By Reuben Abati
Nigeria’s political parties, particularly the two major ones – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC, are in deep crisis and there is no doubt that the smaller parties, already reduced to the level of spectators in the on-going unfolding grand spectacle of politics and melodrama are just as circumstanced as well. My observation is that Nigeria’s political process leading up to the 2023 general elections, promises to be an interesting mix of everything that is good and bad about politics. The prospects are disturbing. What we have seen so far offers little hope. The 2023 general elections may well turn out to be the most problematic since the country’s return to democratic rule in 1999. What are some of the red flags? Let’s start from last week when most of the political parties conducted their ward congresses, to select delegates ahead of the primaries holding this week and the past weekend. There have been reports of violence, uncertainty and confusion. The major political parties even tried to shift the dates, and they did.
The apparent reason was that they were waiting and hoping that the President would assent to the single-item amendment of Section 84 (8) of the Electoral Act 2022, to allow super, special, statutory delegates, that is persons holding elective positions to be part of the delegates selection process at congresses, meetings and the primaries. To the dismay of the party members and the entire political class, the President last week travelled to the United Arab Emirates to attend an event. Before his departure, he signed into law, the Nigeria Health Insurance Authority Bill. He apparently considered that to be more urgent than the National Assembly’s “expeditious consideration” of Section 84(8) of the Electoral Act 2022.
On his return to Nigeria, on Saturday, we were duly informed that the President still did not sign the re-amended Act, instead, he forwarded it to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the office of the Attorney General of the Federal (AGF) for counsel. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s main political parties have been desperate. Last Saturday, there were speculations that the President would grant his assent to the re-amended Electoral Act 2022 before the close of day. Well, that didn’t happen. Three days later, nothing also happened either. As of today, the President is still waiting for advice. The breaking news is that he has done nothing wrong! The Constitution allows him a window of 30 days to concur with, reject, or veto a legislative proposal. He is most certainly still within time.
Elsewhere, I have listened to the argument that President Buhari, obviously a beneficiary of the last minute remedial amendment, would play ball. But he has refused to do so. He is obviously not interested in any benefits. Rather, he has chosen to hide under the cloak of the law to take his pound of flesh! It should be recalled that he advised the National Assembly while giving assent to the Electoral Bill 2022, as it then was, in February, to reconsider Section 84(12) of the same Act, as it became, with regard to selection of delegates for primaries and the time frame within which appointed officials could be part of the process. The National Assembly refused. Their key objection was that the state Governors were too domineering and needed to be cut to size and that only elected delegates, democratically elected in an indirect system could participate in party primaries. The matter has since gone to court from a High Court in Umuahia, all the way, to the Supreme Court in a suit filed at the apex court by the President and the AGF who invoked the original jurisdiction of the apex Court.
I raised an objection about this last week, simply about the President and the country’s Attorney General invoking the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in their personal capacities as it seemed, but the Attorney General of Rivers State has since been joined in the matter before the Supreme Court, to give the case a cloak of authenticity. For the benefit of those expecting and pushing that the President should give his assent to Section 84(8) as amended, the President can easily hide under the fact that he is not out of time, and that in any case, other related matters are before the courts of the land. I don’t see the Attorney General of the Federation advising him to sign, as quickly as expected. INEC has also made it clear that it has no plans whatsoever to adjust the electoral timetable, and hence, that body would refrain from taking any step or offering any advice that could tie its hands.
Even if President Buhari were to wake up this morning, however, and perform the strange act of signing, impulsively, without advice, it would make no difference whatsoever. The 2023 process has already begun! Delegates have been elected and selected in all the political parties. The APC conducted its ward congresses nationwide last week. The Peoples Democratic Party has also done same and conducted primaries for House of Representatives, Houses of Assembly and the Senate. It is elementary law and a notorious fact that the law cannot have retroactive effect. The latest time any further amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 can have any effect is hereafter, at least with specific regard to the contentious, amended, late-in-time, provision in Section 84(8), which existed in Section 87 of the repealed Electoral Act 2010, but was omitted, overlooked, excluded, and expunged in the new Electoral Act 2022. By so doing, members of the National Assembly scored an own goal against themselves. They excluded themselves. What an absent-minded team of lawmakers? Nobody, not even the legislative aides, were present-minded enough to do a line-by-line check of the proposed new law.
Now, someone suddenly woke up during recess or was prompted by a third party and they all rushed back, Red and Green, to re-amend the law, during extra-ordinary sessions and so-called “expeditious considerations”. Jokers! President Buhari has just shown them that they are in fact an incompetent Assembly, and they caused the current anxiety by their own utter negligence. Let them live with it. Let them watch the primaries on television. The process in any case, has already begun. There is no way the President can lawfully or legitimately, or anyone for that matter, shift the goal post in the middle of the game. This is what happens when emotions and selfish interests stand in the way of law-making.
