Tuesday, March 14, 2017

INEC’s two- year advance notice for 2019 elections


Our democracy is maturing and the commission believes that there should be certainty with regard to the timetable for elections. For instance, in the United States, general elections always hold on the second Tuesday of November in the election year. In Ghana, it’s the 7th of December of the election year, while in other places like Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Costa Rica and Switzerland, the dates are also known in advance. In Nigeria, the constitution provides for elections to hold not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the end of the incumbent’s tenure. In order to ensure certainty in our dates for elections, and to allow for proper planning by the commission, political parties, security agencies, candidates and all stakeholders, the commission has decided to fix the date for the national elections for the third Saturday in February of the election year, followed by state elections two weeks later.”  

- Prince Solomon Adedeji Soyebi, INEC National Commissioner, while announcing the dates for Nigeria’s next general elections on Thursday, March 9, 2017 in Abuja.

A war foretold does not kill a wise cripple is an African adage. Last Thursday, the Independent National Electoral Commission did the unprecedented. It announced the dates for the country’s next general elections two years ahead of schedule. Why? Is INEC trying to heat up the polity unnecessarily? Has the commission done its homework well before reeling out the dates? Is the commission’s action legal and legitimate? What are the implications of this decision on all the election stakeholders?

In the lead up to the last general elections, INEC announced February 14 and 28, 2015 as the dates for the nationwide polls. This notice was given on Friday, January 24, 2014, that is one full year ahead. However, a week to the date of the first set of elections, pressure from the Office of the National Security Adviser compelled INEC to shift the poll by six weeks. The reasons were two-fold. To enable the electoral management body more time to distribute the Permanent Voters Cards which was then about 60 per cent. Secondly, to enable the armed forces to contain the nefarious activities of the Boko Haram insurgents especially in the northeastern state of Adamawa, Yobe and Bornu.  If last time around, despite having more than a year notice, election had to be postponed, is there any assurance that despite this two years advance notice, February 16 and March 2, 2019 will be sacrosanct?

On Monday, March 13, 2017, Barrister Oluwole Osaze Uzzi , INEC Director of Voter Education, Publicity, Gender and Civil Society and I were guest of Focus Nigeria, a popular TV programme hosted by Gbenga Aruleba on African Independent Television. The topic discussed was the issues in the INEC 2019 Election Timetable. Arising from that discussion, it was obvious that INEC was on sound legal footing and actually meant well to have published the timetable for the election two years ahead. It was meant to be a wakeup call to all election stakeholders from political parties and contestants to National Assembly, the presidency, the civil society, the security agencies, the media and the electorate. It is axiomatic that if you fail to plan, then you’ve planned to fail. Should all the aforementioned stakeholders fail to key into the commission’s timeline for the next general election, then the plausibility of credible 2019 elections will be compromised. 

There is no gainsaying that we have a culture of ‘fire-brigade approach’ in this country; both in our public and private lives. Many a time we know that examination is coming. Timetable is out perhaps a month to the examination date; however, many students will not read until the eve of the exams. Look at the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport for six weeks beginning from March 8 and the temporary relocation of air travel services to Kaduna airport. We knew the lifespan of the Abuja airport runway. However, in our trademark lackadaisical attitude, we failed to do any comprehensive maintenance on that runway neither did we build a second one that could have served as alternative to the one currently undergoing emergency repairs.  That is our nature, our character!

INEC has blown the whistle. The normal thing is for all the critical stakeholders to start planning early to ensure that the polls are held as scheduled. National Assembly in conjunction with the presidency is supposed to give the country a new electoral law regime. After all, both chambers of NASS has been on constitutional cum electoral reform since 2015; in October  2016, the presidency decided to set up 24 member Senator Ken Nnamani Electoral Reform Committee which was meant to sit for about six weeks but almost five months after was just conducting public hearing across the six geo-political zones. With this timetable out now, all electoral reform exercises needs to be concluded on time. This is to give other stakeholders sufficient time to get familiar with the content of the new legal and policy regime for the next general elections. It is a sad commentary that the 2015 Electoral Act was gazetted and made public after the general elections had been held. Imagine that!  I do hope we will not repeat same mistake ahead of 2019 polls.

Just as the timely new legal framework is incumbent on the presidency and the National Assembly, so also is proper funding of the electoral management body and the security agencies. If the appointed dates will be sacrosanct and the polls will be an improvement over the last one, then adequate funding of the 2019 elections is non-negotiable. The INEC VEP Director said part of the funds needed for the exercise has been requested in the 2017 financial estimate currently being reviewed by NASS. It is important that the parliament approves of the commission’s budget as required, otherwise, there is only 2018 budget cycle left to get the funds for the polls. 

INEC itself must prove to the world that it fully understands and is prepared to do the needful before the appointed dates of election in 2019. I am aware that the commission is about to publish its new five years Strategic Plan (2017 – 2021). It must see to a faithful implementation of this SP. Ahead of the next general elections, the commission has to register new political parties (as at last Thursday, 84 fresh applications are being reviewed by INEC), conduct Continuous Voters Registration exercise for those who have turned 18 years and above, print and distribute their Permanent Voters Card, acquire or procure additional Smart Card Readers, activate the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, conduct voter education and build the capacity of its permanent and ad-hoc staff to deliver credible elections in 2019. These are no mean tasks!

The donor community also has ample time now to key into this INEC 2019 Election Timetable. Their support to the commission and the civil society partners needs to be timely in order to achieve desired result.  The political parties and contestants are by far critical factors who could make or mar the forthcoming general polls. They have two years to plan to do the right thing by organising their party congresses, conventions and primaries. They can also plan on their campaign strategies.  I also do know that the advance notice can get the unscrupulous ones among them to plan on how to subvert and undermine the electoral process in order to gain undue advantage. This is where the security agents need to be proactive by ensuring that they outsmart and forestall any sinister plot by any political party or contestant.   The litmus tests that will show how INEC is prepared for the 2019 polls are the off cycle gubernatorial elections in Anambra scheduled for November 18, 2017 as well as that of Ekiti and Osun states coming up in 2018. I do wish the commission best of luck in its onerous task of conducting credible, successful and peaceful 2019 elections.