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Order of elections

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Senate President Bukola Saraki

It is hardly surprising that the sequence of elections into various offices and legislative houses next year, 2019, has generated a great deal of heat. The National Assembly has re-arranged the order, putting the presidential election last as the grand finale. It is to be preceded by the election into the National Assembly as the opening contest. This is to be followed by the governorship and state assembly polls. The sequence by the Independent National Electoral Commission places the presidential and national elections as the first in the series, and the governorship as well as the state assembly elections last.

The heat is such that after President Buhari declined to give his assent to the bill, the court was moved to quickly restrain the National Assembly, before they could catch their breath, from overturning the president’s decision to withhold assent. There is something to say about the alertness of Professor Ben Nwabueze who is there to courageously lend his immense knowledge of law to public good. He has issued a statement in which he considers the position of the court strange. He has said:

“Nigeria is a country where strange things happen, where a court of law, whose jurisdiction is limited to application of law in dispute before it, can act on the basis of a bill that has not yet become law…The translation of power into action is preceded by a preliminary process of thinking out and formulating a policy. This process is not regulated by law…The mere announcement by the government of an intention to introduce legislation cannot be a violation of the constitution.” The Senate itself has said in consonance with separation of powers among the three arms of government, the National Assembly could not be restrained from doing its work by the courts, especially in the area of lawmaking and the matter was going to be brought to the attention of the chief justice.

The president’s withholding of his assent is based on his reading of the constitutional guidance on who has the say on election matters— arrangement and all. The legislators argue that it is their task to give legal bite to the provisions of the Constitution which is the grundnorm. Some lawyers have argued that the president’s position had been overtaken by certain steps taken by the previous chapter of the National Assembly, especially the 7th National Assembly which culminated in the enactment of the electoral laws as they exist today. Be that as it may, in the president’s shoes, I would have given nod to the sequence as passed by the National Assembly simply because the president is an interested party, and he ought not give the impression of tilting the order in his favour, especially as his supporters in the National Assembly alleged that the re-ordering from the 2015 sequence was directed against him.

Apart from 1983 and 2015, in other previous elections, the presidential came last. The president must be able to summon the strength to resist the temptation that would give the impression that he is being helped to work to the answer. In 1983, the contestation between Awolowo and Shagari was fierce. So was the one of 2015. In the two elections, the book makers could not accurately predict who was going to win. When the expectation fell flat in 1983 with Shagari being returned to power, the military struck, dispersing the politicians from the corridors of power on the allegation that the election was massively rigged. In 2015, but for the mature and deft manner Professor Jega disarmingly handled the last lap of presidential election results collation there would have been an explosion of unimaginable proportion. From the foregoing there is something not quite right putting the presidential election first. From all the signs in the land no one requires a stargazer to see that the 2019 elections would be any less fierce.

Let’s listen to this from Dr. Haliru Bello, convener of Northern Elders Forum: “We must be brutally frank to ourselves and address the situation on the ground. Our country is in a serious predicament as over the years there has been growing failure of leadership that has thrown Nigeria into the current political, economic, social and security doldrums. There is a palpable loss of confidence and unspoken disquiet on the part of the populace where leadership is concerned. It is a matter of urgency that Nigerians of good standing come together to arrest the drift. We believe there is an urgent need to hold a conversation amongst us with a view to devising practical strategies, options and choices in all matters relating to the 2019 elections. We believe this should be encouraged, supported and vigorously pursued in order to produce a dynamic and committed political leadership that Nigeria needs at this juncture.”The President’s men cannot certainly be on the same page with him.

Tanko Yakassai, Second Republic Presidential Adviser, added his own at the same meeting of the Northern Elders Forum, saying, “Our country is once again in a big problem in which Northern Nigeria seems to be passing through its worst trying times since 1914. There are issues of insecurity, civil strife, internecine ethnic killings, killer herdsmen, indigene/ settler conflict, kidnappings, collapse of civil authority etc. In addition, comparatively among the current six geo-political zones of the country, the three Northern zones are worst in terms of human and physical infrastructure, economy and education.” He attributed the trigger of the challenges to poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, unemployment, leadership failure in the region and huge lifestyle disparity in the society.