My fear is that Nigeria may have again lost the opportunity to have credible elections and the Buhari administration may have also lost an opportunity in that regard also. Nigerians seem to be heading into a “Wahala season”, to borrow a phrase, from the streets. The lawmakers who made a new Electoral Act 2022 shot themselves in the foot. Now, they are biting their fingers. Karma is a he-goat. The public interest must always prevail. The same Governors and Godfathers that the lawmakers wanted to curtail are now the same persons dictating processes in the states ahead of the party primaries. In more than one state, aspirants have been asked to sign Memoranda of Understanding that they would support whoever the Governor or Godfather anoints at any level. This is generating tension in Rivers, Lagos and Kano; in some states, specifically Enugu State, some characters, political aspirants, have signed an MOU to hand over the future of the state to one man, namely the incumbent Governor! In Kano, Governor Dr. Ganduje has publicly announced his successor. Democracy is being thrown under the bus right before our eyes!
Even at the Federal level, it is being said that President Buhari has an anointed successor and up till this moment, persons best identified as cockroaches and rabbits have been running around in the ruling party pretending to be the heir-apparent of the Nigerian throne. The only man that is benefiting from all of this is President Muhammadu Buhari himself. Everyone goes to him seeking his blessing. They all come to us to say that they have the President’s blessing, and the President says nothing, other than the famous disclosure that he has an unnamed candidate whose true identity he would prefer to hide. It is for this reason that the APC has a large crowd of Presidential candidates, and the party can’t even immediately screen its Presidential aspirants in a decisive manner. In the long run, these aspirants will constitute a problem for President Buhari and his legacy.
I imagine that some of them will drop out before the party’s Presidential primaries at the end of the month, most of them anyway took the forms and paid N100 million because perhaps small blood rushed into their brains and they became delusional. But they may become bitter allies. The main loser, then, when this is all over, sadly, would be President Muhammadu Buhari himself. It would be remembered how under his watch, an election turned into a long-predicted war, and the falcons stopped listening to the falconer, and “things fell apart.” He still has enough time to restrain the dogs of war: the zoning crisis, the ogre of consensus which has brought out the guns in Rivers and Lagos, the time-bomb of anointments, the devil of money politics, the ridicule of every Dan and Harry seeking to be President, and the money madness that has been unleashed on the land by desperate politicians.
It is probably safe to assume that by next week, we may begin to have a sense, and gain more understanding, and clarity, of the unfolding electoral chaos in this country. For now, it is clear that even if President Buhari signs the Electoral Act as amended, it would be entirely of no moment with regard to the current process. Otherwise, the door will be left open for a plethora of litigations with opportunistic lawyers trying to pursue both valid and frivolous cases in the process. This is why the courts need to wake up. Judges must be ready to throw out any case that looks like an attempt to waste time unnecessarily. I argued last week that this is boom time, meal time, harvest time for lawyers, let me add: but it must certainly not be so for judges. With members of the Bar and politicians misbehaving aplenty, we need the judex in Nigeria to remain sane and decorous, and be the oasis of restraint, civility and good judgment as Nigeria moves into a transition season, from now till 2023, to herald the emergence of a new set of political leaders.
Nonetheless, Nigerians are perhaps truly in trouble as alleged and reported. The emergent character of the 2023 process is that Nigeria is running a political system that is dominated by ego, ethnicity, religion and the sheer arrogance of political aspirants. This is the case from the Presidential to the local government level. For the avoidance of doubt, the main issues have been geography, religion and ethnicity – three potent and potentially combustible issues in Nigerian politics. One year to the transition, Nigeria’s political discourse is dominated by the same debilitating, primordial, and retrogressive issues. It is a bad sign. It is a cause for alarm and anxiety. In comparison with two major general elections in recent times, Nigeria comes up really short on the serious issues index in the public domain. France has just completed an election, in April, in which incumbent President Emmanuel Macron was voted in for a second term of five years, the first French President to win re-election since Jacques Chirac in 2002, defeating the far left candidate, Marie Le Pen, and the far-right candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon.
The campaign was about issues that are of direct relevance to the people. The election went into a run-off as expected between Macron and Le Pen and yet, the results showed the emphasis on ideology and issues. France is looking forward to a legislative election on June 12 but the French have made a choice based on the issues that affect them directly. The majority had their way. Please, where is the Nigerian voter? In Australia, the general elections have also just been concluded, throwing up Anthony Albanese, former Opposition leader of the Labor Party, to replace the Conservative Coalition led by now former Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Albanese promised wages growth, gender equality and more commitment to climate change. And the people voted accordingly. The Greens and Independents and women groups got more votes from climate change supporters and thus enforced a change of government. The new Prime Minister was sworn in yesterday, and almost immediately, he travelled out to attend a Quad security partnership meeting in Tokyo, Japan where he is expected today to meet with US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The issue in Australia was majorly climate change: the floods and the bush fires, and how Morrison’s government acted as if it was asleep, most of the time. When will Nigerians punish a sitting government, with their votes, for negligence and insensitivity? In Nigeria, nobody knows what anybody stands for. What are the big issues being debated in Nigeria by the political parties and the aspirants ahead of 2023?
All I hear is zoning, ethnicity, nepotism, religion and money. Nigeria is at a crossroads and it is a bad kind of confused state, where witches and wizards are already having a conclave session. Who will help President Buhari ensure that he finishes well? …“Proverbs to bones and silence” says Wole Soyinka in his book, A Dance of the Forests. Proverbs…indeed.