IN THE ARENA
The unconscionable internal disorganisation of political parties prompting them to seek alteration of the timetable for the 2023 general election must not be countenanced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, writes Louis Achi
Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wisely declined a request by the 18 political parties to alter the timetable for the 2023 general election to obviously accommodate their inexcusably tardy preparations. The parties sought for a 37-day extension of the poll timetable. According to INEC, agreeing to the request would upset its other scheduled activities and create “unnecessary tension” that could negatively affect the general election programmed to commence February 25, next year.
Political parties are core institutions of democracy and by competing in elections offer citizens and members opportunities for political participation and choices in governance. While in opposition they can hold governments accountable. Generally they provide order and stability from which civilised, related processes unfold.
Parties also have self-evolved philosophies and constitutions that guide their trajectories. Herein lies the key pitfalls that tend to consume these institutions when lack of principle and greed takes centre stage. This scenario clearly seems to be at the heart of the strong headwinds buffeting the major political parties in organising simple preliminary processes leading to the general election proper.
Most culpable here are the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Perhaps these curious disorganisation and contrived fog have linkages with the fact that Nigeria has entered a transition period – a crucial leadership changeover phase. This is spawning some frenzy which cannot be decoupled from the nation’s peculiar political history.
The electoral commission had reviewed its schedules for the 2023 general election in February after President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Electoral Act, 2022. In compliance with the new legislation, INEC earmarked April 4 to June 3 for the conduct of party primaries, clarifying that due to the late signing of the law guiding the election, it was running against time. Penultimate week, INEC again reiterated that the deadline for the conduct of primaries remains “firm and fixed”.
However, notwithstanding INEC’s clear warning that it would not alter its current electoral schedules, the mule-headed political parties, under the aegis of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), surprisingly on Tuesday made a fervent appeal to the electoral commission for an extension of the timetable of the 2023 general election.
National Chairman of IPAC, Yusuf Yabagi Sani, made the demand tongue-in-cheek request during their quarterly consultative meeting with INEC, noting that the request for an adjusted timetable would ensure a free and credible election.
The meeting with the electoral umpire was attended by APC National Chairman Abdullahi Adamu and National Secretary, Iyiola Omisore; PDP National Chairman, Iyorcha Ayu and National Secretary Samuel Anyanwu; All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) National Chairman Victor Oye and IPAC Chairman Yabagi Sani.
According to the IPAC chairman, all the registered 18 political parties are united in their demand for an adjustment of the timetable. His words: “All the eighteen registered political parties on the platform of IPAC are jointly, without exception, requesting the INEC to consider a slight adjustment to the recently announced timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election.
“The General Assembly of IPAC, after an exhaustive examination of the INEC timetable and related issues, arrived at a unanimous decision to request for an extension of thirty-seven (37) days to the deadline of the time frame for the conduct of party primaries and resolution of conflicts arising from the primaries.
“By implication, the IPAC leadership is appealing to the INEC to extend the deadline for the conduct of party primaries and resolution of ensuing conflicts from the present INEC given date of 3rd June, 2022 to the 7th July 2022.”
For good measure, IPAC explained that the commission did not factor in the religious calendar of the two major religions in the country before drawing the timetable.
In Sani’s words: “Some of the constraining developments which, we believe were not considered and therefore, not factored in by the INEC while drawing up its schedule of activities includes the following: the Christian Lenten season and the Muslim fasting in the month of Ramadan, respectively, followed by the celebrations of Easter and Eid El Fitr (Sallah), in which the vast majority of party members were involved.
“The developments inevitably, therefore, greatly disrupted planned activities and programmes of the political parties, leading to the loss of about two weeks out of the allotted time of the timetable.”
These cock and bull stories about public holidays interfering with their preparations cut little ice with the watching public. Worse, public perception and emerging consensus on pre-poll preparations by political parties view the parties’ capacities and discipline in a poor light. Their request again exposes just how disorganised they are in putting their houses in order.
Be it late organisations of primaries, breaching their own guidelines as the PDP had done by adopting open-ticket method for picking its presidential candidate against its own constitutional stipulation of power rotation, or outright refusal to organise primaries, political parties have often brazenly breached the rules given to them.
This foregoing scenario may have informed INEC’s justifiable tough stance on the matter aptly captured by the agency’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu who bluntly rejected their request.
Hear him: “The commission will not review the timelines,” reminding the parties that the period earmarked for the conduct of their primaries commenced April 4, 2022, and would end June 3. He, however, acknowledged the fact that the parties had forwarded to INEC, the schedules for their primaries.
Further according to Yakubu, “Any review to extend the timeline for one activity will affect other activities and put unnecessary pressure on political parties and the commission. This meeting is the first since the Electoral Act 2022 came into force on February 25 2022. It is also our first meeting since the commission released the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election over two months ago.
“Already, all 18 political parties have forwarded the schedules of their primaries to the Commission, and some have commenced the process of choosing their candidates by conducting ward and local government congresses.”
It could be recalled that the period earmarked for the conduct of primaries by political parties commenced on April 4, 2022, and will end in about 24 days. Twice in the last two weeks, the commission had had to remind political parties of the necessity for strict compliance with the timelines for party primaries.
Fittingly, the INEC boss nailed the matter with professorial exactitude stating that there are so many inter-related activities that are associated with the timelines which must be timeously carried out.
His words: “Therefore, the commission will not review the timelines. Working together, we should ensure fidelity to the timelines in conducting transparent and democratic primaries for the purpose of electing candidates for the 1,491 constituencies for which elections will be held on 25th February and 11th March 2023.”
INEC must wield its statutory powers and use the big stick to stop any recalcitrant party in this connection