Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Now that 2015 election timetable is out

In an unprecedented manner, the Independent National Electoral Commission in exercise of its constitutional mandate decided to release the timetable for the 2015 polls some 13 months ahead of the D-Day. INEC on Friday, January 24, issued a press statement announcing the date for the next General Elections as well as those for the Ekiti and Osun state governorship polls. The Commission fixed the order of elections as follows: Ekiti governorship election – June 21, 2014; Osun State governorship election – August 9, 2014; Presidential and National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) Elections – February 14, 2015 (St Valentine’s Day) and Governorship and State House of Assembly Elections – February 28, 2015. On Saturday, January 25, INEC followed up the initial announcement with details of activities such as the timeline for the publication of National Register of Voters, conduct of primaries and public campaigns, among others etc.
The publication of the election timetable will definitely heighten preparations for the polls by different stakeholders in the electoral process. While INEC has taken the lead and will henceforth be under the close scrutiny of the public as it steps up arrangements for the forthcoming elections, the political parties and aspirants too will rev up activities to enhance their good showing at the poll. Other stakeholders that will cue in include the civil society organisations, particularly those engaging democracy and good governance issues; the legislature; the media, the security agencies and the judiciary.
Starting with the legislature, the INEC timetable is a call to action for the lawmakers. Now that they know INEC’s plan for the coming polls, the National Assembly needs to help INEC to succeed. In a number of ways, the Nigerian legislature holds the aces. The lawmakers need to tidy up their act and conclude in good time, not later than six months before the polls, their protracted constitution and Electoral Act amendment exercises. Giving the country a new electoral law that takes cognisance of the request of the electoral commission as well as other stakeholders in the electoral process will assist INEC with the preparation as it would ensure that the electoral commission acts within the legal framework handed down to it by the parliament. A timely conclusion of the constitutional and Electoral Act reviews will also ensure that other stakeholders like political parties, the judiciary and even the civil society are aware of their rights and responsibilities as would be enshrined in the amended laws as well as be in a position to adequately sensitise their various constituencies and indeed the general public on the new electoral law.
Moreover, the National Assembly also holds the power of appropriation. INEC in December 2013 had requested about N93bn for the conduct of the 2015 elections. Ironically, only N45bn was earmarked for the election management body in the 2014 budget estimates. In order not to frustrate the noble plans of INEC to conduct a more acceptable poll in 2014/2015, the Commission needs to be properly funded. The legislature, in conjunction with the executive arm, particularly the Presidency, needs to ensure this.
INEC itself owes it a duty to rekindle public confidence in its conduct of elections. All the management and staff of the commission must work as a team with shared vision to deliver a more credible and acceptable election to Nigerians. It must also build strongly on its 2011 performance and raise the bar for other African and indeed other EMBs to emulate. There is no gainsaying that conducting elections in a huge country like Nigeria is a Herculean task. However, having laid its hands on the plough, INEC must do all within its power to deliver free, fair, and credible polls in 2014/2015.
The political parties and aspirants to political offices are critical stakeholders in the election project. They need to work harmoniously with INEC to enable the commission succeed. Already, we have in recent times been witnessing all manner of mergers, alliances, defections and cross-carpeting within and among different political parties in country. Today, we could say that with the approval of merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change, the All Nigerian Peoples Party and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and their subsequent registration as the All Progressives Congress by INEC on July 31, 2013, Nigeria is effectively a two-party state notwithstanding the existence of other fringe parties who may eventually go into alliance with either the Peoples Democratic Party or the APC.   It behooves politicians to obey their code of conduct as they go about politicking ahead of the forthcoming polls. They should eschew hate speeches, campaign of calumny, inflammatory and seditious comments. They should imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship and create a level playing field for all aspirants to political offices.
It is also important to use this medium to appeal to the National Executive Council of the APC to reconsider its hard-line directive to its National Assembly members to block all Executive bills, including the 2014 budget proposal and confirmation of all nominees to military and civilian positions to public office, until the crisis in Rivers State, in particular, is resolved. The APC should not cut its nose to spite its face. Asking its federal lawmakers to frustrate legislative activities is capable of grinding the government to a halt; this no doubt is not a progressive action. The party should not fritter the goodwill it currently enjoys with the Nigerian public who sees its emergence as a counterforce to the leviathan PDP.  Many Nigerians including this writer have written to condemn the impunity in Rivers State. The APC should better retrace its step and not plunge this country into an avoidable political crisis.
Ahead of the 2015 General Elections, the executive arm at different tiers of government should avoid executive recklessness particularly in its relationship with opposition political parties and candidates. This is not the time to put together the “hit squad or snipers” to deal with political enemies. This is not the time to abdicate governance and focus on politics. This is not the time to arm-twist the police to frame up political opponents or prevent them from campaigning. It is not the period to muscle the media from reporting the truth and giving equal coverage to both the party in power and those in opposition. It is the time to create a level playing field for all political parties and contestants and play politics without bitterness.
To my constituency, the civil society, the time has come for us to build a critical mass through networking and synergy building to engage the electoral process. We need to mobilise the public particularly the targeted groups (18 years and above who are yet to register since the 2011 registration exercise)  to participate in the  continuous voters registration which INEC will roll out in due course. We need to engage in peace building and ensure that political campaigns are issue based. Our voter education initiatives should target mass political participation; reduction in invalid ballot; mandate protection; reduction in incidences of electoral violence, campaign finance regulation compliance and awareness creation on electoral laws. Organisations intending to observe the forthcoming polls should follow due process of accreditation with the electoral management body and adhere strictly to the code of conduct for election observers.
Our media houses, especially political reporters must be professional in their reportage of political events. They need to realise that the public depends on them for information and should therefore maintain the highest ethical standard in the performance of their constitutional duty. The judiciary should also get ready to receive and adjudicate expeditiously on both the pre-election and Election Day disputes.  All said, the referee has blown the whistle, let all the players obey the rules of the game. Good luck, Nigeria.