* Assures pre-election matters won’t disrupt poll
* Dons call for state of Emergency in Zamfara

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has reiterated its readiness to hold next year’s general elections, clarifying, however, that the conduct of the polls in security-challenged places in the North-east would be determined by security reports from the military.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Publicity and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, told THISDAY Wednesday that the commission was ready to conduct elections in all parts of the country next year.

His words, “INEC will conduct election in all parts of the country, unless it becomes impracticable to conduct election in maybe in some part of the country or in some local governments. But this decision will be taken based on security report, our own internal dynamics and appreciation with the issues. But as at today, we are determined to conduct election in all parts of Nigeria.

“So, in some of these local government, we are going to document and conduct election at the local government headquarters rather than going into the remote areas where there are still challenge of insurgency. We are collecting data and compiling report relating to each local government where we have security challenges.

“But for us to make this determination, we are going to work with the Nigerian military, we are going to work with SEMA and other agencies who are working in these areas to make a determination on places where it is practically impossible to conduct elections. But any place where it is possible to conduct election, we are going to conduct elections in those areas.”

There has been renewed Boko Haram attacks on military bases in the North-east, raising anxiety about the possibility of the general elections holding in arears prone to terrorists’ raid.

According to the INEC national commissioner, however, “INEC will conduct 2019 elections in all parts of the country. As at today, the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in all the States of the federation have been sending in reports on the state of security in their various states. We have also gotten detailed report of places where there have been internal displacement of persons from the various RECs and we are taking up these thing on board.

“By our processes and procedures, we are to conduct, organise and supervise elections in constitutionally recognised states of the federation. But the Constitution recognises the fact that there are so many states where the Nigerian military are engaged in internal security operations and we are liaising with the security agencies through the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in relation to some of these places where the Nigerian military and the police are conducting internal security operations.”

Okoye stressed that the security agencies have assured INEC that they have the capacity and capability to secure the electoral environment to enable INEC to conduct elections.

He also explained that the reports the commission received from some of the RECs indicated that a few local governments, not only from Borno State have security challenges, but added there was full activity at the local government headquarters of some of the local governments, while there are challenges in some of the constituencies making up the local governments.

Okoye noted, “We have cases of insurgency in the North-east and we have persons who are internally displaced in the North-east. We also have persons who are internally displaced in the North central, especially in places like Benue, Plateau and we are taking all these things on board,

“We also have persons who are internally displaced who are living in states other than their own, so we are working with State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMA) and National Emergency Management Agency in documenting some of these people.”

INEC Assures Pre-election Matters Won’t Disrupt Poll

And with just 51 days to the February 16, 2019 presidential election, INEC, has insisted that pre-election matters will not prevent the commission from conducting the 2019 general elections.

The electoral body gave this assurance despite court cases arising from acrimonious primaries conducted by political parties ahead of the 2019 elections, which are still pending before various courts.

The Zamfara State All Progressives Congress (APC) chapter, which the commission has insisted that it does not expect to present any candidate for the 2019 elections easily comes to mind, as well as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) crisis in Ogun State, which is yet be decided by the court, among others.

However, Okoye, told THISDAY that the electoral body did not have the constitutional right or authority to postpone the conduct of the 2019 elections as the date and period for the conduct of the election has been constitutionally circumscribed.

He stressed that the commission is only allowed or permitted to fix the conduct of the 2019 elections within the constitutionally circumscribed period and no more.

According to him, “Section 132(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) prescribes that an election to the office of the President shall be held on a date appointed by INEC while section 132(2) of the same Constitution provides that an election to the said office shall be held on a date not earlier than one hundred and fifty days and not later than one hundred and thirty days before the expiration of the term of the last holder of that office.”

Okoye stated categorically that any form of manoeuvre outside the constitutionally prescribed period would lead to uncertainty and constitutional confusion, noting that INEC will continue to act and operate within its constitutional mandate.

He explained that the electoral umpire released its timetable and schedule of activities in January 2018 and it is determined to keep to the intendment and schedule of its activities.

Okoye stated, “The Commission is therefore proceeding with its activities without let or hindrance. The training of its State Training Officers is proceeding well. The Commission has finalized its Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of the 2019 Election.

