With just a few weeks to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in a statement by its National Commissioner on Voter Education, Festus Okoye, expressed apprehension about the effect the insecurity in the various parts of the country, including the attacks on INEC Facilities, may have on the Commission’s preparations for the forthcoming elections. Professor Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, Chairman of the Board of Electoral Institute (BEI), representing the Chairman of INEC at an election-security training program, also warned that the growing spate of insecurity in many parts of the country may lead to a cancellation or postponement of the 2023 general elections. Although, INEC’s Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu has reiterated the Commission’s determination to go ahead with the elections as scheduled, speculations are rife that the Commission may have no option in the face of heightened insecurity. Femi Falana, SAN, Dr Kayode Ajulo, Jide Ojo and Dr Emeka Ejikonye examine the issues and implications, should INEC decide to postpone or cancel the elections. Hopefully, it will not come to that!
Threats to Sabotage the 2023 General Elections- Femi Falana, SAN
Attacks on INEC Facilities
In the last four years, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has recorded 50 attacks on its facilities across 15 States. According to reliable data, Imo State had the highest number of attacks on INEC facilities with 11 incidents followed by Osun, Akwa-Ibom, Enugu, Ebonyi, Cross River, Abia, Anambra, Taraba, Borno, Ogun, Lagos, Bayelsa, Ondo and Kaduna States.
In spite of the fact that the facilities are said to be well guarded, the criminal elements involved in these nefarious activities generally operate without any challenge from security forces. If this dangerous trend continues on a larger scale, INEC will not be in a position to conduct elections in the affected areas. It is therefore, curious to note that the few suspected arsonists have not been charged before any court
Illegal Purchase of PVCs
INEC has raised the alarm that some politicians have been buying up Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, and financially inducing unsuspecting voters to harvest their Voter Identification Numbers (VIN) ahead of the 2023 general elections. Apart from the two suspects who were recently convicted for illegal possession of PVCs in Sokoto and Kano State, the sponsors of the criminal enterprise have not been exposed by security forces.
While condemning the illegal purchase of PVCs, the Director, Publicity and Advocacy of Northern Elders Forum, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, disclosed that “thousands, or possibly even millions of Northern voters, particularly women, are being made to surrender their PVCs for a pittance, in most instances not more than N2000. In some instances, they are told their cards will be returned to them after they are processed for additional payments as poverty relief. No cards are returned. Our investigations suggest that this is an aggressive and blatant voter suppression attempt, to reduce the voting power of the North”.
Electoral Offences Desks
On June 8, 2022 the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, had approved the establishment of electoral offences desks at the Force Criminal Investigations Department, FCID, Force Headquarters, Abuja, with the Commissioner of Police, FCID, as the desk officer. The IGP also approved establishment of the desks at State Commands across the country, with Assistant Commissioners of Police in charge of the Criminal Investigation Departments as State desk officers. A statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, said: “The mandate of the Electoral Offences Desk Officers includes the collation and investigation of all electoral offences/complaints from members of the public or any quarters, with a view to determining culpability in line with the amended Electoral Act 2022, and proffering charges before courts of competent jurisdiction for necessary legal action”.
On November 18, 2022, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr Usman Alkali Baba, alleged that some Governors were using armed thugs and State security outfits to disrupt campaigns and other political activities. Mr Baba accused such Governors show “traits of political intolerance” which create political tension in the country. On December 4, 2022 the Director General of the State Security Service, Mr Yusuf Magaji Bichi warned political leaders to do away with usage of thugs when carrying out their activities, and urged the youth not to make themselves willing tools for politicians.
Accusations Against Governors & Thugs
On December 11, 2022 the National Security Adviser, NSA, Major General Babagana Monguno (Rtd) warned State Governors using thugs to prevent opposition parties from mounting campaign materials in their domains, that security agencies would soon descend on them. Monguno said he was aware that in the last month, at least 52 cases of electoral violence across 22 States including politically motivated assassination of candidates, had been reported. The heads of the nation’s security agencies have been warning Governors and other top officials of the political parties, to desist from disrupting the democratic process. At the same time, they have been threatening to deal with armed thugs. Instead of issuing empty threats, the security forces should proceed to arrest and prosecute the suspected electoral offenders.
