As you read this, it will be 18 days to the start of the epoch-making April 2007 elections. Epoch-making in the sense that if the elections hold as scheduled on April 14 and 21 and the incumbent government successfully hands over power to another government, that will be the first time in the 46-year history of the country that power would so transit.
But barely three weeks to the start of the elections, what we have on our hands is at best, a parody of transition politics, so badly conceptualised and executed that we seem to have set out, deliberately, to mock the very idea of transiting successfully from one civilian government to another.
Everything is being done by almost everybody involved in this process to cause confusion. Consequently, the people are also confused. Will the elections hold? It is difficult to say if any Nigerian is sure any longer. How can anybody be sure when the process is unravelling by the day; when the genie is already out of the bottle?
It is obvious that there is reluctance on the part of some people to quit power. This unwillingness is informed by reasons that are anything but noble. To achieve this unwholesome goal, all manner of subterfuge and political shenanigans have been erected as roadblocks on the road to peaceful transition.
Thus, 18 days to the elections, confusion walks on all fours in the country. The entire transition process is in a tailspin.
Just like it happened on the eve of the General Ibrahim Babangida ill-fated transition programme when the Senator Arthur Nzeribe-led Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) went to court to secure an injunction against the June 12, 1993 presidential election, one of the registered political parties – National Democratic Party (NDP) – is presently in court, seeking to stop INEC from conducting the election. On March 20, the party through its counsel, Mr. Ibrahim Idris filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja praying the court to stop the polls because 27 days to the elections, INEC was yet to publish the voters’ register which it is statutorily mandated to do.
While it is doubtful if any judge will grant such a prayer considering the aftermath of the June 12 imbroglio, yet, it will not be out of place to ask; what, if…?
Eighteen days to the commencement of the polls, the enabling Electoral Act is yet to be signed into law by the president more than one month after it was amended by the National Assembly. Unless the Electoral Act, as amended, is signed into law, critical actions taken by INEC in lieu of the amendment will have no force of law. For instance, on paper, there are 61 million registered voters according to INEC records. But 51 million of these voters have no legal right to vote because they were registered outside the time-frame allowed by the Electoral Act.
Section 10 of the 2006 Electoral Act made it mandatory for INEC to conclude the revalidation of voters 120 days (four months) to the general lections. It was because of this that INEC initially started the revalidation exercise on October 7, 2006. The idea was that by the time it came to an end middle of December, it will be exactly four months to the polls. But by December 15, only 10 million voters had been registered. Thus, the exercise was extended first to January 31 and later February 2, 2007.
The National Assembly, mindful of the legal implication of the extension, quickly amended the Act, reducing the period from 120 days to 60 days. That was in February. Sadly, the president is yet to assent the amendment.
Unless he does so before April 14 or the National Assembly overrides his veto, all those registered from December 16, 2006 to February 2, 2007 remain legally disenfranchised. If they, nevertheless, go ahead and vote, they would be doing so at the risk of the entire elections.
Again, because INEC has not been able to display the voters’ register, a wilful infraction of the Electoral Act, nobody has been able to make any claims or raise any objections, as envisaged by the Act. The implication is that till date, no voter can precisely say in which polling station he would be casting his ballot on April 14 and 21. Taking into cognisance the chaotic nature of the voter registration exercise, and the fact that people were forced by circumstances beyond their control, to register wherever they could find a registration machine, which in most cases was several kilometres away from where they live, it is not difficult to predict that indeed, difficult times lie ahead. When the fact that vehicular movements are restricted on election days in Nigeria is factored into the equation, you then wonder how Nigerians will get to their polling stations to cast vote.
Eighteen days to the polls, it is still a matter of conjecture who is and who isn’t contesting April elections. Will gubernatorial election hold in Anambra State or not? The incumbent governor, Mr. Peter Obi has gone to court to seek an interpretation of Section 181 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, which explicitly gives every elected governor a four-year tenure. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) brazenly stole three out of those four years. Will the courts therefore grant him an extension till 2010?
In the same state, Dr Chris Ngige, the man through whom PDP stole Obi’s mandate is back. In fact, last week, he paid a visit to the governor in his office to seek permission to flag off his gubernatorial campaign on the platform of Action Congress (AC). But it was more of a psychological war than a genuine attempt to seek permission. Ngige went to inform Obi that he still covets the seat he was forced to relinquish last year. Meanwhile INEC disqualified him just as they refused to accept Obi’s name from his party, APGA. Ngige hopes to get a reprieve from the courts. Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu, the ANPP gubernatorial candidate in the state was equally disqualified but unlike Ngige, he has already won a reprieve from the court. But INEC chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, has vowed never to obey court verdicts anymore unless those given by the Supreme Court.
In Imo State, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume won the PDP gubernatorial primaries but the party in its wisdom gave the ticket to the man who came last, Engineer Charles Ugwuh. On March 21, 2007, the Court of Appeal in Abuja unanimously quashed the substitution of Ararume’s name. Again, INEC has vowed to challenge the ruling at the Supreme Court.
The same scenario is playing itself out in Delta State where the AC gubernatorial candidate, Mr Peter Okocha who was also disqualified has been given the green light to contest by an Asaba High Court. Expectedly, INEC is ignoring the ruling.
Then, there is the issue of the Vice President, Atiku Abubakar who is also in court challenging not only his indictment by the Federal Government over graft but also his disqualification. INEC again has vowed to follow up the case to the Supreme Court.
Eighteen days to the crucial polls, INEC has opted out of what it is constitutionally mandated to do for things it has no business doing, at least not at this point in time. By entangling itself with unnecessary court cases at the expense of its supervisory role, INEC is playing the axiomatic Nero that fiddles while Rome burns.
As if these are not enough confusion, Governor Joshua Dariye has returned to Jos and probably to power after the Court of Appeal quashed his November 13, 2006 impeachment even as his deputy Chief Michael Botmang, tenaciously clings to the same office, insisting that he will only obey Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
At the rate we are going, we will soon reduce the Supreme Court to the level of the country’s court of first instance.
And the questions are: Why this confusion at this crucial stage of the transition? Why is INEC chasing shadows rather than poignantly shouldering the onerous responsibility before it? In whose interest will it be if the elections are not held on schedule?
The answers to these questions are fairly obvious. The confusion in the land is contrived. It is orchestrated by those who are unwilling to relinquish power without a brawl. Because access to political office is the quickest route to wealth, to those who have wielded the power of life and death over their fellow men in the past eight years, it is inconceivable that they give up these privileges, at least not without a fight. Unfortunately, INEC, just like so many other institutions, has become a pawn on the political chess board.
Unfortunately too, those who are orchestrating this confusion seem to be holding the nation by the balls. They are effectively blackmailing the rest of us. They seem to be saying, ‘it is either we have our way or there will be no elections.’ But by so insisting, they are playing God.
How do we get out of this quagmire without convulsing Nigeria? I have no idea. But we all have the right to insist that this country belongs to all of us. And if it does, it then behoves us to insist that the April elections must not only hold on schedule but also on our term.
It is necessary that we insist because if we allow ourselves to be cowed again, then there will be no end to our subjugation because the man after Obasanjo will do exactly what he is doing now, which was exactly what Abacha did after Babangida.