People’s Trust (PT) presidential candidate Mr Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim yesterday move closer to achieving his aspiration with the Middle Belt Forum adopting him as its candidate for the February 16 election. Leaders of the forum, at a meeting in Abuja yesterday, ratified the choice of Olawepo-Hashim, capping a process that started some six months earlier.
The forum’s leader, former Plateau State Military Governor Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd), who announced the news to a gathering of its elders in Abuja, said the choice of Olawepo-Hashim has been ratified by the forum.
The forum has a presence in 12 of 19 Northern states, its leaders said.
The leaders added that the new development could alter the calculations ahead of the 2019 election.
According to him, the journey for the ratification of a common Middle Belt candidate started, when the Southern leaders asked the Middle Belt to produce a common candidate that would be supported for the Presidency by the Southern and Middle Belt Forum.
He said the forum identified many aspirants from the Middle Belt and later shortlisted three of them, who met with the leaders at the home of former Kwara State Governor Chief Cornelius Adebayo in Lagos.
Suleiman said the forum had assured the three shortlisted candidates that a final choice would be made and that all of them must be ready to work together.
He also stated that the Middle Belt would continue to network with Southern leaders on the adoption of the common candidate.
“What we are doing here today is to tell you that the Middle Belt has completed the exercise and we have settled for a candidate and that candidate is you (Olawepo-Hashim),” the retired Air Force officer and former Chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) said.
Air Commodore Suleiman then asked Olawepo-Hashim, who was in attendance to respond.
Olawepo-Hashim, who expressed gratitude to leaders and members of the Middle Belt Forum for the adoption, said he was a candidate with the capacity to unite Nigeria and bring prosperity to the land.
He said his adoption was not just because he hailed from the Middle Belt, but more of a recognition of his capacity to keep the country safe and united, a role, he said the Middle Belt has always played.
He said the Middle Belt has remained the mainstay of Nigerian unity, adding that Middle Belters fought in the front lines as soldiers, policemen and forces that keep the country united.
Olawepo-Hashim said: “That Nigeria is still standing as one today is due to the sacrifices of all of you. Most of you were not just soldiers in the mouth, you also led in the battlefield to keep Nigeria one. The forces that fought either as Air Force officers or as combatant soldiers and Police officers are all from Middle belt.
“Today, the country is facing an existential threat. Eleven out of 19 Northern states are today ravaged by cross border banditry and all manners of criminality. The South is threatened by kidnappers, armed robbers, you can hardly travel from Port Harcourt to Lagos on road without major incidents. So, the country is facing an existential threat.
“And it is not surprising to me that you have done what you are supposed to do as leaders. At this point in time, by agreeing to support somebody who can bring the country together. I am sure you have done this not just because I am a Middle Belter, but because you believe that we are able to keep the job done. And this job is to keep Nigeria one, secure the country. Secondly, bring prosperity to the land and three guarantees all round socio-development that would bring our people quickly out of poverty.
“The next election is not just about choosing a President, it is a battle for the soul of Nigeria.”
INEC advocates for ‘women and disabled first’ during elections
Independent National Electoral Commission has called for easy access to vote for women and disabled persons during the upcoming elections.
Professor James Apam, the Kogi State Resident Electoral Commissioner, has appealed to the electorate to allow women and those with disabilities unhindered access to cast their votes at the polling units.
Apam said it is necessary in view of the strategic position of women at home front and in the society.
He spoke on Tuesday in Lokoja at a one-day workshop on “Mitigating Violence Against Women” organised by the Kogi State Independent Electoral Commission.
He said that women as the weaker sex and in view of the strategic position women occupied both at the home front and in the society, it is necessary to allow them to cast their votes first on the day of the election.
“This will reduce their exposure to the risk of violence that might happen at the polls,” Professor Apam said.
“Whatever happened during and after elections, women, and children were always at the receiving end and so should be allowed to cast their votes first so that they can be free to attend to other important issues on that day,” he added.
He also expressed disappointment at the level of participation of women in politics both at the state and national level.
“It is disheartening to note that in spite of numerous actions aimed at encouraging women participation in politics, we are yet to see more women at the forefront of political participation.
“For instance, in Kogi State, only seven senatorial candidates are contesting out of 70 male candidates while three are in the House of Representatives category,” he said.
Professor Apam called on women to join hands to wage wars against vote buying and selling and other electoral malpractices that might hinder the delivery of free, fair and credible election next month.
2019 Elections: Over 23,000 candidates are contesting 1558 seats – INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has given a breakdown of the statistics of candidates contesting different positions in the February 16 and March 2 general elections.
According the electoral umpire, over 23,000 candidates are contesting 1558 seats across the country.
The Chairman of the commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu gave this information on Tuesday at the Police Headquarters in Abuja when he led other members of the commission to brief the new Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu on its plan for the election.
Mahmood said there were a total of 119, 973 polling units for the election while 73 candidates are contesting the only position in the presidential constituency.
1,904 candidates will be contesting for 109 Senatorial seats; with over 4,600 candidates contesting for 360 Federal Constituency seats; and over 14,600 candidates will compete for 991 State Constituencies.
He said, “There will be governorship elections in 29 states, for which we have 1,068 candidates vying for 29 governorship seats at state level and then in the FCT, we have 68 constituencies made up of 6 Area Council Chairmen, and 62 councils.
