The issue of which election comes first in the 2019 general elections has dominated national discourse for some time now. While the National Assembly has passed a bill that put the National Assembly poll first and presidential election last and sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent, the President has refused assenting to the bill citing among other reasons, conflict of laws.
The President’s argument is that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the only body charged by our extant laws to fix timetable and sequence of elections in the country.
In other words, Buhari is saying that the lawmakers have no right to determine the order of elections. But the lawmakers are insisting, that the National Assembly is by law allowed to fix the order or sequence of elections while the electoral umpire fixes the timetable.
My question is what is the difference between election timetable and order of election? I am not a lawyer but I believe that somebody who fixes the timetable for an election should be the one to determine which of the elections comes first as they do in WAEC and NECO examinations.
Since Buhari returned the bill to the National Assembly, they have or are still deliberating on how best to react to the problem at hand. While there are strong indications that the National lawmakers might override the President on this issue, speculations are also rife that both the presidency and the lawmakers might reach for a political solution. If this fails, they may go to the courts to seek for interpretations of existing laws on election sequence and who fixes it between the National Assembly and INEC.
While we wait how the politics of election sequence plays out, it is germane to offer some of my thoughts on the raging matter. Those opposed to having the presidential election first are of the view that having presidential poll first will naturally produce a bandwagon effect for any party that wins it. What is exactly bandwagon effect? How does it operate? Is it logical and scientific or a mere guess work? Has it been proven that it works? We need urgent answers to these probing posers.
Essentially, the kernel of the argument is that if the All Progressives Congress (APC) wins the presidential poll, Nigerians will align with the winning party and such will affect the outcome of the poll. They may have a point here. In Nigeria, winners of elections have relations and friends while losers are treated as orphans. But have the proponents of this bandwagon thesis forgotten that in 2015 the presidential election was held first yet an opposition party came from nowhere and defeated the incumbent president, the first time in Nigeria’s electoral history? Did Buhari’s victory in the 2015 poll have a bandwagon effect on the other remaining polls?
I think that the answer is capital NO. If the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could not have the bandwagon effect then, how come the ruling party now will have it in 2019? If the argument that any election that held first will have a bandwagon effect, it then means that to avoid the bandwagon effect, let’s conduct the entire elections in one day. That method will invariably kill and eliminate the bandwagon effect.
Is INEC prepared to have the entire elections in one day? I do not think so. The logistic problems will be so daunting that they will mar the polls. The logistic problem is the major headache that the electoral umpire will face if it conducts all elections in one day. If INEC cannot conduct the entire polls in one day, we should then forget this unnecessary argument over the order of elections and face other pressing issues.
The problem in Nigeria today goes beyond the sequence of a general election. The bandwagon argument is absolute bunkum. It is not worth the time and energy dissipated on it at the moment. The bandwagon effect does not exist in reality. It only exists in the figment of some people’s imagination. It is neither here nor there. What determines who wins election in Nigeria is far beyond which election comes first or not.
What determines who wins election in Nigeria is your backers, supporters, war chest, electoral value and mass appeal. Other factors that may do so and which are mundane include, your ethnic group, your religion and your social cycle. What makes a candidate win an election is his acceptance by the electorate and not the election that is fixed first. By the way, I do not understand why President Buhari did not assent to the bill re-ordering the sequence of the 2019 polls.
By not assenting to the bill, Buhari is indirectly insisting that the presidential poll should come first as it was in 2015. Although Buhari has not indicated interest in the poll, his body language suggests otherwise. I do not know if Buhari is afraid of losing the poll if the presidential poll comes last. But if I were Buhari, I would have assented to the election re-ordering bill and damn the consequences.
That would have endeared him more to many voters. His refusal to do so is casting doubts and suspicion on how the 2019 exercise will look like. And to add drama to the unfolding episode, INEC hurriedly released election sequence and timetable for the next 35 or so years. The umpire’s action is within the realm of the drama of the absurd. Why fix election timetable and sequence for a period of 35 years? What Nigerians should be more concerned about is making our electoral processes more reliable and credible.
An average election loser in Nigeria believes that he is rigged out while the winner praises the impartiality of the umpire to high heavens. In fact, some candidates had been rigged-out by those with connections and big pockets. Most Nigerians believe that their votes don’t usually count. They believe that the results are already made before the voting starts. Instead of rushing to fix election timetable for 35 years, INEC must map out strategies to make the 2019 polls free, fair and credible.
That is where the problem lies and not the order of the polls. A situation where the outcomes of many elections are determined at the tribunals does not send a good signal of our electoral process. Instead of the current verbal war over election sequence, let’s work towards making our elections more credible, believable and acceptable. If we can get free and fair poll from INEC, the sequence of the poll will be immaterial and of no effect whatsoever.