Buhari to INEC, Police: Let people’s choice prevail in 2023

President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday asked officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigeria Police Force to be firm, free, fair and let Nigerians elect whoever is their choice in all elections, including the 2023 polls.

The president said this at a meeting with the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, other top officials of the electoral body, and Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu at  the State House Abuja.

INEC has 28 reruns and by-elections this January, with the president telling the commission to ensure the game was played according to the rules and without fear or favour.

“Those that you declare as winners must be the candidates that the people have chosen. Democracy is about free will, and the will of the people must be allowed to prevail. Get your acts right, and leave no room for underhand tricks or manipulation,” he said.

The president said he was determined to give Nigeria an electoral system that meets with best practices anywhere in the world, and charged the electoral umpire to stick to the rules of fair play and adherence to justice.

He said the electoral process should be free, fair without bias or favouritism from the police.

“Our elections must be done in violence-free atmosphere. The process must be free, fair, decent, devoid of intimidation or malpractices. It is the duty of the police to accomplish that, and it is what I expect in the elections immediately ahead and going forward,” he said.

Both INEC and the police pledged a fidelity to the rules and regulations, stating that they know President Buhari as someone passionately committed to fair play.

INEC, IGP assure

Speaking to state House correspondents after the meeting, INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu said the electoral umpire would continue to conduct credible elections in line with the wish of Nigerians.

“It is essentially on the conclusion of all the litigations with respect to all the national and state houses of assembly elections arising from the 2019 general elections. So far, thirty elections were nullified by courts orders, some in whole state constituencies others in pocket constituencies.

“We have conducted two elections in these elections-Kogi West and Ajaokuta Federal Constituencies. We have 28 elections outstanding spread across 11 states of the federation and the Commission has already fixed 25th of January – that is in the next 19 days for the conduct of the courts ordered re-run elections and we are ready for these elections. 

“In addition, we met with His Excellency, Mr. President and he reiterated his commitment to ensuring that the processes of free and fair and the environment is secured for that to happen. That was why the meeting was held involving the electoral commission and the Inspector General of Police,” he said.

Also speaking, the IGP, Mr Adamu said the police would continue discharge their duties without fear or favour.

“The government wants to have an election process that is equal to none in terms of example that could be given to the world so that free, fair and credible elections will take place and for that reason there must be a secured environment.

“And in securing the environment, the security strategy that was in place in the previous elections has to be reviewed, has to be enhanced so as to have an election that violence will not be tolerated, ballot snatching will not be tolerated.

“Those that usually participated in such actions like the politicians, security agencies, the INEC officials and any other group that partake in that, this time around they will not be allowed to do that. 

“We shall make an example of anybody that wants to use violence to achieve his aim during the electoral process. This is the message that we are sending to Nigerians and this is the beginning of the process to make sure that this country from now onwards gets elections that is exemplary to the rest of the world,” he assured.

Tinubu

Meanwhile, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu Tuesday said it was too early to start the 2023 debate now, saying the president should be allowed to be focussed.

He spoke to journalists shortly after a parley with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The former Lagos state governor is widely speculated to be in interested in Buhari’s job after the latter’s tenure expiration in 2023.

Answering reporters’ questions on zoning, the APC leader said: “That time is not now. We have just finished one election and Mr. President is busy sorting out the budget, working for the people of this country. Of course, restlessness of politics is going to be there, but any lover of this country will not talk about the succession plan yet. That’s the truth. Concentrate on working for the country; help the president to help the country. There’s nothing more than that.

“We cannot use 365 days in a year and 360° to work on politics, it’s not possible. Anybody talking about that now is just completely restless and not focused on the agenda of nation-building and development of our country.”

On the visit he said: “It’s a new decade, a visit to the leader of my country is necessary to look at things and wish him well in the office for this new decade and make some points on the stability, security and a number of issues around the country.

“His New Year message resonated very well; he showed concern about the security and the understanding that the economy is still a challenge, but it’s a work in progress. You’ll have to continue to work on it and make it better for the common man. That’s the meat of the message.”

On Buhari’s position on his speculated third term in 2013, the former governor said: “Any reasonable politician who had worked with President Muhammadu Buhari will know that he will not (tamper with the Constitution). Detractors are always suspicious and will make accusations, but I was in the trench, in the struggle for democracy.

“I was in the trench and in the opposition with Muhammadu Buhari, till the third term agenda of a former leader of this country failed. I know he will never. He has the courage and the character to refuse such a temptation even if offered to him. I believe in him and I believe Nigerians should also believe in him.

“He doesn’t need to say it to me, I’ll argue it in the corner and everywhere they bring such a thing up. However, it’s very good to hear it from him. I say congratulations to a man of character and integrity. The challenge of turning the ship of this nation around is a continuum and a continuous effort and that is what we should get ourselves concerned with.

“Yes, politics is intoxicating, it’s flamboyant, it’s interesting, but we cannot continue in perpetuity one after the other. We have to relax, show concern for the people of the country and see to the efforts of the president that will manifest in the new, united and prosperous country. We are still not there.”

Presidency cautions

In a related development, the Presidency has warned against religious intolerance among the diverse socio-cultural groups in the country, saying politicisation of religion, as forbidden by the constitution, has no place in Nigeria.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Monday pleaded with the federal government to speed up release of Christians in Boko Haram captivity.

The body, through its President, Rev. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, said the abduction of Christians by the insurgents amounted to persecution of adherents of the faith.  

But, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu, warned against politicisation of the nation’s security challenges.

In a statement Tuesday in Abuja, Shehu said some political and religious leaders were out to score cheap political points from the nation’s religious differences.

While calling on Nigerians to remain united in the face of the terrorists’ message of division, the presidential aide said: “Unfortunately, some leaders and politicians seek to make political capital from our religious differences.

“As we fight Boko Haram on the ground, so too must we tackle their beliefs: stability and unity in face of their hatred is itself a rejection of their worldview.

“This government shall never tolerate religious intolerance. We clearly and unambiguously restate our support for the freedom to practise whichever belief you wish. The politicisation of religion, as forbidden by the constitution, has no place in Nigeria.”

He said security forces were working continuously to return those taken hostage by Boko Haram to their families, friends and communities.

The presidential spokesman further said: “In doing this, government has full confidence in their ability to accomplish the task. On its own part, government has condemned some of the appalling acts of terror, especially following the festive period.

“Yet, to continue to see these happenings solely in religious terms – removed from social, economic and environmental factors – simplifies complexities that must be heeded.

“Not seeing them as they should be is exactly what the terrorists and groups wish: they want Nigerians to see their beliefs as reason(s) to turn against one another.

“On the contrary, Christians and Muslims alike are united in their opposition to Boko Haram and the hatred for decency that the infamous group stands for.”