State of The Nation

SMBLF Carpets Buhari, INEC Over February 25 Poll 

Ola ‘Kiya, Reporting

THE Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), Wednesday, carpeted President Muhammadu Buhari and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over the shortcomings trailing the just-concluded February 25 Presidential Election.

Stonix News recalled that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was declared winner by INEC amid protestations by opposition parties.

But in a letter addressed to President Buhari  on Wednesday, SMBLF raised some fundamental concerns over the precarious mood of the nation following the election, urging the president to act fast before the situation degenerates.

The letter, signed by the leader, Chief Dr. Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, Chief Ayo Adebanjo of Afenifere, Dr. Pogu Bitrus of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra State and Ambassador Okey Emuchay, Secretary General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and made available to Stonix News, reads thus: 

OPEN LETTER TO MUHAMMADU BUHARI, GCFR

President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria

Mr. President,

POST 2023 PRSIDENTIAL ELECTION AND STATE OF THE NATION

We have elected to write this letter to you, in the spirit of national patriotism, after conscientious review of the State of the Nation, since after the February 25 Presidential Elections. Mr. President should note that there has been an uneasy calm in the land and that the polity is laden with uncertainty orchestrated by the conduct and outcome of the Presidential election.

It’s hoped that Mr. President will carefully reflect on the issues raised herein and act accordingly, not only in the interest of Nigeria’s unity and stability, but the sustenance of our democratic journey as well.

Your Excellency, across Nigeria, voters of all ages and groups, consider the conduct and outcome of the February 25 presidential election as fraudulent.

Likewise, many foreign and local observers concluded that the conduct of the election failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians and that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to follow the Electoral Act 2022, and even its own guidelines in the conduct of the poll.

This was in spite of the humongous amount of tax payers’ money spent by INEC and the promises of free, fair and credible elections given to Nigerians and the international community, ahead of the elections, by Mr. President and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Indeed, there’s palpable tension in the country and Nigeria would have been sweltering now were it not for the appeals for calm by well-meaning Nigerians, particularly the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the election, Mr. Peter Obi, and most of us, who are elders and statesmen across the country.

Unfortunately, while we are imploring for peace and calm on the part of all who are dissatisfied with the conduct and outcome of the polls, and to hold forth for the judiciary to dispense justice on the matter, it seems Mr. President and the Independent National Electoral Commission, do not appreciate the mood of the country.

We highlight with concern, the following:

THE CONTINUED MALFEASANCE OF INEC

i. The unusual swiftness by INEC to approach the Court of Appeal for an order to professedly “reconfigure” the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines used for the conduct of the February 25 Presidential Election, and securing same, even when experts have indicated that BVAS devices need not necessarily be reconfigured before holding the Governorship and House of Assembly Elections.

ii. The cunning manner in which INEC rescheduled the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections earlier scheduled for today, March 11, few hours after securing the relieve they sought from the Court of Appeal, Abuja.

iii. The seeming reluctance of INEC to timeously allow lawyers of the presidential candidate of Labour Party access to inspect and obtain essential materials used across Nigeria for the conduct of the February 25 Presidential election, despite an Order of the Court of Appeal to that effect.

THE CONDUCT AND UTTERANCES OF MR. PRESIDENT DURING AND AFTER THE ELECTION

Even more worrisome, Mr. President, are your conduct and utterances during and after the presidential election:

i. On Saturday, February 25, 2023, during the Presidential and National assembly elections, Mr. President was seen in a viral image displaying your ballot paper after thumb printing, to show who you voted, certainly to influence other voters, before casting your vote at your polling unit in Daura, your hometown. That was an absurd and brazen violation of provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 and INEC’s voting procedures by no less a person than the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The question is what example was Mr. President providing?

It must be noted that Section 50 (1) of the Electoral Act of 2022 stipulates that “(1) Voting at an election under this Act shall be by open secret ballot and that “(2) Subject to section 63 of this Act, voting at an election and transmission of results under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission.”

Furthermore, the 2023 general election procedures released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) state that voting is by secrecy; “You will go to the voting cubicle to mark your choice on the ballot paper in secret… and then drop the marked ballot paper into the ballot box in full view of all present. A voter is not allowed to take photograph of the ballot paper when in the voting cubicle.

It is worthy to note that the “Presidency” did not issue a disclaimer over the said viral picture, and dismally, Mr. President has not shown compunction for that action in any way. Like the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom and former Governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Kalu, who also posed for pictures with their ballot papers after thumb printing before casting the ballots at their respective polling units.

ii. Mr. President did not only mute himself in the face of allegations of irregularities and compromise against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during and immediate aftermath of the Presidential Election, but, as usual, embarked on an international journey soon after.

iii. The recent open declaration by Mr. President through a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, that he will inaugurate President-elect, Bola Tinubu as President of Nigeria on May 29, 2023 and that there will not be a repeat of the June 12, 1993 Presidential poll saga.

