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Dark clouds gather over credible polls in 2023

By Leo Sobechi, (Deputy Politics Editor), Adamu Abuh and John Akubo, (Abuja)
19 December 2021   |   4:30 am
As the constitutional window closes today for President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, dark clouds have continued to hover around the possibility of a credible and smooth 2023 general elections.

[FILE] Electoral officials collect results at the state headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on March 10, 2019.(Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

• NASS May Override President
• I Bet My Life, Buhari Will Not Sign Any Electoral Act — Galadima

As the constitutional window closes today for President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, dark clouds have continued to hover around the possibility of a credible and smooth 2023 general elections.

At the height of general apprehension over the fate of the electoral legislation from the National Assembly (NASS), which was transmitted to President Buhari for assent, the Presidency is maintaining sealed lips, even as the president jetted out to Turkey last week.

Yesterday, the erstwhile National Secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Buba Galadima, alleged that Buhari has technically declined assent to the Electoral Act 2021.

It would be recalled that barely one year to the 2019 general election cycle, President Buhari withheld his assent to the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which was passed by NASS, citing proximity to the poll.

Unlike what happened in 2018, when the bill passed by the Eighth National Assembly was returned by the Presidency, this time around Buhari, who has been enjoying a cordial relationship with federal lawmakers since June 2019, decided on the diplomatic option.

The present bill, which was passed by the Ninth National Assembly, ran into troubled waters on account of the inclusion of mandatory direct primary methodology for all political parties.

Also, stakeholders have expressed reservations about the security situation in the country, as well as the confusion within the two mega parties – the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as possible road blocks to a seamless 2023 poll.

However, despite doubts over the 2023 poll, signs that President Buhari’s failure to assent to the bill would be countermanded by the lawmakers emerged last Thursday.

During a meeting between the Senate Committee on Appropriation and a delegation from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the lawmakers demanded an estimate for budgetary provision to cover the cost of the 2023 poll, including direct primaries.

The Committee chairman, Senator Barau Jibrin, expressed lawmakers’ readiness to make monetary provision for both INEC and the National Population Commission (NPC), adding that it won’t augur well for the polity if the outfits were encumbered by funding challenges that could affect the discharge of their duties.

Expressing satisfaction with INEC’s performance, Jibrin stated: “As a responsible Senate, we will listen to them to make sure that they discharge their duties very well. We need further clarification on the issue, which would be provided by the INEC chairman on Monday.”

The Senate committee chairman disclosed that a meeting between his panel and the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, has been scheduled for tomorrow, Monday, December 20, 2021 for further clarification on the cost implications of the 2023 general elections.

Earlier, Dr. Zuru Abdulraheem Abdul, who led the team of INEC national commissioners to the parley, reiterated the commission’s commitment to the conduct of a hitch-free 2023 general elections.

But, worried by unrelenting cases of banditry and mass abductions in various parts of the country, the immediate past INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, expressed fears that insecurity could stall the processes leading to the 2023 poll.

He warned that unless “these security challenges ravaging the country are adequately addressed, the 2023 general election may not hold,” stressing that security remains key to the conduct of any election.

According to Jega, “Unless elections are conducted in an environment that is peaceful and secure, its integrity and even the legitimacy of the outcome of that election will be questioned.

“Security challenges undermine electoral integrity. It constrains, disrupts or prevents preparations and conduct of elections and it leads to partially, if not totally, illegitimate electoral outcomes.

“As we look forward to the 2023 general elections, there is increasing apprehension that the pervasive insecurity situation in the country may present a formidable obstacle if not obstruction to that election.

“If not appropriately and effectively mitigated, security challenges would pose the most serious danger to the integrity of the election process if it even allows the election to be conducted.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Spokesperson of Northern Elders Forum, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, dismissed the notions in some quarters about the setting up of a government of national unity in the event that the election runs into legal storms.

He said nothing would stop the election, noting that a government of national unity could emerge from an election, because the political process through the electoral process can actually create a government of national unity.

