Lawyers, don, right group speak on implications of election shift
DARE ADEKANMBI sought the views of some Nigerians on the postponement of the Edo State governorship election and its implications for the polity.
To Ugochukwu Osuagwu, a Lagos-based lawyer, there is nothing wrong in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) acting on the security advisory given to it by the security operatives because the electoral umpire is empowered to call off an election where security matters have been raised.
According to him, “Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 gives INEC power to postpone an election that is yet to commence. Negative security reports are one of the reasons it can rely on to shift polls.
He added that “It is only security personnel who are well positioned to know if election may be marred by violence. INEC may consider the report. After all, election cannot be conducted if police and other security personnel refuse to give protection to those on election duty as ad hoc or permanent INEC staff members. INEC is duty-bound to take security advice from police and operatives of the Department of State Services. It is now up to INEC to decide the cost of the postponement, which has to be considered too.
A former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Dave Ajetomobi, however, said though the security issue raised was strong enough, it was not convincing, stressing it was “intellectual fatigue” on the part of the police and the DSS officials to have called for postponement of the election by the agencies.
“It is good that they detected the alleged threat. It should make them prepare to meet the challenge and not to seek postponement of election as they did. It is a sign of intellectual fatigue on the part of police and DSS to have called for postponement.
“I am not convinced about the reasons they gave. It is their duty to forestall such threat and not to be wailing helplessly. It is a valid reason to bring in the military, if the police and DSS can’t cope. I don’t believe INEC should have heeded such dubious call.
Submitting to pressure has cast a shadow on the independence and integrity of INEC,” he said.
Asked about possibility of voter apathy as a result of the security concern raised for the shift in the election, Olufemi Aduwo, national coordinator of Rights Monitoring Group (RMG), whose election observation team had been in Edo State before the postponement, said: “The outcome of the little study we have done in Edo shows that the people are determined to come out in large number. We don’t want to say whether it is because they like the government in power or they really want to make a change. But there is a determination and they want to come out in a large number. Some people are looking at the alarm raised by the security agencies as something that may create fears in the minds of the electorate so that there will be apathy or low turn-out. But that may not happen.
On what the security situation in the state was before the shift of the polls, Aduwo said:”We did not even notice any tension in the state. Rather, the people of the state looked ready to troop out for the election. Five days to the election, a deputy inspector general of police, after reviewing the security situation, told the whole world that everything was set. Two days to the election and suddenly from the blues came a security advice that warranted the call for and eventual shift in the election. Assuming there was security challenge that they knew that there were 500 militants or terrorists that wanted to foment trouble in the state, couldn’t the 25, 000 policemen and personnel from the army, NSCDC and other contain such number of terrorists?
“Edo has never been a flashpoint in terms of militancy or extremism.So, how come now? If we could conduct the election in Borno and Yobe states that used to the hotbed of insurgency, why not in Edo that has known peace?
On the implication of the shift for 2019 general elections, Aduwo observed: “If we don’t quickly arrest such situation, the general elections in 2019 may be in danger because if security agencies with more than 25, 000 personnel could tell us they could not guarantee security in a single state, what will they tell us in 2019 when the elections will be countrywide? I think it is a serious challenge that we should take seriously. If not, many things will be wrong with the 2019 election.”
In agreement with Aduwo is the head, Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Saturday Obiyan, who considered the shift as “very disappointing” and called for a retreat from the path he said is dangerous.
“I would say the postponement of the election is very disappointing. The pattern of election conduct in recent times has been very unfortunate. The biggest implication of the postponement is that the action is capable of undermining the confidence of Nigerians in democracy. If the authorities had known this, they would not have allowed it to happen. The explanation given is very ridiculous.
“The postponement has financial implication for the political parties participating in the election. Also, the civil society organisations monitoring the election will have to spend more for election monitoring. They would have budgeted for a few days. On the whole, the shift is really unacceptable.
Also speaking on the likelihood of voter apathy, the don asked rhetorically, “How credible is the security concern?” adding that“It is not impossible that some voters may stay away because of the security concern so raised. Security threats don’t happen overnight.”
According to him,“Apathy could also result not necessarily because of threat but because of lack of confidence in the electoral process. Whichever way we want to look at it, it is a setback for democracy in Nigeria. We should retreat from this track because it is dangerous.
The shift, stakeholders agree, will also have far-reaching socio-economic effect on the populace at a time when the economy of the country has been officially confirmed to be in a recession. The state will have to be on total lockdown for more than 24 hours on Wednesday, 28 September, for the rescheduled election with the attendant paralysis of economic activities.
A founding father of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Nigeria’s envoy to Germany, Professor Tunde Adeniran, said whoever flew the kite of postponement should be mindful of the implications. “Any postponement amounts to speculations of those who felt that our security agencies have really not risen to the required level of professionalism and non-partisan discharge of their responsibilities premised on constitutional imperatives and patriotic considerations.
“For some month, INEC has made its plans to conduct governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states available to the public. It has monitored the relevant primaries of the political parties and, for the Edo election, put in place an arrangement that is convincing regarding its readiness to conduct a free and fair election. The PDP is fully prepared, able, ready and willing to face the contest. It is also the expectation of the public that the APC, in spite of its apparent shortcomings, should be ready to face the inevitable challenges,” Adeniran said.