Contrary to the general belief among security forces, executive immunity does not cover electoral offences. In Turaki v Dalhatu 2003) 38 WRN 54 at 188, the Court of Appeal held that “If a Governor were to be considered immune from court proceedings, that would create the position where a sitting Governor would be able to flout election laws and regulations to the detriment of other persons contesting with him. This would make a nonsense of the election process and be against the spirit of our national Constitution, which in its tenor, provides for a free and fair election”.
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced its plan to limit weekly cash withdrawals over the counter to N100,000 for individuals and N500,000 for organisations regardless of their size, while withdrawal at POS terminals has also been limited to N20,000 per day. Since the policy was announced, politicians have engaged in mopping up dollars to induce voters during the forthcoming elections. But, the CBN has deliberately refused to ban the reckless inducement voters with dollars.
During the last governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun State, it was widely reported that scores of vote buyers were arrested by operatives of the EFCC and ICPC. The suspects have not been charged before any court. Similarly, the hundreds of armed thugs arrested during the last primary elections of some of the registered political parties, have been let off the hook. A few weeks ago, suspected political thugs attacked the home of Senator Lee Maeba, the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Campaign Council, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Without conducting any investigation whatsoever, the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr Okon Effiong, said that the attack by the suspected thugs was stage-managed.
Electoral Offences Commission Bill
However, in view of the reluctance of the ruling parties to allow the Police to arrest and prosecute armed thugs and other criminal elements who disrupt elections, the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel had recommended the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission. In July 2021, the Senate eventually passed the Electoral Offences Commission Bill. But, the House of Representatives has deliberately refused to pass the Bill. Therefore, Nigerians should mount pressure on the members of the House of Representatives to pass the Bill, and forward same to President Buhari for his assent.
It is common knowledge that, a group of anti-democratic forces are hell bent on manipulating the courts to sabotage the conduct of the general elections. The legal moves to obtain an injunction to stop the deployment of BVAS for the elections and remove the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, have been rejected by the Federal High Court. More of such cases may be filed on the eve of the elections. The Judiciary ought to frustrate the desperate attempts, to use the courts to scuttle the democratic process.
The state of insecurity in Nigeria, has also constituted a serious threat to the conduct of credible elections. It has been confirmed that elections cannot take place in the over 40 local government areas in different parts of the country which are firmly in the control of various armed gangs, including bandits, terrorists, known and unknown gunmen. The territories seized by the criminal gangs are in Borno, Kaduna Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Zamfara, Abia and Imo States. As the security of electoral officials and election materials cannot be guaranteed in the seized territories, the authorities of the armed forces should ensure that an enabling environment exists for the conduct of elections in all the States of the Federation.
The threat to postpone the general elections should not be discountenanced, as Section 105(2) of the Constitution permits the National Assembly to extend the 4-year tenure of the Government “if it is not practical to hold elections”. Unless the security forces are prepared to deal with the anti-democratic forces that are currently disrupting the democratic process, the 2023 General elections may be sabotaged to the detriment of democracy and political stability in the country.
Femi Falana SAN, The Chair, Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB)
If INEC Postpones 2023 Elections……Dr Kayode Ajulo
While I understand that the above statement has been credited to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), I do not share the view that INEC would have made such statement at this crucial and eleventh hour. My view is grounded against the backdrop that INEC, as the sole organ responsible for the preparation and conduct of elections in Nigeria, is well abreast with the relevant position of the law, and same would be lax to make such comments or publication. Nevertheless, for the purpose of this discourse and exposing the position of the law and for the enlightenment of the unlearned, I find it pertinent to state my views.
Elections are the cornerstone of any democratic governance and political stability. Through elections, governments obtain the democratic mandate. They are a procedure typical for democratic systems, and Nigeria is a democratic country. Smooth and uninterrupted conduct of elections as and when due, strengthens democracy, as every election is a sort of advancement of democracy. Also, elections are pivotal to the quality of a country’s governance and can either greatly advance or set back a country’s progress, depending on its quality and credibility.
