2011: Averting Constitutional Crisis and Looming Anarchy

For a tidy job, Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) asked for the amendment of both the Constitution and Electoral Act. Unfortunately, one arm of that request is now paralyzed – in fact dead – as the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2010 failed to scale through second reading in the Nigerian Senate and was consequently thrown out. The leadership of the Senate fought for it to live but it died on arrival. Stillborn.


2011: Averting Constitutional Crisis and Looming Anarchy By Law Mefor


“Time and tide wait for no man”

              English proverb


For a tidy job, Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) asked for the amendment of both the Constitution and Electoral Act. Unfortunately, one arm of that request is now paralyzed – in fact dead – as the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2010 failed to scale through second reading in the Nigerian Senate and was consequently thrown out. The leadership of the Senate fought for it to live but it died on arrival. Stillborn.  

The obdurate naysayers drowned out the pleading ayes during the voice vote not because the bill lacked merit in its entirety but because of the alleged heavy inputs from The Presidency, what a source called precursors to an ‘Ojoro primaries’. Ordinarily, those against the proposed amendment can be said to be rooting for a full-scale internal democracy in parties by insisting that the party members should decide who should be their delegates and subsequently, flag bearers. 

Basically, the amendment bill seeks to streamline party primaries and if accepted by lawmakers, precludes parties from choosing their candidates through state congress or national convention. Success of this amendment would have been a certain death for party internal democracy since it is practically the same as an attempt to short-circuit democracy and abridge the people’s rights to choose their leaders. 

The bill which was sent to the lawmakers by the president some weeks ago sought also to amend the 2010 electoral act in a way that will enable political office holders and their aides to participate as statutory delegates at political party primaries. This would have enabled members of President’s and Governors’ cabinets and their aides to vote as automatic delegates in the forthcoming primaries.  

In fact, to be fair to The Presidency, in the past, ministers, commissioners and advisers were statutory delegates. This was removed in the last amendment but with the opportunity offered by INEC’s request for another bout of amendments, The Presidency quickly made for its restoration. So, as undemocratic as it is, it is not as if this provision is totally alien to the nation’s party primaries. 

The bill also seeks to transfer the power to determine the sequence of elections from the law to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and accommodate the anticipated timeline changes to the constitution. The law makers believed it was better to leave this as it is, since it will not affect INEC in any negative way. 

The Presidency also proposed that instead of State Congress or National Convention by political parties to elect their presidential and other candidates that a party caucus primaries option should be allowed to do this, with the National Executive Committee having the final say. What this means is that no matter who won in the primaries, the party’s NEC would have the final verdict. This was also what obtained under Obasanjo’s garrison democracy which gave the PDP NEC to substitute Chibuike Amaechi with his cousin Celestine Omehia and to declare that the party had no candidate after Ararume had won the primaries. 

It can clearly be seen why the Senators voted for their own survival by putting into consideration the effects the bill might have at the state level and out of the fear that the proposals could be part of a new plot to checkmate some presidential aspirants of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the North, who are insisting on zoning and challenging President Goodluck Jonathan’s bid to return to power in 2011. 

Herein these intrigues lay the precipitate danger for the 2011 polls that is violating the sacrosanct May 29 handover date. For Nigerians who may not have considered it, there is no magic Jega’s INEC can do to hold credible polls if the constitutional amendment fails to sail through and, following what happened at the Senate, there is now no guarantee it will. Because its statutory responsibility is time-barred, the fact is: time has passed for INEC to do a credible job under the existing law and equally passing for the anticipated amendment. 

Three major stumbling blocks have already loomed large in the horizon. First, the first requirement is the passage of a harmonized amendment by both chambers of the National Assembly. Delay seems imminent as the 2 chambers do not agree on the date for elections: Senate appears to prefer April while the House is rooting March. To achieve a single bill, the 2 chambers must agree on a single date and on any other change issue each may wish to inject, and such agreements take time. One had expected that rather than undergo a voyage of discoveries of amendable areas and recommending a specific date, the flexibility being sought by INEC would have been better served if a range is given, say between ‘January and April’.

This approach rather than pigeonholing it, would have given the INEC better latitude to maneuver out of the present quagmire.

The second stumbling block that poses a similar threat to credible polls is the concurrent resolutions by 24 States needed to validate any constitutional amendment. Should the intrigues that happened at the Senate resurface in the States it may imperil the process and deny INEC the time extension it seeks. This fear is germane given the fact that zoning adherents may not mind if it going to the polls with President Jonathan enjoying the awesome incumbency, forecloses their own success.

