By Chris Anyokwu
We love theatre and drama in these parts, particularly political theatre. We as a people, sick to the pit of our stomach by the accretic effluvia of state actors, love to be diverted through periodic episodic displays of high-profile tomfoolery which, more often than not, masquerades as serious business of governance. Or how else does one describe the long-drawn-out shadow-boxing, the accompanying feints and the proxy “wars” engaged in by members of the Nigerian political class, notably the National Assembly? As though we did not have enough weightier matters of state, members of the political class had engaged one another in pitch battles and guerrilla warfare over what they have managed to characterise as the be-all-and-end-all of Nigeria’s political survival. Everything was subordinate to the Electoral Act, they had insisted. And, as such, the NASS had gone at it, hammer and tongs, chipping away at the nondescript block of wood otherwise referred to as the Electoral Bill Amendment Act, finessing it, adding to and subtracting from it, until they came out with the finished article. But keep in mind the fact that this same Bill upon which we are given to believe the destiny of our dear country depends; the very oxygen of the most populous Black nation on earth, statutorily went through all the parliamentary processes, such as First and Second Readings and so forth.
Public input was sought at various times. The Red and the Green chambers of the NASS separately considered and re-considered the Bill and they equally came together at plenary sessions to debate the grey areas in the momentous piece of legislation. All the who’s who in our nation pivoted in on this Bill that would either make or mar our relentless march towards democratic maturity.
After all said and done, the NASS had announced to the world that they had done their duty by Nigerians: they had delivered or birthed the single most important piece of legislation in our chequered political odyssey. The Electoral Act of 2022 was duly sent to Mr President for his assent in order for the Bill to become law. President Muhammadu Buhari had spectacularly withheld assent. He seemed to have, on his part, done his due diligence and discovered some grave defects in the document and consequently pushed it away from his presidential table in towering imperial disgust. “What is this? Why is this or that not included? And why is this offensive item included, etc.?” Sai Baba had fumed. “And you want me, General Muhammadu Buhari, to sign this fraudulent document and plunge our great nation into anarchy and bondage? Not on your lives!” he had added, his regnant military hauteur and ire reawakened. “Hankuri, hankuri, Sai Baba, we will take a second look at the Bill and bring it back for your assent, Mr President,” the NASS had mollified the piqued ruler.
Thus the NASS had returned to work on the Bill, rectifying all the offensive or/and faulty aspects accordingly. According to media reports, PMB had rejected the Electoral Bill because the NASS had approved Direct Primaries for picking candidates by political parties, a procedure considered dangerous by Mr President. PMB had pointed out, to his credit, that imposing Direct Primaries on political parties would cause disaffection and animus in the polity (Vanguard Dec. 20, 2021). People are still left scratching their heads trying to fathom the reason(s) why the sagacious gurus on the Apo Hill failed to do their due diligence, considering the momentous significance of their task. Were they putting parochial interests over and above national interest? Well, all’s well that ends well. All the cloak-and-dagger business, all the sweepstakes are well behind us now. Ah, thank goodness!
But, pray – what kind of high drama was Femi Adeshina trying in his little corner to create over the signing of the Electoral Act by Mr President? Adeshina had created a bit of hide-and-seek in the media over this. Regarding the signing event, he had put the whole nation on tenterhooks, most churlishly: Maybe in days now; maybe today before nightfall … it can happen any moment now … going … going… Ah, Femi Adeshina! You mean you couldn’t see the implied disrespect in this act to the people who, as it is, were already weary and worn at the Nigeria Golgotha? What exactly did you wish to achieve with the histrionics? Was it to make Nigerians more beholden, more indebted to your principal for assenting to the Bill? Is it to elevate and transmogrify PMB from a mere mortal to a deity, to usher him, festoons and all, into the hallowed pantheon of culture heroes and racial avatars such as Shaka the Zulu, Nelson Mandela, or such mythic idealities as Ogun, Sango and Obatala? Was it to rouse the tribe of scribes and singers of tales to begin to compose laudatory paeans and leaping panegyrics in due homage to the architect of modern Nigeria? Hagiography has its place in the royal courts of kings and potentates, but in the bloody and agonistic business of realpolitik, such puerile antics leave much to be desired.
