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A bill and killing of 2019 polls

By Abraham Ogbodo
09 December 2018   |   3:40 am
Again, President Mohammadu Buhari has declined assent to the 2018 Electoral Bill citing the nearness of the 2019 general elections and the need to avoid...

President Mohammadu Buhari/ AFP PHOTO / Sunday AGHAEZE

Again, President Mohammadu Buhari has declined assent to the 2018 Electoral Bill citing the nearness of the 2019 general elections and the need to avoid any process including the introduction of a fresh electoral law that could precipitate a crisis. The President is shifting like quicksand. It was the fourth time the bill was being rejected by the president. When the same bill was presented to him earlier in the year when it was good time to get it all wrapped up for the elections, he declined, saying the legislators had tinkered the time-table as presented by INEC to put the presidential election after the governorship.

So that it wouldn’t seem as if the legislature was not sincere about working out a good law to govern the elections, it agreed to flow with Buhari and maintain the original INEC time-table and represented the reworked bill. It retained the cock-tail of provisions that limits the discretion of electoral officers and makes the card-reader machine the main key in the voting process.

Either driven by politics or desire to serve the people, the legislators, have come to terms with the fact that the card-reader technology is world class and does not need to be assisted to do its work. If it is used in other climes without incident forms, it can be used in Nigeria too without incident forms and whoever the machine fails to recognise at the polling booths in February 2019 remains out of the process till the next electoral season in 2023.

The declined bill also tries to tackle the malaise of collation of votes in designated centres after voting. The legislators know that most of the incidents of malpractice occur after normal voting and are between the time and distance where votes are cast and where votes are counted. But these can be checked if each of the about 120,000 polling booths in the country becomes a collation centre of sorts and announces its own results at the close of voting. That way, no poll officers would be expected to journey, sometimes across seas and mountains, with loaded ballot boxes to reach a so-called collation centre and during which so much could go wrong to affect the outcome of the polls. Everybody would be served his or her fair share right there at the polling booths.

It sounds fair and I cannot understand why President Buhari is raising objections. It would have been even more honourable if he had just said: “I am the President, I am not signing this electoral bill into law and I don’t have a reason.” Better still, he would have just returned the bill to the National Assembly without saying anything and allowed the legislators to invent an explanation. And it would not be the first that he would be blatantly refusing to explain things. He has not explained the ailment that caused him to stay in a London hospital for almost half of a year and how much of public money was spent to recover him. He has also not explained why he is lawless and rules by might. He disobeys court rulings as if they are statements issued by drunken individuals and has kept Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman in spite of the position of the National Assembly which has powers (and affirmed by the Supreme Court) to confirm certain executive appointments including the chairmanship of the EFCC.

President Buhari has not explained why he remains taciturn at home but jumps on any available international stage to address Nigerians as if he has ceased to be the President of Nigeria and become the Secretary-general of the United Nations. What is worse, on all occasions, he neither speaks with the patriotism of a Head of State nor the finesse of a diplomat as he relishes in the abuse and de-marketing of the homeland. Whereas he could not explain the illness that threatened his life, he found it compelling to go to Poland to reassert his identity when the conspiracy theory of his death and a certain Jubril from Sudan, his double, parading as Nigerian President refused to dissolve.

Therefore, for President Buhari to suddenly find his lost voice to explain lamely that time is too close to introduce a new code to achieve a more credible election is less than sincere. If anything, he has just confirmed the fears of many Nigerians that he shall do everything to stop the next election from being a national referendum on his performance as a President. And he may have declined assent to the electoral bill in the firm belief that the National Assembly, in spite of its anti-executive sentiments, will fail to muster the majority to override his decision.

In simple language, the 219 elections shall be conducted on the same terms as the 2015’s which had better voters turn-out in the war-ravaged Northeast than the peaceful Southeast. As in all things, the plague called electoral fraud in Nigeria has been returned to God to fix. Without a clear strategy at making votes count, calls for prayers across the religious divide for peaceful polls in February have intensified. Efforts in this regard shall be complemented by a team of presidential spin doctors in the days ahead.