“The procurement of sensitive and non-sensitive materials forms part of the core activities of the Commission and the Commission is following its schedule in the procurement of these items.

“No Court decision will obstruct or prevent the Commission from printing ballot papers. Ballot papers bear the name and logo of political parties and not the name of candidates. It is therefore not correct to assume or insinuate or imagine that any of the pre-election matters will prevent the Commission from carrying out its constitutional and statutory duties.

“The Commission will therefore organise, undertake and supervise the two strands of election on the 16th day of February 2019 and the 2nd day of March 2019.”

The national commissioner also revealed that INEC has set up the National Situation Room/Collation Center for the forthcoming 2019 general elections, while the commission has also constituted an advisory committee on Logistics for the 2019 general elections.

The commission, therefore, assured Nigerians that nothing has happened to necessitate any form of shift or adjustment of the electoral calendar and the dates released by the commission remains the dates for the conduct of the election.

It also urged those that registered and are yet to collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) to do so as all the cards of those that registered during the Continuous Voters Registration are available for collection.

Dons Call for State of Emergency in Zamfara

Meanwhile four university lecturers have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency in Zamfara State over the massive violence and killings occurring in the North-west state.

The dons, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim of Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja; Dr. Abubakar Mohammed, Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Zaria; Prof. Massoud Omar, Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Zaria; Dr. Saluihu Mustapha, Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; and Malam Mohammed Abubakar Nasiru, also of Department of History, Ahmadu Bello university, Zaria, asked the president to intervened in Zamfara because the situation had gone out of control of the state government.

The university teachers in a statement made available to THISDAY last night said the state had been subjected to massacres and the killing of thousands of innocent citizens, mainly rural folks, adding that the brutality with which these attacks were carried out were unprecedented in recent times in any part of Nigeria.

They, therefore, asked the president to also take further drastic measure including, dispatching of special forces to the forests and affected villages to rout out the terrorists and kidnappers, and interacting frequently with community leaders and other relevant stakeholders in the search for lasting solution to the crisis.

According to them, renewed commitment of the leadership of the security agencies would signify renewed effort to accelerate the war against terrorism, insurgency, mass kidnapping and mass murder.

Reviewing the situation in the North-western state, the dons said outbreak of riots in Tsafe local government on Saturday 22ndDecember, 2018, which according to some reports, had led to the deaths of over 100 people in the villages of Asaula, Kwadawa, Dogon Kawo, Mandaba, Yanza, Kulutu,Sakkya and Fegin Dakai, all in eastern Tsafe, had again brought to the fore the issue of insecurity in Zamfara State.

They said, “On Monday, December 24, thousands of scared citizens in the State came out en masse to protest, demanding that the Nigerian State protects them from killers and bandits, who have killed over 100 people in the past two weeks, burnt their houses and destroyed their farmlands and rustled their cattle.

“The reckless pronouncements and ineptitude of the government of Abdul Aziz Yari has further worsened the security situation in the state.

“The destruction of the campaign posters of Mr. President shows the extent to which people are aggrieved against the efforts so far put in place to contain the problem. This has the potential of eroding the credibility of Mr. President in one of his strongholds.”

They stated further, “This carnage is not only limited to Tasfe, but is widespread all over the towns and villages of Zamfara. Innocent citizens, made up of defenceless men, women and children are slaughtered routinely with no help in sight. Women and young girls are raped in the presence of their parents and husbands; some are kidnapped, carried into the bush, subjected to incessant rape, impregnated and sent back to their villages.

“Consequently, many villages in Zamfara State have been deserted. Economic activities have come to a standstill as farmers have been ordered by the bandits not to farm. Those who dared them have been killed. Herders are also not spared. Thousands of cattle have been rustled and many herders killed. Many people have also been kidnapped for ransom.”

These developments, they said, have had a negative impact on the Federal Government’s agricultural policy of Anchor Borrower’s Programme (ABP), and other social intervention programmes.

Saying the security measures put in place in Zamfara, so far have failed, they called on the president to intervene directly and declare emergency rule in the state.

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