Sequence and credibility of elections
While the swiftness with which the House of Representatives amended the 2010 Electoral Act and changed Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s order of the coming 2019 elections duly arouses interest, it is important that the law makers and other Nigerians understand that there is more to successful elections than time table. In whatever order and irrespective of the day of the week, what Nigeria needs are credible, free and fair elections at all levels.
The House of Representatives not renowned for efficiency on even economic issues the other day revised the 2010 Electoral Act ahead of the 2019 general elections.
In the amendment made on January 23, 2018, the lawmakers unanimously agreed that the presidential election would now come last instead of first, as currently on the timetable released by the election management agency, INEC. One hundred and fifty six clauses were amended in the Act to reflect the changes desired.
The amendment seeks to replace the extant Section 25 in the principal Act with a new one.
The new Section 25(1) states, “Elections into the office of the President and Vice-President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a state and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly of each state of the federation shall be in the following order: National Assembly elections; State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections; and Presidential election. The dates for these elections shall be as appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
The new amendment will, however, await concurrence by the Senate and assent by the President for the changes to be legal.
In the last general elections in 2015, the Presidential and National Assembly elections came first.
At the release of the election timetable in Abuja, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) had reeled out 14 activities ranging from when party primaries could be conducted, when candidates’ names should be filed and when campaigns would start and end. The date for the collection of nomination forms by political parties for national and state elections begins from August 11 to 24, 2018. Conduct of party primaries, including the resolution of disputes arising from primaries, was fixed for August 18, 2018 to October 7, 2018 for national and state elections. Commencement of campaigns by political parties is billed for November 18 for Presidential and National Assembly Elections; December 1 for Governorship and State Assembly elections.
The last day for the submission of nomination forms to INEC is December 3, 2018 for Presidential and National Assembly Elections and December 17 for Governorship and State Assembly. INEC equally fixed the last day for campaigns for February 14, 2019 for Presidential and National Assembly Elections as well as February 28, 2018 for Governorship and State Assembly elections.
INEC had on March 9, 2017, set dates for the Presidential and National Assembly elections indicating that the presidential election would hold on February 16, 2019, while the governorship and state assembly elections would be conducted on March 2, 2019.
Prof. Mahmood then hinted that henceforth, Presidential and National Assembly elections would hold on the third Saturday of the month of February of each election year, while governorship and state assembly elections would hold two weeks later.
According to the INEC Chairman, the timetable was aimed at engendering certainty in Nigeria’s electoral calendar, adding that it would enable all stakeholders to prepare adequately for elections as in most developing democracies. Prof. Mahmood explained that INEC had chosen to depart from past practices when dates were announced too close to elections. This idea, of course, would seem splendid.
But the National Assembly amendment has disrupted the rhythm of the consistency that INEC had sought to establish with presidential election coming first.
There have been a string of inconsistencies since 1999 when democracy returned to the polity. Sometimes the legislative elections would come before executive arm elections. Then at another time, it would be reversed.
When the process for Nigeria’s return to democracy kicked off, the military led government of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar having set up INEC, with the late Justice Ephraim Akpata as chairman to organise the 1999 elections, placed State/National Legislative elections before that of Gubernatorial/Presidential. Both elections were held on February 20-27, 1999 respectively. Then in the 2003 second general elections, the then INEC chairman, Dr. Abel Guobadia kept the status quo on the order of election calendar, but moved the election month from February to April 12-19. In 2007, the INEC chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu maintained the format with elections holding in April, but tweaked the sequence of the election. Iwu opted to conduct the State Legislative/Gubernatorial elections before the National Legislative/Presidential elections.
That order was once again altered with the appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega as INEC chairman for the 2011 Elections. Jega allowed elections to hold in April, but changed the procedure of the elections. His timetable placed the conduct of the State/National Legislative election before Gubernatorial/Presidential.
Although the election was marred with bloodshed in some parts of the North, the then President Goodluck Jonathan retained Prof. Jega as INEC chairman. And Jega, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, became the first national electoral commission chairman to handle two successive general elections.
However, at the approach of the 2015 general elections, Jega made sweeping changes to the election schedule he used in 2011. This time, elections were moved back to February, though it was later postponed to March because of security challenges. The schedule stipulated that the National Legislative/Presidential polls were to be conducted first, and then followed by the State Legislative/Gubernatorial elections. It was an election that raised lots of dust, and also marked the first time an incumbent president lost re-election in Nigeria.
It is indeed unfortunate that almost 19 years into democracy, the nation cannot yet be proud of a consistent election timetable. It is thus curious why authorities in the political parties have not been able to sit down with the election management agencies to craft a timetable that cannot be arbitrarily altered by either the election umpire or politicians.
Most democratic nations, even in Africa, have datelines for election and they don’t rush to change such dates as if elections are just events. Elections are not events but fundamental processes of nation building that must be rock-solid and upon which all citizens can plan or project. So, it is shameful that disruptive amendments of electoral laws have become a permanent feature each time Nigeria holds general elections. This is a reflection of instability in the electoral system that must not be condoned. The political class and bureaucrats who often suspect bandwagon effects or undue advantages with just about any sequence should note that all the changes they have been introducing since 1999 have not guaranteed credibility of the elections.
An electoral process that is free, fair and imbued with integrity will deepen democracy and ensure the peace and stability of Nigeria. And the only people who can ensure that are the political leaders, parties and candidates who should prepare their profiles and plans to sell to the people for elections in any order.
What should really change is not date or sequence of elections but the attitude of politicians who have no regard for sanctity of elections. They should therefore seek transformation of the electoral processes with the renewing of their minds towards a total appreciation of the majesty of democracy.
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