There appears to be uncertainty over the presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for today as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, holds emergency meeting with stakeholders, including party chairmen, international and local observers.
The meeting was still on as at 11:55pm on Friday in Abuja fuelling fears that today’s elections might be postponed.
An insider said some reasons were being tabled before the stakeholders by the commission to justify a proposed shift of the elections.
Specifically, sources close to the commission confided in our correspondents that the commission was discussing the possibility of shifting elections date over logistics problems.
The electoral body claimed it was facing difficulty distributing sensitive electoral materials to some states of the federation.
In Oyo State, as of 11:30pm, some local governments had yet to get their electoral materials. Meanwhile, a source in the commission confided in our correspondent that some of the materials had yet to arrive the state from Abuja.
Also in Edo State, INEC had yet to begin the distribution of sensitive materials to the LGAs as at 10:35pm. An official of the commission, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the electoral materials were still being sorted at the Central Bank of Nigeria office in Benin, the state capital.
Earlier, agents of the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party engaged in some bickering over the delay. Some agents of the PDP at the CBN premises alleged that the exercise was being delayed in favour of the APC to ensure that the materials did not get to the local governments on time to prevent registered voters from exercising their rights during the elections. But the APC agents present denied the allegation.
In Taraba State, as of 11:20pm, electoral materials were still being offloaded at the INEC headquarters in Jalingo, the state capital. As of the time of filing this report, INEC officials and ad-hoc staff for the election were still waiting outside the gate of the INEC office to get the materials to travel to their areas of coverage.
Public Relations Officer of INEC in the state, Febian Yame, refused to comment on the development, saying the issue would be addressed soon, which he had yet to do as of press time.
A formal announcement was expected on Friday night, sources said. As of 11:41pm when this report was being filed, INEC was still locked up in a meeting with the stakeholders.
It is unclear at this time what the new election date would be but insiders said the commission was considering fixing the elections for Sunday or Tuesday.
Some of the states where the logistic challenges were said to occur include Niger, Ekiti, Oyo, Taraba and Niger.
The News Agency of Nigeria had reported that the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Niger State as stating that the ballot papers for two of the state’s three senatorial districts were missing as of Friday evening.
Meanwhile, the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, has accused INEC of deliberately hoarding materials for the presidential, Senate and House of Representatives elections in some states.
Fayose said he was aware that ballot papers and result sheets for presidential and senatorial elections were not in Ekiti State as at 9 pm on Friday, adding that only materials for the House of Representatives were distributed.
According to Fayose’s spokesperson, Lere Olayinka, similar situations have been reported in Oyo, Taraba, Edo, Niger, Ogun, Rivers and other states.
The INEC Commissioner in charge of publicity, Festus Okoye, did not answer or return multiple calls made to his telephone line.
INEC had scheduled the national elections for Saturday while the governorship and state assemblies elections are scheduled for March 2.
The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party had earlier alleged that the Independent National Electoral Commission was hoarding the presidential and senatorial elections’ result sheets, saying it suspected it was part of moves to rig the polls.
The development came on Friday after the opposition parties, including the PDP and the Coalition of United Political Parties raised the alarm over INEC’s failure to release the number of uncollected Permanent Voter Cards across the country.
They described the move as suspicious and a secret agenda to rig the polls.
Speaking on the alleged hoarding of result sheets, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement made available to journalists in Abuja, claimed that the party’s agents were being denied INEC accreditation and identification cards.
This, he said, was meant to shut them out of the election monitoring process and allow the All Progressives Congress have a field day to manipulate the process.
The statement read, “The party says its monitoring and intelligence show that INEC has been distributing sensitive election materials in most states of the federation without the presidential and senatorial elections results’ sheets.
“The development is already heightening tension and suspicion of underhand method by the commission to open the elections for manipulations and allow the APC to enter fictitious results for onward transmission to collation centres.
“Intelligence available to us indicates that this is part of the plot for which President Muhammadu Buhari’s relation by marriage, Mrs Amina Zakari, has been retained as the head of the INEC collation centre.
“The PDP therefore cautions INEC to show its impartiality by immediately releasing the presidential and senatorial elections’ result sheets as well as the accreditation cards. Any further delay will be a clear recipe for crisis as Nigerians are already highly agitated over the matter.
