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As polls open, Nigerians demand peaceful voting


Postponed elections hold countrywide, today

By Anthony Opara

As polling stations open this morning, Nigerians are insisting on peaceful voting.

Indeed, one word to describe the political environment in Nigeria at the moment is HOT.  The two main political parties, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are talking and acting in a manner that is heating the polity and leading to many Nigerians from all  walks of life seeking for peaceful elections and should that be the preferred outcome, smooth transition from one government to another.

But for the logistics problems that led to its postponement from February 16th to February 23rd the Presidential elections would have been a thing of the past by now. The electoral umpire had very early on Saturday 16th February called a press conference and postponed the election which was to open some hours away. 

On that occasion, INEC Chairman Professor Yakubu Mahmoud had said the Commission was constrained to shift the polls due to logistics constraints that they could not surmount. At the very short span conference, he said that more reasons would be provided at another conference scheduled for 2PM that day.

By this time all the major political gladiators and stakeholders had returned to their wards to vote.  President Mohammed Buhari of the APC was in his Daura, Katsina home while Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was in his Adamawa home town.  Abuja had been emptied of political gladiators as ministers and special advisers had also relocated home for last minute politicking and the casting of their votes. 

All hopes were dashed by the terse and most mood dampening statement by Professor Mahmoud who later told a congregation of international observer missions and party leaders exactly what the commission had been confronted with, and which had led to the postponement.  He added that but for the cancellation, the electoral outcome may have been a sham as some of the materials were not delivered to where they would be needed for the presidential as well as National Assembly elections ahead of voting.

A very ‘livid’ President Buhari returned to Abuja and asked INEC to get to the bottom of what he referred to as ‘crass incompetence,’ saying that the required funds had clearly been made available to the Commission for the elections and that he could not understand what had led to the postponement of the polls.  He said that proper investigations would be conducted after the elections to get to the bottom of the matter. 

On his part, the Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole said the electoral commission ought to have postponed the election earlier than they did and then went on to accuse the commission of pre-informing the PDP about the postponement, an allegation that was promptly denied by the Commission.

While party leaders threw brickbats at each other, the President also went on to almost involuntarily raise the tension bar when he ordered the Army to be ruthless with anybody that will organize thugs to snatch ballot boxes.  In a swift reaction, the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar gave a ‘counter-order’ asking the military not to obey any illegal orders saying there were enough laws in the system to deal with electoral offences like snatching ballot boxes and their likes.  Other candidates like Omoyele Sowore of the AAC weighed in and accused  the President of supporting extra judicial killings saying that his order amounted to empowering the armed forces to shoot Nigerians on sight adding that some people might be scared from coming out to vote to avoid being victims of trigger-happy armed soldiers.

In the midst of all these, and even with the international community saying that the President would be held accountable for the lives of Nigerians before, during and after the elections, Nigerians have been calling on politicians to spare the citizens the pain of violence. Many from across the political divide have been trying to ‘interprete’ what the President had said. National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu for example said that the President didn’t exactly call for ‘shoot at sight’ on potential ballot box snatchers but that he only warned that anyone involved in ballot box snatching would pay with his life.

Reacting to the scenario, a public affairs commentator, Chief Fred Jikoyi told the Difference Newspapers that the politicians should allow the elections to be conducted in an atmosphere of peace, adding that politicians should remember that there is life after elections and that there is a nation to be run after winning or losing elections.  In a similar vein, the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex socio cultural organization of Igbos, Chief NNia Nwodo asked his people to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner while ensuring that they use their PVCs to make their voices heard as regards the question of who would be in the saddle to rule the nation going forward.

From the North, Alhaji Adamu Michila said that any call for violence from some political quarters was most worrisome, and indicative of increasing desperation among political actors. He called on parents to prevail on their children not to lend themselves to politicians who would use them as thugs but to use their PVCs as instruments to determine who rules.  In a telephone interview with the Difference Newspapers, Alhaji Michila said Nigerians should not be intimidated by politicians into throwing away their chance of having a say in who governs them.

Even religious leaders have also been speaking on the imperative of citizens’ free participation in the political process. One of them, Pastor Suleiman reportedly told his congregation last Sunday not to allow anybody intimidate them into not exercising their franchise in voting for leaders of their choice. And this indeed is equally the guarantee of the Nigerian Constitution and the adjoining Electoral Act.

INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu

Good night, Prof. Ogaba Oche

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