Ahead of the National Council of State meeting scheduled to take place today in Abuja, the bitter recriminations between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) continued to escalate on Wednesday, with the ruling party calling on the main opposition party to leave it out of the controversy over the plot to set up an interim government and push for the postponement of the elections.
The ruling party also raised the alarm over the discrimination against non-indigenes of Lagos State in the distribution of permanent voters’ cards (PVCs) and the burning of cards belonging to non-indigenes in some states.
However, the APC and its presidential candidate, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, remained unrelenting in their call on members of the Council of State to reject any proposal to postpone the elections scheduled for this month.
In a bid to thwart the postponement, governors of APC-led states met last night in the residence of the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha in Abuja to present a common front at the meeting today against a change in the date of the elections.
Last month, the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, had called for the postponement of the elections on the grounds that millions of voters would not be able to collect their PVCs before the elections.
Though the clamour for and against the postponement has grown since he made the statement, with the APC leading the fight to prevent the shift in dates for the polls, THISDAY learnt that Dasuki might at the Council of State meeting impress it on members that beyond the challenges associated with the distribution of PVCs, there are also concerns over security.
A source in his office informed THISDAY that with the deployment of thousands of soldiers in the North-east in the war against Boko Haram, it would be impossible to redeploy them to back up the police before, during and after the elections.
“As you know, soldiers are always deployed for the elections to support the police in maintaining the peace. But the military is stretched thin at the moment and it will be impossible to withdraw them from the North-east now that they have Boko Haram insurgents on the run.
“So there are concerns that the military may not have sufficient soldiers to effectively monitor the elections and ensure that there is peace,” he said.
He added that with security as a foremost concern, Dasuki will be expected to persuade members of the Council of State on the need to postpone the elections by a few weeks, even though the council lacks the power to change or determine the dates of the elections, as this prerogative lies solely with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The hope, he said, is if the Council of State endorses a postponement of the polls, INEC would have no choice than to accede.
However, while addressing the press on Wednesday, the spokesman of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, said APC and its presidential campaign organisation had inundated Nigerians with allegations that the PPD-controlled federal government was not ready for the scheduled February 14 and 28 elections and that it was plotting to scuttle the process with a view to imposing an interim national government.
Fani-Kayode said: “These allegations are disingenuous, tenuous and shameful. Rather than elevate the APC, this resort to mendacity and scaremongering further reduces them to a gang of desperadoes seeking power by all means and simply for the sake of it.
“This is because it is common knowledge that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not provide for the interim national government contraption that the APC talks about.”
He said the APC and its spokesman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had taken it upon themselves to play the devil’s advocate by building up seemingly scary scenarios to create tension, cause panic in the polity and incite supporters of the party and well-meaning Nigerians against the federal government,
President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP.
According to him, “The PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation calls on the Nigerian people to discountenance APC and Lai Mohammed’s petty lies and they can be rest assured that all arms of government are patriotically committed to discharging their constitutionally-prescribed responsibilities and duties.
“We believe that the APC’s unconscionable alarm is part of its characteristic and habitual propaganda through which it has over and over again imposed its skewed agenda on many undiscerning Nigerians.
“We are constrained to take this opportunity to paint an accurate portrait of the APC and its leaders. It is time for us to expose them for what they really are. The truth is that they are agents of destabilisation.
“They comprise retrogressive elements that are desperate to take power just for the sake of it. If they ever succeed in taking power in this country, God forbid, they will take the country back into darkness because they represent darkness and everything that is reprehensible.
“We as a party will not allow them to damage the good work that the PDP, most especially the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has done to transform our nation.
“The APC can go on its illusive flight of self-importance, but it is now increasingly clear to every Nigerian at home and in the Diaspora as well as members of the international community that the opposition party is excessively desperate for presidential power and has imported unrestrained violence into our body-politic.
“The truth is that they cannot win the forthcoming elections and they know it. That is why they have come up with the allegation of the interim national government. We repeat: those who want an interim national government are the APC and some elements that are secretly behind their party.
