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Author Topic: Five Questions on the Election Postponement  (Read 155 times)

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Offline jchima14

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Five Questions on the Election Postponement
« on: February 09, 2015, 03:27:53 PM »
And finally, it came to pass. After a week of meetings, speculations and sliceable tension, Professor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on Saturday night announced a six-week postponement of the 2015 general election. This decision has thrown up some critical questions that have serious implications not only for INEC?s capacity to deliver free, fair and credible elections this year but also for the entire democratic project in Africa?s largest economy and most populous country. Below, I will frame some of these questions and attempt some opinionated answers to them.

Could INEC Have Gone Ahead? Yes, it could, but that would have been extremely reckless. As Jega laboured to explain on Saturday night, INEC is an election management body, not a security outfit. To be sure, INEC is the only institution constitutionally empowered to determine when to conduct elections within the legally established window. Neither the constitution nor the Electoral Act co-locates that responsibility in INEC and the security agencies. So, fixing or changing elections? dates is totally INEC?s remit and call. However, for INEC to conduct successful elections, election materials must be protected and electoral officials, voters and observers need to feel safe. Otherwise, the elections will not pass the test of being free, fair and credible.

Precisely 10 days to the presidential election, the security high command demanded that it needed six weeks to be part of the election. The excuse: the need to concentrate on the scaled-up operations against Boko Haram in the North-east. INEC had already stated that the military?s role in the election would be minimal and INEC could have insisted on going ahead with its timetable, especially since the police, the civil defence corps and other para-military agencies are not directly involved in the fight against Boko Haram. But what if the notice by the military negatively impacts turnout of voters and the willingness of electoral officials (especially corps members) to participate in the elections? What if the elections are marred by irregularities? And what if there is widespread election-related violence that puts properties, lives and even democracy at risk?

These and more are legitimate questions. Embedded in them are grave risks, risks that should not be casually taken just to proof the point that INEC is truly independent or to demonstrate that Jega can still stay steady under pressure. Postponing the elections is not risk-free either, but the risks of postponement seem easier to contain especially with proper engagement with critical stakeholders and with elections conducted within the allowed window. INEC could have gone ahead if the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Goodluck Jonathan, had assured the electoral body of adequate security by the police and others and had insisted that the military should provide some cover, no matter how minimal. However, the president didn?t make that call. We can speculate on why he didn?t. But what does it matter?

Is this Blackmail or Veto by the Security Agencies? With the we-can?t-provide-security notice coming just 10 days to the presidential election and with the C-in-C not insisting on fidelity to the timetable that INEC had announced more than a year ago, Jega and his commission were actually put in a classic no-choice situation. Some people have said Jega should have gone ahead or should have resigned. As stated above, going ahead is too risk-laden; and resigning solves no problem. Jega has told us that he consulted widely to arrive at an informed decision on the issue. Let?s just say he held meetings. Consultation connotes the possibility of adjustment after engaging with various stakeholders.

Given that some of those consulted were vociferously against the extension, INEC had three options: stick to its original timetable or yield to the six weeks demanded by the military or arrive at a compromise that will give something, simultaneously, to those for and against the postponement. After INEC?s meetings, the security agencies got exactly what they had initially asked for. It could be argued that the security complex won on the force of its argument. But it could also be argued that what Jega and company did was to work to a pre-determined answer by pretending to be consulting when in actual fact they were merely informing stakeholders and craving their understanding about the fait accompli that had been handed over to INEC.

For those inclined to the latter interpretation, there are associated questions: have the security agencies succeeded in blackmailing INEC or in asserting a veto power over the electoral process and for how long will either continue? Even if the immediate implication is that INEC?s power to determine election timetable has been tactically vetoed by a clearly non-apolitical security system, I do not think this amounts to more than a successfully orchestrated but one-off blackmail. The timing and the content of the letter not only put INEC in a tight corner but also have made it difficult for citizens and the opposition to insist on the original timetable lest they be accused of not wanting the country to win the war against insurgency, a charge the security agencies and this administration have not been shy of pressing.

