56M NIGERIANS TO CHOOSE BETWEEN JONATHAN,BUHARI No fewer than 56 million Nigerians will file out today to elect the next president in an election believed to be the keenest in the history of the country.

The figure represents 81.9 per cent of the total number of 70,383,427 voters that registered for the election.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and the opposition All Progressives Congress candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) are once again asking for Nigerians’ votes in this year’s general elections to enable them to lead the country.

The two political gladiators contested in the 2011 general elections won by Jonathan. But this year’s election has generated much tension across the country following the near equal strength of the two major presidential candidates in the poll.

The Independent National Electoral Commission had in February shifted the general elections as a result of insecurity in the North-East and poor distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards.

The INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, had said that the commission was empowered by Section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to shift national elections due to some factors.

He explained that the postponement followed reports by the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) and other service chiefs that their agencies would not be able to guarantee security of the commission’s personnel in some parts of the country. Jega had denied that INEC was forced to shift the polls, adding that the electoral body took the best decision under the prevailing circumstances.

“Nobody has forced us to take this decision; it is a very weighty decision, but under the present circumstances, we have taken the best decision and we stand by it,” he had said.

The postponement of the elections was said to have given security agencies the opportunity to reduce the insecurity posed by the Boko Haram terrorist group in the three North-Eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe as well as to allow the electoral body to improve in its distribution of the PVCs.

INEC, in its bid to ensure credible conduct of the elections, introduced a lot of innovations, including the PVCs and the smart card readers to prevent rigging.

The electoral body also increased existing polling units by 30,000. By this addition, the total number of polling units across the country’s 774 local government areas is now 150,000 from the initial 119,973.

The creation of the additional units was contained in an INEC bulletin signed by the Director in charge of the commission’s secretariat, Ishiaku Gali.

Gali had said the decision to create the additional polling units was taken at the commission’s meeting on August 12, 2014 so as to decongest polling units across the country.

As Nigerians elect the new president today, however, the electoral body has put the current total number of registered voters at 70,383,427 of which Lagos State with 5,426,391 has the highest number of registered voters. Nigeria’s commercial capital is followed by Kano with the second highest number of registered voters of 4,751,818.

Meanwhile, INEC has warned the electorate to shun activities that could trigger off breakdown of law and order as they vote for the candidates of their choice.

The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Ekiti, Mr. Sam Olumekun, and Head, Voter Education in Kwara State, Mr. Jacob Iyanda, asked the electorate to remain orderly while casting their ballots.

Olumekun, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH through the commission’s Public Relations Officer, Alhaji Taiwo Gbadegesin, said, “Voters are to be orderly and follow the instructions of electoral officers. They are not supposed to accept bribe because that is against the ethics of the election.”

Also, Iyanda warned voters or politicians against canvassing for votes during accreditation.

He said, “Voters are expected to come to the polling units with their PVCs. Secondly, they should follow the instructions of INEC officials because they are going to move from one point to the other in the process of accreditation.

“Voters should not canvass for vote, they should not wear any clothe or cap that has symbol of any political party. No symbol of a political party should be found on them. Voters should cast their votes and if they know they want to stay back to watch the proceedings, they should stay quietly and stay out of trouble.

“It is also wrong for them to accept bribe from party agents to cast their votes.

“Voters should make sure that once they finish accreditation between 8am and 1pm, by the time the real voting is supposed to come up by 1.30pm, everybody is supposed to be at the polling units. Once the voters are called to queue up and counted, then it will be difficult to start looking for someone who is not around. So before 1.30 pm, all voters must have converged on the polling units.”

The Deputy Director in charge of Voter Education in Osun State, Rev. Canon Stephen Ojewande, warned politicians and their parties against making provocative comments that could create bad blood among voters.

Urging voters to conduct themselves at the polling units while exercising their civic responsibility peacefully, Ojewande assured them of adequate security.