The lawmakers must be statesmanlike enough in order not to ground the process for selfish, ethnic or primordial reasons. If the amendment fails, INEC will have no choice other than falling back on Professor Maurice Iwu’s widely discredited voter register, which contains fake voters with pictures of people like Mike Tyson, Mohammed Ali and even dead people like Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin in great numbers.  

Any election based on such register will be a recipe for disaster since it is not likely to produce acceptable results to most Nigerians. What is more, most Nigerians were in one accord before and immediately after Jega’s appointment that a fresh credible voter register constitutes an irreducible minimum to any credible future election in Nigeria. The implication of this is that without it, any election is already flawed and rejected in advance, no matter how wonderful it may. 

Jega and INEC have to sit bolt upright. In fact the truth is that INEC should realize it failed the nation by doing a haphazard job in providing the relevant information that guided the first amendment of 2 months ago. INEC is blameworthy because it was in a position to accurately estimate the time needed to procure the Direct Capture Machines needed for a voter registration in order to arrive at a valid voter register. This was possible since the reputable manufacturers of the necessary date capture machines in the globe are known and in the internet age, could easily be contacted without one even travelling to locations. This was not done or at best, poorly done, thus forcing INEC to realize only late in the day how wrong it had been in projecting October/November for voter registration and January for elections. 

Attahiru Jega appears to be shifting blame to the lawmakers by stating that the success or failure of the election is hinged on the newly proposed amendment and therefore a failing of the legislature if it does not pull through. This claim is disclaiming responsibility in advance by Jega and INEC and smacks of the proverbial ostrich that hides its head in the sand with the entire body exposed to the enemy. 

All things considered, INEC has not demonstrated enough seriousness. So much has been promised by the Commission but it not the much promised but the much accomplished of the much promised that will count in the final analysis. For example, up to this present day, more than 2 months since it received the funds it requested and the enabling law, INEC is yet to procure a single Direct Capture Machine. Information at public domain also show the contract has not even been fully awarded. This shoddy preparation does not hold the level of promise to deliver as mouthed by the Commission at every given opportunity and is severely affecting the confidence building process needed to avert voter apathy that tarred the previous polls.  

The third issue is other logistical impediments that must come along even with the full supply of the machines that will require a lot of work and test-running done in advance for efficacy. Matters as simple as configuring the machines can pose a problem that a month or two may not absolve, which may engender another bout of constitutional amendment.

Constitutional crisis and anarchy are twin-offspring of such shilly-shallying by INEC. By leaving too much to chance and without time at its disposal, and little left being handled as if it has all the liberty, INEC appears insufficiently concerned and think nothing of the capacity of the problem it faces plunging the nation into an avoidable election crisis.

Buck-passing will not help the state of affairs.

There is now the growing need for a tripartite action to salvage the situation. First, the executive meddlesomeness and manipulation alleged by the senators to vote out the electoral act amendment in the second reading must cease. The legislature from the national assembly down to the states must be conscious of the fact that failure to grant the extension of time requested by the INEC by amending the constitution to wit, can truncate the nation’s democracy. 

INEC, on its part, should realize it has a date with history which again depending on how it is met can gravely affect the nation’s march to full democratic governance. Jega particularly, should realize that Nigerians were traumatized by his predecessors and now look forward to him for succor and remedy. At the moment, he has not done that much to register his commitment towards that beyond reminding them of his integrity at every turn. His Commission’s gross error of judgment in calculating timelines for procurements of equipments, carrying out registration of voters and allied matters, is actually a heavy minus and has taken a heavy toll on his credibility without him realizing. 

Jega is not coming from the outer space to take the INEC job. He knows that Nigerians have been made into hardnosed skeptics by their appalling experience in democratic practice. Learned helplessness has been their lot, and each successive election has only grown worse in comparism, as the present one threatens despite Jega’s assurances that he would leave behind the best election record in the nation thus far. Such historic ambition will not come through buck-passing but through proactive measures.

By apathy as a political culture, following numerous ghastly experiences, Nigerians now prefer to wait for their leaders in the wing to either fail or succeed. For Jega, it will not be different. The earlier he realizes that he is on his own the better. And that no matter who is seizing the chance of his requested amendment for extension of time to throw in the spanner in the work, it is still him Nigerians are looking at.  

History will not forgive Jega for failing since he had all the chance and goodwill.  

             Law Mefor, Author and Journalist, is Director, Center for leadership, Social and Forensic Research, Abuja; email; cell: 234)0(803-787-2893