2019 Elections and the National Assembly Coup

The gloves are fast wearing off and the battle for power and political office in 2019 is expected to get fiercer by the day. Since the struggle for reelection by incumbents is one of several key factors that define electoral contests since return to civil rule in 1999, the order of elections often comes under incisive interrogation. In fact, it is often a controversial matter as it is believed to confer certain advantages on some contestants while disempowering others at the same time. Between the presidential, governorship, and legislative elections, the sequence as to which comes first usually produces a bandwagon effect in favour of the winner in the contest conducted first. Experience in the two decades of democratic experiment in the country has shown that to be the case in almost all the general elections. At another level and in terms of measuring the conduct of the polls, the schedule also has a somewhat definitive bearing on whether the exercises are generally assessed to be free, fair and transparent. In addition, the perception and/or reality that one set of elected official(s) possess an advantage over others has contributed greatly to lack of internal democracies in political parties. It has also encouraged unbridled interference in the conduct of the remaining elections by the politician and party that has the advantage. Apart from the influence of money, violence and thuggery, this is one factor that breeds godfatherism and cronyism in the political process. Because of these and other possible consequences, the choice of which set of elections comes first is always a contentious matter. Politicians and their willing collaborators in relevant public institutions would often stop at nothing to ensure that they end up with the longer end of the stick.

Expectedly therefore, the order of elections released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 polls last month is becoming as controversial if not more, than in previous cases. It is so because the National Assembly has elected to alter the schedule reeled out by the electoral body in a move that has not gone down well with other actors especially the Executive arm of government.

By INEC schedule, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 16, 2019 while the governorship and state assembly polls will be conducted on March 2, 2019. By the programme, party primaries for these classes of polls will begin on August 18 and will end on October7 2018.

But the National Assembly has decided to alter the schedule by placing the conduct of federal legislative elections as first in the series. The legislators invoked their law-making powers activated under the guise of amending the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to input this substantial alteration which some commentators consider a usurpation of the administrative prerogative of INEC.  The House of Representatives introduced this alteration in passing its amendment of the Act late January. By Tuesday this week, the Senate had agreed to the proposal after a conference committee of both chambers met to harmonize the versions of the amendment from both chambers. As contained in clause 25 (1) of the electoral act as amended, the sequence is stated as follows: “Election into the office of the President and Vice-President, Governor and Deputy Governor of a state, Membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each state of the federation shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections. (b) State House of Assembly and governorship election (c) Presidential election.

“The date of this election shall be as appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The election into the office of the Chairman and Vice Chairman and members of the area council of the FCT shall be held on the dates to be appointed by INEC.”

Apparently not unmindful of the reactions that would trail its position, the National Assembly proactively assumed a defensive mood by justifying its actions. Speaking after the adoption of the conference committee report, controversial senator, Dino Melaye from Kogi State, told reporters that although the choice of dates for the elections is the prerogative of INEC, a determination of the sequence is the responsibility of Parliament. This position was re-echoed by Mr. Edward Pwajok, a member of the conference committee from the House of Representatives and Senator Shehu Sani, the cerebral rights activist whose populist postulations on the floor of the senate have lately resonated with millions of Nigerians. According to Sani, “the new sequence will give all political parties an equal opportunity in the electoral process. It is not targeted at anybody. The basic objective is to make sure that Nigerians have the opportunity, without any hindrance or infraction to vote for a candidate of their choice in cognisance of his/her individual qualities. This sequence of elections is aimed at addressing some of the past anomalies, and for the fact that we have concurred unanimously, it’s a clear indication that this is the resolution of all parliamentarians of this 8th National Assembly.”

This didactic dialectic is likely to lead to some nights of long knives in the weeks and months ahead as the polity gears up for the contours, contortions and commotions of politicking and electioneering. The Muhammadu Buhari presidency, although currently dogged by self-inflicted missteps and buffeted by knocks from former allies which have together combined to put it in delicate political vulnerability, is not likely to take this master stroke from the National Assembly lying low. Like an injured lion, the hawks in the administration are believed to be oiling their arsenal in readiness for a counter strike. The fact that both arms of government have had a mostly acrimonious run in the close to three years of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) administration can only exacerbate matters. That this is coming at a time when Bukola Saraki, the highly harassed but unyielding President of the Senate is being paraded in court yet again on charges of false assets declaration by the Executive can only cement the resolve of Parliament to go all out. A fight-to-finish scenario is looming and no one can tell on which side the casualty will be more. But it is needs no prophet to say there will certainly be bruises and bloodied noses either or both ways. For me, this is allowable as long as the combatants will be restrained from imperiling the stability of the country, and ultimately endangering the lives and properties of citizens who only crave a decent chance to breathe and carry on with daily hustles of life.

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Author: Oke Epia