“All you need is a leadership that emerges legitimately. Every Nigerian needs to know that when you say this is the leader, that means that he actually won the election. One, you need a leader that knows that he is leading a diverse country, and therefore creates a leadership system and a structure that gives every segment a sense of participation.

Also, aside from issues of security and suspense over the amendment bill, the palpable confusion in the two major political parties is throwing up serious concerns over preparations for the 2023 poll.

Within the governing APC, there are indications that the tentative February 5, 2022 date for the national convention of the party could be further reviewed to accommodate the implementation of recommendations of the Senator Abdullahi Adamu-led reconciliation committee.

Although the committee is yet to conclude its sitting and submit its report, The Guardian gathered that the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee led by Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, was disposed to a grace period for the committee to tidy its work.

A source within the CECPC confided in The Guardian that time is a potent constraint for the party, stressing that instead of rushing into the convention to accommodate the February 5 date, “common sense dictates that it is better to err on the path of caution.”

It was also gathered that due to travel restrictions, the CECPC chairman could not make it back to the country from his overseas trip to inaugurate chairmen of state chapters of the party that emerged from the last state congresses.

But, signs of a possible postponement of the convention emerged last week when the Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia North), pleaded with the APC leadership to postpone the convention to such a time that could coincide with the party’s presidential primary.

Kalu, whose political camp in Abia State was sidelined during the state congress, argued in his letter that holding the convention in February without sorting out minor disagreements emanating from the congresses could lead to implosion.

The former Abia State governor cited the examples of APC’s woeful losses in Zamfara and Bayelsa states to warn that the party could get into a worse scenario if it goes ahead with the February 5 convention.

Within the PDP, the issue of zoning is said to be threatening the party’s new lease of life after the inauguration of the Senator Iyorchia Ayu-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.

While PDP governors resolved that the issue of zoning the party’s presidential ticket should be left for all comers, certain stakeholders are kicking against a clandestine plot by a notable southern governor to favour an aspirant from North West.

A source within the North East Governors’ Forum confided in The Guardian that the PDP would witness a massive revolt if a powerful governor browbeats his colleagues to micro-zone the presidential slot to North West geopolitical zone.

“We did not want to pronounce on the matter in our communique, but we are watching with great interest. North West has served the nation for 16 years as vice president and president since 1999, while the North East had only eight years in office as vice president,” the source explained, stressing that equity and fairness must be observed.

ACCORDING to Galadima, “In 2019, Buhari also declined to sign the bill because it was too close to election, now he is reluctant to sign it based on the issues around direct primary, which they said would gulp about N500b.

The elder statesman said: “It should be known as a fact that he has technically declined, in the sense that if he were to sign it, he should have done that before going to Turkey, which he didn’t and he will not do since he may not return before the expiration of the time allowed by the constitution for him to sign the electoral act, or any act for that matter. So, technically it will lapse within the next 24 hours.

“Second, because I know him, I can for sure tell you, I bet my life that he will not sign any electoral act that will jeopardise the interest of those around him who want to circumvent the will of the people and they are up to it.

“It is exactly about one and half years to the election. The last time that this issue of electoral act started with Saraki, they kept on brick-batting. If they send him the electoral act, he will pick one item and use it to reject everything. Then by the time they rectify that particular one and send it back, he would now pick another fault, despite the fact that during the development of the electoral act (during Saraki’s tenure), the National Assembly had a representative; INEC had a representative; the executive had a representative in the name of the attorney general of the Federation, and they all agreed, which means there would have been no descension among the three partners on the electoral act…”

Galadima pointed out that the key features of that electoral act – electronic transmission of results should not have been results, it should be electronic transmission of accreditation numbers after accreditation. If it is results, they can send any garbage. But once you fail to transmit the number of accredited voter’s at the close of accreditation, any manipulation can happen, that is key.

“I also want you to know that even in developed democracies, they are now looking at electronic voting with two faces, they want to combine electronic and paper work, which is physical evidence. That is not even provided for in this electoral act.”