Leaders, under the aegis of Northern Elders Forum, NEF; Afenifere, Ohaeneze Ndigbo, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and Middle Belt Forum, yesterday, expressed pessimism over the 2019 general elections.
They also appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve all matters relating to funding of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, without further rancour, in the interest of the nation.
The leaders also said it has become imperative for there to be a strong synergy between the executive and legislature for a successful amendment of the Electoral Act, even as they expressed fears that the issue of vote-buying was taking a more dangerous dimension, which must be nipped in the bud by the political class, the government and security agencies.
In a statement jointly signed by former Federal Commissioner for Information and South-South Leader, Chief Edwin Clark; Leader of Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Professor Ango Abdullahi; Leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, and President, Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, the leaders said they were concerned that a number of unresolved issues might pose serious challenges to the organisation of the elections and the desire for a free, fair and credible exercise.
The statement read: “The Forum of Elders and Leaders in Nigeria has reviewed the current state of preparations for credible elections due to hold in February 2019, and is concerned that a number of unresolved issues may pose serious challenges to the organisation of the elections and the desire for a free, fair and credible exercise.
‘’These issues include funding of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; approval and release of funds to INEC to organise the elections are tied up in disputes and bickering between the executive and legislative arms over levels and sources of funding.
“These disputes may be resolved at a period that will represent a major challenge for preparations by INEC. There are also issues related to funding the participation of security agencies in the elections that are yet to be addressed.
“The forum appeals to President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve all matters related to the funding of INEC without further rancour, in the national interest.
“Arguments over the final version of the amended Electoral Act are wasteful and damaging to the prospects for the conduct of credible elections. The forum is aware that all matters related to the amendments have been resolved, and is worried over exchanges that question the commitment of leaders to the national interest.
“The forum appeals to our leaders to demonstrate the highest levels of maturity and responsibility in concluding all matters related to the amendment of the Electoral Act. The President should not withhold further assent now that the National Assembly is reported to have addressed his concerns.
“The forum is concerned that unhealthy partisan interests may threaten an orderly and responsible operation of the National Assembly when it reconvenes after its current recess. Critical legislative activities, such as approval of the funding requirement of INEC and the Electoral Act are, therefore, a threat to smooth and orderly election.
‘’The Forum notes that the above mentioned legislative activities require very high levels of discipline and commitment to the nation’s interest for their proper and timely conclusion .
“The forum, therefore, appeals to all leaders of both arms of government to resist the temptation to put their partisan consideration above national interests in matters related to the orderly and responsible conduct of the National Assembly, especially at this critical time. Nigerians are closely following these trends and will not tolerate untoward acts by any politician who puts the forthcoming election in jeopardy in the name of partisan or personal advantages.”
“The forum notes that the recent alarming and fast spread vote-buying at polling centres represents a very unfortunate and audacious assault on the electoral process. If this alarming practice is not dealt with decisively and comprehensively, there will be no hope that the 2019 elections will reflect the will of the people.
“While we commend the decision by INEC that voters will no longer be allowed to use smartphones from the moment they collect their ballot papers till they drop them in the boxes,we believe dealing with this matter at the voter’s level is not enough to curb this crime. We should go further to treat this serious infraction with all the sanctions it requires.”
“The Forum appeals to all concerned, principally Mr. President, the National Assembly, INEC, security agencies, C.S.Os and the international community to collaborate and find immediate and effective solutions to this threat.”