Members of the House of Representatives were sharply divided on Sunday over the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission to shift the general elections by six weeks, beginning from March 28.
Anger was the word in the camp of the caucus of the All Progressives Congress as they did not only oppose the shift of the elections but also accused INEC of being a puppet in the hands of the Presidency.
The APC caucus also claimed that insecurity as a major excuse given by INEC was a cover-up for the alleged “hidden interests” of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
But, the PDP caucus embraced the postponement and commended INEC for having the courage to “do the right thing by not denying millions of Nigerians their right to vote.”
Findings also showed that the PDP caucus was plotting to stop the commission from using its Card Reader for Permanent Voter Cards during the elections.
Expressing annoyance over the shift of the polls, House Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, said INEC disappointed Nigerians.
Gbajabiamila said, “A deeper analysis and closer scrutiny reveals a lot more. It reveals perhaps the proverbial hand of Esau and voice of Jacob. A complete about-turn barely 24 hours after INEC said clearly in a presentation to the National Council of State that it was ready says a lot.
“The independence of INEC has been put to question because the sum total of what we heard from INEC now is that its powers to determine election dates have been usurped and the military now determines when we can have elections in this country.
“That is a dangerous precedent. Many questions are raised: Should the military be the ones to provide election security? What exactly then is the role of police in a civil society?
“The role being ascribed to the military for election purposes is ultra vires and unconstitutional. That role belongs to the police and we all know the police are not overstretched in the North-East.”
While rejecting the reasons tendered by INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, for postponing the election, the APC leader argued that his understanding of the development was the case of a “government in power running away from elections.”
A right step
However, the PDP House Deputy Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, argued that INEC did the right thing by “stopping on time from plunging the country into a major political crisis.”
Ogor said that had INEC gone ahead to conduct the poll “with many Nigerians yet to collect their PVCs,” the outcome would have continued to haunt the commission and its leadership.
He said, “The main issue here is the PVC. INEC would have denied millions of Nigerians their constitutional right to vote had they proceeded with the elections.
“You cannot tell me that because majority of voters have PVC, then others have become inconsequential. So, why did they register to vote? The majority will have their way, but the minority must still have their say.
“That is the only way we can begin to talk about justice and fairness, else it is a wrong step that will continue to haunt the nation.”
Doubts over March 28
House Minority Whip, Mr. Sampson Osagie, kicked against the postponement and expressed doubts on whether there would be any elections on March 28.
“The decision to shift elections is too sad. The elections may never hold after all because the security agencies will never guarantee the security of men and materials.
“This is obviously a PDP-induced decision. I weep for my country Nigeria,” Osagie stated in an electronic mail to our correspondent on Sunday.
Jonathan not involved
Chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, Mr. Jerry Manwe, said it was unlikely that President Goodluck Jonathan influenced the decision of INEC.
Manwe, who incidentally, is a member of the Social Democratic Party, noted that INEC became helpless soon after security reports did not support the conduct of the poll.
The lawmaker, who is from Taraba State, said Nigerians kicking against the postponement needed to visit the North-East to really appreciate what the people of the zone faced daily.
He said, “Insecurity is the key issue; I am sure if people are to die because they have to vote, that is more serious than the elections.
“The National Security Adviser and the service chiefs are in a position to know the security situation of the North-East. The North-East is in trouble and you have to be there to appreciate what is happening.
“Jonathan is not the issue; he didn’t influence INEC because up till yesterday (Saturday), he was busy campaigning, which means that he expected that the elections would still be held on February 14th as earlier fixed.”
House spokesman, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, accused the Presidency of allegedly “manipulating INEC” to play a prepared script.
Postponing evil day
Mohammed, who warned against the consequences of using the “military for political reasons”, added that the PDP-led Federal Government was merely “postponing the evil day.”
He said, “It appears some persons have other interests other than the overall interest of Nigeria.
“What they have done is to politicise the military to use insecurity as their reason for shifting the polls.
“However, they are merely shifting the evil day; very soon, the chickens will come home to roost and we will see who laughs last.”
Meanwhile, there were indications on Sunday that PDP lawmakers were against the introduction of card readers by INEC.
Ogor confirmed to The PUNCH that several motions on the elections would be brought to the floor by members as from February 17.
He said, “INEC has not tested the card reader in any previous election to know whether it is reliable or not.
“Why use the presidential and National Assembly polls as the guinea pig for the card reader? Do they want to mess up the elections?
“We are coming to discuss it on the floor and there are a whole lot of issues surrounding this postponement to be resolved.”