The Role of INEC in Elections
In recognition of the significance of elections, our grundnorm, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) (“Constitution”) provides in Section 132 (1) thus:
“An election to the office of President shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission in accordance with the Electoral Act.”
Additionally, Section 178 provides that:
“An election to the office of Governor of a State shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission in accordance with the Electoral Act.”
These above constitutional provisions have therefore recognised elections, and also recognised Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the institution saddled with conducting elections in Nigeria. Section 153(1)(f) provides for the creation of INEC. While Section 153(2) and paragraph 15(a) of Part 1 of the third schedule to the Constitution empowers INEC to conduct elections. The paragraph provides thus:
“The commission shall have power to organise, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, and to membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation”.
INEC & Postponement of Elections
The above are the fundamental pillars guiding the conduct of elections in Nigeria by the umpire saddled with that responsibility, which is INEC. It is also imperative to note that, INEC is empowered to postpone an election even after a date has been scheduled for the conduct of the election in prevailing circumstances. The relevant law is the Electoral Act. Section 24 of the Act provides as follows:
24.—(1) In the event of an emergency affecting an election, the Commission shall, as far as practicable, ensure that persons displaced as a result of the emergency are not disenfranchised.
(2) Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.
Suffices to state that the above provisions are in pari materia with repealed Electoral Acts, and as such, same has been given judicial interpretation by the courts such as Dibiagwu v INEC(2012) LPELR-9831(CA), Nwoko v Osakwe & Ors (2009) LPELR-4652(CA), Buhari v INEC (2009) NWLR (pt 1130) pg. 116. The Supreme Court in Sylva v INEC (2018) 18 NWLR Pt 1651 Pg. 310 at Pg. 348 endorsed the powers of INEC to postpone elections, to act urgently in aid to meet any emergency which occurs unexpectedly and could cause danger to innocent lives on the polling day. The underlining factor however, is that INEC must ensure that persons displaced as a result of the emergency are not disenfranchised.
As a corollary to the above, it is important to state that the Commission has the responsibility to advise the country on when it is suitable to conduct an election, mostly when there are unavoidable and critical circumstances that cannot be managed. The only truth is, there is no pressing and unmanageable situation in the country at the moment, that calls for election postponement. Unless INEC has failed, in its own preparations of over three years.
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic and Nigeria’s return to democracy, the country has had to deal with some surmountable security situations in one region of the country or the other, especially in the areas mentioned by INEC as excuse to propose a postponement, and I cannot remember a point when that has affected a major election owing to effective preparation in the area of security and other exigencies.
It is therefore, utterly disquieting and disturbing, to receive such allegation from INEC that suggests that 2023 election may be postponed due to insecurity in certain parts of the country, like the South East and North East. The simple reason being that, in the past, we have had two different elections that were conducted in the midst of heightened insurgency and insecurity, and one can only wonder what magic or tactics were employed to pull those elections off? Are those tactics unworkable at this time, when there is a mellow in insecurity problems?
Why does 2023 elections seem to be the exception? And, whether there is more to this situation that INEC is not telling us. It is no news that the whole nation seems to be holding its breath in anticipation of the upcoming elections and the anxiety of Nigerians regarding the elections is almost palpable. Why then should INEC believe that postponing the elections is in any way a good idea, considering the ‘special circumstances’ surrounding this particular elections?
Now, it is also necessary that we cast our minds back to the 2015 elections, during Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure as President. In the months leading up to the elections, the news circulated in the media was that a whole State had been overrun and claimed by insurgents, and that several Local Governments were under their control. At the time, the narrative being mongered was that the elections were the solution to Nigeria’s insurgency problem, as General Muhammadu Buhari was the messiah that would come and save Nigeria from itself. Now, the essence of revisiting this is that, if at that time where, according to media reports, insurgency was at an all-time high, the elections were still successfully conducted, what begs for question now is, why does it now seem like conducting the 2023 elections in February as prescribed is an impossibility, even as Government has constantly reassured us that everything is under control and security in our nation is intact?
