The Independent National Electoral Commission on Wednesday assured the electorate that the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections slated for Saturday would hold.
It said only an ‘act of God’ could stop the conduct of the polls.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, stated this in Abuja while addressing a cross-section of the diplomatic community and international election monitoring groups in Nigeria on the elections.
Yakubu, who was represented by an INEC National Commissioner, Dr Mustapha Lecky, categorically stated that everything needed to ensure the conduct of the polls on February 23 had been put in place, adding that the commission had no reason to feel things would go wrong.
The commission, he added, had developed a six-point agenda of what needed to be done to ensure success, noting that it had completed the deployment of materials as of Wednesday (yesterday).
The INEC boss said, “We have no reason to believe that anything, except an act of God, and we believe that as a prayerful nation, the act of God has been assuaged and that things will go right. We have no reason to feel that anything will go wrong.
“We have received all the materials; they have been checked, audited; people have been informed; party agents have gone there to check.”
He reiterated that the agency was committed to surpassing the achievements of previous polls in the country.
INEC also said it had commenced the deployment of sensitive materials to the 774 Local Government Areas, adding that it would be concluded today (Thursday).
The commission also explained that it had achieved 100 per cent completion of the configuration of Smart Card Readers, adding “we are good to go on this score.”
Yakubu told journalists in Abuja during the commission’s daily press briefing held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, that INEC was fully ready for the rescheduled polls.
In his remarks, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, urged the international community to respect the sovereignty of the nation and allow the country solve her internal challenges herself without undue interference from foreign countries.
Onyeama stressed that while Nigeria welcomed partnership and support from the international community, the country, being a sovereign nation, would not allow herself to be dictated to since it did not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
He stated, “We welcome very much your engagement, we appreciate your support, we acknowledge how important your engagement for us in 2015 helped us to deliver probably one of the most free and credible elections we have had in this country for a very long time.
“But we have cause to be concerned with the way the engagement has been communicated, because at the end of the day, we are a sovereign country and the line shouldn’t be crossed from exhorting us, and wanting us to succeed and wanting this to be really democratic process to dictating to us and getting to the nitty-gritty of how we run the country which is the responsibility of this government.”
Onyeama noted that the international community would do better if they remained impartial and did not give the impression that they have a preferred candidate in the elections.
Speaking on the failure of the elections to hold last Saturday, the minister noted that the government was shocked by the postponement, adding that the administration ensured INEC had all it requested on time and never interfered in its operations.
He, therefore, tasked INEC to ensure that the rescheduled elections held unfailingly on Saturday.
Deal decisively with ballot snatchers, Buratai tells army commanders
Meanwhile, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, on Wednesday held a strategic meeting with field commanders in Abuja, ordering them to deal decisively with ballot box snatching, thuggery and other electoral crimes during the elections.
President Buhari had ordered the security agents to deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers during the elections.
The army chief, while addressing the commanders said electoral offenders, particularly ballot box snatchers would be dealt with during the elections.
He said thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, illegal possession of election materials and similar crimes were common antics of politicians witnessed in previous elections in the country.
Buratai noted that this time round, “the army will adopt a proactive posture that ensures that similar incidents do not even arise.”
Buratai said, “…I want to remind us that the acts of thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, illegal possession of election materials and similar crimes are intended to mar an election and create deliberate avenues for post-election violence and mayhem.
“Accordingly, I wish to lay emphasis on the following actions that all commanders are to abide by: one, commanders must deal decisively with any electoral crime or action that would be inimical to national security. Two, commanders are to ensure that they and their personnel do not hobnob with politicians at any level.
“In this regard, there will be no military escort for any politician and all army personnel are to steer clear of retired military officers especially those who are now politicians until after the elections.”
Buratai also said the army would always be loyal to the constituted authority and the Nigerian state.
Don’t drag military into politics, PDP tells Chief of Army Staff
He also advised those who were aspiring to rule the country against inciting the military to disobey constituted authorities.
The chief of army staff said, “One of our core values is loyalty to constituted authorities. It is unfortunate to hear persons who are aspiring to rule this country inciting the army to disobedience.
“We have consistently stated our position in the political dispensation to remain neutral and apolitical. However, direct and public incitement of the Nigerian military against democracy and constituted civil authorities will not be tolerated.
“I request such persons to withdraw this inciting statement. Let me reemphasize loud and clear, that the Nigerian Army is a professional army. The foundation of military professionalism is discipline and without discipline an army cannot stand. Loyalty must be hundred per cent. I shall leave you in no doubt as to our resolve to bequeath a professionally responsive army to Nigeria and Nigerians.
