A Military Diktat and the Pitiable INEC chief

Attahiru Jega

INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega

By Bayo Onanuga

Professor Attahiru Jega, chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission cut a pathetic, pitiable figure Saturday night announcing the diktat of Nigeria’s military chiefs against Nigeria’s 16-year-old democracy.

Like a military coup at night, Mr. Jega confirmed the open secret of the postponement of all the elections scheduled for February, a story that broke more than 12 hours before his announcement

PRO. ATTAHIRU JEGA, INEC CHAIRMAN PRESENTING THE CERTIFICATE TO PRESIDENT ELECT, PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN in 2011
PRO. ATTAHIRU JEGA, INEC CHAIRMAN PRESENTING THE CERTIFICATE TO PRESIDENT ELECT, PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN in 2011

The reason as he explained to a large assembly of local and international pressmen, was not the hiccups being experienced in some parts of the country with regards to the distribution and collection of permanent voters cards. It was not logistics problems associated with the distribution of ballot papers and other materials for the election that forced the suspension of National Assembly elections in 2011, under his watch. Last night, Mr. Jega told us that the commission was in a comfort zone in those areas.

The main reason was security: security chiefs said they could not guarantee protection of Nigerian citizens who plan to perform their civic duties on 14 and 28 February.

It was the first time in the nation’s history that an election time-table will be jettisoned because Nigeria’s security chiefs and the National Security Adviser said they could not provide security, a dereliction of constitutional duty that in saner climes would have attracted the charge of treason.

Their excuse is that the attention of the security services would be trained on Nigeria’s northeast, where a ‘massive’ operation would start against the Boko Haram insurgents about the same time that Nigerians were expected to go to the polls.

I hope Mr. jega, a Marxist scholar would have reflected over and over again over the import of his statement last night: If he had, one compelling, inevitable conclusion that he would have reached was that he had succumbed to the blackmail and threats of Nigeria’s military chiefs and their adviser. He had been used to execute a coup against the Nigerian voters. He was not the coup plotter, but a hapless accessory to the plot.

And does Jega want all Nigerians and the international community to believe him that the decision had not been forced down his throat, that it was a military diktat not in the national interest, not the best in this circumstance, but one made to satisfy a very narrow interest?

I am not sure whether he himself believes the bare-faced blackmail by military and security chiefs was warranted because as he told the press conference and the National Council of states, INEC was ready to conduct the election, even do much better than in 2011, except for this ‘variable’ of security, which he said was outside the control of the commission.

And does Jega want all Nigerians and the international community to believe him that the decision had not been forced down his throat, that it was a military diktat not in the national interest, not the best in this circumstance, but one made to satisfy a very narrow interest?

Jega cut a pitiable, pathetic figure, because he was made to deliver a decision believed to have been hatched in the office of Sambo Dasuki, the national security adviser, who first flew the kite of poll postponement over PVCs, working in conjunction with Aso Rock, including its extensions at the PDPPCO. The goal as many Nigerians believe was to slash the groundswell of support for the opposition candidate, while giving the incumbent some more weeks of maneuverings and re-strategizing to snatch victory. One even pitied this former vice-chancellor the more, because he was made to undergo a laborious, time wasting consultations, with ‘stakeholders’, when the decision to postpone, had been cast in President Jonathan’s Aso Rock, with NSA Sambo Dasuki, being the work smith.

There is sufficient ground to believe this reasoning. The opposition saw it coming and has been crying out loud. The PDP dismissed it as fiction. And last night while the opposition condemned the postponement of the election as ‘highly provocative’, a ‘setback for democracy’, ‘democracy at gunpoint’, the PDP uninhibitedly praised it to high heavens, saying that the move would ‘deepen democracy ‘ and it is ‘in the national interest”, read as ‘ in President’s interest’.

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In my view, security concern was the least reason to have been adduced to justify postponing the election wholesale, since we have had elections in other parts of the world with even graver security challenges: Afghanistan, Iraq.

Specious was also the anchor of the decision: that the security apparatus would be busy in the northeast battling insurgency of Boko Haram militants. After close to two years of declaration of emergency in the north east, with the Boko Haram expanding its Islamic Caliphate, overpowering, those the NSA called the ‘cowardly’ Nigerian troops in combat, does any serious person take this declaration of intent serious? Definitely no. There is even an additional reason to take it with a pinch of salt.

A few hours before Jega shifted the polls, a summit in Yaoundé, Cameroon of five African states, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad had agreed to set up an 8,700-strong army to engage Boko Haram. Nigeria will only contribute a few thousands of soldiers to this multi-national force, which sounds like outsourcing a military engagement that should ordinarily be Nigeria’s sole responsibility to other African countries.

So where in this is the massive operation in the north east that would consume the entire attention of Nigeria’s security forces, such that the police, traditionally involved with Nigeria’s elections, would not be available to provide minimal security at polling stations or in the movement of electoral materials from the central bank branches or local council offices? Even if the entire police force were deployed to the north east, what of the civil defence? What of the DSS? Are we saying that they do not have enough manpower to secure polling stations or the men and women who would be involved in the conduct of the election?

To be sure, everyone agreed that conducting the poll in the north east as scheduled with many areas prone to militant attacks, would have been a nightmare, but one expected that the area ought to have engaged the maximum attention of the security agencies to ensure that Nigerians living in relatively safe areas, the camps of IDPs, exercise their voting rights. Jega himself told the press conference, how the commission had worked things out, such that voting would have taken place. He disclosed for instance, that PVCs collection in the four most endangered states in the region, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe, is between 68 and 80 per cent and that the commission had planned to conduct election in the IDP camps. The missing link is ‘security’, which is a factor the security chiefs had latched on to secure a postponement of the election, for at least six weeks.

Nobody, not even Jega, is sure, whether the Nigerian security, working in collaboration with troops from four other countries, would have tamed the security challenge in six weeks. And all pointers indicate otherwise.

US intelligence estimates that Boko Haram has between 4,000 and 6,000 combat soldiers. To overwhelm a force like this may not be achievable in six week. It will take more time, says Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at Red24 risk consultants.

He said there was no guarantee that a planned new regional force would make significant gains against Boko Haram before the end of March.

“To dislodge Boko Haram from all of these areas in a period of six weeks would be an unprecedented feat,” he said.

“But even if achieved, securing liberated territories would be a task in its own, particularly if multi-national forces withdraw their presence from Nigeria.”

This understanding may be why the military were asking for a poll shift for at “least six weeks”, which puts in doubt whether the March 28 date will ever be realistic. Should it be breached again, what will happen?

Predictably, some political chaos will follow, the ends of which Mr. Jonathan or other political actors cannot for now foresee.

The final point we want to make is that soldiers had never been involved massively in Nigeria’s election, until the coming into office of the Peoples Democratic Party, starting with the 2003 elections. The police have always been in charge, the reason police chiefs, from Sunday Adewusi in the Second Republic, Tafa Balogun, under Obasanjo and now Suleiman Abba have always been accused of performing ignoble roles. In recent elections held, President Jonathan had deployed more and more soldiers to provide security and we have seen how the troops have been abused to rig elections for the ruling party, when they should be fighting Boko Haram in Sambisa Forest.

*Onanuga is the managing director of TheNEWS magazine and P.M.NEWS