by Tonnie Iredia
Last week’s announcement of the time table for the 2015 elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has no doubt opened a new vista in the nation’s political landscape. Already, it has elicited a number of viewpoints from different analysts.
To some people, it is a pro-active welcome development. In fairness to such analysts, it is the first time in about 2 decades that our electoral body has been forward-looking with respect to its mandate thereby creating a path way for the nation’s electoral process. To other people however, the time table is nothing more than the script of the ruling party. The nature of politics and elections particularly Nigeria’s winner takes all, zero-sum game system, would make it difficult for anyone to dismiss either of the viewpoints.
If one were to join in the debate, the first point to be made is that ordinarily, people ought to commend INEC for evolving what can pass for a sense of direction rather than throwing missiles at her. Unfortunately, the timing of the release of the schedule and its content are both, grave errors of judgment. To start with, it is easy to see from INEC’s action that it is more concerned about the Presidential election. That should not be so. Considering that the conduct of every election influences public confidence in the umpire, a viable electoral body ought to be equally concerned about any and every election it is mandated to conduct. No election is unimportant. Accordingly, the early release of the 2015 election time table about a year to its conduct clearly establishes that the governorship elections in Osun and Ekiti States in 2014, which is the year before the 2015 elections are not quite important, otherwise theirs would have been released in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Osun and Ekiti elections would have been concluded before the statutory date for the beginning of political campaigns for the 2015 election. In other words, candidates for the 2015 elections are barred from electioneering campaigns until after the 2014 governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States. What then justifies the release of the time table for 2014 and 2015 elections same day? We can only guess that it is because the almighty Presidential election is in 2015. It is therefore not uncharitable to conclude that INEC’s prompt reminder to candidates for the 2015 elections is more or less an official signal for them to commence electioneering now. Yet, the same INEC has for long cried itself hoarse that politicians have been jumping the gun and engaging in illegal political campaigns before the statutory time allowed for it.
We are therefore empowered to conclude that the campaigns going on now about the 2015 elections are instigated by INEC. Only four days ago, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the campaign posters of aspirants for the 2015 elections in Oyo State have started appearing in different parts of Ibadan, the State capital. Those sighted included that of the immediate past governor, Adebayo Alao- Akala. The posters of the incumbent Governor Abiola Ajimobi and those of former Governor Rashidi Ladoja were also reportedly pasted in various parts of the metropolis such as Mokola, Iwo road, Sango, Bodija, Molete, as well as some neigbouring towns.
As for the schedule of the elections, those who want the Presidential election to come first and those who want it last have their personal interests. To that extent, they could be ignored. But objective analysts must seek to know why INEC wants the final contest of the 2015 game to be played before the preliminaries? Is that a decision that is more likely to stabilize the polity? These posers are germane because as the societal institution set up to manage elections, INEC has a duty to arrange the game in such a way as to avoid anarchy.
With the history of elections in Nigeria in mind, it is easy to predict that as soon as the 2015 elections begin and a party is declared to have won the Presidential election, not many people would have the courage to vote against that party in the next set of elections. Here, the issue of bandwagon effect and undue influence are real. Again, those who are dissatisfied with the process and may want to introduce violence are more likely to do so after the Presidential election. INEC ought to explain to Nigerians why we should begin with the most volatile of the contests? In addition, Nigerians are used to seeing lapses at the beginning of INEC elections which tend to improve in due course. So, why does INEC want to experiment with the Presidential election?
On its part, the Arewa Consultative Forum has suggested that all the elections should hold the same day in order to reduce cost and avoid the bandwagon effect. The forum then urged the National Assembly to make it possible for the elections to hold the same day since INEC had said there was no enabling law for that?
There is doubt if INEC needs such an enabling law to carry out what it is empowered to do by the constitution because despite the deficiencies of the 1999 constitution, it is difficult to see any provision which requires INEC to seek the authorization of the legislature with respect to fixing elections. Rather, the constitution specifically provides in Section 132 that “an election to the office of President shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission”. The same words are reproduced in Section 178 in the case of an election to the office of Governor of a State. For elections to each House of the National Assembly, the same provisions are reproduced in Section 76 while Section 116 does same with respect to an election to a State House of Assembly.
These express provisions make a lot of sense because it would be wrong to ask the players of a team to determine the day of a match. It is to be hoped that INEC is neither under pressure nor has it allowed itself to be teleguided.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Tonnie iredia/Daily trust