…say security of lives, more important than elections
A number of lawyers are calling on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the conduct of general elections in Katsina, Borno and others states where there are high levels of insecurity.
Their reactions were premised on the alarm raised by the governors of Borno, Katsina and Zamfara over the rising levels of insurgency and insecurity in their states.
The lawyers, who spoke with Sunday Telegraph, said that INEC should postpone elections in such areas on the ground that security is fundamental right of every citizen of Nigeria and hence anything that could infringe on such rights should be done away with.
However, they added that in doing this, the electoral body should follow the due process of approaching a court of law to obtain an order.
They noted that a sole decision by INEC will lead to disenfranchisement.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Timothy Ajibade, said that what INEC should do is to cancel elections in the states, considering the happenings in the two states, particularly, when even military officers, who have been trained to fight, have also been massacred.
He added that no INEC staff will risk his life going to conduct or monitor election in a troubled zone.
“Where there is no peace, what will anyone do? Peace is very fundamental to any activity of any nation. INEC can’t stake its head and send people to areas where soldiers were killed with inpunity.
“If Boko Haram can walk into a military formation and kill security personnel unjustly, what do you think will happen when election is going on or being conducted. I myself as old as I am, I have not seen anything that would make me go there.
“The government must be able to stop this madness because it is becoming unbearable. I read recently that they have located about 20 spots in Cameroun, where they are training these Boko Haram members. That shows there is international conspiracy against Nigeria.
“I think the issue of Bakassi is still part of why Cameroun is angered against Nigeria. There is bitterness against Nigeria by fellow African countries. I don’t know why the African Union cannot rise up and fight against this terrorism.
“It is not an attack against Nigeria alone but rather against the African continent as whole. AU should set up an anti-terrorism team to look into this issue.
“Nigeria government should suspend every other thing including elections to tackle this insecurity. This is because, if the country is not secured, there can’t even be free and fair elections. Even the electorate will be afraid to come out and vote.
“For me, I feel security of lives and properties is the first thing that should be attended to by the government, all other issues are secondary.”
Supporting the position of Ajibade, a lecturer, Dr. Sadiq Ambali said it will be more prudent if INEC cancels elections in the troubles states.
He added that the Federal Government should equally declare a state of emergency in the two states.
He further added that a state of emergency is a precedent on the presumption of irregularity and abnormality in the affected areas.
His words: “Once there is a state of emergency, it gives INEC a leverage to take such decision, this is because a state of emergency is a pointer that all is not well with such a particular zone and such should not be taken for granted.
“I think INEC should take such decision when a state of emergency is declared by the Federal Government, if not, INEC would not have the power to take that decision”.
Ambali added that the government should become alive to its responsibilities and stop paying lip service to the issue of security of the citizens adding that if all the citizens are killed who will be left to vote and be voted for.
He further stated that no nation will progress when there is insecurity and chaos adding that the situation is a sad one which the government must speedily react to without delay.
Another lawyer, Kingsley Madichie, while agreeing that INEC should postpone the election, however, noted that the electoral body did not have the constitutional power to disenfranchise any citizen, irrespective of the security situation in the country.
He added that it is not within the jurisdiction of NEC to decide where to hold election and not where to hold election.
According to him: “It is unconstitutional and illegal to disenfranchise citizens because of insecurity. Such decision is illegal and it doesn’t have a place in either the Constitution or the Electoral Act.
“It is only a competent court that has the power to make that order that election should not hold in some certain places due to certain reasons.
“If the insurgency and insecurity persists, INEC can approach a court of law to obtain an order for not conducting elections.
“I know that it is not part of INEC’s mandate to determine where and where not an election will hold”.
But former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), insisted that the elections should not be postponed.
“No way, election must hold. There were worst insurgents under Jonathan, yet the election held, unless INEC wants to rig the election,” he said in a telephone interview with Sunday Telegraph Saturday afternoon.
However, another lawyer, Dr. Bade Onadipe strongly called on the leaders, both the executive and the legislature, to go down to the trouble regions to ascertain the exact situation of things, adding it would give them a clearer picture of what will form their decision on certain critical issues.
He further argued that people cannot stay in Abuja without having a first hand feel of what is happening in Katsina, Zamfara and Borno and other areas and yet decide on what should happen there.
Onadipe stressed that the security of lives and properties is fundamental right of every citizen of a country as given to them by the Constitution which is the grund norm and no interest whether collective or personal should take away this rights.
But the electoral body does not believe that the current situation in those states warrant that just yet.
National Commissioner and Director, Publicity and Voter Education, Oluwole Ossaze-Uzi said there is no need for taking such a drastic step now.
“The Electoral Act says if there is a likely break down or break down of law and order, in such circumstance, we will not risk the lives of voters, officials, observers and the media and every people in the system. If there is clear and imminent danger of the people we have mentioned, then in the area or community involved, we may do that,” he explained.
Furthermore, he said that the Commission would not do that. He cited the 2015 example during the height of the Boko Haram insurgency.
“We are still positive the environment will be still conducive. We conducted elections everywhere in 2015; we believe we will still do that in 2019 as we did in 2015.”
Incidentally, the 2015 general elections were postponed by six weeks on February 7 just a fweek to when it was to have held on February 14, due to the security situation in the North Eastern part of the country because of the activities of the Boko Haram militant group.