As a legal practitioner, I always opt to view things through the lens of the law; therefore, we must first of all consider the legality of conducting elections. It is no news that the Constitution is supreme and its provisions sacrosanct, and in order to successfully marshal the point, we must first look to the provisions of this Constitution. Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution provides for the right of persons to form a political party or association. It states that:
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union, or any other association for the protection of his interest, provided concerning that the provisions of this Section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by the Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission the Political Parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition”.
Section 78 of the Constitution provides that the registration of voters and the conduct of elections, shall be subject to the direction and supervision of INEC.
It can be deduced from the aforementioned sections, that the Constitution as the apex law of the land recognises the right of Nigerian citizens to form and belong to the political parties of their choice, it recognises the existence of INEC, as well as its responsibility for the registration of voters and the conduct of elections. We can therefore, infer that the Constitution recognises the legality of the conduct of elections, which is one of the essential and inviolable features of democracy.
In addition to the Constitution, the Electoral Act of 2022 (Electoral Act) also recognises and makes provisions for the legitimacy of the conduct of elections in Nigeria. Section 1 of the Act provides for the establishment of INEC, while Section 9 makes provision for the creation of the National Register of Voters and voters’ registration, it provides:
“The Commission shall compile, maintain, and update, on a continuous basis, a National Register of Voters (in this Act referred to as “the Register of Voters”) which shall include the names of all persons— (a) entitled to vote in any Federal, State, Local Government or Federal Capital Territory Area Council election; and (b) with disability status disaggregated by type of disability”.
Section 6 of the Electoral Act, 2022 provides:
“There is established in each State of the Federation, Federal Capital Territory and Local Government Area, an office of the Commission which shall perform such functions as may be assigned to it by the Commission”.
The preceding sections of the Constitution and the Electoral Act, make it abundantly clear that elections in Nigeria are legal, indispensable to a democratic State, and are fundamental in upholding the pillars of democracy in Nigeria.
At this juncture, there’s the need to interrogate the functions and duties of INEC vis-à-vis her commentary on the state of the nation’s security, which with all intent and purposes, has patently created palpable panic and confusion by hinting that elections might not hold in Nigeria, though the INEC Chairman, has since debunked this, claims that the elections will hold and not be postponed, no matter what.
INEC’s statutory function is to organise and monitor elections. Any fear the institution might have should be relayed to the executive arm of Government, and allow the executive to decide accordingly.
Preparing for elections is not a day’s job. As an international observer to the United Kingdom (UK) in the 2015 general elections, I noted that it took them 16 years to prepare for the election. INEC should learn lessons from that. I salute the National Assembly for their role in the build up to this election. Dr Ahmad Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila’s led Legislative Houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives have done tremendously well in discharging their duties. They have passed the Electoral Act, 2022 to institutionalise credible elections in Nigeria.
The Judiciary, has also been exceptionally and actively alive to its responsibilities. Most cases emanating from political parties primaries have been effectively dispatched. Even as of this time, 8.17pm of penning my thoughts on this matter, we are still in Markudi, Benue State, to ensure that all election petition issues are resolved to give way to a free, fair and credible elections come February and March.
Intensive training of Lawyers and various law firms for election conduct and management purposes, is ongoing. Every hand is on deck as far as the Judiciary is concerned, and it is ready to deliver speedy and quality services to ensure the success is the 2023 elections. There is harmonious coordination of the Judiciary across States, with respect to the forthcoming 2023 elections.
It is imperative to state that the Judiciary under the leadership of my Lord Justice, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, is more than ready. What I have witnessed, is unprecedented in the history of preparation of the Judiciary for election conduct. The CJN and brother Justices have once again displayed and set a record of unmatchable and exemplary leadership in this regard, and the only worthy reward at the moment for his exceptional hard work is to conduct the 2023 election as stipulated.
