Council of State may discuss poll shift tomorrow

President Goodluck Ebele JonathanThe calls for the postponement of this month’s general elections may be discussed during Thursday’s(tomorrow) Council of State meeting convened by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The   council   consists of the President, the Vice-President, all former Presidents or ex-Heads of State, all former Chief Justices of Nigeria, the President of the Senate, all state governors 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 the Independent National Electoral Commission, including the appointments of members of the commission.

Proponents of the polls’ shift had hinged it on the inability of INEC to distribute enough Permanent Voter Cards to registered voters. The call is widely believed to be engineered by the Presidency, which though had denied the charge.

INEC had however insisted that there would be no postponement of the elections.

The PUNCH however learnt from a Presidency official in Abuja on Tuesday that the Council of State   would review the preparations for the elections by INEC and the relevant security agencies.

He said   that information available to the government   showed that contrary to the claims by the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, the commission was not yet ready for the elections.

For example, the official claimed that INEC only awarded the contract for the printing of ballot papers for the February 14 presidential election last Monday.

He wondered how the ballot papers would be made ready before February 14 which is the     first day of the polls.

The official said, “The truth of the matter is that if urgent step is not taken, Prof. Jega may end up ridiculing this country.

“Available information shows that the commission is not set for this election contrary to Jega’s claim.

“We learnt he actually summoned a meeting recently with a view to postponing the election but he is scared of the opposition who have been kicking against such.

“This Thursday (tomorrow) meeting will definitely review INEC’s preparations and take a stand.”

Another Presidency source also informed The PUNCH that Jonathan might use the opportunity provided by   the meeting to garner support for the postponement of the polls.

“The Presidency is not resting on its oars concerning the plan to shift the elections. It is already in talks with some members of the council,” he said.

On what the Presidency would do if the plan fails, he replied, “we would opt for another plan, which is to return to the drawing board; plan a new strategy on how to deal with our opponents.”

To underscore the importance Jonathan attaches to the meeting, his re-election campaign rally earlier billed to hold on Thursday in Yenagoa, the capital of his home state, Bayelsa, has been put on hold.

It was gathered that the rally might hold later in the day if the meeting ended on time or be   shifted to Friday.

The PUNCH has however learnt that some of the   proponents of election postponement might have perfected plan to ensure that Jega did not return as INEC chairman if their plan materialises.

A week-long investigation by one of our correspondents showed that the Presidency was waiting patiently for INEC to yield to the pressure   before coming out with its real plan for Jega.

It was gathered that the Presidency and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party were not ready for the elections and believed that their chances could be affected if the elections were held as scheduled.

Because of this,   the Presidency, backed by some hawks in the PDP, are said to be waiting for an auspicious time to ask the INEC chairman to   proceed on terminal leave. His tenure ends on June 9, 2015.

The PDP source said,     “The plan is to discredit the election by forcing postponement. When this is done, sponsored people and groups would start asking for the sack of Jega.

“At this point, the government would then say because of this, he should proceed on terminal leave and then ask the most senior national commissioner to take over and conduct the election.”

Jega’s nomination as INEC chairman followed approval by a meeting of the   Council of State.

Jonathan had said then that he had never known Jega,   a former chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

Jega’s candidature for the job was said to have been facilitated by a presidency top official, Hassan Tukur, who is from Adamawa State.

Parties disagree on postponement

Indication that the 26 registered political parties   are divided over the calls for the postponement of the elections emerged in Abuja with 16 of them and five presidential candidates in support.

They told a news conference on Tuesday that they would boycott the polls if their opinions were not respected.

The parties include the United Democratic Party, the Citizen Peoples Party, the Peoples Party of Nigeria, the Action Alliance, the Peoples Democratic Congress, the Labour Party; and Unity Party of Nigeria.

Others are the Alliance for Democracy,   the Democratic Peoples Party, the New Nigerian Peoples Party, the Peoples Party of Nigeria and the Independent Democrat.

The five presidential candidates at the briefing were Godson Okoye, Sam Okoye, C.O Allagoe, Tunde Anifowose and Ganiu Galadima.

The   political parties   said, “We the concerned leaders of political parties have observed some dangerous trends, which if not checked may negatively and adversely affect our democracy.”

The political parties premised their argument for the postponement on security, distribution of PVCs and people deserting their places of abode for their villages.

Okoye, who spoke on their behalf, called on the Federal Government to take necessary steps to provide adequate security for Nigerians to go out and collect their PVCs in order to be able to exercise their civic and constitutional duty.

He called on INEC to consider shifting the date of elections to sometime in March or April.

“We are not urging INEC to do anything that is unlawful, illegal or unconstitutional. It is unfortunately becoming clear by the day that most Nigerians appear not to be ready for election but are ready for violence,” he said.

He   also   flayed the   United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, for meeting with only   the presidential   candidates of the APC Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Jonathan in Lagos.

But at a different news conference, the presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party,   Chekwas Okorie, condemned the call for the postponement of the elections.

Okorie described the call as a “mischievously contrived clamour.”

He said, “The reasons given by the proponents of the postponement that a great number of Nigerians will be disenfranchised having not been given their Permanent Voter Cards which will enable them to participate in the election is a contrived reason and to a large extent pedestrian.

“As we speak, over 80 per cent of registered voters have received their PVCs according to latest figures released by INEC and this may increase to 90 per cent or above after the close of distribution of PVCs on February 8 2015, as planned by INEC.”

Meanwhile, INEC has distributed 977,727 out of the 1,494169 PVCs received by its Ondo State office.

The state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Segun Agbaje, disclosed this to journalists in Abuja on Tuesday.

He said that the distribution of the cards to all the Local Government Areas in the state would end on Saturday.

Agbaje said,”We are preparing very well for the elections as we ought to do in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

“All non-sensitive materials would be deployed in the LGAs before the end of the week as security arrangements for their movement are almost concluded.

“We received 1,494,169 PVCs   out of which we have distributed 977,727, representing 65.4 per cent, remaining 516,442 representing 34.6 per cent.”

On other preparations for the   elections, Agbaje said, ‘‘The training of electoral officers had been completed while that of Supervisory Presiding Officers started on   February 2 and will end on February 4.”

According to him, the training of Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers will be between   February 6 and 8.

He added that INEC in the state had   set up an Election Day Operations Situation Room   to directly receive complaints and enquiries from voters, observers, journalists and the general public on the days of the elections.

The numbers are 08142188630, 09021446492, 07055687657 and 08184765105.

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