WE ARE IN A DEMOCRACY, NOT A MILITARY JUNTA

To say the least, the aforecited actions and avowals of Mr. President are detrimental to national tranquility. It may be necessary to remind Mr. President that Nigeria is not under a military junta and that he cannot annul any election:

i. Therefore, the reference to June 12, do not arise this time, as the President, in a constitutional democracy, do not have powers to annul a Presidential election nor any election conducted in Nigeria, as was the case with the then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, in 1993.

ii. That Mr. President has no RIGHT WHATSOEVER to determine who will be sworn into office on May 29, 2023 as the case is currently with the judiciary and the President has no known powers to determine for the Judiciary who will win the case before her.

iii. That those utterances of Mr. President are prejudicial and are in contempt to fair hearing. It is offensive to the law of the land and it is obstruction of justice and an intimidation to the Lord Justices who are to hear the case. It could be regarded as an indirect attempt at directing the Court as to what it should do on the case.

That in a country with weak institutions and where the judiciary has not lived up to expectation in recent years, the assertions of Mr. President amount to “call for self-help”, given that Nigerians displeased with the outcome of the Presidential election have anchored their hope on the judiciary and are expecting that the judiciary would uphold justice and truth in deciding the matter.

We believe that in time like this, leaders, especially the President of Nigeria, ought to be circumspect on what he says or does in other not to engulf Nigeria into an avoidable Political crisis.

Suffice to add this continued militarized disposition of Mr. President is a threat to the nation’s democracy and explicates the administrations recurrent disobedience of court orders, lack of openness to dialogue and the reluctance to heed patriotic advice, resulting in the many challenges confronting the nation and its citizens.

THE NAIRA REDESIGN POLICY DEBACLE

Mr. President, in view of recent occurrences, this communication would be incomplete without reference to the Naira redesign policy, which was approved by you.

On October 26, 2022, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, made public the intention of the bank to redesign the nation’s currency and stated that the old N200, N500 and N1000 currency notes would seize to be legal tender by February 10, 2023. Though the policy was welcomed by many Nigerians, there were grave concerns that the 3-month time frame for the transition was abrupt and could elicit serious consequences.

Mr. President ignored appeals by patriotic Nigerians; including the All Progressives Congress Governors’ Forum, to prevail on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to allow the old notes to circulate concurrently with the new ones for at least six months rather than sticking to February 10, 2023 deadline that was fixed by the apex bank, to ease the hardship Nigerians were facing

On February 8, 2023, a seven member panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice John Okoro gave an interim order that the old and new naira notes should continue to circulate until the determination of the suit brought before it by some State Governors. Oddly, eight days after, on February 16, 2023, Mr. President, in a nationwide broadcast directed that only the N200 note should remain legal tender, as it were, overriding the interim order of the Supreme Court.

In consequence, Nigerians continued to suffer unprecedented economic hardship; buying naira notes at outrageous rates and even forced back to the era of “trade by barter”. Lives had been lost; businesses were being negatively impacted and property, especially, belonging to commercial banks worth billions of naira was reportedly destroyed during protests over scarcity of the new naira notes. Sadly, the “Presidency” did not perceive the unmentionable stench of suffering and agony citizens were facing, due to the ill-timed and poorly implemented redesign policy of the CBN.

Fortunately, the Nation’s Supreme Court provided a soothing relief on Friday, March 3, 2023, and once again saved the country from possible wanton social crisis, by its ruling on the matter.

In their judgment, the seven-member panel unanimously decided that Mr. President breached the constitution in the manner directives were issued on the redesigning of the naira notes. It held that the unconstitutional use of powers by Mr. President on the naira re-designing also breached the fundamental rights of the citizens in several ways.

Now, the worst part of it all was that even after the definitive ruling on the matter by the Supreme Court on 3rd March 2023, Mr. President, it took your administration and the Central Bank of Nigeria ten days, until Wednesday,13th March 2023, to issue a statement and an official circular respectively, on the matter.

At this point, it is expedient to demand that Mr. President should end all prevarications on the naira redesign policy as well as the associated cashless policy, and expressly direct the Central Bank of Nigeria to fully comply with the judgment of the Supreme Court. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should also immediately put out sufficient banknotes into circulation, to end the unwanted suffering in the country, arising from the implementation of these twin policies.

THE GOVERNORSHIP AND STATE ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS

Mr. President, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must be told, in unequivocal terms, to ensure that the inconsistencies and irregularities observed during the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25 will not reoccur in the Governorship and State Assembly elections, holding on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Elections belong to the people; it’s their decision and the people’s decision must be respected.

Though the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System may have mitigated the concern of ghost or multiple votes and the February 25 election resulted in a national assembly somewhat reflective of the extant political viewpoint of the country, the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to strictly follow the Electoral Act 2022 marred the credibility of the election.

The sanctity of the ballot must be upheld by the electoral umpire and results of the elections must truly reflective the will of the citizenry. We are not sure that pretexts of “technical glitches” with regard to uploading of results from the BVAS to the iREV immediately after collation at the polling units shall be tolerable in the Governorship and State Assembly elections. The elections must be free, fair and credible!

In conclusion, Mr. President, while we acknowledge the resilience of all Nigerians, particularly the youths, for keeping faith despite the provocative actions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) amidst the subsisting difficult socio-economic situations; it is imperative to underline that those who seek to serve the people in a constitutional democracy must imbibe the tenets of democracy – the values of freedom, respect for the rule of law and human rights, inclusivity, fairness, equity, justice, etcetera, in the interest of the peace, unity and progress of our dear country, Nigeria.

Let us allow the Judiciary to do its job, without interferences, and relieve Nigeria from any political crisis.

An ancient saying instructs, “If you can hear the hissing of a snake, don’t complain when you are bitten.”

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