The buck then lies with the President as the head of the Executive, to ensure that Nigerians are safe and can exercise their franchise in the 2023 general elections. The primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people. See Section 14 (2)(b) of the Constitution. This implies that citizens must be able to carry out their civic duties, in an atmosphere of peace and safety. It is therefore, expected that elections which are backed by the law, must take its course, and it is the duty and responsibility of the State to deploy every apparatus to ensure a harmonious platform for every citizen to exercise their Constitutional guaranteed freedom of choice in any given election.
It must be pointed out that, may the day never come in Nigeria when non-State-actors would intimidate the State apparatus and institutions, to the point where the government will not be able to protect its citizens to perform their civic responsibility.
In conclusion, it is important to state that, for elections to be conducted, there must be an existing government armed with a responsibility to ensure that not only that the elections are conducted freely and credibly in a safe ambiance, but also that the law takes its due course. This fact is important, as it is a reflection of the Latin phrase Fiat justitia ruat cælum which means ‘let justice be done, though the heaven falls’.
We must therefore, understand that it is not impossible that the heavens may fall and injustice may reign, but, rather, there is the existence of certain figurative pillars holding up the heavens and ensuring that justice runs its due course. These pillars are represented by the various governmental institutions we have in Nigeria, which are responsible for ensuring a free and fair election, that at the end of the day, justice prevails above all else. Examples of these institutions are the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the Judiciary, the Armed Forces, Police Force and the Legislature.
As it is, there is palpable panic and confusion in the land. It is even affecting businesses. For instance, I am representing a client in an international transaction that has had to be put on hold because of the anxiety surrounding the 2023 elections.
I therefore, call on the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, H.E Muhammadu Buhari, to address Nigerians as the Chief Executive Officer of the country, on whose table the buck stops. The President should address the situation in the spirit of preserving our precious democracy, and allay our fears.
Dr Ajulo, Principal Partner, Castle Law Chambers, Abuja
Likely Impact of insecurity on Nigeria’s 2023 General Elections- Jide Ojo
Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) warned that the 2023 general election, which is just over a month away, faces serious threat of postponement or cancellation if the waves of insecurity in parts of the country fail to improve. INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who was represented by the Chairman, Board of Electoral Institute, Professor Abdullahi Zuru, disclosed this last week Monday, January 9, 2023 in Abuja at the Validation of Election Security Training Resources. Since that disclosure was made, the Federal Government through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and even INEC Chairman has assured Nigerians that the election will hold as scheduled.
However, at a press conference on Friday, January 13, 2023, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said APC was trying to blackmail critical election stakeholders to accede to its design to postpone the 2023 general elections, particularly the presidential election. However, in a swift reaction on same day, Bayo Onanuga, the Director, Media and Publicity for the APC Presidential Campaign Council, said the PDP is confused and afraid of its own shadow, and should not be taken serious by Nigerians.
Any Precedent on Postponement of Elections in Nigeria?
Even though Professor Zuru’s comment generated a lot of jitters in the minds of Nigerians, postponing elections as a result of violence is not new. In fact, several general and off-cycle State Governorship elections have been postponed in the past, as a result of palpable threat of violence. 2015 General Election, for instance, was postponed for six weeks, due to the threat posed by insurgency in North East Nigeria. Election in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State was suspended on November 6, 2021 during the last Governorship election in that State due to threat of violence. INEC Chairman informed civil society organisations present at the October stakeholders meeting, that the Commission could not conduct bye-elections into about 30 constituencies as at then, partly due to threat of violence.
What does the Law Say About Postponement of Elections?
Electoral Act 2022 in Section 24(2) says “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election, and shall, in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable”.
Subsection (3) further says that “Where an election has commenced and there is reason to believe that there is or has been substantial disruption of election in a polling unit or constituency or it is impossible to continue with the election occasioned by threat to peace and security of electoral officials and materials, the Commission shall suspend the election and appoint another date for the continuation of the election or the process.” Section 24(4) says “Where the Commission appoints a substituted date in accordance with subsections (2) and (3), there shall be no return for the election until polling has taken place in the area or areas affected.” Finally, Section 24(5) says, “Notwithstanding subsection (3), the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not be affected by voting in the area or areas in respect of which substituted dates have been appointed, direct that a return of the election be made”.
