Controversy over the sequence of elections has been on the front-burner since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), released the 2019 general elections timetable.
INEC fixed presidential and National Assembly (NASS) elections for Saturday, February 16, 2019, and governorship and State Assembly elections on Saturday, March 2, 2019.
The National Assembly, however, changed the arrangement, demanding that the National Assembly elections come first and the presidential poll last.
The argument of those opposed to the reversal, besides contending that NASS had no powers to change what INEC put forward, insist the action was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
Some senators walked out of the chamber to protest the adoption of the NASS adopted sequence.
The President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, before the adoption, had told his colleagues to remember that they would not be senators forever.
“We will come and go, but the institution will stay. We need to come up with laws that will build strong institutions.
“Let us not be personal about this. Let us behave like statesmen. We have procedures on some of these things.
“There are many bills we have passed. If there are issues, there are mechanisms we can use to resolve them.’’
Abdullahi Adamu (APC- Nasarawa State), a former governor and Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum, led the nine protesting senators.
They contended that the action of the National Assembly breached the Constitution, which they claimed empowered only INEC to fix dates for elections.
”Considering the strategic importance of the bill, it does not need to be rushed. I believe that the content of the bill is not fair. We need to be fair. I will not be part of it,” Adamu said.
Senator Andrew Uchendu (APC- Rivers), who accompanied Abdullahi, said the amendment would not stand.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee, Sen. Suleiman Nazif (APC- Bauchi State), who spoke on the issue outside the chamber, dismissed the insinuation that Buhari was the target in the new order.
”The sequence of elections came from the House of Representatives. The Senate only adopted what the House passed.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this bill which makes provision for a sequence of election different from the one earlier did not violate any provisions of the laws governing the operations of the electoral body.
“This sequence had been adopted in past elections; in 1979, presidential election was held last, that is, Aug. 11; election to the Senate was conducted on July 7, followed by the House of Representatives election on July 14.
“Also, in 1992, the Senate and House of Representatives elections were held on July 4, while the presidential was held later on June 12, 1993. In 1999, elections to the Senate and House of Representatives were held on Feb. 20, while the presidential was held Feb. 27.
“In 2003, the National Assembly elections were held April 12, while the presidential held April 19. Similarly, in 2011, National Assembly elections held on April 9, while the presidential held April 16.”
Chairman, House Committee on INEC, Edward Pwajok (APC- Plateau), also said the bill was not targeted at anybody.
“The sequence of election provision in the bill is not targeted at anybody.
“It is aimed at further giving credibility to the electoral process by way of giving the electorate the opportunity to vote, based on the individual qualities of candidates vying for National Assembly seats.’’
The Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, in its reaction, described the NASS arrangement as ‘rare news’ from the National Assembly.
National Publicity Secretary of the group Yinka Odumakin said the new election timetable was a positive development which would allow participatory democracy.
Odumakin recalled that the election sequence which was used in 1979 recorded success as it revealed the strength of each political party.
“This is one of the very rare good news that has come out of the National Assembly. It is a good development that will allow participatory democracy in our country.
“If we go back into history, in 1979, the order of elections was the one that we started with National Assembly elections and ended with the presidential election.
In that election, the NPN that formed government at the national level then, won only seven out of 19 states, while UPN, GNPP, PRP, NPP won the rest.
“You saw the strength of each party reflected.
“In 1983, the order of election was changed, and once we had that, that was when we started having landslide (victory). That was when NPN started taking everything.
“Elections stopped reflecting the wishes of the people. This is because the presidency is the most powerful office in the land, therefore, once a party takes it, the rest is a bandwagon,’’ he said.
Odumakin said that the new order was beneficial as it would allow each election stand on its own.
“The reason to the best of my knowledge is to ensure that each election stands on its own. People are able to make their choices not based on the fact that a party has won the presidency, therefore, there is no point voting for the other political party.”
The Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), Enugu State chapter, however, condemned what it called the unconstitutional amendment of Section 25 of the 2010 Electoral Act by the National Assembly.
The group called on Buhari “to veto the bill and distinguished senators and House members to support the veto.’’
The group warned that, “ obstacles or traps should not be planted to block President Muhammadu Buhari from firming the solid foundation he is laying in the provision of critical infrastructure – rails, roads, agro and power.’’
Gov. Yahaya Bello of Kogi, a staunch supporter of Buhari, said reordering of election sequence would not affect the president’s electoral fortunes.
Bello recently told State House correspondents in Abuja that the president would still win by a landslide irrespective of which election was held first.
“Whichever order it comes, this upcoming general elections I can assure you that Mr President will win landslide and the good ones will return to the National Assembly.’’
Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe, the South-East Senate Caucus Chairman, said those opposed to the reordered sequence were those who could not win elections except they rode on the back of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said: “Anybody who attaches himself to Buhari for re-election is not fit, ab initio, to be a senator. It is high time politicians stopped riding on the back of some political establishments or parties to win elections in Nigeria.”
Dr Uwakwe Esse, in apparent reference to personal strength and popularity of politicians to win elections on their own ‘electoral value,’ recounted how Chief Ejieke Ukaegbu, was elected into the Eastern House of Assembly during the First Republic as an independent candidate.
Ukaegbu represented Bende, the present Bende Federal Constituency, currently represented by Rep. Nnenna Ukeje (PDP-Abia).
Ukaegbu was a member of NCNC but Dr Michael Okpara, then Premier of Eastern Region, from the same cultural and political zone with Ukaegbu, preferred Oji Iheukwumere from Uzuakoli as the party’s candidate.
Ukaegbu consulted with his constituents, and contested the election as an independent candidate and won.
In the case of Ukaegbu, personal charisma and acceptance gave him the victory, rather than election sequence.
When the issue of order of elections became an issue in 2014 during debate on amendment of the Electoral Act on the floor of the Senate, Daily Trust newspaper wrote an editorial on the issue.
The April 9, 2014 editorial was titled: “ INEC can hold all elections in one day.’’
The paper wrote: “Perhaps the most crucial of the bills is the one that proposes that INEC should conduct all elections in one day. Sen. Abu Ibrahim, its sponsor, argued that such procedure would be in tune with global best practices and cost effective.
“Although INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega foreclosed, rather unfortunately, the conduct of all elections in a single day in the 2015 elections, it would be useful for the country to prepare to do that in subsequent polls.
“If the yearnings and hopes for credible elections are to be addressed in a positive way, holding all elections in one day is the way to go.
“The huge resources that the country expends on elections are a trend that is disturbing and should end.
“With only a day slated for all elections, this cost will be drastically reduced.
“Besides cutting cost, holding elections in one day will promote greater participation of all political parties in the process even if many of them relatively do not have enough resources as the ruling party does.
“Crucially, such a process will eliminate the so-called ‘bandwagon’ effect, in which the outcome of preceding election shapes voter attitude in subsequent ones.
“Not surprising, ruling party stalwarts opposed the thrust of the proposed bill, hinging their argument on the tenuous argument that INEC lacked the capacity to embark on such exercise.
“INEC can actually set the ball rolling, even in 2015, by reordering the sequence of the forthcoming elections so that the presidential poll comes last.
“Afterwards, it can begin to plan for all-elections-in-one-day scenario in 2019 and beyond.’’
Analysts, impartial observers and commentators, are in agreement that holding the presidential election last, is “ how it was from the beginning.’’
All the military foisted constitutions put presidential election last.
Odumakin supports the idea with the benefit of hindsight and Daily Trust agrees and further suggests that the polls can hold in one day.
Ukoh writes for News Agency of Nigeria.