Examining calls for 2019 poll postponement
Less than three months to the 2019 elections, concerns over the safety and credibility of the electoral process are mounting, leading to calls by some stakeholders for the exercise to be pushed forward or put on hold. It should be recalled that similar suggestions also preceded the 2015 polls, only that in the present instance, suggestions for a transition government to be set up are gaining stridency.
Those calling for a transition government say the interim regime is necessary to oversee the affairs of the country pending when some critical issues bothering on governance, Boko Haram insurgent, herdsmen/farmers’ crisis among others are resolved. They contend that the stopgap is needed to stabilize the polity before the country ventures into another election.
The unity government proponents hinged their postulation on the fact that none of the elections conducted in the country after the January 1966 military coup that truncated the regional arrangement of the First Republic have changed the situation of the country, but that they have only worsened things.
They therefore urged the National Assembly and the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government to put on hold the coming elections if Nigeria must avoid unnecessary bloodletting because of the current heat in the polity. Their suggestions, however, bring to memory how personalities like the late founder of Nigerian Advance Party (NAP) and delegate to the 2014 National Conference, late Dr. Tunji Braithwaite and Senior Pastor of Latter Rain Assembly, Tunde Bakare among others tried to prevail on erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan and the Professor Attahiru Jega-led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to put on hold the 2015 elections and set up a transition government.
While Dr. Braithwaite then harped on the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents ravaging the Northeastern part as reason he wanted the 2015 election not to hold, Bakare canvassed six months postponement for the 2015 polls.
The cleric in his state of the nation’s address entitled: ‘The Gathering Storm and Avoidable Shipwreck: How to Avoid Catastrophic Euroclydon’, cited Section 135 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that if the federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the president considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may, by resolution, extend the period of four years mentioned in sub-section (2) of this section from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time.
Last week, a group under the umbrella of Peoples of Southern and Middle Belt Territories of Nigeria in a joint proclamation proposed the deferment of the 2019 elections and the immediate undertaking of the reconfiguration of what they considered the damaged constitutional foundations of the country.
While making the proposal during a press conference held in Lagos, the group which has its members from across the Southern and Middle belt zones and comprises personalities like Arch George Akinola of Yoruba Liberation Movement, Dr. Fred Agbeyegbe representing Itsekiri Nation, Dr. Uduma Idiaka of Biafra Coalition, Mr. Tony Nnadi who represented people of the Lower Niger Congress and others insisted that the 2019 elections be postponed while a Transition Government be set up to address some critical issues currently affecting the country.
The group said the urgent challenge before Nigeria today is to reconstitute itself back to being a Federation as the only viable mechanism for addressing the Self-Determination and Sovereignty issues raised by the thoroughly Disputed Constitutional Arrangements of Nigeria, and not elections.
Akinola, who read the proclamation, said what the country needs at present is a transition government and not elections that can only exacerbate an already bad situation. He said the current dangerous crossfire between political gladiators and the trajectory of political discourse in the country is reminiscent of the 1962 to 1965 episodes, which imploded into the collapse of the union in 1966.
The group therefore demanded that in place of the planned 2019 elections, a Transitional Arrangement should be immediately instituted to peacefully ease out the rejected current ‘Unitary Constitutional Order’ while a body with constituent powers be instituted to midwife the emergence of successor constitutional arrangements according to the preferences of the constituent component nationalities of Nigeria to be ascertained by referendums.
It also urged political actors, especially the ones from the South and the Middle Belt zones of the country, to make a choice between standing with the people they claim to lead and who have rejected the 1999 Constitution and any elections mandated by it (the Constitution) or to stand with the enemies their people who insist on preserving that Master-Servant 1999 Constitution, which enslave and impoverish a majority of the people.
Agbeyegbe said it is either Nigeria would be forced to do the needful someday or it will continue to waste her resources on conducting elections that will not change her fortune from what it is at present.
Desperation of political actors for power
In another gathering last week, a former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, also called on relevant authorities in the country to reconsider conducting the coming elections but to set up a Truth, Restitution and Recovery Commission. She expressed fears that the outcome of any general elections in the country now may be contrary to what is expected.
Explaining reasons behind her suggestion, Ojikutu said the present state of the country is giving her serious concern, most especially as the 2019 elections are fast approaching.
She accused the two major political parties for not being sincere about doing what is right and needful to bail Nigeria out of her present predicaments.
She stressed: “I found in the left what I abhor and in the right what I detest. If we fail as a nation to manage the coming elections properly, the outcome might likely throw the entire country into the darkness and send many of us into Diaspora simply because of the inordinate political ambitions of some of our fellow Nigerians seeking election into public offices.”
The erstwhile leader flayed the desperation of some political leaders like the incumbent Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who she said is always ready for a fight and the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who wants to become president at all cost and erstwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo for putting everything in place to achieve his aim.
Resolving herdsmen/ farmers’ crisis
Since President Buhari came to office in 2015, Nigeria has witnessed the resurgence of herdsmen and farmers’ crisis in serious dimension such that the drum of separation echoed at a point, with particular ethnic group in the country being accused of wanting to wipe out others.
The herdsmen/farmers’ crisis spread from the North Central to South East, Southwest and South-South forcing most ethnic nationalities’ leaders to demand for a return to regional government. In like manner, Arewa Youth Forum from the North, at a point last year, gave the Igbo residing and doing business in the North October 1, 2017 ultimatum to leave the zone. It took concerted efforts across the country before the tension generated by the ultimatum subsided.
At various occasions, President Buhari was accused of favouring his ethnic Fulani, not only in federal appointments but also shielding and thereby encouraging them to attack and destroy other nationalities.
In his view, Secretary General of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, said if Nigeria will be sincere to handle and address all that have happened in terms of herdsmen’s killings, sentiments in federal appointments and other national calamities under the incumbent government “we should not be talking of holding another elections in Nigeria but how to organise a dialogue and discuss ways we want to live and relate.”
According to Olajide, “If the leadership of the country, especially those from the Southwest geopolitical regions, who were aspiring for political positions on the platforms of different parties failed to address the issue of herdsmen’s killings, rape and other forms of atrocities in Yorubaland, expectations from the exercise may jolt Nigerians unless something urgent is done to tame the herdsmen, farmer’s clashes in states like Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Ogun.”
Threats from fake news
If constitutional matter, herdsmen/farmer’s clashes, political desperation and drumbeats of war are not new threats to elections in Nigeria, the rising cases of social media enhanced fake news is a new syndrome that is not only causing concern to the people but also the government.
Even the mouthpiece of the government, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, recently warned that fake news constitutes a big threat to 2019 polls. Although he did not suggest that the exercise should be put on hold for the problem of fake news to be addressed, he stressed that with the 2019 general elections just a little over 60 days away, he said there was no issue that was more relevant to the election than the issue of fake news and hate speech.
He said fake news had the capacity to alter the course of election, trigger legitimacy problem for the winner, noting that the menace transcended political party lines, religion, ethnicity, and even nationality.