Why Politicians Use Violence to Undermine Elections
The truth is that Nigerian politicians from time immemorial, have been using Machiavellian principles to aid their victory. They believe as Nicolo Machiavelli espoused in his classic book “The Prince”, that “the end justifies the means”. That’s why desperate politicians use violence and vote buying to undermine the electoral process, and to boost their chances of success at the poll. We are all living witnesses to the serial attacks on INEC offices, in the lead up to the 2023 polls. At the last count, over 50 INEC offices have been razed in the last three years, with colossal loss to the Commission. Not only that, campaigns which started on September 28, 2022 have recorded over 52 incidences of violence according to the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, who said in November 2022 that, sitting Governors are among those sponsoring political violence in the lead up to the 2023 General Election.
Likely Impact of Violence on 2023 polls
There are several implications and likely impacts, that violence may have on next month’s general election. First, is the likelihood of INEC postponing the elections nationwide, or in parts of the country. As earlier said, this has been a constant feature of Nigeria’s elections. Secondly, it may lead to a situation where already trained poll workers may back out of being deployed at the last minute, when it may be difficult to replace them. Although I know for a fact that, INEC often recruits additional 5% to 10% redundant poll workers to tackle this kind of development. However, in the event of mass boycott, INEC’s extra personnel may not be able to fill in the gap. As a counter- measure and in order to incentivise these election personnel, INEC usually takes group insurance for its permanent and ad-hoc poll workers.
Furthermore, violence may make some of the earlier shortlisted Road Transport Union workers who are to help in conveying election personnel and materials to Polling Units, to withdraw their services. It has happened before, that National Union of Road Transport Workers and Boat Owners Associations withdrew their services on the eve of or on the day of election, due to fear of losing their vehicles or boats to violence. I don’t know if INEC will be able to provide adequate insurance cover for these election project vehicles and their drivers, in order to mitigate their loss in the event of attack.
More worrisome is the likelihood of violence leading to unprecedented voter apathy, during the forthcoming polls. For avoidance of doubt, the forthcoming seventh general election in this Fourth Republic is the most expensive election to be conducted in Nigeria, at over N478.6 billion. Recall that INEC got N305 billion in the 2022 Federal Government budget and additional N173.6 billion in the 2023 FG budget for the conduct of the poll. This gargantuan sum is exclusive of millions of Dollars, Pounds and Euros brought by international donor partners such as United Nations Development Programme, European Union, United States Agency for International Development, United Kingdom Agency for International Development and several other embassies, to support Nigeria’s democratic project. It will be very disheartening, if at the end of the day, there will not be substantial improvement in the voter turn out over and above the 35% recorded in the 2019 General Elections, due to fear of violence.
Another palpable fear over 2023 General Elections is the fear of cyberattack on the INEC’s portals, servers and databases. It has been reported that some desperate politicians have gone to Dubai and China to recruit hackers. The PUNCH of December 15, 2022 reported that INEC has planned to spend N117 billion on electoral technology in line with its decision to deploy the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Result Viewing Portal in the 2023 elections. This came as the Commission is also investing in top-notch cyber security systems to ward off attacks by hackers against its servers, website and database. With this huge sums of money being invested in cybersecurity by INEC, it is hoped that there will be value for money at the end of the polls, because any successful cyber-attack on INEC’s devices will becloud the integrity of the election results and credibility of the overall polls.
I have repeatedly said that, INEC alone cannot ensure peaceful and credible elections. It needs the support of security agencies, candidates and their political parties, as well as media and civil society. Desperate politicians who are hell-bent on railroading the forthcoming general election must be proactively fished out by the security agents, and prosecuted. The Electorate must also resist any attempt to use them to foment trouble. They should come out en masse, and be orderly at their Polling Units.