“INEC should note that Nigerians are very anxious about this election and any action that, in anyway, portrays or tends to portray the process as being manipulated is capable of triggering a crisis of unprecedented proportion in our country.”
On the electoral umpire’s decision not to release the number of uncollected PVCs, the PDP accused INEC of harbouring what it called “hidden agenda” by its refusal to release the number of uncollected PVCs since Monday when the exercise was concluded.
It also said the commission ought to have informed the political parties of the number of PVCs collected by each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The National Chairman of party, Prince Uche Secondus, who spoke with our correspondent, said that the commission was working on many theories to favour the ruling APC. He said this could be another reason why the commission said it would not accredit voters before commencement of voting.
He said, “We have said it before; the commission has a hidden agenda. Why is it difficult to release the number of the voters that have collected PVCs since Monday when the exercise ended?
“The commission is not independent and it is partial. We are warning them and the whole world is also watching. This election must not be rigged and must be devoid of any malpractice of any kind.
“When we said they should first of all do accreditation to enable us know the number of accredited voters, they said no. Why is this difficult?
“Tell them to know that we will not accept the outcome of any discredited election.”
The CUPP described the failure of INEC to disclose the number of collected PVCs ahead of the election as a strategy to falsify results.
The coalition’s spokesman, Imo Ugochinyere, made the allegation in a statement made available to journalists on Thursday in Abuja.
Ugochinyere said, “This shocking development is to keep opposition parties in the dark and enable the falsification of the polling units’ results by the APC working with some compromised INEC officials.
“The refusal to release the polling units’ PVCs’ collection information will give room for perfection of over-voting frauds in areas the APC has planned to rig elections.
“This will lead to massive cancellation of polling units’ results under the guise that it was above the total number of PVCs collected and this is going to be easy since the opposition parties don’t have the figures of PVCs collected on polling unit basis.
“The strategy is to hold the INEC chairman hostage and force him to do their bidding.”
“We are also aware that some compromised ICT officers have tampered with voter registers and card readers in opposition’s strongholds to suppress votes.
“We therefore demand that INEC should make collation of results open to all.”
Ugochinyere said it was clear that President Buhari does not have any plan to hand over if he loses the Saturday election.
“We are aware that his foot soldiers are already boasting that the President will either remain in office or ensure that the military takes over if the opposition wins,” he said.
He also described an interview Buhari granted the Cable News Network on Friday as a violation of the law that stipulated that campaigns for presidential and National Assembly elections should end by Thursday.
Statistics of uncollected PVCs to be made known later – INEC
Reacting to the allegations, the Commission on Friday said the total number of PVCs uncollected PVCs would be made public later.
INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, stated these in an interview with our correspondent.
He said, “I don’t have the breakdown of the number of candidates where I am, the summary is in the programme booklet handed over to you at the stakeholders meeting and other details are on our website. The total number of PVCs collected/uncollected will be made known later.”
Nigerians still struggling to get their PVCs – Women Group
Meanwhile, a civil rights organisation, Gender and Election Watch, has called on INEC to review and improve on the process of distribution of PVCs.
The organisation said the call became necessary following its observation that till February 15 (Friday), Nigerians were still besieging the INEC offices with the hope of collecting their PVCs.
The CEO of Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Mufuliat Fijabi, stated these during a press briefing in Abuja on Friday evening on its observations.
Meanwhile, voters across Nigeria will today elect the country’s next president and federal lawmakers for another four-year term.
This year’s presidential election is believed to be a largely two-horse race between incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress and a former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party.
About 84,004,084 Nigerians were registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission to take part in today’s presidential and National Assembly elections holding across the country.
According to a document released by the electoral body, elections will hold in 176,996 voting points nationwide. The figure includes 119,973 polling units and 57,023 voting units.
Lagos State has the highest number of 6,570,291 registered voters; and a total of 13,438 voting points that include 8,462 poling units and 4,976 voting points.
Lagos is followed by Kano State with 5,457,747 registered voters; and 11,222 voting points that include 8,074 polling units and 3,148 voting points.
It is followed by Kaduna State that has 3,932,492 registered voters; and 8,012 voting units that consist of 5,101 polling units and 2,911 voting units.
About 6,657 candidates have been scheduled to contest in today’s presidential and National Assembly elections.
The breakdown, according to INEC, is 73 candidates for presidential election; 1,904 candidates for the Senate and 4,680 candidates for the House of Representatives.