Buhari and the 2023 elections, by Nick Dazang


There is no gain saying it: President Muhammadu Buhari and his governing All Progressives Congress(APC) are the chief beneficiaries of credible elections in Nigeria. Thanks to further introduction of technology in the electoral process through the Smart Card Reader(SCR) and the Permanent Voter Card(PVC),which proved to be game changers, the President and his party rode to power on the crest of a more transparent election in 2015. And thanks to the generosity of spirit of the former President, Goodluck Jonathan, who took the unprecedented step of conceding even before the 2015 presidential election was officially returned by the former Chief Electoral Officer of the Federation, Professor Attahiru Jega, the transition of power was smooth and peaceful.

If President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the APC, were the major beneficiaries of transparent elections and a salubrious transitional environment, the two had been the very Achilles heels and Antagonists-in-Chief of the electoral process. Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch, not only were the electoral process and electoral reforms given the short shrift, his party carried itself with unsurpassed hubris. In Zamfara State, the party brazenly refused to submit itself to holding valid primaries ahead of the 2019 General Elections. The budget for the 2019 General Elections was appropriated at the eleventh hour, thus hamstringing the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC). And the President had to be hectored and harassed by the media and civil society before he grudgingly assented to the 2022 Electoral Amendment Bill.

It was therefore pleasantly surprising when the President, shortly before the Eid-el-Fitr festival, announced to members of the Diplomatic Corps when he hosted them to an IFTAR(the Muslim dinner during the Ramadan fast), that he would crack down on electoral fraud. Said President Muhammadu Buhari:”Those planning to rig the forthcoming elections should think twice because I intend to resolutely protect and defend the sacred will of the Nigerian people, to be expressed through the ballot box.”
For the dumbfounded diplomats and Nigerians, this pronouncement was not only melodious, it was a sudden and complete transformation. For someone, which a national newspaper itemized seven brazen attempts to frustrate electoral reforms(which he had earlier solemnly pledged to carry out), this new-found defence by President Buhari of the electoral process and its sanctity must be a welcome development.
But as it is with such sudden about turns, we must be circumspect and beware the zealotry of the new convert.

Whatever may have informed this conversion,  from an antagonist of the electoral process to its staunch defender, the President’s pronouncement is outlandish. It represents a clear usurpation of INEC’s constitutional mandate to organize and conduct elections, among others. Besides, such salutary sentiments, as recently expressed by the President and the tendency of the administration’s minions to claim credit anytime INEC conducts a superlative election, suggest three salient things: an emasculation of the Commission; a deliberate nibbling at its powers; and casting the Commission as a craven body, at the beck and call of an overweening Executive Branch.

The aforementioned propensities are unhealthy. This is because they continue to fuel and encourage the hubris in officials of the APC who imagine that they can treat the Commission, and the laws that undergird it, with utter disdain and disregard. This haughtiness goes against the grain of the thinking of the framers of the Constitution.

Even though INEC is one of the Federal Executive Bodies cited in Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution(as amended),  it stands out as a distinguished deity in the pantheon of the fourteen Executive Bodies which include: the Code of Conduct Bureau; Council of State; Federal Character Commission; Federal Civil Service; Federal Judicial Service Commission; Independent National Electoral Commission; National Defence Council; National Economic Council; National Judicial Council; National Population Commission; National Security Council; Nigeria Police Council; Police Service Commission; and Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission. Section 160(1) states in clear and unambiguous terms that:”Subject to subsection(2) of this section, any of the bodies may, with the approval of the President, by rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions PROVIDED THAT IN THE CASE OF THE INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION ITS POWERS TO MAKE ITS OWN RULES OR OTHERWISE REGULATE ITS OWN PROCEDURE SHALL NOT BE SUBJECT TO THE APPROVAL OR CONTROL OF THE PRESIDENT.”(emphasis mine).

It is valid to argue that the Executive and Legislative Branches have roles to play in creating/facilitating an environment to enable INEC conduct seamless and transparent elections and to provide requisite and timeous funding to procure goods and services for elections. This informs the refrain of most Nigerians, in the light of heightened insecurity, that the President should immediately secure the length and breath of this country in lieu of the 2023 General Elections by decimating and bringing to heel the terrorists that menace it.

The elections are most likely to represent the true intent and wishes of the people if they take place in a tranquil environment. And elections are harder to rig if the environment is secure and peaceful. In other words, the President’s pre-occupation should be to secure such an environment from marauders, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists in advance of the 2023 General Elections. He should also lead the way in taking such measures that will enhance the electoral process as the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal. This will check impunity in the electoral process as well as further strengthen the Commission and its work.

But beyond the President’s predilection to over reach himself and appear to usurp INEC’s statutory duty, the Commission, must be seen, occasionally to be firm. Even though elections are a multi stakeholder affair and INEC boasts of a legion of stakeholders, it is the chief driver  of the elections. Ultimately, the buck stops on its table. And since it draws its activities and timelines from the Constitution and Electoral Act, it must be resolute in adhering to them. It must also be vigorous in sanctioning those who breach the law so that we can avert anarchy and constitutional crises. Otherwise, the Commission will be construed as a weakling and a lame dog which can be taken for granted.

Which is why its recent warning to political parties to adhere strictly to the timelines for primaries is in order. The Commission should continue to up its game by conducting superlative and more transparent elections. That will pave the way for trust in the process. It will also improve INEC’s standing and respectability before its many stakeholders.

Dazang is a retired director at INEC