Well, let us give thanks and praises to God as the “reworked” Act has been finally signed into law. Under the “Explanatory Memorandum”, the Electoral Act of 2022 reads: “The Electoral Act of 2022 repeals the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010”. It says, among others, “to regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Council elections, to make provisions for the restriction of the qualification for elective office to relevant provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, use of card readers and other technological devices in elections and political party primaries, to provide a time line for the submission of the candidates, criteria for substitution of candidates, limit of campaign expenses, and address the omission of names of candidates or logo of political parties”. Top ten provisions in the Electoral Bill of 2022 include the following: (1) financial independence for INEC. In clause 3(3) funding for general elections must be released at least one year before the election. (2) Inclusion of persons with Disability. In clause 54 (2) provisions are included to make voting easy for persons with disabilities and special needs (3) Electronic Voter Accreditation. Clause 47 creates legislative backing for smart-card readers and any other voter accreditation technology. (4) Redefines over-voting with Clause 51, “Total number of accredited voters” will become a factor in determining over-voting at election tribunals. (5) If a candidate dies in an election? By clause 24, political parties can now conduct a primary election replacing a candidate who dies in an election. (6) Election results declared under duress. By clause 65, INEC can now review results declared under duress. This will discourage electoral violence and improve the safety of returning officers. (7) Early Conduct of Primaries. By Clause 29(1), parties must conduct primaries and submit their list of candidates at least 180 days before the general elections. (8) Campaigns will start early. By clause 94, campaign season now starts 150 days to election day and ends 24 hours to the elections. (9) Party Members Cannot Work At/For INEC. It is now criminal to hide your membership or affiliation to a political party in order to secure an appointment with INEC and (10) Electronic Transmission of Results. By Clause 60, INEC now has the full discretion to conduct electronic transmission of results [e-transmission considerably reduces rigging]
But the question that should still agitate our minds is: so what, now that PMB has signed the Electoral Act into law? What has really changed in every material particular? How has the Act drastically recalibrated, reconfigured or shuffled things insofar as the modus operandi of political engineering is concerned? Put differently, how has, in the immediate term, the Electoral Act turned leopards into lambs in Nigeria’s feral forest? Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves too soon. But if history, past and recent, is any guide, under the present circumstances, Nigerian politicians are a special breed, one who takes delight in riding roughshod over rules and regulations, law and order. For them, the principle of due process and constitutionalism is dongo turenci (big grammar!). Wetin concern agbero with overload? Granted, we didn’t have this kind of well-articulated, seriously well-thought –out piece of legislation for regulating the conduct of elections in Nigeria. But one wonders aloud: what about the Independence Constitution of 1960, the Republican Constitution of 1963 and the Second Republic Constitution of 1979? Don’t we have, however imperfect, sections and sub-sections enunciating how elections should be conducted in our nation?
So far, the Electoral Act of 2022 has been hailed as PMB’s greatest legacy. The jury is still out on that, though. Also, people have called on the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to pick up the gauntlet, challenging it that the ball is now in its court.
Have we up until today been operating our democracy in a Hobbesian State of Nature? Truth be told, Nigeria, like most civilised nations, does have some form of Electoral Act, such as that of 2010 being amended. The fact is that, over time, it was discovered that some of the constitutional provisions were defective and inadequate, requiring amendments. Our democracy is also growing and getting increasingly complex. Thus, relying on moribund and superannuated laws would not do. That is why we have promulgated another or rather amended the old law to give birth to the new-born “bundle of joy”! Clearly, it is timely, wise and the right thing to do. It will deepen our democratic culture and create a more inclusive, fairer and egalitarian environment. It will also minimise friction, allay tension, banish mutual suspicion and acrimony and bad-blood from among our political elite. Thankfully, we now have three modes of primary election, namely; (a) Direct (b) Indirect and (c) Consensus modes. We are doing just fine, after all, even the US constitution has been amended 27 times out of hundreds of thousands of bills introduced attempting to amend it. Like the nation itself which is a daily plebiscite, the Constitution also is work-in-progress, continually admitting and reflecting the people’s remorseless walk to freedom, to jurisprudential and legislative health and to all-round prosperity, peace and progress.
So far, the Electoral Act of 2022 has been hailed as PMB’s greatest legacy. The jury is still out on that, though. Also, people have called on the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to pick up the gauntlet, challenging it that the ball is now in its court. But things are easier said than done, right? It is gratifying as well to know that the Act also addresses Section 227 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended): The Clause reads thus: “No association shall retain, organise, train or equip any person or group of persons for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force or coercion in promoting any political objective or interest or in such manner as to rouse reasonable apprehension that they are organised and trained or equipped for that purpose”. Hmn… this is simply revolutionary. Firstly, let us commend the framers of this document for the sheer laconicity of phraseology. Secondly, should we be able to enforce this rule in particular, Nigerian politics will change forever and we shall become the world’s poster-child of democratic Eldorado! Just imagine it! No more thugs, and goons armed to the teeth with guns, machetes and daggers, laying towns and villages waste and leaving in their wake sorrow, tears and blood. No more staccato reports of gunfire ripping apart the sacred hide of night, before, during and after elections. The Lagos Lagoon shall no longer be bloodied with dead baboons or the corpses of our compatriots from the Southeast for daring to exercise their franchise the way they deem fit. Agberos, both corporate and the real McCoy, will be out of job for our political desperadoes during elections. No more ballot-stuffing, ballot-snatching, no more militarisation of our democratic choice. Rigging shall be a thing of the past and it will be all civility, decorum and peace. We, therefore, recommend that this life-and-death Electoral Act be translated into ALL local or indigenous Nigerian languages and presented to ALL Nigerians, home and abroad. There should be massive enlightenment and sensitisation campaigns on this across Nigerian towns and villages. Agberos in particular should be warned that there is a new sheriff in town. Break the law and face the music!
But let’s tell ourselves the simple naked truth. Provision of enabling legislation has never been our problem. The political will to enforce it has always been our albatross. So, we can fete PMB for this historic legislative milestone, as much as we want. We can pop champagne and clink our glasses and toast the health of the Republic, if we so desire. Yet we must remember that we rise or fall as a nation on account of the collective conduct of our political elite. As the saying goes in Igboland, they hold the yam and the knife. But the people must remain vigilant, regardless. 2023 is upon us, the clock is ticking!
Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos