It is no more news that national security and security threats have been cited to justify postponements of elections under former President Goodluck Jonathan and the current President Muhammadu Buhari. However, the postponement of the last governorship election in Edo State have been labelled by some people, notably, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as having political undertone, as the party doubted the sincerity of the security agencies and playing to the gallery.
Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (As Amended), which supports postponement of elections states that: “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”
While justifying the postponement of 2015 general elections at a Press Conference on February 7, 2015, the then INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru M. Jega stated that he received a letter from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), then under Sambo Dasuki drawing attention to four Northeast states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe who had experienced the challenge of insurgency. The letter stated that security could not be guaranteed during the proposed period in February 2015 for the general elections.
Jega added that: “This advisory was reinforced at the Council of State meeting where the NSA and all the Armed Services and Intelligence Chiefs unanimously reiterated that the safety and security of our operations cannot be guaranteed, and that the Security Services needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgency in the Northeast; and that during this operation, the military will be concentrating its attention in the theatre of operations such that they may not be able to provide the traditional support they render to the Police and other agencies during elections.”
In September 2016, the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigeria Police, citing security concerns, had advised INEC to shift Edo gubernatorial election. The advice was sequel to a meeting of the Director-General, DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura, and the Inspector General of Police(IG) Ibrahim Idris Kpotun, where the security situation in the country was reviewed.
In a joint statement by the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), DCP Don Awunah, and Garba Abdullahi of the DSS said that ‘“Credible intelligence report with the agencies indicate plans by insurgent/extremist elements to attack vulnerable communities and soft targets with high population during the forthcoming Sallah celebrations between 12th and 13th September, 2016. Edo State, is amongst the States being earmarked for these planned attacks by the extremist elements.”
But in a swift response, the INEC expressed surprise at the advice and said it was unaware of any security threat to the election, particularly when it had been assured on the same day by the Inter-Agency Security Committee on the ground in Benin City that all was well. At the end, INEC bowed to pressure from the nation’s security agencies when its National Commissioner, Voter Education and Publicity, Prince Solomon Soyebi announced the postponement.
While the public might have reservations on the excuses put up by the security agencies for the postponement of elections, the outcome may serve national interest and not necessarily political interest.
After the postponement of election in 2015, the Jonathan administration deployed acquire sophisticated weapons and funded Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) involving neighbouring countries to confront the menace of Boko Haram terrorists. Undoubtedly, average Nigerians can be forgetful. Before the handover to President Buhari on May 29, 2015, the previous administration liberated towns and cities from terrorists in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe State where elections were successfully and peacefully held.
Meanwhile after the postponement of Edo gubernatorial election in September 2016, there was peaceful Sallah Celebration throughout the federation while the election in Edo State, the main issue was also peaceful without any casualty.
If the purpose of postponement of elections were to influence electoral victory, the previous ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) failed woefully while the current All Progressive Congress (APC) won overwhelmingly.