He also warned that anyone caught canvassing for votes on the election day would be dealt with according to the provision of the law.

Ojewande said, “We want voters to go to their polling units with their PVCs. Accreditation will be done and after this, voting will start. Nobody should canvass for votes during accreditation or voting time.”

Head of Voters Education Department in Oyo State, Mr. Ayodele Folami, said voters were expected to arrive at the polling units by 8am for accreditation.

He said, “We have electoral guidelines guiding the conduct of our staff, ad-hoc members and voters. It is standard rule and having gone through more than a decade of democratic process, we expect voters to have acquainted themselves with the rules. They are expected to be at the polling units by 8am and cooperate with our staff while verifying their PVCs.

“They are also expected to be law-abiding and respect the next voter who could be loyal to a rival party. Normally, political discussion is not allowed around the polling units because it could lead to violence.”

Folami added, “At no time on the day of the election will candidates or their supporters be allowed to campaign. All campaigns stop before the day. Campaign on such day is against electoral guidelines. Any politician who does so on the days of the elections will face the law and could jeopardise his chances or that of his candidate. It is also a crime to take bribe from party agents to cast vote for their candidate on election day.”

In Plateau, the police said that they had taken measures, along with all relevant authorities and stakeholders to forestall breakdown of law and order during the polls.

The Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Emmanuel Abuh, said that the police are also in touch with heads of various institutions, including universities, asking them to sensitise members of their communities against being used by unscrupulous politicians or taking the law into their hands.

He said, “Just as we have been briefing various stakeholders on the preparations for the elections, the police are working round the clock. No segment of the society will be left or neglected. Every precautionary measure has been taken to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order.

He added, “As you can see, all the security agencies in the state carried out a show of force round the streets of Jos and its environs. This is to show you that we are serious about the election.”

Assistant Registrar, Information and Publication, University of Jos, Mr. Aaron Abdullahi, said that the institution did not envisage any problem during the polls as students are currently on break till April 16.

Abdullahi said, “The students are currently on break until April 16, but we have adequate security cover on campus right now. UNIJOS security staff members are currently on one-week intensive training from Monday, March 23 to 27. The resource persons are drawn from the police, DSS, military and other security experts.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Road Safety Commission said the body had deployed 20,000 personnel and 413 patrol vehicles along designated routes for today’s elections.

Corps Marshal, FRSC, Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi, said this was to ensure sanity on the nation’s highways during the polls.

This is contained in a statement signed by the Spokesperson for the commission, Mr. Imoh Etuk, and made available to Saturday PUNCH in Abuja on Thursday.

It said the commission had drawn a roadmap toward effective patrolling of designated routes on the highways to ensure best road safety practices among road users during the exercise.

It said the 24 Emergency Ambulance Response Centres at the various routes across the country would also complement efforts of the commission.

The routes are: FCT, Kaduna, Gombe, Jigawa, Taraba, Niger, Kogi, Ondo, Edo, Osun, Nasarawa, Plateau and Kwara states where the centres were located.

He said, “Motorists are hereby enjoined to ensure proper planning and management of trips through maintenance of their vehicles and compliance with traffic rules and regulations.

“ Road users are strictly warned to desist from all road vices such as overloading, speed limit violation, non-use of seat belt, route violation (driving against traffic), making/receiving calls while driving and night trips.

“Details of the objectives of this special exercise include the removal of obstructions from the highways; traffic control/decongestion and public enlightenment campaigns.

“Road users are strictly advised to desist from night trips and ensure that vehicles which ply the highways conform with safety standard,” the corps marshal added.

He listed functional head/tail lights, wipers, tyres, fire extinguisher, caution sign and non-defective windscreen as some of the basic conditions to be met by all motorists.

Oyeyemi urged motorists to call the FRSC Toll Free Emergency Numbers: 122 and 070022553772 to report any traffic crash or any other traffic-related challenges, for prompt response.

Copyright PUNCH.

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