Revised Sequence Of 2019 Polls: In Buhari Or Saraki's Interest?
The announcement of a timetable for political activities in January 2018 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has caused a rumble in Nigeria's political glass house.
This comes ahead of the 2019 general elections, which has without doubt, provoked strategies by politicians either separately or in groups.
One of such intriguing developments is the ongoing debate on the recently amended Electoral Act with specific reference to the changes that were effected on the sequence of the polls.
INEC had on January 9 at a news conference in Abuja released guidelines and schedule of operations as well as the time-table for the 2019 elections.
According to the timetable, presidential and National Assembly elections were slated for the same day on February 16, 2019 while governorship and state legislative elections will hold on March 2, 2019.
However, the National Assembly decided to re-order the polls with an amendment to the Electoral Act.
With an amendment to section 25 of the Electoral Act, election into seats in the National Assembly will hold on the first day of election before those of the state lawmakers and state governors on the second day, with the presidential election holding last on a separate date.
The House of Representatives was first to amend the Electoral Act some weeks after INEC's timetable was announced.
However, the passage at the Senate was not without drama and dissent.
The Senate chamber was thrown into a rowdy session on Wednesday, February 14, following the adoption of the conference committee report on the amendment to the Act.
The Senate in its justification of the amendment said members of the conference committee followed rules guiding legislative procedures in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
While the plenary was still on, 10 senators left the chamber to address the press on their disapproval of the amendment .
They alleged that the change in sequence was targeted against Buhari.
The adoption of the committee’s report has thus reversed the time-table already released by INEC.
The presidential election would no longer hold on February 16, 2019 should President Muhammadu Buhari give assent to the proposed bill.
History Has A Say?
Apart from this amendment being supported by law, it is also supported by history.
For example, since 1979, the only two times when the presidential election was conducted first in the order of elections was when an incumbent President was desperately seeking re-election.
It happened in 1983 when Shehu Shagari was seeking re-election and 2015 when former President Goodluck Jonathan was also seeking re-election.
In the 1979 elections, the Senatorial elections came first on July 7, followed by the House of Reps on July 14, Governorship, July 21, House of Assembly, July 28 and Presidential August 11, 1979.
However, In 1983, Presidential election came first on August 6 while Governorship followed on August 13, Senate on August 20, and House of Representatives on August 27.
In 1992, Senate and House of Representatives elections took place on July 4 while presidential election took place on June 12, 1993.
In 1999, the election of senators, Reps members and state legislators were the first to hold together on February 20. That of Governors and President were held on February 27.
During the 2003 general elections, state and national legislative elections took place together on April 12 while presidential and governorship held same day on April 19.
In 2007, governorship and House of Assembly elections held on April 14 first before the presidential and National Assembly polls a week later.
In 2011, governorship, state and National Assembly polls held first on April 9 while governorship and presidential elections took place on April 16.
But in 2015, when former President Jonathan out of insecurity insisted on having the presidential election first, he had to agree with the National Assembly for the federal legislative polls too to hold on the same day, March 28 while governorship and State Assembly polls held two weeks later on April 11.
What was wrong with the order of elections produced by INEC?
One major flaw in the order of election produced by INEC was the bandwagon effect, whereby the party that wins the presidential election gets to win the majority in governorship and Assemblies polls.
It has also provided a covering for legislators, who ordinarily would not have won elections on their own, as electorate simply vote for the same party in both the presidential and National Assembly elections as well as state governorship and Assemblies elections.
The public perception following the antecedents of members of the National Assembly is poor, as they are believed to have demonstrated self-interest and selfishness in legislating on issues of national interest in the past.
But the present case is a quintessential and the focus should be on the message rather than the messenger.
The change in the sequence of elections has the potential to eliminate the bandwagon effect.
With the new arrangement, the electorate will evaluate each candidate and vote for him/her based on what they consider to be merit while unnecessary pressures and influences are reined in.
The National Assembly’s proposal also promises to encourage competitiveness for elective offices especially for governors and the president.
Hopefully, the electorate’s enthusiasm that has the tendency to wane after the presidential election will continue to wax strong until the last vote is cast.
Cost of reordering election?
But if that's all there is to gain from the proposed plan, the price for Nigeria to pay in material and social dislocation costs of having three election days in 2019 rather than two is unduly monumental.
The impending reordering has serious cost implications.
Both in terms of the direct cost of conducting elections as well as the cost of individual, corporate and government businesses shutdown owing to the compulsory restriction of human and vehicular movement.
Will Baba sign?
Since this change was made, the political environment of Nigeria has become charged even as there is an ongoing perception being planted that these steps taken to change the sequence of election is targeted at the President.
Buhari's body language suggests he will run for a second term come next year.
The Presidency has already put in place an elaborate plan to frustrate the implementation of the proposed alterations.
The President it was gathered, will not only veto the amended bill when it is sent to him for his assent, he would also encourage INEC to challenge it in court.
If it comes to a situation where the President withholds his assent, a two-thirds majority of both arms of the National Assembly is required to override it.
However, getting the required two-thirds majority to override it may not be a walk in the park.
I foresee an epic legal tussle that will end at the Supreme Court.
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