INEC made a U-turn and raised the alarm that the ongoing strike embarked upon by ASUU might affect preparations for the conduct of the election.
It’s countdown to the next general election. By Tuesday, January 1, 2019, it will be exactly 47 days ahead for Nigerian eligible voters to file out again to elect leaders of their choice.
Time and again, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured the nation of its preparedness in terms of logistic arrangement to conduct a hitch-free, fair and credible election. This assurance, combined with President Muhammadu Buhari’s avowed commitment to ensuring credibility of the process, gives the people a good ray of hope that the election would be a watershed; a complete departure from the past.
But suddenly, the INEC made a U-turn and raised the alarm that the ongoing strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff of Union of Universities (ASUU) might affect preparations for the conduct of the election.
ASUU had on November 5, 2018 began an indefinite strike over the failure of the Federal Government to implement three areas in the Memorandum of Action it signed with the union on September 14, 2017. These are Forensic Audit of earned academic allowances of the lecturers since 2017, payment of N20 billion out of an agreed N220 billion annually and underfunding of the public universities. Its National President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said that all entreaties made to the Federal Government to honour the agreement with the union fell on deaf ears and as such they had no alternative than to embark on the strike.
On Thursday, the National Commissioner for INEC and Chairman, Information and other Education Committee, Festus Okoye, during the opening of a one-day seminar on media gender sensitive reporting expressed concerns about the effect of the ASUU strike on the 2019 elections.
According to Okoye, the commission would need over one million ad hoc staff made up of lecturers in federal tertiary institutions, members of the National Youth Service Corps and students of federal tertiary institutions in the elections, warning that the ongoing strike might affect the recruitment process.
His words: “It is next to impossibility for members of the NYSC to provide all the ad hoc staff needs and requirements of the commission, and over 70 per cent of the ad hoc staff requirement in some states of the federation is drawn from students of federal tertiary institutions.
“Hence, the lingering strike by ASUU will no doubt have serious impact on the preparations for the conduct of the 2019 elections. We, therefore, call on ASUU and the Federal Government of Nigeria to quickly and genuinely resolve the lingering impasse that has led to uncertainty in the education sector.”
On Wednesday, December 19, the Federal Government said that its negotiation team and ASUU were close to signing an agreement towards ending the strike. But on Friday, ASUU debunked the claim, saying the government was not serious in its negation with the union.
With the current stalemate, concerns have been raised that the 2019 elections might be another dashed hope unless the matter is handled with the urgency it deserves. Some critics, who expressed worries over the latest development, accused the APC government of plotting with the electoral body to rig the elections.
A former Minister of Transport and member of the BOT of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ebenezer Babatope, in an interview with Sunday Sun, said that the alarm raised by the INEC was an idle talk, which should not be taken seriously.
“It is an idle talk and it should not be taken seriously. If INEC is taking position with the Federal Government by saying it is going to affect the election, then it raises suspicion. Our own is to see INEC organising election and they should organise it very well free and fair. They are only looking for something to hang on to. So, it is an idle talk. They are only being clever by half. There are several ways they can recruit people to man the elections. They are trying to create an excuse not to deliver a free and fair election. When we had Boko Haram at its worst terrorizing Nigerians, we held elections because they knew things would go in their favour. As far as I am concerned, whatever is good for Nigeria is the best. There are private universities where they can use staff and students. To say that election may not hold because ASUU is on strike is a lame talk,” he fumed.
A former governor of the old Anambra State, Chukuemeka Ezeife, also expressed worry over the cloud of certainty, noting that the alarm could be genuine, but insisted that the commission must find a way around it while praying God to intervene.
He said: “I think they are right. But they should find a way around it. Everything is in the hand of God. Whatever happens, I believe in God. There are human beings in Nigeria and they can be recruited and trained. I think God will know what to do about us; otherwise, there is no way they can tell us that students or ASUU are the only sources of recruitment. We pray that God will take control of INEC’s mind. The only way we can have a different result from what we know we should have is by INEC playing a wrong game. If INEC manipulates the elections, then we will get a different result from what we expect.”
On his own part, Senator Rufai Hanga, a notable political figure in Kano State, declared the INEC’s statement as an indication of some hidden agenda.
“I think INEC has some hidden agenda for coming up with an excuse like this. There are so many unemployed graduates that they can recruit. Even if students were not in school, there are so many avenues to call them to do the job. They only want to create an excuse to do what they are planning to do. But God will not let them have their way,” he quipped.
The Chairman of the breakaway APC, Buba Galadima, while urging the INEC to stop playing the ostrich, warned that everything would be done to resist any rigging plot.
“They may be right, but they can also fall back on primary and secondary school teachers and they are sufficient enough to do the job.
“I think they are trying to use that as a means of recruiting APC members to conduct the election. That is why the government is not showing commitment to resolve the ASUU strike. It is connivance between the INEC and APC government so that the strike will not be resolved before the election. It is worrisome because all indications are that they don’t want to conduct a free and fair election. INEC is already preparing the ground to declare every election that is not favourable to them inconclusive so that later on they will deploy military and police to rig the election. We are worried; the whole world is worried about this,” he lamented.
Galamdima, accusing the APC government of planning to manipulate the election, said that the party has not been up and doing in its campaigns to woo the electorate.
“There is no intension whatsoever on the side of INEC to conduct a free and fair election. Because government is so sure that they are going to lose the election, they are not even campaigning. They are only relying on writing figures. We will resist it with the last drop of blood in us,” he declared.
The Publicity Secretary of the Lagos State chapter of the APC, Joe Igbokwe, in a quick response, said that the PDP was judging others by its own standard.
His words: “Nigeria is a place where truth has taken flight. People now judge other people by their own standard, especially the PDP. They are judging APC by their own standard. They have lived in denial all their lives, they have no integrity. They now judge other people by their own standard. PDP is a miserable party and they cannot change. Let them make all the noise. They don’t know what integrity means, they don’t know what honour means.
“They are waiting for us to kickstart our campaign. They have not seen Osinbajo moving from state to state, meeting with the people that matter, giving tradermoni. They don’t know it is campaign. They should stay there and be looking until market is over. We are reaching out, going from streets to streets in the night and afternoon and they are busy looking for us to go and hire a stadium. APC is a wise party. They will be sleeping and the work will be over. They have lost it, the game is over.”
On the issue of the alarm raised by the INEC, Igbokwe asked: “Must they find their ad hoc staff from the university? Can’t they get it from NYSC people? There are people who are looking for something to do, they can recruit them. I believe the ASUU strike will soon be called off. APC is not PDP at all. One is a dead party, one is a dead party.
Also, Yinka Odumakin, the spokesperson for the Afenifere, lending his voice to the issue, urged the Federal Government to find a way to resolve the ASUU strike in the interest of the nation’s democracy.
He said: “The Federal Government should answer the ASUU. We can’t expect them to die before the election. Or are they saying they should live in penury because we want to hold election? Except the Federal Government doesn’t want elections to hold, they should answer ASUU demands and let them go back to work.
“The pattern we have seen in the past is that when INEC starts election in the morning, until the close of voting, everything goes on well. But the moment voting ends, counting starts, security begins to fail, the elections also collapse. In a place like India, when they are holding elections, all security apparatus of the state are under the command of electoral body. They pay their salaries and post them. At the end of the election, they recommend those found guilty of infraction for discipline. But in Nigeria, IG will deploy and do all sorts of things because they are not answerable to INEC.”
As the nation inches close to the next general elections, it is incumbent on the government to ensure that every necessary support is given to the INEC to deliver a free, fair and credible election in line with international best practices.