The National Assembly’s Conference Committee on the Amendment of the Electoral Act has completed its work on the order of 2019 general elections and has approved that the presidential election would be conducted last. Elections into the National Assembly would hold first, followed by the governorship and state legislative elections. The committee concluded that the new sequence would ensure that every candidate is elected on his or her own individual merit.
This new sequence has generated a great deal of public discussion, and opinion seems divided. The sequence earlier set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was that the presidential and National Assembly elections should be held first on February 16, 2019, while the governorship and state assembly elections would take the rear on March 2. The initial resistance of INEC to the National Assembly’s alteration of the sequence has been waived on realising that the Assembly has powers to amend the Electoral Act and has therefore acted within its powers by amending Section 25 of the Electoral Act (2011).
Feelers from the Presidency are that the amendment is viewed with a great deal of misgivings and officials have been quoted as saying that the new schedule would be resisted. It is feared that not only would the Presidency veto the amended bill, it might encourage INEC to challenge it in court. Both would have negative effect.
Now, the basis of the fears of the presidency is that there could be a bandwagon effect since the first set of elections into the National Assembly might affect the other elections. If the presidential election is held first, on the other hand, the reverse would tend to be the case as the outcome would impact the governorship and state assembly elections.
The issue of sequence and the possibilities of its effects is an old dispute which may never go away. Given an ideal political environment in which there is absence of undue influence, sequence would hardly matter at all. But Nigerians must not lose sight of what these elections are about and they must firmly set their eyes on the prize: it is for a peaceful contestation for power, devoid of violence and animosity. It is a celebration of democracy not a mini civil war. Ordinarily, the aim should always be to get as many citizens as are qualified to vote to the polling booths.
The last election cycle was disastrous in terms of voter turn-out. The most important objective of INEC in 2019 should be to drive the voter turn-out for 2019 to its limits, which it can only do by minimising unnecessary disputes, making the elections voter-friendly, facilitating voter registration and ensuring that voters do not put too much effort in the exercise.
We urge Nigerians to work to achieve a tension-free election through the adoption of the natural order of democratic power, an order which rises from the grassroots to the pinnacle. Section 87 of the Electoral Act now harmonised with the new Subsection 11 on the order and timing for the conduct of primaries of political parties states that “The primaries of political parties shall follow the following sequence (i) the State Houses of Assembly, (ii) The National Assembly, (iii) Governorship, and (iv) Presidential.” We think that a formula that is good for the primaries should also be good for the elections.
Holding the presidential election last in the sequence has various uses, the most important which is that it would reduce tension to the barest minimum. The natural order would turn out more voters; it would also reflect better the wishes of the people which, in any case, are what elections are all about.