“In all, we have 806 candidates in the FCT. On the whole in 2019, over 23, 000 candidates will be competing for 1,558 seats,” the INEC boss stated.
While speaking, the police IG emphasised the necessity of conducting a credible poll while advising policemen to remain unbiased and neutral during the election.
“This is a crucial election that we are getting into and the election must be free, fair and credible.
“Police official must be seen to be neutral and give every party a level playing field to do what they are supposed to do,” he said.
Council of States: Buhari, OBJ, Saraki, others certify INEC fit for conduct of election
The National Council of State on Tuesday in Abuja expressed satisfaction with the level of preparations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the conduct of the forthcoming general elections.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State made the position of the Council known when he briefed State House correspondents on the outcome of the meeting, which was presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House.
Mr Akeredolu said the endorsement of the INEC preparedness for the election followed a presentation made by the Chairman of the commission, Mahmood Yakubu, at the meeting of the council.
He emphasised that the council was convinced on the level of preparedness of the electoral body.
According to him, the chairman also informed the council that the commission had embarked on training and retraining of staff for the successful conduct of the election.
“He informed the Council of the preparedness of INEC and everybody in the hall was convinced that INEC was ready for this election and a lot of things have been put in place.
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“I think we all concluded that it is important for the chairman to even speak to the nation on the preparedness of INEC for this election – that would convince all of us that this forthcoming election is going to be free and fair.
“Look at it, they have improved card reader, the details of what had been done to improve it was made known.
“It was made known that the process of continuous accreditation and voting system (vote at the same time and you leave) was the best.
“He also told the Council that they are not lacking in terms of finance and that all the monies appropriated have been given to them and that they are ready for the election.
“He went further to inform the Council that all training and retraining of every category of staff that they (INEC) will use, they have already started and they are having consultations with every group of people, religious, artisans and trade unions to let them know (about the election).
“So, everybody was convinced that INEC, as at today, is ready for the elections and questions were asked, he was interrogated and he responded and gave adequate explanation to the satisfaction of all of us,’’ he said.
The National Council of State also endorsed N27,000 as new National Minimum Wage.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who also addressed the correspondents on the outcome of the meeting, disclosed that the council endorsed N27, 000 as new National Minimum Wage.
He, however, said the Federal Government would pay its workers N30,000 as its minimum wage as demanded by organised labour.
The minister revealed that the bill on the new wage of N27,000 would be transmitted to the National Assembly in the next 24 hours for passage into law.
According to him, the N27,000 is the benchmark for all employers of labour with more than 25 workers on their payroll, emphasising that no employer of labour with more 25 workers should pay less than the proposed N27,000.
“On the issue of national minimum wage, we have held series of consultations starting from the inauguration of the tripartite committee in November 2018, to the Federal executive Council, the National Economic Council.
“Finally today, the Council of State and these three organs have permitted the President now to transmit to the National Assembly the new minimum wage bill.
“This is in consonance with the fact that the issue of national minimum wage prescription is in the exclusive list second schedule, item 34 and being on that list, it is not a job that can be done by the executive alone.
“The President has to transmit a bill and the National Assembly will take legislative action and return the bill that has been so treated to the President for assent.
“The bill will now amend the 1981 and 2011 act and the highlights are the figure of N27, 000 monthly has been approved for transmission to the National Assembly, frequency of review of the bill is five years to get in consonance with the pension law of the federation as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.
“Exemptions to this act will be the establishments that are not employing people up to 25 (workers) in number and the various fines prescribed have also been altered,’’ he said.
The minister, however, stated that the federal government had resolved to pay its workers N30,000 as the new national minimum wage while the state governments were free to negotiate with their respective staff.
The organised labour had insisted on a N30,000 minimum wage as proposed by the Ama Pepple tripartite committee, while the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) proposed N24,000.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the meeting, which lasted for about three hours, was attended by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan, Abdulsalami Abubakar and the former Head of the Interim Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Others, who attended the meeting included three former Chief Justices of Nigeria, Muhammadu Uwais, Alfa Belgore and Mahmud Mohammed.
However, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnogen, former military President Ibrahim Babangida and former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon were absent at the meeting.
The council also observed a minute silence for late president Shehu Shagari.
Gov. Ortom swore in six local government chairmen
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State on Tuesday in Makurdi swore in Acting Chairmen for six local governments, following the suspension of some chairmen by the State House of Assembly.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reports that the local government bosses were suspended by the legislators on Monday, Jan. 21, on the request of Ortom.
Ortom, in a letter transmitted to the legislators, had accused the chairmen of “gross misconduct”. Their suspension is for an initial period of three months.
In a brief speech at the ceremony, Ortom cautioned the acting chairmen against sharing government monies to “elders in their domains”.
“The era of sharing government money to elders is now over; government money is meant to touch the lives of the people positively.
“Be prudent in handling local government finances; do not embezzle the council’s funds, money is not everything, do not be in a hurry to grab it.
“If you grab government money, you will get into trouble. The Bible says money is the root of all evil. Wait patiently for God’s appointed time for you to make genuine money and not ill-gotten wealth,” he warned.
He also admonished Benue residents to eschew violence, especially during and after the forthcoming polls and urged the chairmen to ensure absolute peace in their respective areas.
Responding on behalf of her colleagues, the acting chairman of Makurdi Local Government, Mrs. Lym Goon, appreciated Ortom for the appointments and promised to do everything possible to make him proud.
She also promised to work towards the success of the PDP in the forthcoming general elections.
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