As the country counts down for the 2019 polls – now a matter of days away, it is no secret that many Nigerians as well as foreigners are worried about projections and permutations on its precedents, conduct and aftermath. The concerns are based on what many had foreseen as unavoidable bumps and shocks as well as twists and turns which clearly mark the route and journey so far. Not surprisingly too, the recent stalemate in the fortunes of the Electoral Reform Bill 2018, which was again denied assent by President Muhamadu Buhari, may even be seen rather undeservedly as the main source of concern over the fast approaching polls.
It had been presented to him thrice and he declined assent on each occasion giving reasons why he declined. Interestingly for his last decline Buhari claimed that the timing of the bill was inimical to the effective conduct of the polls. According to him a new bill with elections so close by could “create some uncertainty about the legislation to govern the process”. This he had said without regard to the high expectations of many Nigerians with respect to, and the welter of foreign interest in the reform of the country’s electoral culture.
Many are already claiming that he and his political machinery have since had the intention of applying delay tactics to the passage of the Electoral Reform Bill, for the purpose of manipulating the forthcoming polls. While that may actually be a mis-judgement of the President’s agenda, suffice it to be stated that he more than anything else, needs to assent to the bill even if it only to remain the stainless Buhari, which many still see him as.
However, as a clearer perspective of the country’s political terrain would indicate, the threats to the 2019 go beyond the core ‘palliatives’ which the Electoral Bill would have provided, even if Buhari had assented to it. Yet that is not to say that the assent to the Electoral Reform Bill would not have achieved anything. Clearly, the painstaking effort invested by its sundry patrons comprising politicians, civil society groups and other patriotic minds in it, offers it the airs of a cure-all elixir to Nigeria’s electoral challenges. For instance, among its key provisions which the country will be missing courtesy of the stalemate over it, shall be the exclusive use of the card reader in all voting situations. Experience has taught Nigerians that a most critical check on election rigging is the reduction or even elimination of the scope for manual operations with respect to the voting exercise. The bill provided for such safeguards which its stalemate has now put paid to.
Not surprisingly, much of the backlash over the stalemate is laced with bitterness especially from those that expected much from the Electoral Bill. But who would blame anybody for expecting much from that dispensation given the fact that the rites of passage of the bill justified its assent by Mr President under any condition. Three times it was presented to him and for equal number of times his assent was declined. Even the National Assembly that enjoys the sole statutory leverage to corral the President and even overrule him as the situation provides for now, is presently in a dilemma over generating the numbers to effect such. At the last count the now majority party in the Senate being the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is faced with a dilemma as it lacks the capacity to mobilise the required 73 members to overrule the President. The situation in the House of Representatives is also similar to the Senate, as while the PDP may enjoy majority, it cannot mobilise the required 240 members to override the President. This situation puts paid to any question of the National Assembly acting further against the President on this matter.
Meanwhile, the present situation of virtual incapacity and helplessness of the country’s central legislature to act as one as at now, compels a more penetrating look beyond just the present situation to scarier possibilities. More Nigerians need to see the bigger picture of underlying dislocations in the country’s body politik, especially the core issues engendering inertia to meaningful change in the country’s politics especially as pertains to the constitutional functions of the legislature.
Traditionally Nigerian politics has always hovered around the mere change of guard being the replacement of one set of leaders with another, and not the political conversation. The aversion to the change of the political conversation has simply facilitated a fixation of the leadership mindset to the syndrome ofseeking power only for power sake, and pandering to the immediate areas that will guarantee maximum harvesting of votes, to secure power by all means. Hence the visceral attachments of our leaders to their primordial bases which can always be primed to provide blind political support even for the wrong causes.
For as contemporary evidence shows without the amendment of the political conversation, innovations such as even the Electoral Bill remain nothing better than mere window dressings. After all what the Electoral bill for instance is expected to correct is the process of voting in new leaders. What of when the country is faced with aspirants to political offices and who are technically unfit to occupy public office with responsibility for public welfare?
Scary as such scenario may seem the country is already infested with them – that is if contemporary political realities are anything to go by. For instance, the course of the ongoing pre-election political dialogue betrays the danger inherent in the personal carriage, utterance as well as personal conduct of a wide cross section of the political actors of the day. As is clear to any observer the core interest in the electioneering campaigns is how to win power, for power sake. Hardly is the issue of development of the society, pursuant to moving the country forward, on the agenda. Not surprisingly even the issue of extreme poverty which has now become the new identity of most Nigerians hardly features in the political conversation.
In the light of the foregoing the bigger challenge is not even the electoral reform bill and other cosmetic changes to our laws. Rather more important is the incapacity of the legislature to drive the political conversation in the country, towards addressing contingencies such as even basic reforms in the electoral process. If the National Assembly were that alert, they would have seen the present stalemate afar-off, like many other patriots did, and addressed it on time. The truth is that the Electoral Reform Bill 2018 was never intended for passage and use for the 2019 polls.