Nigeria presidency denies pushing for proceeding with polls

LAGOS - Nigeria's presidency said on Friday that no directives were given to the country's electoral body to proceed with or reschedule the polls, due later this month, saying the committee is the only side responsible for setting the dates.

"I can tell you categorically that reports that the Council of State [headed by the president] gave any kind of directive to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to proceed with the elections is completely misleading," presidential spokesman Reuben Abati told The Anadolu Agency on phone.

The denial came after Rochas Okorocha, a governor of southeastern Imo state who belongs to the opposition All Progressive Congress, said that the Council of State - which held a meeting Thursday - has asked the body to go ahead with the ballots, due on Feb. 14 and 28, as it expressed satisfaction with the preparedness of the electoral body.

But Abati asserted that was not the council's position

"What happened yesterday was that INEC briefed the council on its level of preparedness and INEC pointed out that it is facing a number if challenges. The security agencies also briefed the council," he said.

"On the basis of the deliberations which went on for over seven hours, the council then advised the INEC to go and consult all other stakeholders and then take a decision within its own constitutional responsibility as to what it intends to do.

"The council did not give any directive to INEC. What the council just did was to ask the INEC to go and consult widely and review its own level of preparedness and take whatever decision that suits it as an independent body. It was nothing more than that."

Abati said the INEC representatives had told the council that up to 34% of Nigeria's eligible voters are yet to get their permanent voters' card, among other challenges.

He also denied claims that President Goodluck Jonathan was behind ongoing calls by several public figures for the elections to be postponed due to security concerns.

"The president did not push for the postponement of the election. He recognizes that the responsibility for fixing the dates of elections is that of INEC," he said.

"The council's only advice is that the INEC should go back and consult more, reassess its level of preparedness and decide on what it wants to do. Nobody gave any directive to the INEC, neither the council nor the presidency," he asserted.

Abati went on to say Jonathan and the ruling People's Democratic Party are certain of victory anytime the election is held.

"I have no doubt that the president will win the election convincingly and overwhelmingly because the Nigerian people are solidly behind him," Abati said.

"He has campaigned on the basis of his achievements and he has vowed to do more to continue to transform Nigeria and move the country forward," the presidential spokesman added.

Nigerians will go to the polls on Feb. 14 to elect a president and members of the federal parliament. The governorship election and state assembly polls will follow on Feb. 28.

Although 14 candidates will vie for the presidency, the poll is largely seen as a race between Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler.

Buhari is running on the ticket of the opposition APC, an amalgam of political interests that have come together in an attempt to wrest power from Jonathan's People's Democratic Party, which has ruled the country since its return to democracy in 1999.

Jonathan's national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, a retired military officer, recently suggested that the poll should be delayed because millions of voters had not yet received their permanent voter cards. 

The opposition immediately rejected the proposal, however, dismissing it as an "ill-advised" plot by the ruling party and government to hold onto power.

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