The furore generated by the reordering of next year’s general elections points to something hidden from the eyes of the public. On the surface, what is involved here is whose election comes first and who gets to face the electorate last. The underlying reason for this is not apparent. But as usual, members of Parliament are staunchly in support of the bill and insist it is for the good of Nigerians. Really?
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You have to scratch your head really hard to see how changing the sequence of the general elections is a good thing for Nigeria. So far, after pondering the inherent ‘goodness’ of that bill, I’m no wiser to what the lawmakers are trying to say. Would the bill ease the economic problems of the country? Would it fight corruption? Or even make our institutions stronger?
And more pertinent to the lawmakers, would a change in the order of the election ensure success at the polls for the lawmakers?
What are Bukola Saraki and his peers up to?
In September last year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fixed February 16, 2019, as the date of the presidential and National Assembly elections. For the records, the Constitution of Nigeria gave INEC the powers to do so. But Bukola Saraki, the Senate President and his House of Representatives counterparts had other plans in mind.
They tinkered a bit with the INEC timetable. Both houses of Parliament quickly passed a bill separating the dates for the conduct of the 2019 general elections. In the bill, the National Assembly elections would come first and would be the sole election conducted on the 16th of February. This would be followed by state governorship and legislative elections. The presidential election would take place two weeks later.
As reported extensively by Nigeria News, a few senators, all strong allies of the President, were loud in their condemnation of the bill. According to them, the change was targeted at the President Buhari. It is an open secret that the President has been at loggerheads with Saraki since the Senate president defied Buhari and the APC leadership to emerge the Senate president in 2011.
The unending corruption trial of Saraki is seen as a fallout of that. Presumably, this was the best way the President felt he could deal with Saraki and cut him down to a manageable size. The Code of Conduct tribunal acquitted Saraki of all the allegations after a snaky trial.
However, the Government appealed and got a reversal on some of the charges. So it is likely Saraki is going back to the tribunal to prove his innocence. So is changing the sequence of the general elections Saraki’s way of getting back at the President? All indications so far are pointing in that direction. At least if you understand the politics behind the sequence of elections.
The politics of election sequence
Elections in any part of the world are all about horse trading. It is a case if you scratch my back, I’d scratch yours. In this case, the lawmakers know they need the support of the presidency to win elections. They also know the President needs their support. But they don’t trust the President to keep his own part of the bargain.
So their best move is to schedule their own election first. That way, according to the conduct and results of the election, they’d know if they got the support of the executive branch. In Nigeria, support from the executive mostly comes in the deployment of security forces to help favored candidates win. And the president has absolute control over the security forces. That is the Presidency’s trump card.
So if after the National Assembly election they discovered the executive sabotaged their bid, they have two weeks to pay the President back. Remember, most of them control the parties in their respective States and local governments. They are capable of hurting the President in the presidential election. It is just a matter of mobilizing their supporters to cause havoc.
The muscle-flexing: a waste of time
Sections 76, 116, 132, and 178 of the Constitution expressly gave INEC control of all elections matters, including the sequence of the general elections. A bill passed by the National Assembly can never override the Constitution. Except those portions of the Constitution are amended, there is nothing anybody can do to change what INEC decides to do.
As a matter of fact, several Supreme Court judgments have already settled that issue. So what exactly are Saraki and his men thinking? I don’t believe for a second they are not aware of the provisions of those part of the Constitution or the various court cases that settled in favor of INEC.
Perhaps, as far as the 2019 general elections are concerned, there is something that Saraki and his men know that we don’t. After all, so far, he has successfully resisted attempts by the Presidency to remove him as the number 3 citizen.
And he has already forced several concessions from the executive including compelling the President to sign a bill granting immunity to lawmakers from persecution for crimes carried out in the course of their official duties as legislators.
INEC has rightly come out to claim they would challenge any bill in court that seeks to curtail their functions. Fair enough. Now the country waits to see if the President would ascend to that bill changing the order of the 2019 general elections. The ball is firmly in his court.