INEC took the best decision on polls shift – Oramah

The Director General of Progressive Friends Foundation (PFF), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), devoted to the pursuance of good governance, Chief Pat. Ifeanyi Oramah, has frowned at the criticisms that have followed the recent rescheduling of the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and some other burning issues. He spoke with some journalists in Lagos.DAILY INDEPENDENT ,SENIOR CORRESPONDENT,PHILLIP OLADUNJOYE was there. Excerpts:

What roDEPENDENTle has PFF been playing in the on-going electioneering exercise?

INECLet me first make something very clear: Progressive Friends Foundation is not affiliated to any political party, but we recognise and promote positive electioneering and good governance, in addition to advising the politicians and making whatever efforts we can to educate and guide the electorate. That is why we applaud the recent decision by the INEC to shift the elections to new dates – a move which we believe is not only in the interest of the nation’s democracy, but will give the commission enough time to prepare adequately and organise credible polls.

But that same decision by INEC has drawn a lot of flaks 

No, no, no. It depends on who you are talking to. All well-meaning citizens who know what is good for the country have been applauding the postponement from February 14 to March 28 for the Presidential and National Assembly elections (and April 11 for gubernatorial and state assembly polls). Those who have been berating the commission and alleging manipulation are not being sincere. What is the point rushing into the elections when millions of people were yet to collect their permanent voters’ cards, ad-hoc staff not trained and INEC seemed un-ready? INEC took the best decision given the circumstance. There is nothing sacrosanct about February 14 and there is nothing wrong with March 28 provided the electoral act is not violated. So, we advise those shouting wolf to re-appraise the situation to see that the nation was saved what would have amounted to chaotic elections.

From PFF’s point of view, what was the real reason for the shift: security report or need for better preparations for the polls? 

Both are very convincing reasons. Either of them was enough reason to shift the elections. But, we believe that the insurgency in the north-east, which must have formed the crux of whatever security report officially presented to INEC, was very critical.

Talking about insecurity and the rescheduled polls, would you say that the atmosphere would have been conducive for the exercise six weeks after?

Definitely so. I am convinced that at the rate the re-equipped and re-invigorated Nigerian Armed Forces are going in the north-east, Boko Haram will be considerably curtailed, if not completely neutralised, in the next few weeks. I believe you have been following reports of combined air and ground assaults by the forces. The bombardment has been so heavy that the insurgents have been scampering in different directions, leading to the recapture of some towns and villages they earlier occupied.

You may ask yourself why these gains are being recorded now in the war against terror. It is simply because the recent efforts by the Federal Government to re-equip the hitherto neglected forces have now started to yield results. You will recall that government has been making frantic, covert and overt efforts to procure arms and military hardware for the armed forces. Not only do these things take time to source, they are also capital-intensive, but thank God they are here now, and their impact is what is being felt in the north-east now as the counter-insurgency efforts begin to register successes.

How do you see the campaign by various parties so far?

As should be expected, just before the announcement by the INEC boss, Prof. Attahiru Jega, that the elections had been rescheduled, campaigns had reached a crescendo as the political parties intensified efforts at swaying the electorate in their favour.  The intensity hit fever-pitch and almost bordered on desperation.  In the process, and very unfortunately, some of the politicians left issues and resorted to name-calling, unnecessary overheating of the polity and violent acts. The new dates for the elections have also helped to douse tension to an extent.

Talking about violence, is your organisation disturbed by the many cases of violence in parts of the country as the parties campaign?

My organisation, the Progressive Friends Foundation, holds the view that if the spate of violence is not stemmed immediately, Nigeria may find itself returning to the dark days of the 60s and 80s where electoral violence set our political and economic development back by decades.  PFF recognises the fact that no single party has a monopoly of violence.  We imagine that an attempt at retaliation would only escalate an already ugly situation. PFF has observed with concern the unwarranted attacks on political opponents, particularly, the ones that took place in Katsina and Bauchi, as well as other parts of the country where loss of lives and properties were reported.

We, therefore, advise political parties to caution their supporters to eschew violence in order to save this country from crisis.  The insurgency in the north-east has imposed enough hardship on the people.  The emerging political violence can only worsen an already fragile situation.

If you watched Mr. President’s first media chat this year which held a couple of days ago, how would you rate his performance?

Oh yes, I did. The President performed wonderfully well. He was convincing and did not leave any doubts on any of the points raised. To start with, the timing of the media chat was most auspicious. There were a lot of political issues blowing in the air, most of them bordering on rumours and unfounded allegations, and there was the need for somebody credible, somebody with authority, to come out and make categorical statements that would clarify everything. He is a candidate of one of the parties alright, but he is still the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And he spoke like a true statesman and leader, especially on the issue of the independence of INEC and the conduct of a free and fair election. Let us be honest, how many incumbent presidents anywhere in Africa will commit to the conduct of a credible election to the extent of vowing that if they lose, they would still hand over the baton to their successor? Has any past Nigerian leader been so honest and forthright?

Moreover, President Jonathan deserves commendation for assuring Nigerians that though Prof Jega has almost served out his tenure as the INEC chairman, he will be left to finish the job of conducting the elections. Don’t forget that one of the many rumours flying around was that the president had the intention of removing him to bring in a more pliable chairman who would do his party’s bidding. The truth is that if the President had doubted the integrity of the former ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities) Chairman, he would not have entrusted him with the high responsibility of running INEC in the first place.

To me, the aspect of the interview which I believe must have calmed a lot of nerves was the assurance by President Jonathan that the new dates for the rescheduled elections and the usual hand-over date of May 29, remain sacrosanct. This is important, because before the presidential media chat, various theories were already being bandied around on how the government planned to scuttle the elections and either stay beyond May 29 or enthrone an interim government.

But, not many people believe the President the way you do. For instance, some say it was not possible for the elections to be rescheduled without his knowledge.

You and I were not there. So, we can only rely on what we were told. The President said he was not consulted. Prof. Jega has not said INEC took permission from the president before rescheduling the polls. Why then will anybody doubt the president? You see, that is why I said earlier that politicians leave relevant issues and dwell on rumours just to score cheap political points. Recently, President Jonathan commissioned the Olorunsogo Phase 2 Power plant which has injected close to 1000 mega watts to the national grid. That is very positive. And I understand that more of such projects are coming up, which means that with time, power problem will be a thing of the past.  But, the critics are not talking about this. Power is very critical to the development of any country, and I must admit that we are not yet there, because these projects take time to mature. But the important questions are: Is the government committed to improving the situation? Are there efforts being made in terms of investments? The answer is yes.