“Their plan is to prepare a fertile ground upon which to discredit our anticipated victory at the polls, unleash anarchy and violence on the country after they lose so that we would not be able to enjoy our victory.
“By the grace of God and the support of a vast majority of Nigerians, their plan will fail.”
On the violence that has rocked some campaign rallies so far, he said: “The nation is already subjected to a dress rehearsal of the monumental violence that the APC is planning.
“You can see how the party has attacked virtually everyone except itself. It is time that all Nigerians of goodwill told the APC that enough is enough.
“They must stop intimidating people and they must know their place. Indeed, the APC should stop alleging that everybody has a hidden agenda except for its own leaders and members.”
On the clamour for a shift of the date for the general election to conclude the distribution of the PVCs, he said that it is not the duty of PDP, but INEC to speak on its state of readiness.
Fani-Kayode said: “We wish to state that our party, the PDP, and our government under President Jonathan, do not superintend over electoral processes and elections in this country.
“There is an independent election body in place – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the chair of Professor Attahiru Jega. It is within the purview of INEC to make decisions about the holding and/or postponement of elections.
“It is not within the functions of the PDP or the federal government. We take exception to the fact that they keep on making this allegation deliberately to provoke us. When they say that the PDP is controlling INEC they have become nothing but victims of their own delusions and they are obviously suffering from terrible hallucination.
“INEC is completely independent. We have called on INEC to ensure that everybody has the permanent voters’ cards. We have done that as a public service, but as to whether election is to be postponed or not is INEC’s sole decision.
“Whichever way, we are very well prepared for the elections. Let it be clear that the APC leaders and members are the ones who are afraid of elections.
“We are traversing the length and breadth of the country campaigning to win votes. Our candidate, President Jonathan, has given a good account of himself, using the campaign platform to brilliantly articulate and showcase his sterling achievements and to place on the table those projects and programmes he intends to execute and/or implement once his mandate is renewed.”
Speaking in the same vein, the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Olisa Metuh, has accused the APC controlled-Lagos State Government and INEC of discriminating against non-indigenes of the state in the distribution of PVCs.
He further alleged that in some parts of the state, there were cases of massive burning of PVCs belonging to non-indigenes with the sole purpose of disenfranchising them during the elections.
Metuh said the PDP would take a decision by Saturday if the discrimination against non-indigenes and the burning of their PVCs do not stop.
According to him, “These non-indigenes constitute more than 90 per cent of the voting population in Lagos and this discrimination against them in the distribution of the PVCs and the burning of their PVCs are meant to ensure that they don’t participate and vote during the elections.”
He also described as untrue the allegation made by Rivers State Governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, that N6 billion was given to some pastors to influence the electoral victory of the president, stating that it was an attempt to cause crisis between Christians and Muslims in the country.
He urged Nigerians to ignore the statement from the Director General of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation.
“Pastors are revered people and to bring their character into disrepute is a sin before God. We do not think anybody, not to add somebody who is a Christian, can make such statement.
“We challenge the Director General of APC campaing organisation to name such pastors and where the money is coming from.
”This attack is capable of bringing Christians and Muslims into a major disagreement and major dispute. If truly the person who issued this statement is a Catholic, as he said, we are asking him to go for confession,” he charged.
Despite PDP’s declaration that it was ready for the elections, APC yesterday reiterated its call on members of the Council of State who will be meeting today not accept any proposal seeking to postpone the polls scheduled for this month.
The opposition party also reaffirmed its commitment to fully participate in the general election as planned, adding that it would not accept any postponement.
“APC is aware that the presidency may attempt to drag members of the Council of State into its efforts to postpone the elections during the scheduled meeting of the council on Thursday, February 5th.
“Members of the Council of State are Nigerians who are held in very high esteem, and their involvement in a project that damages the democratic process will be a serious disservice to our national assets in leaders,” the party said.
