The Crucial March 9 Elections



As enshrined in the constitution, the executive powers invested in the President are immense. Some pundits have even said that the Nigerian President is one of the most powerful in the world. This partly explains why a lot of attention is often devoted to the election of the President. Although this is a season of general elections, yet an external observer of the Nigerian scene might be forgiven if he said the elections were all about making a choice between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

All the tension seemed to have been generated by the presidential election alone. You may say that this should not be a surprise because it is in the nature of the presidential system of government, which the nation opted for 40 years ago. The President is the chief executive officer of the state; so all eyes are on him for obvious reasons.

Yet, the elections of governors will take place this Saturday in 30 states while elections of legislators will be held in all the states of the federation. These elections are so crucial that their conduct would be another test of the liberal democratic culture in the polity.
In some of the preliminary analyses of the presidential election, one common interpretation of events is that the results in some respects have proved again that ultimately “all politics is local.” At least, that is how some of the political upsets have been explained. From all indications, this logic will further play out as the dynamics of local politics come into the fore this weekend.

Come to think of it, most of the people’s expectations in respect of governance are actually supposed to be met by the state and local governments. The development needs of the people include basic education for the children, primary healthcare delivery, rural roads, sanitation, water supply and social housing. It is, of course, relatively easier for the people to hold the nearer government accountable on the delivery of the public goods. In Lagos State, for instance, it is easier for Ikorodu residents protesting any government’s policy to carry their placards to the governor’s office in Alausa than to even contemplate going to Abuja. It may be more difficult for people in Yenagoa or Maiduguri to reach nation’s capital.

Besides, in this age of a virtual consensus about devolution of powers, the choice of those to be in charge of the states deserves maximum attention. When powers are eventually devolved to the states or regions, greater responsibilities will shift concomitantly to the governments at the lower tier. The corollary to this proposition is that the quality of those wielding executive and legislative powers becomes a decisive factor of progress in the circumstance. The governors should be imbued with visions and armed with strategies to run sub-national governments. As a complement, the state legislators should be able to muster the capacity to give meaning to the doctrine of separation of powers at that tier of government.

It is unfortunate that in most states, the affairs of government have been conducted as if Baron Montesquieu never existed with his idea of checks and balances among the arms of government. How can you talk of separation of powers when a governor relates to the speaker of the state House of Assembly as if the latter is a personal assistant on legislative matters to the former? So voting any one into an executive or legislative post should not be a blind exercise in the polity.

The focus is often on Abuja when crisis of governance is discussed. In order to have a full picture of this crisis a greater attention should be paid to what is happening in the states. A few characters of unacceptably low quality have actually passed through government houses in some state capitals in different parts of the country since 1999. The importance of March 9 is to prevent a repeat of such in any state.

It is organisationally wrong in a federation for all expectations of governance to be directed at the President. It is odd that a citizen could blame the President for poor sanitation in the city or collapsed rural roads. Even if you elect a superhuman President, the huge deficit in governance will continue to widen unless governance is proportionally improved at the state and local governments levels.

After all, apart from the expected internally generated revenues, the state and local governments have the statutory responsibilities of managing almost 48% share of the revenues in the federation account. Hardly does economic management take place in most of the states.

In retrospect, the other parties apart from the APC and PDP could have taken participation in the March 9 elections more seriously. It smacks of political frivolity to have dozens of presidential candidates when some of the registered political parties do not have candidates presented for legislative elections in most of the states. Some of the presidential candidates could have effectively sold their ideas (if any) as gubernatorial candidates of their parties as fresh participants in the game and in the light of severely limited resources.

It would, therefore, be interesting to see if the political map of Nigeria that emerged on February 23 will be replicated this Saturday or there would be bandwagon effects of the result of the presidential elections. The political peculiarities and twists in trends in some parts of the country could make predictions a bit hazardous. For instance, in some constituencies factions might have forged a consensus on Buhari or Atiku on February 23; but it could be parting of ways on Saturday. Fresh calculations made since the presidential elections would even make things more complex.

In any case, the premise of the foregoing thoughts is that all votes will count. In this respect, it is imperative for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to improve on the performance of February 23 in three days from now. All the faults of a fortnight ago should be identified and corrected forthwith.

The crucial nature of this Saturday elections makes it important for the police and other security agencies to up their professionalism by being impartial as they ensure a secure atmosphere for free, fair and credible elections.