If only out of self-interest most Nigerians, I think, want the military to conclusively win the war against Boko Haram. Most Nigerians that I know are sorely disappointed that our military, which once proudly projected us as a regional power, has demonstrated such an appalling incompetence in tackling Boko Haram, which has graduated from a rag-tag, hit-and-run band of terrorists to an occupation force. And many of our citizens are embarrassed by the knowledge that we are being bailed out in the present claw-back of our seized territories by countries like Niger, Chad and Cameroun. We have no option but to accept this dispiriting diminution of our country because that is, sadly, what we have been reduced to. We pray for our troops nonetheless and we even want them to exterminate the insurgents earlier than the promised six weeks. But if members of the discredited security high-command think that they have now acquired an automatic veto over the democratic process or that Nigeria has become a praetorian democracy, they are clearly mistaken.

Was this Not Premeditated, Orchestrated Even? Maybe and maybe not. But one has to be extremely charitable to be blind to how this all started, officially and in plain sight, with a 22 January 2015 reprehensible statement in Chatham House, London by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.), that INEC was not ready for the election because a substantial number of registered voters did not have their permanent voter cards (PVCs) and that he had advised the INEC chair to consider an extension. After the NSA came under heavy bombardment for that ill-advised public statement and when INEC kept insisting that it was ready, the Chief of Defence Staff, through the same Dasuki, issued what has now amounted to a veto. It can be argued, and it has indeed been argued, that Dasuki was just doing his job as the NSA. Fair enough.

But it wouldn?t be too much to expect the NSA, who incidentally played a major role in the August 1985 coup and ran into exile when the late General Sani Abacha wanted him as part of the Col. Lawan Gwadabe alleged coup, to concentrate more on his core remit, use available channels for his advice, and not risk being seen as part of a plot to undermine hard-won democracy. It is worth underscoring that despite huge allocations, Dasuki?s tenure as NSA has coincided with a period of serious security reversals for our country, including the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, the fake amnesty with Boko Haram, the tactical manoeuvre of our forces into Cameroun, the loss of territories said to be up to the size of Belgium, and the embarrassing bail-out of Nigeria, the giant of Africa, by our lowly neighbours. All these may be mere coincidences and we may still experience some turn-around under his watch. Maybe.

Does this Advantage a Party? Maybe. Maybe not. But there is no Pareto optimal outcome in this zero-sum game. Given the interests shown by the presidency and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in campaigning aggressively for postponement even before insecurity was thrown into the mix, it is not difficult to see how the ruling party thinks the extension might be to its advantage. The PDP had been on the back-foot for a while, with the momentum favouring the opposition All Progressives Party (APC).

To use one sport expression, the extension could help PDP to ?break up the play? by allowing it to re-group and to slow down the significant momentum garnered by APC and its standard-bearers General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) and Professor Yemi Osinbajo. To use another sport/political expression popularised by late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the shift could also allow PDP to wear out the opposition through deployment of ?tactical Fabianism,? the philosophical precursor of Mohammed Ali?s ?rope-a-dope? tactics. It is not inconceivable that with the extension APC, unlike PDP, might run out of steam and, more importantly, money, which is the oxygen of political campaigns.

But there is no absolute advantage in this game. Rather than allowing PDP to turn the tide, the postponement might actually work in APC?s favour, especially as it could energise its supporters to become more ardent and might decide some undecided voters who sense, in the ruling party, a dangerous desperation and an unscrupulous eagerness to press state institutions, including the armed forces, to political advantage. A lot will depend not just on perceptions and how the two leading parties respond, but also on what happens in the next six weeks.

Will this be the last Extension? Maybe. Maybe not. Jega told some of the stakeholders that he and his commissioners ?consulted? with the military that asked for extension of ?at least six weeks in the first instance.? When asked during his press conference if he thought this would be the last extension, Jega said he hopes and prays the military will honour its commitment. Key words: hopes and prayers. There are now all kind of speculations about Jega (whose tenure ends on 30 June 2015) being sent on terminal leave, about possible crackdown on the opposition, about disqualification of the opposition candidate, about interim government etc. All these sound outlandish. But didn?t the postponement plot sound so at a point?

While we pray for the success of our troops and our helpers ahead of the six-week guarantee, it is important to start establishing that election can actually be conducted without the military. It is equally important for Nigerians to start bracing up against the possibility of our self-indicting but nevertheless emboldened security forces to further attempt to veto/undermine the democracy many Nigerians sacrificed so much for. Eternal vigilance, it is said, is the price of liberty.
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