2019 polls: The Deals Still Remain Unfinished

INEC Voting

The pendulum swing of the political forces towards the 2019 general elections is uncertain, though hope is high for the Nigerian masses that the elections will produce credible leaders who love Nigerians and the country. The fears that the same political clique which had denied us development will remain beyond 2019 are shrinking. This is why all the citizens who are eligible to vote should ensure acquisition of the only and appropriate “weapon” to fight for Nigeria – their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC).

I am enthused with the seriousness Nigerians are taking the next general polls. Unlike before, the efforts exerted by the citizens in acquiring their PVCs are great. It will make the civic exercise more interesting if the polling units witness alarming turn out of voters who should remain vigilant in accordance with the rules and regulations laid down by the INEC, to guard their votes. Three civic duties Nigerians must note: get the PVC, vote and ensure the individual vote is counted and announced.

It will be reassuring if politics is made unattractive in Nigeria – as it is becoming – and the overbearing political cabals are sent out of government. If that can be achieved in 2019, there will be no other interpretation for development in Nigeria than how it is interpreted in the west. The era of development by sharing motorbikes “okada”, wheel barrows, sewing machines, bags of rice, peanut cash and other trivial items during elections will be over. Nigerians have yearned for this time for too long and now becoming impatient to see it practically happening in their country.

With such assurances from highly placed Nigerians that the 2019 elections cannot be rigged, there is a very big hope for Nigerians that another transition from democracy to democracy is sure. The deputy president of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, recently vowed that with the vigilance from the Nigeria youth, nobody would be able to rig the 2019 general elections.

Ekweremadu also assured that the National Assembly caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would not be intimidated and stopped from holding the government accountable, just as it would continue to speak the truth in defence of democracy. “Nobody should be deceived that they will rig election in 2019”, he opined, with confidence that the international community will also be watching, and quoting the late Sam Mbakwe who said that, “if you are awake, the rat would never take your fish.” “So if we ‘shine’ our eyes, nobody will rig us out”, he told the leaders of the national, zonal and state youth of the PDP in Abuja.

He vowed further that nobody will be allowed to truncate the democracy. “Nobody will take his future in the past and come to continue your own future”, he added and warned the youth against any form of electoral violence, because it is “an ill wind that blows no man any good.” Ekweremadu promised that the PDP would, upon return to power in 2019, work towards job creation, unemployment benefits to the youth, and reduction of age qualification for all political offices to 18 years.

But Festus Keyamo is of the opinion that the joyous crowd welcoming President Buhari in different cities as it also happened in 2015 indicates that we have two republics in Nigeria: the Federal Republic of Social Media where a few angry elites are always active and the Federal Republic of Nigeria populated by everyday people who vote at election.

That is between the APC and PDP, the two parties that are opposing themselves and hoping to lead Nigeria in 2019. The PDP seems confident to return to power on its claims that the APC has failed Nigerians by causing the economic hardship in the land and the sidelining of those who laboured for APC’s victory in 2015. The PDP is, amongst others, questioning the rationale behind growing the foreign reserves while the masses are suffering. These are some key points upon which the party seems to explore to convince the electorate to bring it back to power.

The APC, in its change mantra, claims that its leadership, within two to three years, has made Nigeria better than the 16 years of PDP’s leadership. APC sees the period as years of unconditional plundering of the nation’s commonwealth. The party seems confident that the achievements of its government were enough proofs to convince the electorate to vote continuity for stability.

While this show of might and popularity persists, grouping and regrouping are going on. Secret meetings and political scheming are also going on. Recently a forum of non-governmental organisations in Nigeria (FONGON), comprising some 200 non-government groups, with acclaimed membership of nearly three million, including students, women, artisans and youth groups surfaced. The forum rallied in Abuja with the promise to hold rallies across the country.

Its national coordinator, Wole Badmus, said they have come together to rally support for the Buhari-led administration on their belief that it has, since 29 May 2015, put Nigeria on the path of growth and development. “Ours will be rallies like no other because there seems to be an orchestrated campaign going on across the country at the moment to demonize the Buhari administration, in order to pave the way for the return of the same people who brought the country to where it was before,” he postulated.

This is happening at a time former President Olusegun Obasanjo has claimed that his rescue group “Coalition for Nigeria Movement” has already registered over three million members. Nobody is yet sure whom Obasanjo is fronting for, having disassociated himself from the PDP and APC. Besides, he claimed to have bidden farewell to partisan politics. Yet, there are many socio-political groups sprouting out day after day in support of the two opposing parties. And more to this, there are existing political parties already aligning themselves with either of the parties.

