On Saturday, I was part of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room that met with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and his 12 National Commissioners. We were informed about the receipt of a letter from the security services advising that INEC postpones the general elections on the grounds that the security agencies were engaged in a renewed battle against the insurgency in the North-East that would require their full concentration.
In the letter the Military insisted on a rescheduling of elections by at least six weeks in the first instance. We were unanimous in describing the letter as an unacceptable abdication of responsibility by the security agencies. By openly proclaiming that they would not provide security for elections, they were in flagrant dereliction of their responsibility and by so doing making it impossible for INEC to proceed with the elections as planned because its impossible to organise elections in Nigeria without some security cover.
We were of the view that the Military’s tactics was a direct blackmail of INEC to serve some other purpose and the questions we pose today are conjectures about the reasons for the blackmail. There must be political reasons because the Boko Haram insurgency has been rampaging in the North East for over five-years without any serious efforts to contain it.
Why wait until the elections are before us before announcing that all security personnel would be fully occupied with the insurgency and would not be available for electoral duties? Just a day before the meeting, the Commander 34 Artillery Brigade of the Nigerian Army Obinze, Imo State, Brigadier-General Lanre M. Bello has assured of their readiness for the February elections in the state.
In this column on 26th January this year, I had written that the body language of the President and his aides is that they are afraid they would lose the elections and if they do lose, they appear unwilling to handover to the probable winner. Their body language I said, was to seek postponement of the elections and work towards a possible interim government arrangement. What then could be the scenarios being worked upon?
The first element is to try and reverse the momentum gained by the presidential candidate of the opposition by playing the money game. By extending the campaign time, they would exhaust the financial coffers of the opposition while their own coffers which draws largely from state resources would remain buoyant.
Secondly, they had invested considerable resources in producing well-researched propaganda hate films designed to make Nigerians hate the APC presidential candidate and were showing it on AIT and NTA. They more they run the film however, the more popular the APC candidate became. The idea was not working and they needed more time to work out a more effective method of making Nigerians hate General Buhari. Unfortunately for them, the Buhari momentum kept growing and the time for dangerous moves was upon them by forcing INEC to postpone the scheduled elections.
Of course the bottom line is that INEC has developed an effective means for checking electoral fraud through the use of the permanent voter card and card reader that will send directly to INEC total number of actual voters. This means it will no longer be possible to inflate polling unit numbers after the elections and create the type of 99% of voters all turning up and voting for one candidate that we saw in 2011 and earlier elections. It is this INEC “coup” against rigging that is causing alarm within certain circles. Part of the scenario building strategy is therefore to attack Professor Jega’s INEC for incompetence and remove him when his term ends in June. The FEAR is that June would be too late if they allow the elections to take place as scheduled.
In 1999, the Nigerian armed forces pledged to move away from get the political game, return to professionalism and leave politics to the politicians. It is sad to see this pledge being revised so drastically. The use of security agencies to force INEC to reschedule elections is the clearest indication we have seen so far.
Also last week, a recording emerged about the use of the military to rig the Ekiti gubernatorial elections. A serving minister of defence and a serving general were apparently at the centre of the plot. It is this degeneration of our security services into direct partisanship that poses cause for concern. As the United States Secretary of State said in his response to the postponement of the elections, “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable, and it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process. The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates.”
Back to scenario building, the letter from the National Security Adviser to INEC stated they needed “at least” six weeks to address the Boko Haram insurgency. The implication is that if they are unable to finish the operation in six weeks, they would insist on another postponement of the elections. This would then create a constitutional crisis, as our grand norm requires elections must hold at least 30 days before the swearing in date of 29th May 2015. For a lot of pundits therefore, the next request cannot be in the form of a direct postponement as it would carry it beyond the period allowed, the joker would then be the demand for the establishment of an interim government that can purportedly conduct a more effective war against Boko Haram.
One of the strongest indicators of the lack of confidence of President Jonathan that he could win the presidential election is found in the story about the Yenegoa meeting of prominent Niger Delta militants, strategizing on how to maintain the “Ijaw” president in office. The former militants were reported to have resolved that “any attempt to dethrone the President would be seen as a direct attack on the Ijaw nation, (and) threatened to unleash violence on the country and take back Niger Delta oil should Mr. Jonathan lose re-election.”
The meeting is said to have taken place in Government House, Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital and participants included the former militant leaders Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader, Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force; Victor Ben Ebikabowei, aka, Boy Loaf; and Government Ekpudomenowei, aka, Tompolo. Also in attendance were the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, and chairman of Amnesty Implementation Committee, Kingsley Kuku; Bayelsa state Governor, Seriake Dickson and his deputy; President General of Ijaw Youth Council, Udengs Eradiri; among others.
The meeting was said to have resolved to engage in battle should President Jonathan not be returned to office and also “to take their oil away”. It is very worrying that government officials from a ruling party would be meeting with militants who have a history of armed combat against the state and have been further strengthened by huge security contracts from the state to strategise on how to fight the state should their candidate lose the election. It is a direct indication that the President does not appear to believe that he would win the elections.
This is not the first time that Nigeria is confronting a situation in which an incumbent regime deliberately works towards subverting elections to maintain itself in power or handover to an interim regime it chooses. We all remember the various attempts by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime to subvert the 1992 elections through the Association for Better Nigeria and the courts and eventually handover to an interim regime.
Currently, there are six cases in court all trying to stop the elections or remove the opposition candidate from the ballot. The old script is being replayed. The world has however changed significantly since that period. The military are no longer accepted as political interlocutors and disruption of the constitutional regime is frowned upon very strongly and resisted by the international community.
The most important issue however is that the Nigerian people are very well trained in reading signs and indicators of planned sabotage of the constitutional regime. Even more important, they are determined to fight against the loss of constitutional democracy. The scenario building I am confident in is that of the resolve of Nigerians to continue the struggle of deepening democracy.
I am sufficiently confident to stick to the dictum that: “THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE IS ALWAYS GREATER THAN THE PEOPLE IN POWER”