The 2010 Electoral Act was passed by the National Assembly in July 2010. Shortly after the passage of the amended bill, which completely removes arbitrariness and incumbency controls common with conduct of primaries of political parties in Nigeria, there was pressure on President Jonathan not to assent to the bill.
Section 89 (g) of the Act forbids the participation of government officials or unelected persons to vote in a political party’s indirect primaries, except in direct primaries (when all members of a political party are expected to vote all over the country as in a general election). This provision places incumbents on an even plane with other candidates in party primaries. By section 89 (g) an incumbent president, for instance, has lost over 1000 votes that he or she could get from appointed ministers, special advisers, ambassadors, chairmen of boards of parastatals, etc.
On August 19, 2010 President Jonathan signed the 2010 Electoral Act as amended into law with those words:
“Three days ago, I received three clean copies of the amended Electoral Bill, which contains fundamental changes aimed at improving elections conduct in our country. Let me on behalf of the citizens congratulate the National Assembly and other stakeholders for this initiative. The Act we have just signed today introduces staggered elections in section 25, the mood and manner of conducting party primaries and respect for party autonomy in section 87, among others.
Although serious concerns have been raised regarding some of the sections and their capacity to constitute an obstacle to our aspiration for expanding our democratic space, I am driven by the belief that the promise of those processes has greater potential and options to broaden and advance our march to democratic freedom, rather than undermine it.”
The 2010 Electoral Act is based on the first amendment of the 1999 constitution. By President Jonathan assenting to the Act, he has indirectly assented to the 1999 constitution as amended. Not as though presidential assent to constitutional amendments is necessary anyway. I have written before in my article, “Shilgba: Breaking the Silence” that no constitutional amendment requires the assent of the president.
The money the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) asked for was approved by the National Assembly and President Jonathan in August, 2010. After that on September 7, 2010 INEC made public a timetable for the 2011 general elections based on the 2010 Electoral Act. Few days after the announcement, INEC came back asking for a shift in the elections, which would require another round of constitution amendment processes. I call this academic confusion and a recipe for anarchy. INEC had promised it could conduct voter registration in two weeks, especially now that it is deploying one Direct Data Capture (DDC) machine to each of the 120,000 polling stations in Nigeria. With this unstable conduct of INEC, no matter how sincere its intentions may have been, it has willy-nilly provided an opportunity for politicians who are unhappy with the new electoral act, which has effectively taken certain controls out of their hand, to cause confusion. He that answers a matter before he hears it is a fool, so says the good book. Jega’s INEC spoke to Nigerians, and then came back few days after to swallow up those words. In American politics, this instability in character can send warning signals to the electorate— “I was for it before I was against it”-disposition. Political too may become confused and uncertain. Already, the PDP has suspended primaries “indefinitely”, and yet there is no other electoral law in place besides the 2010 Electoral Act, and by this Act, elections are just over three months away. INEC is to blame for this! Jega is flip-flopping, and it is sad for a scholar of his standing! As a scholar, I would advise a fellow scholar, Professor Jega, not to make a mockery of both his intelligence and our intelligence. I would also remind him of history. Was it not this similar flip-flop-ridden electoral program of General Babangida that almost brought Nigeria down and made our nation to lose billions of naira? Already, because of INEC’s request to shift elections some people are either questioning the electoral laws on which our elections are based or building some conspiracy theories. INEC has provided a credible excuse for future losers in the elections it will superintend.
Before the completion of the first amendment of the 1999 constitution and passage of the 2010 Electoral Act some of us asked for postponement of the 2011 elections in April, 2011. Now, with those documents in place, and with INEC’s election timetable, the time to postpone elections has passed. There should be no postponements of any kind. Whatever INEC would do within the law to stick to its timetable, INEC should and must. Nigerians like me are averse to any tampering with the announced timetable. There is suspicion. More importantly, the sudden distraction being caused by INEC is already wasting precious energy and time.
I call on the National Assembly not to agree to any shifts in the election timetable that INEC has released based on the 2010 Electoral Act. I have read reports about how happy some politicians are about INEC’s proposed timetable shift, saying that would allow them enough time to come up with “consensus” candidates. Section 87 of the 2010 Electoral Act empowers INEC to protect the sanctity of emergence of candidates of political parties. I would be naive to expect that many political parties would be averse to INEC’s request to shift the election dates. While INEC may have its reasons, however sincere, those shady politicians have their sinister motives, obviously hoping for amendment to those sections in the Electoral Act 2010 that are giving them the jitters.
INEC must take urgent steps to end the political suspense that it has created in our polity through its thoughtless announcement. The tentative political atmosphere is not helping its case. If the chairman cannot work with the timetable it has announced, Professor Jega should resign honourably. Jega can only work within the law that empowers him. The request for extension of time has come too late, and painted INEC in the colours of fickleness. Furthermore, the instability in INEC’s disposition towards the 2011 elections is creating doubts in the minds of some Nigerians. Is INEC playing the script of President Jonathan or other politicians who feel threatened by the present law? Nigerians, the era of saying, “INEC knows what they are doing” is gone. We must know and approve of what INEC is doing. We should not be too trusting of INEC; remember history. I smell a rat. I say, No to shift in election timetable. I say, No to INEC’s distraction and confusion. If we will build a great nation, we must seek to work with the laws on ground and not seek to tweak them to suit our conveniences. If INEC must work 25 hours a day to give us credible elections, let them do so! But on the present electoral law I stand and no shaking!
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org )
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