Kogi quagmire and challenges of a fledgling democracy
THE sudden death of Prince Abubakar Audu, the leading candidate in last weekend’s governorship polls in Kogi State when the process of election was yet to be completed, has created another litmus test for Nigeria’s nascent democracy.
If the flamboyant politician had passed on 24 hours earlier or died after he had been declared as a clear winner in an election where a huge gap of 41,535 votes has been created between him and his closest rival, there wouldn’t have been any controversy.
In the first scenario, the exercise would have been put on hold for his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), to produce another candidate and in the second, his running mate, James Abiodun Faleke would have been given the mandate.
Section 181 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which states that inability of an elected governor to be sworn in shall automatically transfer authority to the running mate and that in the case of the death of the two of them, a fresh candidate should be presented, obviously recognizes the oneness of a joint ticket that no person except the duo can benefit from.
This was relied on in 1999 when Abubakar Atiku relinquished the mandate to his deputy, Boni Haruna as governor of Adamawa State after being picked as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
However the Electoral Act seems to have given more recognition to the major candidate, at the death of whom, in Section 33, it calls for the postponement of election until the affected political party provided a substitute.
But the death of Chief Adebayo Adefarati, the presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2007 did not result in the postponement of that year’s election lending credence to the fact that in the case of a conflict between the Constitution and any other body of laws in Nigeria, the former takes precedence.
In the Audu case, Nigerians are witnessing a scenario that all the legal instruments; the Constitution and the Electoral Act as well as the operational guidelines of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), did not envisage when the laws were being drafted making some analysts to call on the Supreme Court for interpretation in order to avert a constitutional crisis.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami has however proffered a solution to the quagmire by merging the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act to arrive at a position that recognizes the recommendations of both.
According to Malami, while speaking at a seminar organized by the Nigerian Law Reform Commission in Abuja on Tuesday, “APC as a party is entitled to substitution by the clear provisions of section 33 of the Electoral Act. Also section 221 of the Constitution is clear that the votes that were cast were cast in favour of the party.
“Arising from that deduction, it does not require any legal interpretation. The interpretation is clear; APC will substitute, which right has been sustained by section 33 of the Electoral Act. The supplementary election has to be conducted along the line.”
But this has also triggered another controversy on who, between Faleke, the running mate and Yaya Bello, the runner-up in the APC governorship primaries, would fly the party’s flag in the supplementary election.
That also, is if the new arguments of the party that INEC erred by declaring the election inconclusive since only about 25,000 in the 49,000 registered voters in the 91 units where the rerun exercise would take place are eligible to vote, a number that it argued is below the 41,535 votes that the APC candidate was leading with, hold any water.
Even as the APC has agreed to present a new candidate by holding another primary election, obviously to assuage the feelings of the people of Kogi East and as rumoured, cut a particular South West political leader to size, the PDP and its candidate, incumbent governor Idris Wada, are said to be heading for the court to challenge the position of INEC and the AGF.
The resolution of the 2015 Kogi governorship election quagmire, considered as one of the most tricky of the challenges faced by Nigeria’s nascent democracy since 1999, would, like others before it, help to further strengthen the country’s democratic institutions and practice.
But for the 29 years of military interregnum in Nigeria’s 55 years as an independent nation, the country would have moved beyond the present level in the march towards perfect democracy which has been threatened by unforeseen circumstances and attempts by the operators to twist the system for selfish ends.
The staggered governorship elections across the country, which are results of retrievals of stolen mandates by the courts and correction of intra-party manipulations of primary elections, are signs of the shortcomings in Nigeria’s democratic institutions.
If a deadline had been put on litigations before inauguration as it was done during the Second Republic, Nigeria would not be witnessing staggered governorship elections which, except a major reorganization is done, would continue to create irregularities in the country’s election time-table.
There is also the need to remove all the vestiges of military rule that have not only affected the practice of true federalism (structural and fiscal) but also reduced the federating units to mere appendages of the central government even as solutions are being proffered for the stunted democratic growth of local councils, the third tier of government which, because of political and economic exploitations, are being pocketed by many state governments at the detriment of popular governance at the grassroots.
The reliance on the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ to resolve the logjam created when the then Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan was prevented from taking over in the acting capacity as recommended by the Constitution from incapacitated President Umaru Yar’Adua was a temporary solution that was later addressed by a constitutional amendment to prevent a repeat of the crisis.
An alleged attempt in 2007 by President Obasanjo to get an unconstitutional third term was another challenge that almost scuttle the country’s march towards democracy because if it had scaled through and not thwarted by a combination of forces of civil society groups and politicians who felt threatened by the ambition of one man, Nigeria would have departed from the democratic course the nation took in 1999.
Further strengthening of institutions to change the current electoral system that is skewed in favor of desperate politicians who manipulate the socio-cultural and religious situations to attain political power is another challenge that Nigeria’s democracy must face if the voting population will get dividends of democracy.
If given the opportunity to commence the democratic journey afresh, it is doubtful whether, given the reality of the current socio-political and economic indices, a majority of Nigerians would support, for instance, a full-time bicameral federal legislature that has continued to constitute a big drain on the nation’s resources.
While a total overhaul of the entire democratic structure to correct all the identified anomalies may bring the country back to the starting point and threaten the entire process, the continual piecemeal corrections of these unforeseen lapses will eventually bring Nigeria to the level of advanced democracy.