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How to make straight, the road to 2019

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With about 140 days to the 2019 general election, which promises to be a major milestone in the country’s fledgling democracy and representative government, pre-election politics and rising tension is getting the atmosphere saturated with intrigues and fears.
   
As the first major test of Nigerians’ ability to either endorse or reject a government that came to power after an unprecedented victory against a ruling party at the federal level, the coming election would confirm whether what was seen as a major landmark in the country’s democracy was actually democracy at worka mere fluke.
   
In fact, if the 2015 poll signaled that Nigerian democracy was on the path of growth, that of 2019 would put on display, the ability of the country’s electoral system to consolidate on earlier gains through a free and fair exercise, which would further strengthen voters. However, as the world watches with keen interest, the path the country would take, there are ominous signs that the journey may not be a smooth ride, as the atmosphere is getting darkened by clouds of uncertainty, not only on the readiness of key institutions, including the umpire, but also on the will of political players to play the game in accordance with the rules.
 
Already there are fears that the election might be postponed as was done in 2015 when the country was faced with voter registration and security issues that threatened the smooth conduct of the exercise.Although the opposition alleged that the 2015 poll was shifted to give undue advantage to the ruling party, the high number of uncollected Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), and the unsavory security situation in the North East, where Boko Haram insurgents held sway, seemed plausible reasons for the postponement.
 
A high number of PVCs were still with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and as it was the first general election where card readers were deployed, the issue of non-collection was really a big thing.While delivering a lecture on Nigeria’s Election and Corruption Perception, at Chatham House, London, few weeks to the commencement of the 2015 polls, the then National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), told a gathering of eminent personalities that shape British foreign policy that credible election could not be held in the face of insurgency, especially as large portions of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states were under Boko Haram’s control.
 
According to Dasuki: “In the run-up to the elections, Boko Haram have escalated their campaign, seizing territories and hoisting their flag; they have burnt down whole villages, ransacked communities,raped young girls and continued to kidnap both boys and girls. They have openly declared support for ISIS and expanded their campaign into neighbouring Cameroon and Niger Republics.”
 
The ex-NSA then suggested a postponement to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), during which the electoral body would further firm up its preparedness and the security agencies would improve the security situations in the affected areas, as the 90-day legally acceptable time frame between the conclusion of elections and inauguration of executives scheduled for May 29, could still be observed.
   
Speaking against the postponement, which the opposition had condemned as a ploy, then National Publicity Secretary of the newly-registered All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Muhammed, said the proposal by Dasuki “has exposed the hitherto clandestine plot by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to push for the postponement of the polls, using all sorts of cheap tricks. Why are they not ready? Why should we postpone the polls? We say ‘no’ to postponement.

They know that if they don’t postpone, they can’t win.He continued: “We have decided to take our case to Nigerians and indeed the global community, so they can prevail on President Jonathan to allow the elections to hold as scheduled and to make a commitment to respect the outcome.”
   
AS it was in 2015, there are serious issues concerning the readiness of INEC to keep to the timeline of 2019 election; controversies over the legal framework to be used in the conduct of the exercise, as well as, the delay in the passage and release of fund for the exercise.

Large Number Of Uncollected PVCs
ALTHOUGH the INEC has recorded an unprecedented number of 84 million on it voters’ register, through aggressive, continuous registration exercises across the country, there is still a large number of uncollected PVCs in offices of the electoral umpire. By the last count, over 17 million of such cards are still with the commission raising concerns that a large chunk of the country’s voting population may not have the opportunity to exercise their voting rights.
   
According to the electoral body, which expressed worry about the development, seven million cards were uncollected after the 2015 election while 17 million have not been collected in the build up to the 2019 poll.A national commissioner of INEC supervising Delta, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, Dr. Muhammed Mustafa Lecky, reportedly said, “The commission is greatly concerned with the burden of uncollected PVCs; this is worrisome because it has an effect on the commission’s logistics/planning.”

