President Goodluck Jonathan and the Defence Headquarters have assured Nigerians that efforts were being intensified to ensure that the general elections were held on March 28 and April 11 as scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Their assurances came barely 24 hours after INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, said he was not in a position to guarantee the sanctity of the new election dates.
Jega, who was at the Senate to brief members on the electoral body’s preparedness for the elections had been asked to state categorically if the dates were sacrosanct.
Avoiding being committal, he replied, “I have said consistently that there are things under the control of the electoral commission and there are things that are not under the control of the electoral commission. For things that are under our control, I can give definite and categorical assurances….“There are certain questions that we are not really competent to answer. Certain questions should be directed to the military, they can answer them better.’’
But Jonathan, while inaugurating four naval platforms at the Naval Dockyard in Lagos on Thursday, said, “We must conduct our elections as scheduled by INEC because within this period, we are convinced that we will return to a time when the activities of extremists will not affect our elections.”
He added at the ceremony that was attended by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice- Admiral Usman Jibrin; the Chief of Army Staff, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Minimah; the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice-Marhsal Adesola Amosu, and the InspectorGeneral of Police, Suleiman Abba, that he was optimistic that the military would soon end insurgency in the North-East.
He added, “Let me use this platform to promise my good countrymen and women that we will rout Boko Haram. We are working hard day and night and I have directed that Nigerians be briefed regularly.
“The technical capacities of our men in the air force and army have been improved and we are pleased with what is happening. We commend the Chief of Defence Staff and all the services for what they are doing. We also commend other senior naval officers and ratings for this event.”
In Abuja, the Director of Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, told The PUNCH that the military was doing everything possible to ensure that the elections were not delayed again.
He, however, advised other stakeholders to work to achieve the country’s objectives.
“The military will continue to work frantically towards the nation’s desire to achieve the peaceful and conducive atmosphere that will enable normal socio- economic and political life including elections to take place,” Olukolade said in an SMS.
“Please let all other stakeholders, including politicians, electoral officials and the media also work honestly and conscientiously to achieve the nation’s objectives. After all, security, as the saying goes, is everyone’s business,” he added.
Before Jonathan and Olukolade spoke, some Senators said that going by Jega’s statement, there was the need for the service chiefs to be invited by the Senate to reassure Nigerians that there would not be further extension of the elections.
The lawmakers, in separate interviews in Abuja, said the INEC chief’s comment had raised concerns by many Nigerians that the polls might be shifted again.
The Senators are Aisha Al-Hassan, Babafemi Ojudu, Babajide Omoworare; Bukola Saraki and Ita Enang.
Al-Hassan said, “since Jega said it was difficult for him to guarantee the sanctity of the poll dates, the service chiefs should be invited to convince Nigerians that the situation in the North -East would be controlled before the poll dates.”
Saraki said, “It is still back to that issue of security which he has said he doesn’t have the powers neither does he have an answer. Since he said we should direct that question to the appropriate quarters, I think that further emphasises what we were saying.
“The National Assembly still needs to bring the service chiefs to give us the assurance.”
On his own part, Enang said, “On the question of security for the elections, each person has his own duty, INEC says it is prepared and if we have concern about any other agency, it is for us to interact with that agency.”
Omoworare and Ojudu said the best way to avoid tension over Jega’s position was for the service chiefs to appear before the senate and give firm commitments.
Also on Thursday, the Trade Union Congress and two prominent lawyers – Femi Falana and Jiti Ogunye – in separate interviews with our correspondents, warned that Nigerians would resist a further delay of the polls.
The TUC President, Bala Kaigama, noted that there were court judgments that barred the military from polling units.
He said, “The security agencies requested six weeks, and Nigerians have decided to tolerate the six weeks. We hope that after the six weeks, they will not call for an extension.
“Nigerians will not tolerate another extension. Let them work within the committal they made to INEC. They should work within the six weeks they asked for. They should ensure that after the six weeks, the elections are held in the country.”
Falana and Ogunye faulted Jega’s claim that he could not guarantee the holding of the elections without security assurance by the military.
They argued that his position ran contrary to recent court judgments barring the involvement of soldiers in the conduct of elections in the country.
Falana said, “I wish to state, without any fear of contradiction, that by virtue of section 215 of the 1999 Constitution, the maintenance of internal security, including law and order during elections, is the exclusive constitutional responsibility of the Nigeria Police Force.
“It was therefore erroneous on the part of Jega to state that only the military could guarantee security during the forthcoming elections.
“Once INEC has discharged its constitutional duty of fixing election dates, the onus is on the Police to provide security and maintain law and order. Since election is not a military duty, the Police Force is at liberty to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies like the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, Nigerian Prisons Service, etc.”
Falana recalled , “In the last couple of weeks, in two separate judgments, both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal ruled that the armed forces have no role to play in the management of elections in Nigeria.”
Ogunye said, “Jega perhaps meant to say that he and his commission were ready for the elections on their part but that INEC does not have the power over security.
“Jega ought to have been guided by the previous decisions of our courts – the Federal High Court in Sokoto and the appeal panel on the election petitions on Ekiti State governorship election – which have both said the military has no role in the conduct of elections.
“The police and other civil authorities are to provide security during civil exercise like elections.”
Also, the President of Nigerian Voters Assembly, Mashood Erubami, who described Jega’s statement as sensitive, said, “Determination of our election timetable by the military under a civilian administration is unacceptable.”