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Burden of desperate presidency versus, lawless democracy

By Leo Sobechi, (Assistant Politics Editor)
03 December 2018   |   4:21 am
The best insight into how crucial the collation centre is to the conduct of credible election could be gleaned from the recent Osun State...

Senate President Bukola Saraki PHOTO: TWITTER/ NIGERIAN SENATE

The best insight into how crucial the collation centre is to the conduct of credible election could be gleaned from the recent Osun State gubernatorial poll. Although a new governor has been sworn into office in the state, the outcome of the election that produced Governor Gboyega Oyetola is still undergoing judicial scrutiny at the Osun State Governorship Election Tribunal.

One inscrutable feature of the Osun poll was the way the Returning Officer, Prof. Joseph Afuwape, grimaced while receiving a phone call after which he declared the election inconclusive.  The question, who initiated the strange call as well as the subject matter discussed with the INEC adhoc staff remains a critical aspect of the current interrogation of the process.

That particular spectacle more than any other curious specimen of electoral manipulation raised concerns as to how to curb procedural violations at the collation centres, especially given the much vaunted benefits of the biometric-laden Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and Card Readers.

The issue of fidelity of Nigeria’s electoral process has always been a puzzling topic since the country attained independence, particularly as it veered into presidential system of government. Right from the 1979 general election, the dynamics of rigging have been steady and diametrically opposed to initiatives from the electoral umpire.

Politicians are constantly devising curious strategies to undermine electoral fidelity. That was why despite the technical rigging of the 1979 election, when Nigerians looked up to the 1983 poll to recompense the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) with massive denial of votes, the bogey of election sequence and trap of bandwagon crept in.

The landslide victory, which the party in power snatched from the people in that 1983 poll, especially the presidential election, led to the collapse of the democratic government in the hands of the military’s interference in politics.

Thirty-six years after that experiment, the country is going for another general election in 2019 and the prevailing circumstances seem to point to a possible replay of the 1983 electoral intransigence by the ruling party.

Divisive Presidency
AS it was in 1983, many Nigerians are looking up to the 2019 election to be an improvement on the 2015 episode, when their votes were made to count by the willingness of the sitting President Goodluck Jonathan, who threw in the towel without interrogating the veracity and credibility of the processes.

Emerging details have already shown that the 2015 election that brought in the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency was not entirely foolproof and guileless. There was evidence of collective conspiracy to push out Goodluck Jonathan from the Presidency due to the breach of a political power sharing formula that alternates the occupation of the high office between the north and the south.

Although accounts of what transpired during the election in some Northern and Southern states, particularly Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto, Bauchi and Lagos remain sketchy and border on partisan disagreement, the glitches in accreditation process were plausible reasons that could have rendered the process inconclusive.

However, garlanded with a swift and sweet victory after several misses, President Buhari did not do anything at the inception of his administration to dispel the foul odour of electoral malfeasance that besmirched the process.

Unlike late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who repudiated the election that brought him to power and set up the Justice Mohammed Uwais Election Reform Committee, Buhari did not see anything wrong in the nation’s electoral process worthy of correction. To compound the neglect of further improvement of the electoral process, the Presidency and the 8th National Assembly began a regime of mutual recriminations, which not only affected legislations, but also hurt Executive – Legislature relations.

Furthermore, in a bid to strengthen his stonewall against the legislature, the president continued to intone his legendary vow not to interfere with the business of the National Assembly and masked his disdain for lawmakers and the law-making process. The perceived aloof posture of the president gradually led to the creation of a literal deaf and dumb Presidency that communicates with the people through a strange and paranoid body language.

The strange development found deleterious expression in subsequent budget exercises in the last three years. But the worse hit are legislations concerning the enhancement of the electoral system.

While the screening and confirmation of Prof. Mahmud Yakubu as the substantive chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not suffer from the schism between the Presidency and NASS, the division did not enable the commission to cooperate in the legislative process by making objective inputs based on its central position as the sole administrator of elections in the country.

Ordinarily, INEC reports on the 2015 general election and subsequent rerun polls would have served as a veritable guide for the improvement of the Electoral Act and allied legislations. But the lack of cooperation between NASS and the Presidency did not allow Nigerians to witness the beauty of such tripartite collaboration make their own inputs.

Hope, therefore, for a better 2019 poll seems to hang in the balance because the 2018 Electoral Act, which would have paved the way to erase the imperfections of the 2015 election, is in danger of possible abortion. Already there are hints of falling back on the 2010 Electoral Act as amended. The implications of bending backwards to situate the 2010 Electoral Act as the compass for next year’s election is that 2019 is being programmed to inherit the blight of the notorious incidence forms, which is the recipe for political corruption and electoral malfeasance.

In the event, therefore, President Buhari rescinds assent to the 2018 Electoral Act amendment after the NASS humoured his whims by removing certain radical provisions, especially those pertaining to election sequence, it would be an advertisement that Buhari was not prepared to fight corruption or improve Nigeria’s democracy.

