- Claim commission contacted Air Force three days to poll for airlift of materials
- Electoral body insiders relate how chairman resisted pressure to stagger election
By Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Kingsley Nwezeh and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
Nigeria’s security agencies: the Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Air Force, Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Army, who are members of the Logistics Committee, set up by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the general election, have explained their roles in the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections last Saturday.
The Logistics Committee was charged with the responsibility of facilitating the distribution of election’s materials on or before the Election Day.
Insiders in the INEC Headquarters in Abuja also spoke with THISDAY yesterday relating the commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s, resistance to attempt to stagger the election.
Yakubu, while addressing a press conference on Saturday, cited ‘’logistics problems’’ as reason for the deferment of the presidential election to February 23, while the governorship and state House of Assembly was fixed for March 9.
However, explaining its role in the election, the Nigeria Police Force said yesterday that it did what was expected of it to ensure smooth conduct of the election, exonerating the force from any blame.
‘’We were ready for the election; we did our deployment 72 hours before the election. We did all we could do; what happened was quite unfortunate and it is a huge cost to the Nigeria Police Force; we cannot be blamed,’’ the spokesman for the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Mr. Frank Mba, told THISDAY.
Explaining the burning of some INEC’s materials in states like Plateau, Abia, and Anambra, he said some persons have been arrested and are being interrogated.
In Plateau State for instance, Mba said the matter was still being investigated, saying the suspect told the police that it was the fire he set on the nearby refuse that affected the building that the materials were being kept.
In the case of Anambra State, he told THISDAY that 16 persons have been arrested and are being interrogated over the incident, while three persons are being interrogated in the case of Abia State.
He said the Anambra case in particular, was shocking, stating, however, that immediately the incident happened, the police sealed off the area and arrested some suspects.
‘’As security agents, we did all we were supposed to do to assist the INEC in carrying out its task,’’ he said.
Also speaking with THISDAY yesterday, military authorities said that they were not to be blamed for the logistics challenges that led to the postponement of the polls.
The Nigerian Air Force, Navy and Army were involved in the airlift and distribution of electoral materials for the election.
THISDAY checks, however, revealed that the military was blamed for not taking direct instruction from INEC officials but instead preferred to stick to directives from the military high command.
But the military held that it had no business with distribution of electoral materials but was only acting in aid of civil authority as expected of them.
The Defence spokesman, Brigadier-General John Agim, said: “We have no business with that. The military had no business with the distribution of electoral materials. Our effort was to aid the civil authority to ensure a successful election and that should not be misconstrued.’’
In his reaction, the Navy spokesman, Navy Commander Suleiman Dahun, challenged critics to name areas where the Navy failed to deliver electoral materials. Nigerian Navy airlifted election materials to riverine areas in Bayelsa, Delta, using naval helicopters.
“They should be specific. Tell us where we did not deliver so we can take you on that. That is a generalised statement,” Dahun said.
Nigerian Air Force spokesman, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, could not be reached on phone but a top NAF source, who spoke anonymously, said INEC had four years to prepare for the election but only approached NAF three days to election.
The source said: “All of us at the NAF are pissed off; but because it is government to government, we don’t want to go there.
“They had four years to do this planning and we kept telling them that we are available if they need our help, but they probably thought they could do it on their own. They only approached us three days to election.”
The source added: “Many of our officers slept at different airports for many days. There was severe bad weather for two days but we were able to deliver.
“Where they had issues, which they did not factor in, we were conveying materials by road to voting centres. In the air force, logistics is a core issue that we are familiar with.
“The Chief of Air Staff had meetings with Air Officers Commanding and we informed INEC of our readiness. They should have known that we have been doing these things.”
The source further noted that it was not the responsibility of NAF to distribute electoral materials.
The source explained further: “We are simply aiding them to ensure the success of elections. The C130 was used because it is a transport plane. Other aircraft were used to the point that seats had to be removed for it to contain the materials.
“But in spite of that they (INEC) did not appreciate our efforts and they are even trying to shift blame. They had four years to do this and they are the ones who had the funding not NAF.”
Real Reason Election was Postponed
However, insiders in INEC, who spoke with THISDAY before the chairman announced the postponement in the early hours of Saturday, blamed the security agencies that constituted members of the Logistics Committee for ‘’deliberately muddling up’’ the delivery of sensitive materials to some states and later put suffocating pressure on the commission to go ahead with elections, even when they knew that deployment of sensitive materials had been hampered.
One insider said the plot was to force INEC to conduct staggered elections in order to achieve pre-determined selfish political agenda.
For example, he said the Nigerian Air Force jet conveying sensitive materials, scheduled to land at Enugu Airport, was diverted to Port Harcourt, citing bad weather, even when other commercial airlines like Air Peace, landed at the same time at the airport without any problem.
The source added: ‘’How do you explain a situation where unwholesome pressure was mounted on the INEC chairman to still proceed with the elections when it was obvious that some states would not be participating?
‘’How do you explain mysterious fires that destroyed INEC facilities and sensitive materials, few hours to election? How do you explain a situation where Nigerian Air Force’s pilots conveying sensitive materials, were asked to return to base?
‘’The postponement was the culmination of numerous concealed actions to achieve a staggered election; but the INEC chairman stood his ground, insisting he was not ready for any staggered election.’’
The insider added that the issue of about 4,500 card readers and other sensitive materials that were burnt in Anambra, Plateau and Abia States, needed a minimum of five days to re-configure and sort out.
THISDAY further gathered that the strategy by the forces that ‘’sabotaged the election’’ was to allow elections hold in about 26 states and postpone it in 10 states.
Another source further explained: “The whole plot was to purposely allow sensitive electoral materials arrive late in some states and INEC would have no option but to postpone elections in those states.
‘’For example, the Air Force jet that was supposed to deliver materials to Enugu was told it can’t land because of bad weather conditions and it had to land in Port Harcourt.
‘’With what happened, elections in Enugu, Kano, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Bauchi, Taraba, Abuja, Benue and other states would have been postponed. Do you also know, for example, that materials that were being escorted to Makurdi, Benue State, by the police were hijacked?’’
Rather than blame INEC, the insider said the leadership of the commission should be commended for having the courage to resist the powerful forces that were out to achieve selfish political interests that would have undermined the credibility of the election.
Why Announcement of Election’s Postponement was Delayed
Justifying why the announcement of the election’s postponement was delayed till 2:30a.m. on Saturday, an insider said when it became evident that INEC chairman was not ready to go ahead with the election in some states, as requested by some forces, he started meeting with some critical stakeholders before the announcement.
He explained: ‘’There was the need to brief international election monitors like Commonwealth, EU, African Union, US, UK and others on why the election should be put off and Yakubu spent about four hours with them.
‘’Thereafter, he started meeting with security chiefs, who insisted that INEC must go ahead with the election in some states and that meeting lasted almost three hours and finally, he met with senior staff members of INEC, including the national commissioners and by the time he was through with all these meetings, it was about 2a.m.’’