While these claims and counterclaims rage on, another problem facing the 2019 national event has put up its ugly face – the sequence of the elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had set the presidential polls to begin the general elections. This has been the order since the return of Nigeria to democracy. The Obasanjo regime fought the National Assembly to a standstill over this matter and so it remained throughout the 16 years of PDP’s leadership. The Professor Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC followed suit by announcing the same sequence to which the NASS has opposed.

The NASS amended the electoral law and reversed the sequence, putting the presidential polls last. And there the trouble started as the president rejected the bill and refused to assent to it. The president gave three reasons for withholding assent to the Electoral Act Amendment bill pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The propounded reasons included infringement upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize, undertake and supervise elections, undue limitation of the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process, and constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.

This standoff between the President and the NASS, though the APC leadership has waded in to find a truce, has again stiffened the already uneasy relationship between the executive and legislative arms of the nation since its inception to power. It has, on the other hand, torn the lawmakers into groups with individual person or groups showing open support to the President’s position. In the same vein, several civil society organizations (CSOs), senior lawyers and other notable Nigerians are on either side.

Senator Ali Ndume from Borno state, like Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa, kicks against the amended electoral bill because it is not for the interest of the masses of the country. Adamu claims that already 59 out of 109 senators are against it. Chairman, Southeast Senate Caucus and spokesperson of PDP Senate caucus, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe of Abia state wants the Senate and the House to do the needful on the grounds that what they have done is in the best interest of Nigeria. The PDP’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, sees the President’s refusal to sign the bill as a pointer to fears of “the fate that awaits the president in the 2019 presidential election.”

The national chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Olu Falae, urged the President to sign it to deepen the nation’s democracy. He wants the start with the House of Assembly where there would be chances for the smaller parties to win something in their respective areas. “That will help democracy to grow. That is my reason for saying that the President ought to have signed the law and encourage democracy to grow.” Former Dean of Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin, Prof. Abdulwahab Egbewole, cautioned the federal lawmakers against what he called “over legislation”, as although the assembly has the exclusive power to scrutinize the election sequence, it should not in the process jeopardize the existence of INEC.

Africa’s first Nobel laureate in literature, Prof. Wole Soyinka, called on Nigerians to resist the new bill by the senate. He spoke at a conference in Lagos where he lamented the perpetual and compulsory slavery of the citizenry. “…while we are still battling with the new culture of kidnapping, armed robbery and all that, the Senate has worsened our case with the new bill to hang us if we make speech. This is another attempt to silence criticism. I call on Nigeria to resist this law.” Also, a Yoruba socio-cultural group, Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide, backs withholding of assent on the amended bill. Its president, Oladotun Hassan, faults the situations where the legislative arm has always been in a web of power tussle with the executive over issues.

Thisday Newspapers of February 18, 2018 reported the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama as supporting reordering the sequence, with the presidential elections holding last. They stand on the grounds that it was more logical for the elections to be in an ascending order rather than having the presidential elections first.

While a Federal High Court in Abuja has stopped any further action by the National Assembly on the “controversial” bill, the Senate looks at writing to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) on the matter as it relates to the principle of separation of power. The minority leader, Godswill Akpabio while disagreeing with the court’s action, averred: “I have perused the Constitution and I think I cannot see anywhere that the court has the power to stop the proceedings of the Senate.”

In his remark, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki reiterated the need for every arm of government to function in accordance with the principle of separation of power. The issue, he said, is clear and the principle is clear. “What is important is building democracy and building our institutions. We will come and go but institutions will remain, so it is imperative that everybody must work towards sustaining the institutions.”

The end of this tussle, however, is already enough insights of the legal battles awaiting the electoral processes before and after the 2019 elections. An awesome revelation from the chairman of INEC enlists Nigerians to be cautious of the mind-bogging manipulations by politicians. He revealed that INEC has been dragged to court 400 times from January 2016 to December 2017. In 2015 general election, INEC has been dragged to court 680 times. That is over 1,000 litigations since 2015.

The fear by the legislative arms of government by attempting to reverse the order of election announced by INEC should be a concern to Nigerians. If really the reelections of our representatives for all elective positions should be based on sincerity and performance, there is a problem. The fear would become misplaced if they know they did not perform or represent their people well but hope to be reelected on the platter of gold. Those who have performed should entertain no fears. But can Nigerians really prove to be wiser and more politically conscious than during the 2015 national epoch making?

Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected].

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