Perhaps, the import of the recent amendment to the Electoral Act by the House of Representatives is over-exaggerated, writes Olawale Olaleye
Last week, the House of Representatives, to the shock of many stirred the hornet’s nest when it changed the order of the 2019 general election time table. The change, however, came many months after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the timetable for the elections.
What the amendment presupposes is that the National Assembly elections would now hold first, followed by gubernatorial and state assembly polls, whilst the presidential election would be conducted last. The amendment was made at the committee of the whole, presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yussuff Lasun. The House thus amended section 25 of the Principal Act and substituted it with a new section 25 (1).
But in the time-table earlier released by INEC, Presidential and National Assembly elections were to hold first, while governorship and state assembly would follow.
Immediately reinforcing this position, the Senate, Thursday announced the composition of its conference committee to reconcile the differences in the amended version of the Electoral Act passed by the House and the one it passed last year. Those in the committee as announced by the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, are Senators Shehu Sani, Biodun Olujimi, Hope Uzodinma, Dino Melaye and Peter Nwaoboshi. It would be chaired by the chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif.
Curiously, that was not the only amendment to the Electoral Act by the House, but it seemed to be the one that actually caught the attention of other stakeholders. For example, the House also amended section 36, which allows running mates of any candidate that dies before the conclusion of an election to inherit his votes and continue with the process.
The Green Chamber also effected an increase in the limitation of election expenses to be incurred by candidates for presidential polls from N1 billion to N5 billion. It raised that of the governorship bill from N200 million to N1 billion, while senate and house candidates’ expenses are not to exceed N100 million and N70 million, respectively. The state Assembly and local government chairmanship elections expenses had been raised from N10 million to N30 million, while individual contributions had been jacked up from N1 million to N10 million.
These notwithstanding, the amendments, which saw to a change in the election order, THISDAY reported last week, might have caused some panic in the presidency and the INEC. The presidency was allegedly shocked by the amendments and considered them a deliberate ploy by the lawmakers to influence the polls.
This stemmed from the fact that the bandwagon effect of the first set of elections into the National Assembly could affect other elections hence Speaker Yakubu Dogara was said to have received countless calls from persons in the presidency immediately the amendment was done.
This is believed to be particularly disturbing to the presidency because under the current arrangement, the reverse is the case as the outcome of the presidential election is likely to have a bandwagon effect on the governorship and state assembly elections.
But with the re-ordering of the primaries, the House has also made sure that the state governors would be compelled to minimise their influence on the conduct of primaries for the state and national legislatures, so that candidates vying for seats in the assemblies could in turn back them (governors) at their own primaries.
Yet, the angst in the INEC is believed to owe largely to the fact that the electoral body already had its plans covered and outlined with its own timetable, and might be forced now with the latest development to rearrange its plans. It is no wonder, therefore, that INEC is said to be considering going to the Supreme Court for determination of its powers to fix dates for general election.
As it is, the legislature is not just toying with the idea but determined to see it through. What it means is that even if the president attempts to override the new amendment, the legislature is believed to be prepared to veto it, thus creating an atmosphere of territory marking and authority assertion.
But, come to think of it, what is the debate about? Why should the re-ordering of the sequence of elections make anyone uncomfortable? If indeed it is about popularity and performance record devoid of deliberate manipulation of the processes, why should such a move create so much panic?
Again, flip the argument and ponder this too. Why re-order the sequence of elections if there is no ulterior motive? What really is wrong with the current structure and pattern to have warranted such? Granted the legislature has the powers, constitutionally guaranteed to amend the Electoral Act, why amend that particular section at this time when INEC has tailored its plan towards its own timetable?
Essentially, the argument is neither here nor there. What is crucial is, of what importance is the initiative? If it would enhance the beauty of the process and further elevate the credibility of the outcome, fine. But if it is basically a politically motivated idea designed to enhance the electoral chances of certain contestants and distort an already organised process, then, it is not in collective interest.
But then, that the sequence of a national election is re-ordered is not enough to create the kind of panic that is gradually enveloping the polity. Indeed needless!