“Should any officer or soldier have doubts as to his loyalty to the Nigerian state as presently constituted, such a person has up to 22 February 2019 to resign. There is no room for indiscipline or disobedience to lawful orders in the army today.”
He said commanders must work with all stakeholders, interest groups and agencies to avert any act by any individual, groups or entities that seeks to undermine the democratic process.
PDP asks Buratai not to drag military into politics
But the Peoples Democratic Party has cautioned Buratai to refrain himself from acts or actions that will suggest that the military have become an arm of a political party.
Though Buratai did not mention the name of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, while addressing the commanders, the party said the army chief alluded to its standard bearer.
Atiku had warned the military and other security agencies against obeying Buhari’s deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers’order, which he described as illegal.
The PDP said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja on Wednesday, that it believed that Atiku spoke on the side of the law.
He called on Buratai to note that the loyalty of the military was to the state and that the President lacked the powers, under the country’s laws, to deploy soldiers for the conduct of elections.
Ologbondiyan said, “Our party urges Gen. Buratai to concentrate on his very demanding assignment of protecting the territorial integrity of our nation and ending insurgency rather than dabbling in partisan politics at the risk of our national cohesion.
“It is imperative to state that by trying to drag the military to participate in the February 23 presidential election, President Buhari plots to suspend our constitution, assume the position of an emperor, trigger unrest, subvert our electoral process and derail our democracy.
“The party directs President Buhari to the judgement of the Federal High Court, Lagos on March 23, 2015, wherein the court, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba, directly outlawed the deployment of troops in the conduct of elections in our country.
“President Buhari should also avail himself of the subsisting judgement of the Court of Appeal, which on February 15, 2015, held that the President has no powers to deploy soldiers in the conduct of elections.”
Ologbondiyan further advised President Buhari and Buratai to end what he called their rationalising the military option, saying the courts had summarily dismissed their arguments that soldiers were needed to guarantee peaceful elections.
FEC backs Buhari on dealing ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers
However, the Federal Executive Council has backed President Buhari’s directive to security agents to kill anyone who attempts to snatch ballot boxes during the forthcoming polls.
Buhari had presided over the FEC meeting in Abuja on Wednesday.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, speaking with State House correspondents after the meeting, said the FEC backed the President’s decision “absolutely.”
Responding to a specific question on whether the FEC supported Buhari, the minister said, “Absolutely. I mean if you want to intimidate voters to steal the mandate of the people, you should be able to face the wrath of the law.”
The minister spoke on other issues, including a disclosure that the Federal Government began the early payment of salaries to workers on Tuesday to enable them to prepare for Saturday’s rescheduled Presidential and National Assembly polls.
He explained that this was to ease things for those who might want to travel to their states or voting points ahead of Saturday.
Mohammed spoke of the government’s appreciation to the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria for reducing petrol price by N5.
He said the government also thanked the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Aero Contractors and Arik Air for announcing cuts in transport fares to encourage eligible voters to travel to their voting destinations.
Withdraw shoot on sight order, women group tells Buhari
But the Unique Women Fellowship, on Wednesday rose from an emergency meeting in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, and asked President Buhari to withdraw his order to the military and other security agents to deal ruthless with ballot box snatchers.
The President of the group, Mrs Omowumi Popoola, after the meeting said, the President should “apologise to the citizens of this nation and allow the Electoral Act to be used in dealing with election malpractices and rigging.”
Popoola described Buhari’s statement as “extreme” and a “possible catalyst for police brutality on civilians” during the elections.
She added that such a statement was least expected from the President, who she described as the “father of the nation.”
She added, “As mothers, our initial reaction was to decide to sit at home on days of election, together with our children, so as to avoid falling victims to the shoot on sight order of the President.
“But after reviewing the situation and considering the importance of this democratic exercise, we resolved to bring to the attention of the powers that be our concerns; in order to secure the assurance that it will be absolutely safe for people to go out to cast their votes.”
Shoot on sight order should be seen as a deterrent – NCD
However, the National Coalition of Democrats, Dr Gloria Adebajo-Fraser, said the President’s order was a welcome development.
In a statement she issued on Wednesday, Adebajo-Fraser said Nigerians should not “throw the baby away with the bath water” because ballot box snatching had been undermining the integrity of the nation’s elections.
“It is not just an electoral offence as people see it, but a criminal one resulting in the loss of lives. Just like armed robbery but involving ballot boxes! It is a trend that must be checked.
“…We, therefore, condemn the way and manner the PDP has been confrontational and inciting the public against this order, blackmailing the security operatives etc. This is unacceptable as we do not need to overheat the polity now and give the impression that they have an ulterior motive.
“One would have expected them to warn their members and followers to desist from ballot box snatching and avoid the penalty of the crime. Rather, they are issuing threats,” she said.