The waiting game has ended. Elections will not hold this month. That was the outcome of the series of meetings INEC held with stakeholders on Saturday. The Nation reports the shift may return Nigeria to the old era where umpires shifted goal posts in the middle of the game.
The postponement of the general elections may not be the end of the matter. The people have more hurdles to cross in the march of electoral democracy. According to analysts, those behind the polls shift have a hidden agenda. As the agenda unfolds, further damage to the electoral process can only be averted, if all Nigerians are vigilant and bold to resist it.
With the postponement by INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, Nigeria has regressed. Old military tricks are being reenacted. Now, propaganda is displacing the truth again…
President Goodluck Jonathan has looked for an excuse to justify his request for postponement. He ultimately stirred controversy when he told Nigerians, through his Service Chiefs, that he as Commander-in-Chief could not guarantee their security, if the commission insisted on February 14 and 28 dates.
It was the same trick employed by self-styled military President Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, almost 22 years ago, to scuttle the historic June 12, presidential election believed to have been won by businessman-turned politician, Chief Moshood Abiola, who was the candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). The Minna, Niger State-born military leader wanted to extend his hegemony and prolong military rule. But, he ended boxing himself into an unmitigated crisis. Till date, the ghost of June 12 is hunting him.
At the height of his rule, Gen. Babangida, who implemented the longest transition programme in Nigeria, wanted to – by all means and at all cost – abort the presidential election scheduled for June 12, 1993. He said the military did not want the lateAbiola. At midnight, a judge was drafted to grant an injunction against the election, few hours to the exercise. But, as the legal luminary, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), pointed out, soldiers voted massively for Abiola even in their barracks.
Today, the linkage may be quite different, but the issue is the same – security. In 1993, it was alleged that Abiola, a wealthy man, was disliked by the military because he was perceived as a threat to security. It was inexplicable. The voting party by the army put a lie into the fabrication. In 2015, it is still security, but, in a different context.
Rationalising the curious request for poll shift, the Service Chiefs said that they could not ensure the safety of voters, polling officers and materials during the exercise.
Also, an aide of the President, Dr. Doyin Okupe, explained that, if the elections are allowed to proceed as scheduled, they would aggravate the security situation in the Northeast, where the dreadful sect, Boko Haram, has been on the prowl.
Observers have pointed out that government’s inability to guarantee security is an admission of failure by the President, who sworn to an oath and the constitution that the security of life and property will be his priority. However, hiding under the excuse by the military to postpone polls has its implications.
It is a double tragedy for Nigerians. First, they cannot be protected, based on President’s remarks about the inability to guarantee security. Second, the President is now using the military’s excuse to deny Nigerians of their right to vote or demand for a leadership that will guarantee security.
During the anti-February 14 and 28 campaigns, Jega replied the paid agents that the commission was ready to conduct the polls. But, he later succumbed to pressure to change the date. Thus, the feeling now is that INEC has lost its independence to government’s blackmail.
If that amounts to a crisis of undue interference, only the law can resolve it. But, the interference may have sent a clear signal that government’s interference can still mar the electoral process at any stage. This means that electoral reforms have been an unfinished business in the country. INEC’s independence should not be subjected to the whims and caprices of the government. It is only logical that when INEC is not free, the ballot box cannot be safe.
Instructively, the PDP has labelled Muhammadu Buhari, a retired General and former Head of State, as a dictator. But, stakeholders may now perceive the President as a dictator in a civilian garb. When the government insisted on a six-week extra time, contrary to INEC’s projection, it meant that the hand of the government is heavy on the umpire, which had no alternative than to cave in, almost under duress.
Another question is: how far can the exhumed IBB trick go? Does it have prospect?
According to analysts, the President was trying to dodge the general election to avoid an imminent defeat. Others alleged that his party is trying to create a logjam to frustrate the opposition. But, the puzzle is: can the election be put on hold for ever?
Yet, there is an unanswered question. Will Boko Haram insurgency end before March 28? The damage to the military psyche by the struggle for power is also enormous. According to commentators, Nigerians have to be convinced that the military was not used to scuttle the previous date, just as IBB used the military to truncate ‘June 12’.
The military may have suffered under the administration as they suffered under previous administrations. A professional military is a vital asset to the nation. To maintain professionalism and political neutrality, it must be insulated from partisanship. But, the institution has been abused and misused by the powers that be. This has led the former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Salihu Ibrahim (rtd), to describe it as a military of anything goes.
Besides, the military has been reduced to a shadow of itself due to obsolete equipment.
When the Service Chiefs told Nigerians that 100 abducted children have been rescued from Boko Haram camp and there is no evidence; when military top brass said that they knew the whereabouts of the abducted girls and they kept a sealed lip thereafter; and when soldiers said that they were ready to guarantee security for voters and they later ate their words; then, it is indisputable that the military needs help.