If the 2019 election has all the trappings of fierce contestation, how then do we sequence the election to make it transparent, fair and reassuring? Methinks the National Assembly is right to put the presidential election last. The president’s office is the highest in the land. The incumbent because of his command structure mentality as a result of his training in the military is not in any mood to share the central authority with any tier of government, thus unwittingly putting the unity of the country at its elastic limit. It is not only the Northern leaders who are concerned about the state of the nation, many from other parts also say that the country has never been this divided since the civil war. Those at the meeting of the Northern Elders Forum included Professor Ango Abdullahi, former Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu; Dr. Babangida Aliyu, the immediate past governor of Niger State, Professor Auwalu Yadudu, some serving and former members of the National Assembly and former ministers.

Because of over concentration of power in Abuja, all roads lead there; every gaze is in that direction. Any failings by governors and legislators in the states are blamed on Abuja. The accustomed scrutiny in some states with the attendant noise-making has been held at bay because of the unusual times in which we are. But for the crushing new tax regime foisted on Lagosians which has rudely distracted their concentration on Abuja and has led to an outcry to bloody the nose of the governor, South West has been uncharacteristically calm. In other words, for now, it is the presidential election that is the crown of all elections within the Nigerian shores. It is expected then that every step must be taken to ensure that its success is not in doubt. The processes towards a hitch-free presidential election are ingrained in the other lesser ones as we can see it.

By holding the lesser ones first, all deficiencies are thrown up for correction. If our experiences are anything to go by, some voters may find their names missing on the voters’ list, the card reader machine may fail; voting materials may be late in arriving at polling stations as a result of all manner of logistic problems. There may be electricity failure; ballot papers may run short; there may be suspicion about the impartiality of a polling official who may have been appointed in error— all of which cannot be permitted to lend themselves to any excuses in a presidential election because the stakes are higher. Bringing the lesser elections, so to speak, into an early slot would permit the shortcomings to be rectified. We must bear in mind as well that there is talk about our electronic voting system being upgraded.

Another reason the National Assembly should stick to its guns is that a presidential election result has the inherent power of domino effects on subsequent elections if it is the presidential polls which are held first. We cannot pretend not to know ourselves so well. The bandwagon effect is there. Perception is reality, as they say. That is the level we are for now. Once the presidential results are announced, there is the likelihood of other elections being a walk-over. Many electors would throw up their hands in resignation and sit at home. That would rob the nation of the right caliber of representation whether into the executive or the legislature. There would be a major movement to the side of the winning party. Nigerians do not want to be in opposition. To think otherwise would be to live in denial. We can cast our minds to the erstwhile big wigs in the PDP, men and women of yesterday, men and women who had held sway in that party who, without batting an eyelid and bereft of enkindling and ennobling principles, have suddenly seen the APC as the vehicle to the Promised Land and jumped ship. For a typical Nigerian politician, the period between the presidential election and the last one which encompasses the governorship and State Assemblies is enough to switch from one party to another and in this case, to the president’s winner party in answer to the “desire of his people.” Holding other elections before the president would help to give the true picture of the strengths of our parties and our legislative houses. It would enhance the quality of those elected into both arms, at the centre or in the states, and of the legislature in particular for purposes of check and balances. It is when we have such balanced elections that we will know we have to live with the consequences of our choices.

The bandwagon effect of the presidential election coming first will undoubtedly vitiate all the gains of an electoral system which all nations have settled for with all its strifes, conflict, wars, pains and uncertainties. It should be the prayers of all that it may not be long when all mankind would come to the recognition that true leaders are not electable. They are sent! It is a subject for another day. For now, the National Assembly should stand firm to veto the president’s preference. That is what is in the national interest and in the interest of all.


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