialogue with INEC in Abuja this (Wednesday) morning and I know that the commissioner spoke in regard to the February 8 deadline for the collection of PVCs, nothing about the schedule of the general elections.
“You said she spoke to you ‘on the sidelines’ of the event. Well, I have checked with the commissioner and she denied that the issue discussed was the schedule of the 2015 elections.
“You had during the question-and-answer session at the event asked about the notably low level of collection in some states and the implication for voter turnout, which the commission had missed out in her responses.
“Later ‘on the sidelines’ she explained to you that the number of PVCs already collected rates highly in comparison to the level of voter turnout historically in Nigerian elections.
“Still, she added, INEC has not completely foreclosed the possibility of granting a few days of extension in isolated cases of low percentage of collection after February 8.
“The inference you’ve made for the schedule of elections is entirely yours, and misrepresents the conversation that took place at the event this(Wednesday) morning.”
Our correspondents however gathered that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the APC presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and all the APC governors will attend the Council of State meeting.
Most of the APC governors had not been attending the meeting since the disagreement that led to the factionalisation of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
The last time the council meeting was held, only Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State attended.
Two APC governors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the party was mobilising ahead of the meeting.
One of them said, “We know the importance of the meeting and we have asked our members to attend at all costs.
“Apart from that, our presidential candidate will also be the attending. We don’t want any unpopular decision to be taken on our behalf.”
The other said, “We are not only going to attend the meeting, but also have our caucus meeting before going there. We are meeting tonight (Wednesday) to deliberate on issues and take a common position.
“You know that we (APC governors) have not been attending the meeting for long, but this time round, we would be there.”
The governor added that Obasanjo, who also has an event to attend in Abuja on Thursday (today), had promised that he would be at the meeting.
“The former President has promised to attend. We are expecting him to be on the side of the democrats and support that the elections must hold as announced by the INEC.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, warned that the consequences of overheating the polity on account of the grand design to postpone the polls would be difficult to predict.
Odigie-Oyegun said that Nigerians had become aware of the build-up to the “dangerous events that are beginning to unfold in the nation.”
He noted that the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd), was the first to fly the kite by citing unpreparedness on the part of INEC.
The APC chairman stressed that Dasuki was not speaking for the electoral management body because INEC had told all Nigerians that it was ready for the elections.
He alleged that as part of the larger plot by the PDP and the Presidency, groups had been sponsored to hold demonstrations to join the calls for postponement.
Odigie-Oyegun said, “We were afflicted with organised protests and a few days ago, we were told that some parties got together – I think about 16 of them and decided that yes, they want the elections postponed.
“But of course, every serious Nigerian knows that this election is between the APC and the PDP whatever else anybody will think. There has been a spate of organised radio programmes following the same trend. Oh this election should be postponed; election that we knew four years ago is going to happen this year.
“Unfortunately in the process, the polity is being overheated to such dangerous levels that the consequences of which will be difficult to predict at this stage.”
The party chairman also said the APC was aware that the Presidency might attempt to drag members of the Council of State into its effort to postpone the elections during Thursday’s (today) meeting .
Stating that the APC holds members of the council in high esteem,” he advised them against taking part in any project that could damage the democratic process.
“It will be necessary at this point to make the point very, clearly that the Council of State is a purely advisory body and ought not to be dragged into trying to provide justification in any form or shape for this very unfortunate direction which the Presidency and the PDP want to plunge this nation,” Odigie- Oyegun said.
A top Presidency official told one of our correspondents that whether the APC governors attended the meeting or not, the decision on whether or not the elections would be shifted would be based on the submission of the INEC chairman.
He said, “You may say it (the meeting) will be stormy. But I will prefer to say there will be intrigues.
“There is no problem in Amaechi and other APC governors attending. One thing that is sure is that decision will be made based on the presentation that will be made by the INEC chairman.
“If he says the commission needs more time, decision will be based on that. Nobody can force them to go ahead.”
Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State is expected to lead the PDP governors to the meeting.
Also in Abuja, the PDP Campaign Organisation has said that only INEC has the power to shift elections.
It said it was wrong for anyone to insinuate that the Presidency and the PDP were interfering in the work of the commission.
The Director of Media and Publicity of the organisation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, stated this at a press briefing in Abuja on Wednesday.
He said, “We wish to state that our party, the PDP, and our government under President Jonathan, do not superintend over electoral processes and elections in this country.
“There is an independent election body in place – the INEC under the chair of Prof. Attahiru Jega.
“It is within the purview of INEC to make decisions about the holding and/or postponement of elections. It is not within the functions of the PDP or the Federal Government.”
The former Minister of Aviation said that the PDP and the campaign organisation took exception to the fact that the APC had kept on making this allegation.
He said, “When they say that the PDP is controlling INEC they have become nothing but victims of their own delusions and they are obviously suffering from terrible hallucination.
“INEC is completely independent. We have called on INEC to ensure that everybody has the Permanent Voter Cards.
“We have done that public service; but as to whether election is to be postponed or not is INEC’s sole decision.
“Whichever way, we are very well prepared for elections. Let it be clear that the APC leaders and members are the ones who are afraid of elections.”
Fani-Kayode said it was also not true that the PDP was not ready for the elections and that it was plotting for an Interim National Government.
He said that the APC knew it would not win elections and that this could be the reason why it was making the allegations.
He said that Buhari had “attended 35 or thereabouts state rallies and in all, he has spoken for only 57 minutes.
He added, “The longest time he spoke in any single rally was for two minutes and 13 seconds. The shortest is one minute.
“He has used his so-called speeches for nothing but political demagoguery, charging his supporters with a clenched fist and spreading hate speech (with his supporters chanting ‘sai Buhari’) which is symptomatic of a violent character.
“It drives home the point that General Buhari has nothing to say and if he has anything to say, he simply does not know how to say it. That explains why he keeps running from debates even when choice platforms are offered.”
He also denied the allegation that some of those who instituted cases in court were doing so on behalf of the PDP and Jonathan.
Some protesters however blocked the entrance to the INEC headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday, demanding that the elections be shifted by two months.
They alleged marginalisation of the Southern part of the country in the distribution of PVCs in favour of the North.
The protesters, who came under the aegis of the Coalition of Civil Societies and Concerned Nigerians, claimed that the northern states had received 73 per cent of the PVCs, while the southern states had received only 46 per cent.
Their coordinator, Amanda Chisom, said their demand was in line with section 132, sub-sections 2 of the Electoral Act.
Chisom, who suggested March or April for the elections, later told journalists that they were received by an official of INEC from the Legal Department.