Controversy Over The Electoral Act
LESS than six months to the election, there is a raging controversy over the manner the issue of amendment to the Electoral Act, which is the legal framework for the exercise is being handled.Suspected to be a fallout of the executive/legislative mistrust that has characterised the current administration since inception, the delay in the signing of the amended bill, which was presented to President Muhammadu Buhari thrice and rejected thrice, has sent wrong signals about the seriousness that a democratic nation should attach to its electoral matters.
   
After the Presidency returned the draft bill to the legislature requesting that some overlooked details be addressed, the National Assembly last week said it would take another look at the document, but given the long process it has to undergo in the hands of the appropriate committees in both chambers of the National Assembly before being presented at plenary, no one is sure whether the bill would be ready before the next election.
   
While the nation may be deprived of the new innovations that the bill proposes to the election process, the good thing is that the rejection of the bill cannot stop the conduct of the next round of elections. It is however another signal to the global democratic community that the country is not taking election matters with the seriousness it deserves.

Hanging Election Budget
ONE of the greatest threats to the conduct of the 2019 poll and, which many describe as another fallout of the executive/legislative faceoff, is the yet unclear picture of how the country would source for money to fund the election.
   
The Presidency requested the legislature to release fund (through virement) from the bulk of the budget already approved for constituency projects for the lawmakers.Described as a way of boxing the lawmakers into a corner by hanging the burden of election funding that was supposed to have been captured by the executive in the initial appropriation plan on the legislature, especially as it concerns the vexed issue of constituency projects, many saw the move by the President as an undemocratic one.
 
With the uncertainty over the approval of the budget, the plan of the electoral body, especially in the procurement of sensitive materials and other logistics will likely be affected negatively.A source within the INEC disclosed to The Guardian last week that the commission’s pre-election duty of deploying personnel to observe primary elections, in accordance with the election guidelines is already being adversely affected.
   
The source expressed concern over delay in the release of fund for the conduct of the exercise saying, “the debate over the amount INEC is going to spend for the election is needless and delay could be costly. Although we have reached an understanding with the various committees of the National Assembly concerning our own budget while waiting for the final approval by the parliament, there is still no agreement yet on funding for security operatives that will provide cover for men and materials during the exercise.”
   
The source further disclosed that considering the cost per head of voter, the budget for the 2018 elections is going to be the smallest not only in the history of election in the country, but also among countries across the globe.According to him, “with N189b for 84 million registered voters, the cost is about $2.9 per voter, which is far less than the $13.9 spent per voter in the last election in Ghana. In fact in Kenya, the average cost per voter is $25. So, our own is still very cheap.”
 
Out of the N242b vote for the conduct of the 2019 poll, N189b is expected to be for security agencies, but as of now, no step has been taken, to either invite security chiefs for budget defence, or setting the machinery of approval in motion.

Insecurity Of Lives, Property
WHILE the issue of funding and legislative framework for the election is still hanging with the National Assembly, insecurity has escalated across the country, creating a near 2014 scenario that led to the postponement of the 2015 exercise. The recent upsurge in the activities of Boko Haram insurgents in the troubled North East that led to last week’s reported seizure of a local council in Borno State, as well as, pockets of herdsmen/farmers clashes and banditry in some states in the Middle Belt and far North, have also been linked to preparations for the 2019 poll.
   
All these, coupled with the threats of violence by desperate politicians and rumour of procurement of small arms to arm hoodlums in order for them to create crisis during the exercise, have raised fears that the election may be marred by violence.The National Security Adviser (NSA) Major General Mohammed
Babagana Monguno (rtd), recently expressed these fears at the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security in Abuja, where he stressed that there was the need to conduct the 2019 elections in a manner that the wider Nigerian society will be happy, and the international community able to perceive the country in a very positive manner.
   
He also claimed that security agencies are working with INEC and relevant stakeholders to arrest and prosecute vote buyers and those who engage in ‘dangerous’ political campaigns adding: “Anybody involved in complicity in any situation will of course have to bear the consequences of his own actions. It is very important for you to pass this message down the line to all your operatives.”
     
