2022: Navigation through Political Uncertainties

With prevalent vote-buying, insecurity and the emergence of presidential candidates, among others, 2022 obviously represents a navigation through the labyrinth of political uncertainties that can further undermine public governance and unsettle seamless democratic transition in 2023 if not decisively managed, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

The last 12 months have perhaps been the most turbulent in Nigeria’s recent political history. This has formed the deduction of most analysts, who have in their separate interventions expressed grave apprehension about the political future of Nigeria, especially in the year preceding the country’s general election.

From the enactment of the Electoral Act, 2022 to the conduct of special conventions by leading political parties, escalation of armed attacks on the country’s strategic electoral assets and the prevalence of vote trading during off-cycle governorship elections, the year has been bespeckled with diverse incidents that depict more pessimism than optimism about Nigeria’s democratic future.

But the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2022 into law signalled the new beginning in the journey into 2023. Even though the legislation represents a major shift in the country’s electoral history, some of its provisions stirred up intense debates about whether it deepens the freedom and transparency of electoral decision-making or it conflicts with the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

One of such provisions is found in Sections 47 and 50(2) of the Electoral Act, 2022. The sections put legal seal on the quest of the civil society organisations to reduce human interference with the electoral process in the country, which they contended, would put paid to the culture of electoral manipulations.

While Section 47 recognises the deployment of smart card readers or any other technological device for the accreditation of voters, Section 50(2) legitimises the electronic transmission of election results. The sections indeed boost public confidence that the 2023 elections will reflect the decisions of the voters.

As the new electoral regime envisaged, the deployment of smart card readers undeniably produced some enviable outcomes witnessed in the off-cycle governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States. Even before the Ekiti and Osun elections, as INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu recently claimed, the use of the technological device had redefined the country’s electoral environment, deepening credibility and transparency in the electoral process.

First, based on diverse observers’ reports, the deployment of smart card readers had significantly reduced the cases of ballot box snatching, which according to reports, had been a standard practice in the previous elections. Second, it had equally ended the practice of multiple thumb printing, a crude strategy candidates and political parties had adopted to gain undue advantages during the previous elections.

As efficacious as the provisions are, their adoption induced the political actors to create an illicit electoral market, where the electorate now auction their votes without any restraint and where contestants name their offers to the duly registered citizens, who either directly negotiate their prices or depend on their political brokers.

This trend was predominant during the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States, which according to the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and Yiaga Africa, had brought a new dimension to the thriving culture of electoral malpractice that plagued the previous elections across the federation.

Despite its shortcomings, the new electoral regime substantially redefined the primaries of the leading political parties. Until the president assented to the electoral bill on February 25, both All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were, in entirety, at loss as to the model – direct or indirect – they would adopt to conduct their primaries at different levels.

Rather than resolving the long-standing issue, Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act further compounded the apprehension of the leading political parties. The provision enshrined that no political appointee “at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.”

This provision, eventually, triggered multi-staged litigations, which political pundits contended, was not in any way directed at deepening the country’s democratisation process or the internal democracy of the political parties, but was part of the quest for the leading presidential candidates, especially those in the APC, to gain further advantage during the preliminary process.

At first instance, a Federal High Court, Umuahia, directed that Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act should be deleted citing its inconsistency to Sections 66(1)(f), 107(1)(f), 137(1)(f) and 182(1)(f) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). However, a Court of Appeal, Abuja, set aside the decision of the trial court on the ground that the litigant lacked “the locus standi to institute the suit.”

Given the decision of the appellate court, the political parties had to comply with the new electoral regime in the conduct of their primaries. As a consequence, the clause disrupted the strategies of the presidential aspirants, especially those who had prepared for the direct primaries and whose winning strategy rested largely on the support they commanded in the ranks of political appointees nationwide.

However, the legal contest did not end at the appellate court on different grounds. First, the president signed the legislation with a proviso that the National Assembly would amend the electoral act with a view to deleting the controversial clause. Second, after Buhari’s assent, the National Assembly refused to effect the amendment perhaps due to its implication such a decision might have on their nomination or re-election.

Hence, the President and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami approached the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of section 84(12) of the Electoral Act. In its decision, however, the apex court ruled that Buhari’s request “to the National Assembly to delete Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act amounts to a constitutional violation.”

The decision of the apex court technically put paid to the legal contest. Even though the apex court has adjudicated the constitutionality of the provision of the electoral act, its decision simply suggests that the quest for the obliteration of the controversial clause has now been shifted till after the 2023 general election.

With or without the controversial clause, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar emerged the presidential candidate of PDP. But his emergence and the subsequent nomination of his running mate, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa ruptured the political calculation of Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nysom Wike and his adherents.

Likewise, Atiku’s victory stoked an intense campaign against PDP National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu. At the core of the campaign is the quest to effect the party’s zoning principle enshrined in Section 7(3c) of the PDP Constitution, which as diverse reports revealed, Ayu promised at the Special Convention on October 31, 2021 to graciously honour if a northerner eventually clinched the presidential nomination.

Like Atiku’s case, former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu clinched the presidential nomination of APC. Tinubu’s emergence crashed the presidential aspiration of his political godson, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan and former Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, all of whom fought hard to flag the party’s flag.

Perhaps, confident that the electoral might end up producing a dark horse as the next president, former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi broke away from the main opposition party and pitched his tent with the Labour Party. Obi’s presidential aspiration has now gained wider support, especially in the South. This has unexpectedly propelled a legion of youths under the aegis of the ‘Obedient Movement’ to champion and fund Obi’s presidential campaign.

In the same spirit, also, the emergence of former Kano State Governor, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso as the presidential candidate of New Nigeria Political Party (NNPP) further blurred the thin line of popularity among the leading presidential candidates. In the North, Kwankwaso’s overwhelming influence forced the leading presidential candidates to hold diverse strategy sessions ahead of the general poll.

Beyond the emergence of presidential candidates, election security has been a source of concern for the electoral umpire. As shown in diverse security reports, the political environment has been too inclement for the conduct of the 2023 elections. First, in September, intelligence services briefed the Federal Executive Council the country’s volatile security environment, which they claimed, might undermine the conduct of the 2023 elections in 686 wards nationwide.

Aside, the country’s electoral assets have been under sustained armed attacks in different parts of the federation. In its reports, last week, INEC claimed that it had suffered at least 50 violent attacks, cutting across 15 states of the federation. This resulted in the death of electoral officials, destruction of INEC’s offices and damage of uncollected permanent voters cards and other election materials. Each of these incidents suggests that elections may not really be held in many parts of the federation .

With all these developments, the road to 2023 appears too tortuous and dotted with many uncertainties that cannot guarantee the credibility of the process. This might, as an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Ibadan, Prof. John A. Ayoade has observed, might rob Nigeria of enduring democratic peace.

But the Incident Centre on Election Atrocities (ICEA) believes these dangerous political dynamics can decisively be averted if the government can ensure security in vulnerable communities nationwide; justice institutions spare no sacred cows; the people nationwide can rise in defence of democratic Nigeria and if the government can provide a level-playing ground for all stakeholders irrespective of their political platforms and

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