Conversely, failure to sign the Electoral Bill to make it a guiding law for the 2019 poll could open the aperture for social unrests that could also dovetail into political quagmire of possible constitutional crisis dimension.

Boycott campaigners
Although some groups, notably the Lower Niger Congress (LNC) and the outlawed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), have been calling for a total boycott of next year’s election pending a review of the 1999 Constitution and a referendum to determine the Biafra question, those voices have been low.

Calls for restructuring the country in such a way as to yield more powers to the federating units have helped to douse the temper of boycott agitations as stakeholders maintain that the 2019 polls offer a great opportunity to exploit democratic credentials for a quiet review of the country’s structure 100 years after the amalgamation of North, Eastern and Western protectorates.

Signs that the incomplete action on the Electoral Act could serve as a dangerous window to accentuate the boycott alternative emerged recently when Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) threatened to pull out of continued participation in the processes leading to the 2019 election.

Rising from their meeting, the more than 70-party strong IPAC under the leadership of it national chairman, Peter Ameh, resolved to boycott next year’s election unless conditions for credible poll were assured and the amendment to the Electoral Act signed.

While assuring that it would work closely with INEC to ensure free and fair polls, IPAC members decried the reluctance of Buhari to sign the bill, stressing that failure to give assent to the bill could throw the country into the worst possible electoral process.

IPAC declared: “In view of the fact that Nigerians want free, fair and credible elections in 2019 which the new Electoral Bill before President Buhari promises, we as major stakeholders in the electoral process call on the president to sign the Bill into law. Should he refuse, then we will not be part of the electoral process in 2019 that doesn’t promise credibility and fairness.”

IPAC appreciated the efforts of INEC chairman, Prof. Yakubu, towards a credible 2019 polls, but expressed concerns that the tensed political atmosphere in the country, especially how to secure police neutrality was making things a bit frightening.

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, IPAC disclosed that it would seek audience with the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Abubakar Kpotun Idris, to address some of the fears bordering on impartiality of the police as 2019 approaches.

Devious NASS
The 8th plenary of the National Assembly, which began on a clumsy note following the intrigues that surrounded the election of its floor functionaries, was not able to close ranks until two months ago, when political considerations for 2019 set in.

Part of the problems of the amended Electoral Act relates to the partisan intrigues of some of the lawmakers, especially those who saw the Presidency as the life wire of their political future. It was a scheme begun by former Nassarawa State governor and Senator representing Nassarawa South, Abdullahi Adamu.

With the cycle of defections and cross defections, it became increasingly difficult for the lawmakers to uphold the dictates of patriotism and democratic excellence in carrying out their legislative functions.

Such tongue-in-cheek utterances like the current caution credited to the Senate Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan, that President Buhari should not be stampeded into signing the amended Electoral Act, it was obvious that the professional politician, who has not known life outside the National Assembly in the past 20 years, spoke out of sycophancy rather than patriotic concern for democratic process.

The only time the federal lawmakers never quarrel is when issues concerning their allowances crop up. Given their current division along partisan and selfish considerations, it becomes impossible for the lawmakers to harmonise their positions to call the bluff of an opportunistic Presidency that prefers the safety of dictatorial gusto to the rigours of democratic process.

That members of the National Assembly have been robbed of the opportunity of bi-partisan understanding to achieve the more than two thirds majority needed to override or veto the Presidency is a sore point in the needless politics of the Electoral Act. The impasse predisposes that important piece of legislation to President Buhari’s whims and caprices.

Most observers of the nation’s electoral environment hold the view that President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) ARE desperate to replicate the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) 2003 magic under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. However, although Buhari, like Obasanjo, is a product of the military constituency, the fact that the situation of Nigeria’s polity in 2018 is more precarious than it was in 2003 should not be lost on the president.

Yet, it is obvious that Buhari is wary of the capacity of the new Electoral Act to checkmate rigging schemes, while his conniving lawmakers urge him against assent to enjoy the expected effects of bandwagon on their electoral chances.

Both the Presidency and NASS have some explanations to offer Nigerians against the background of their counter-accusations. While the Presidency, which is in search of adventitious advantages to secure a second term, accused NASS of putting ambush clauses to undermine its powers, NASS accuses the Presidency of overbearing arrogance and disinterest in consensus building.

[FILES] Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara PHOTO: TWITTER/House of Representatives

And so, challenged as it is by the burden of a hapless and desperate Presidency and a lawless legislature, the 2019 election could provide an alternative reality through a possible breach of democracy as Buhari’s first term as head of state did in 1983.

Conversely, the impasse over the Electoral Act should unite Nigerians to save democracy through citizens’ vigilance and insistence that President Buhari sign the essential ingredient for next year’s poll into law. At the end of the day it would be seen between the Presidency and NASS, which is actually the lawless arm of government in the country.