The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said that it would not conduct elections in states affected by the emergency rule declared by President Goodluck Jonathan. The chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, stated this penultimate week at a stakeholders forum organised by the Senate Committee on INEC, in collaboration with the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Abuja and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID). It is clear that he was referring to Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states that have been under emergency rule since May. According to Jega, insecurity in these states could affect the conduct of elections and hamper the credibility of the electoral process.
While this may be true, a state of emergency should not be interpreted sweepingly to mean stripping the people of all their fundamental rights. The INEC boss was quoted as saying, “If the security is such that we cannot do election, then we may need to fall back on the law to suspend it or postpone it.” This submission is beyond him. He has neither the powers of a court of competent jurisdiction nor the commander-in-chief. Conducting a free and fair election is what he should be concerned about and not the presumption that emergency rule in these states precludes them from being units within the federal republic. Some of the governors have said normalcy has returned and they are conducting local council polls and other business of governance without hindrance.
We are inclined to believe that the INEC boss is already seeking an alibi for an expected shoddy performance in 2015. Disenfranchisement has been raised as an issue that could aggravate insurgency. Should INEC capitalise on “security threat” to not conduct polls in these three states, political analysts will conclude that it is acting out a script to return the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to Aso Rock, fair or foul, because the states under emergency rule are governed by the leading opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The APC has also contended that the Jonathan administration is deliberately “depopulating” the areas where the main opposition party has large following, to suppress voters’ turnout. INEC should step above all this by asserting its independence. To not hold a general election in the states under emergency rule would only confirm the suspicion that the federal government is using INEC to retain power. It would also mean that the federal government is deliberately exacerbating tension and insecurity in the Northeast states for political expediency.
The federal government should, as a matter of urgent constitutional importance, live up to its duty of providing security in the country, not only during elections, but at all times. The security agencies are well advised to wind up their operations before the general elections in 2015, so as not to provide INEC with an excuse to strip the people of their fundamental right to choose their leaders.
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