I am expecting to hear from Festus Keyamo, Prof. Itse Sagay, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Shehu Malami, Babatunde Fashola all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) explaining in flowering legalese the decision of the President and why Nigerians should accept it as a bold act of statesmanship and patriotism. I have not mentioned Lai Mohammed, Femi Adesina and Mallam Shehu Garba because the trio are even under greater obligation to say or do something extraordinary. I expect Mallam Garba for instance to do an article detailing the ‘take-aways’ of Buhari’s decline of assent to the electoral bill and syndicate same in major newspapers.

Femi Adesina shall likely come on the air with an emotion-laden voice to state, for the umpteenth time to a bemused nation, the President’s good intentions, which like the mysterious angel in the Arabian tale, are only visible to good men like Prof. Sagay, Prof Tam David West and others within that bracket. Lai Mohammed shall come with a much more definite explanation to rest the matter. Something like, ‘President Buhari declined to assent to the bill to pre-empt foreign powers from interfering in the elections.’ I can bet that the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole shall look for something even sillier to complement Lai Mohammed.

I do not expect much from the PDP side outside angry rhetoric and the normal call on the United States and Europe to invest greater interest in the 2019 elections so that the votes of Nigerians can count. I do not understand what informs that optimism that Nigerians could remain in perpetual slumber while foreigners stay awake all night to fix Nigeria. Alternatively, we can choose to be more pragmatic and accept that the capacity to conduct credible elections is internally lacking which now justifies the outsourcing of that aspect of our national operations to foreign powers in order to move forward on other fronts.

I am also expecting some interventions from the National Peace Committee which is the new policeman of the polity. But quite unfortunately and inexplicably, the committee seeks to establish peace outside justice. It moralises and preaches hope more that it is ready to confront the issues and apportion blame. In the days ahead, the committee, led by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsami Abubakar will meet President Buhari not to state the inherent benefits in the electoral bill and condemn his not signing it into law but to reiterate the need for all parties to accept the outcome of the election in spite of the processes that will produce the outcome. Members of the committee shall leave Buhari to seek the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar wherever he is and tell him the same thing.

That is not how to make peace. The terms should be anchored on justice to make the arising peace more enduring. After World War 1, there was a World War II because the victorious allies led by America sat to hammer out an unjust peace deal – the Treaty of Versailles. In a hurry to make Germany pay for its aggression, due consideration was not accorded the harsh terms of the treaty that required Germany and other Central Powers to pay tens of billions of dollars in reparation to France mainly under the supervision of the League of Nations.
In fact, by the payment schedule, Germany was to pay reparations till 1988. But when the German economy collapsed in 1931, the Nazis under Adolf Hitler saw more wisdom in mobilising the German economy for another war and save their national pride than they saw in the continued payment of the suffocating reparations. The Treaty of Versailles collapsed together with the League of Nations on the battle fields of World War II. And in assembling the United Nations even in the middle of the war in 1942 and its consequent full declaration in 1945 in San Francisco, United States, world leaders took time to note the pitfalls that drove the world into another decimating war only 20 years after the first.

I am saying therefore that the National Peace Committee should be guided by the national interest and stand up to any man who seeks to subordinate the national interest to his personal interest. Perhaps the committee is thinking it was its intervention that created the transition of 2015 and prepared to repeat the feat in 2019. It was not. Rather, it was the decision of one good man (in that context) called Dr Goodluck Jonathan not to subordinate the nation to his aspirations that did the magic. The situation today is not the same with Buhari who has communicated clearly with his scanty vocal language but robust body language his position regarding 2019. In a nutshell, his re-election in February comes first and tangential forces including the two men his wife, Aisha, alluded to in a recent public presentation, are goading him on.

To conclude, I want to state categorically that my interest lies in neither Buhari nor any other candidate contesting the presidential election. My interest lies in the truth and the capacity of persons and national institutions to deliver truth at all times. Right now, there is a coalition of opposition parties that holds some hope. The coalition has been praying for credible elections. Prayer is good but it does not in itself constitute a strategy for getting things done the proper way. In other words, I will be happier if in the end, the coalition and all stakeholders work and also pray to make my vote count in February. This is not too much to ask of the system.