Also expressing his fears, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu, while receiving reports about the preparedness of his commission to handle yesterday’s governorship election in Osun, said recent developments and signs in the country’s political landscape call for greater vigilance as feelers from various political camps indicate preparations for violence.
 
Yakubu, who noted that elections could only be held in an atmosphere devoid of violence, reminded his audience of Section 26 of the Electoral Act, which empowers INEC to postpone elections if threats to peace are becoming real.He said: “In fact, the Electoral Act, specially Section 26 empowers the commission to suspend election on account of violence or threat of violence. So, we will continue to partner and continue to work with security agencies as we approach the 2019 general election. Our meetings are going to become more frequent and regular. Elections cannot be conducted in an atmosphere of rancor.”
   
He continued: “So, we share this great responsibility with the security agencies. Good election is good for this country and bad election is a recipe for disaster; we don’t pray for it. So, let us continue to work together to anticipate the challenges and address the challenges because we have the capacity to do so. The nation expects that we should do so and once we do so, there will be fewer problems during elections.”
   
Because of the charged atmosphere, however, Yakubu’s drawing attention to Section 26 of the Electoral Act, and the need to allow for a peaceful atmosphere for the exercise was misconstrued by a section of the press to mean a possible shift in poll and it touched some raw nerves in the opposition camp.According to the former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, “The report that the INEC has hinted at the possibility of postponing the 2019 general elections on account of threats of violence must have come to not a few Nigerians as the shocker of the year, not only because the commission had hitherto been giving assurances of its readiness for the polls, but also because of the significance and crucial nature of the elections to the development of democracy in the country and its continued peaceful coexistence.”
 
“The idea of putting off the election, for whatever reason, is condemnable because it toys not only with the feelings and aspirations of Nigerians, but also the survival of the democratic dispensation. That, coming from the body that is constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of organising and conducting the elections makes it more alarming, for it points towards a reluctance, lack of capacity or complicity, or all, to thwart Nigeria’s march towards an enduring democracy. It clearly does not inspire confidence that those in charge are prepared to midwife free, fair and credible polls.”
 
The INEC was quick to react with a release where it condemned the misrepresentation and reiterated its call for a peaceful atmosphere, stating again that it has the responsibility of ensuring that elections are peaceful.In the release, the commission said, “Our attention has been drawn to a story, which did not correctly reflect what the INEC chairman said at the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), which took place at our headquarters.
   
“The ICCES meeting, which takes place on regular basis provides an opportunity for INEC and security agencies to evaluate and discuss the country’s security situation with the aim of putting the necessary measures in place to enable the commission carry out its mandate.“In his remarks at the meeting, the INEC chairman told the security chiefs that with 2019 general election drawing close, the committee would need to meet more frequently to constantly assess security situation across the country and take proactive actions to forestall any unpleasant event before, during, and after the election. He underscored the fact that election cannot be conducted under a rancorous atmosphere and referred to Section 26 of the Electoral Act, which among others, gave the commission the power to postpone an election “if there is reason to believe that a serious breach of peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on the fixed date, or as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies.”

   
But while the mistrust among political players continues, a source within the commission disclosed that INEC was ready to do a good job, adding that part of new innovations towards realising this is the proposed new administrative architecture for polling units, which is intended to address the growing phenomenon of vote-trading at the point of ballot casting.
   
Also part of the new arrangement, is the ban of smartphones inside voting cubicles in order to guard against vote buying. This step has, however, drawn the ire of the opposition, which described the move as a way of preventing the recordings of infringements that could be used in court to challenge dubious victories.But as the clock ticks towards the first ballot and the electoral body puts measures in place to remove possible obstacles to a free, fair and credible exercise, there have been assurances that the election would not be postponed.
     
According to another reliable source at INEC Headquarters, “We are going to do everything possible to discourage recourse to postponement. We are in a political environment, where suspicion and mistrust reign, so we should not allow any finger of suspicion to be pointed at us.“This election will hold as scheduled, but the ball is in the courts of the politicians to play the game according to the rules and for our institutions to live above board and discharge their duties.It is only then that we can strengthen democracy and make it grow.”


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