Jide Ojo, Development Consultant, Author and Public Affairs Analyst
Cancellation of the 2023 General Elections is a Bizarre Scenario to Contemplate – Dr Emeka Ejikonye
News of Cancellation or Postponement of the Elections & the Denial
On Monday, January 9, 2023, Professor Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, Chairman of the Board of Electoral Institute (BEI), representing the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at an election-security training program, warned that the growing spate of insecurity in many parts of the country may lead to a cancellation or postponement of the 2023 general elections. For clarity, INEC has scheduled the Presidential and National Assembly polls for February 25, while that of Governorship and State Assembly will hold on the 11th of March.
The news immediately jolted the country into a frenzy, with the media space going agog. This is despite the fact that the same Professor Zuru had, in the same Address, reported that the National Security Adviser (NSA) had assured the nation that a conducive environment would be provided for the elections.
The following day, being Tuesday, January 10, the Federal Government through the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had promptly responded to the news by assuring Nigerians that the general elections will hold as planned. Further, the INEC Chairman himself, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had, on the very next day, Wednesday, January 11, refuted and denied the statement credited to Professor Zuru. At a meeting he had with Chairmen of political parties, Professor Yakubu had emphatically and categorically stated that any allusion to either the postponement or cancellation of the 2023 general elections, was not the official position of INEC.
Ordinarily, one would have thought that these top-level assurances from the Government and INEC should assuage the apprehensions of Nigerians. Alas! This seems not to be the case, because the matter has continued to occupy a major media space in our public discourse. Do I blame my people? “A man stung by a bee scampers at the slightest buzz of a housefly.” The reckless and utter lawless manner through which the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, was hounded out of office, is still fresh in our memories. And, we are presently witnessing the ongoing attempts to get rid of both the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and the Chairman of INEC himself, out of their offices. These are just three instances out of many of such acts of sheer impunity in our contemporary history.
Precedent for Cancellation
But come to think of it, does INEC have the power to ‘cancel’ an election; not during or after but before the scheduled date? Under what circumstance can we consider such a scenario? I recall that INEC ‘postponed’ / ‘delayed’ the 2015 general elections for six weeks due to a lack of troops to protect voters in the Northeast as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency, and this was done in strict adherence to the provisions of the subsisting electoral law. Indeed, the Commission cancelled the polls in some parts of that zone as a result of the intractable security situation, and the justification adduced back then was that the areas affected by the cancellation were not enough to have affected the overall outcome of the polls. I also know that the Commission has cancelled the results of many concluded elections in several parts of the country, due to one confirmed case of infraction or the other.
Alas! Today, there are major threats of insecurity, not only in the Northeast but also Northwest, Northcentral and Southeast. The nagging questions begging for answers, therefore, are, how intractable are the security threats in these zones? To what extent would the cancellation of elections in these areas affect the overall legitimacy and integrity of the overall outcome? What would be the effect of such cancellation on the May 29 handover date? The scenario is very scary, to say the least. Na wa!
The consequences of cancelling the 2023 general elections before the due dates, is better imagined than allowed to happen. I pause to shudder. Will such a scenario not plunge the country into a constitutional crisis, that will result in a suspension of our grundnorm? I stand to be corrected, but ‘cancellation’ implies ‘termination’ or ‘truncation’ of our current democratic process, which can only happen through either a coup d’état or some other action by elements of authoritarianism or dictatorship. I do not see any right-thinking Nigerian welcoming or supporting such a drawback at this stage of our social evolution.
The timetable for the 2023 general election, is the longest in the history of elections in Nigeria. I want to believe that INEC has made adequate provisions, and put in place proper safeguards to prevent a cancellation of the polls. Therefore, all hands must be on deck and everything possible must be done by the security agencies to avoid such an ugly and debilitating scenario. However, officials of the electoral umpire must be strongly advised to be very careful, with the way and manner they drop words into our public space. We must avoid creating apprehensions that will heat up the polity, in this very precarious time that we find ourselves. ‘Postponement’ I can digest, but certainly not ‘cancellation’. God! Please forbid it.
Dr Emeka Ejikonye