- No regrets axing Ex-CJN Onnoghen
BY EDMOND ODOK, ABUJA – The Presidency on Tuesday thumped its chest that President Muhammadu Buhari’s unassailable victory in the February 23, 2019 presidential elections is not only incontestable but watertight on all fronts.
It maintained that the poll was won by President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the popular candidate who received the most votes cast by the electorate.
Reacting to the joint reports released by the International Republic Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on the 2019 general elections and recommendations for 2023 polls in Nigeria, the Presidency said the margin of victory was an obvious proof of Nigerians’ goodwill and confidence in the President.
Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on President on media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu said it was indisputable that President Buhari defeated his main rival and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar with a margin of over 14 per cent.
A statement issued in Abuja by Mallam Garba expressed reservations over the joint report, noting that whatever the issues maybe, it is difficult to deny or question the validity Mr President’s emergence as the winner of the presidential contest.
The statement also insisted that president Buhari did not run foul of any law by suspending the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen following his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over discrepancies on his Asset Declaration Form just before the 2019 general elections.
The presidential aide further said; “It is instructive that President Buhari clearly won this vote and the report in no way disputes that fundamental fact. President Buhari won by almost four (4) million majority votes, with a 14% margin.”
The statement said the most important thing in an election is that it reflects the will of the people which in the circumstances was acknowledged to have been a success by ECOWAS Observer Mission as well as YIAGA Africa whose parallel vote tabulation verified the presidential election result as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
According to Garba; “We have developed a tradition of improvement in our electoral process through enforcement of our electoral law which resulted in the prosecution and conviction of electoral officers that were found wanting in compromising our electoral process.
“We however, agree notwithstanding, there are improvement that must be made in the process for the future. The sheer size, terrain and remoteness of certain regions do pose serious logistical challenges.
“They also pose a problem for electoral observers: across a country of over 190 million, only 40 observers were deployed to observe just 16 states + the Federal Capital Territory (Nigeria has 36 states).
Garba also said; “It was unfortunate that the election was postponed, yet imagine if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had gone ahead unprepared. The delay undoubtedly resulted in a lower turnout. Because they are registered to vote in their place of birth, and not where they live, many Nigerians could not make arrangements to travel back again.”
The statement, which insisted that major democracies of the world have equally recorded worst turnout in modern history, however added; “The effect of voter turnout, at any rate, is a two-way traffic that affected both sides equally.”
Garba said; “To pretend otherwise is wrong considering that in 2015, the INEC postponed the election by six weeks under a PDP President, whom, as an incumbent, it was said to help at the time. It didn’t make a difference.
The Presidential spokesperson, who maintained that the postponement did not aid the sitting President in 2019, also said; “It is amazing that the electoral observers recommended that electoral laws are enforced, and perpetrators of crimes punished and at the same time implicitly criticise the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria for failing to disclose his assets as required by law. Which would they prefer?
”The law is a matter of principle that takes its course regardless of time and circumstances. It is never a matter of convenience and indeed remains functional, operational and enforceable without due regard to the electioneering process.
”As we have already said, we are committed to reviewing our electoral laws and processes, like every democracy across the world should,” Garba said.
The statement assured that the Federal Government is determined to build on the innovations witnessed during the 2019 polls to facilitate inclusiveness and participation, such as providing braille for the visually impaired to cast their votes among others.
Acknowledging that the Presidency has huge regards and value for the recommendations contained in the reports, the statement said; “We can assure they shall be assessed and evaluated.”
The former Vice President and his party, the opposition PDP are currently at the Presidential Elections Tribunal seeking to quash results of the February 23, 2019 polls and a declaration in their favour.