Addressing a news conference in Abuja, the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said the opposition party has faith in the “distinguished members” of the Council of State, and would “advise them not to become tools in the hand of an administration that wants to subvert our fragile democratic process”.
He said INEC should be allowed to perform its duties without any overbearing interference from other institutions of state and the evil machinations of the PDP.
When asked what would be his party’s response if INEC decides to bow to pressures to shift the election dates, Oyegun responded: “If INEC changes its position on the dates for the elections and gives reasons for the new postponement, the party will sit down and consider it before responding.”
The party said it was encouraged by the fact that INEC had restated in clear and unambiguous terms its determination and ability to conduct the elections as planned.
“It is the constitutional prerogative of INEC to set election dates which nonetheless should meet at least the minimum threshold of confidence. We recognise that it has challenges but these are challenges that have been or are being seriously tackled by the commission, and the engineered clamour for postponement is not helping the situation.
“Attempts to rubbish INEC’s preparations in order to achieve a postponement are being seen for what they are: a desperate ploy by the PDP administration to avoid certain electoral defeat.
“Unfortunately, in the process, the polity is being overheated to dangerous levels with consequences that might be unpredictable at this stage,” he said.
Speaking on the position of the 16 registered political parties that demanded a postponement of the elections, Oyegun described the move as an orchestrated attempt to instigate other political parties and groups, using flimsy legal challenges and cynical manipulation of national elders and leaders.
“These are part of the PDP script to deny Nigerians their right to choose their leaders on the 14th and 28th of February,” he said.
He said the country is fired up for the elections and people are stumbling over one another to go and collect their PVCs, adding that APC was going to offer two-work-free days in all its states to enable the electorate collect their PVCs.
On the refusal to participate in the election debate, Oyegun said Buhari had chosen his own strategy to hold town hall meetings and should be left to hold them.
On his part, Buhari also called on members of the Council of State to put the higher interest of Nigeria above selfish and other narrow considerations.
In a statement yesterday issued in Abuja by spokesman of the APC Campaign Organisation, Malam Garba Shehu, Buhari said considering the zeal of Nigerians for change and their passion to vote, there should be no excuse to deny Nigerians the right to exercise their franchise.
With INEC, which is constitutionally empowered to conduct elections, saying it is ready, the campaign organisation said there was no basis to contemplate a shift in the polls on the grounds of politically expedient excuses.
Buhari reminded members of the council that their honour and integrity were at stake and therefore they must weigh the implications of an election postponement.
Meanwhile, INEC yesterday refuted a report by Reuters in which the news agency quoted one of its commissioners, Amina Zachary, as stating that the date for the elections might be postponed if the distribution of PVCs is not concluded before the polls.
In a statement directed at Reuters by the press secretary to the INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu, INEC said: “I write to refute your story in Reuters attributed to a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Amina Zakari, as saying that the 2015 general election may be delayed if the number of permanent voters’ cards collected by voters is too low.
“I was at the Situation Room Dialogue with INEC in Abuja this morning and I know that the commissioner spoke in regard to the February 8 deadline for the collection of PVCs, nothing about the schedule of the general election.
“You said she spoke to you ‘on the sidelines’ of the event. Well, I have checked with the commissioner and she denied that the issue discussed was the scheduling of the 2015 elections.
“You had during the question and answer session at the event asked about the notably low level of collection in some states and the implication for voter turnout, which the commissioner had missed out in her responses.
“Later ‘on the sidelines’ she explained to you that the number of PVCs already collected rates highly in comparison to the level of voter turnout historically in Nigerian elections.
“Still, she added, INEC has not completely foreclosed the possibility of granting a few days of extension in isolated cases of low percentage of collection after February 8.
“The inference you’ve made for the schedule of elections is entirely yours, and misrepresents the conversation that took place at the event this morning. You will do well to correct the report urgently, please.”
In response to INEC’s request, Reuters published another story yesterday, correcting the first one, stating that INEC may extend deadline for collection of PVCs.