OPINION: IS ELECTION WAR IN NIGERIA?

As I put pen to paper, millions of Nigerians are about casting their votes to elect the President that will be our national leader beginning from May 29th 2019 for four years tenure.

Should the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari wins fairly, he will only spend 4 years and no more since he has already had the first four years.

The Nigerian constitution allows for a two terms of four years each and no more.

If the leading opposition politician and erstwhile Vice President Atiku Abubakar should coast home to victory, he may choose to exercise his constitutional right to seek for a final second four year term except he bows to pressure and allow much younger candidate to take the shot in 2023.

Even as enthusiastic Nigerians prepare to vote, the atmosphere is that of apprehension and uncertainty, due largely to the attitudes of corruption of the electoral system, by Independent National Electoral Commission.

The electoral umpire has failed to discharge the commonest of all electoral processes which is to seamlessly distribute voters’ cards to those who are eligible to vote and had indeed strenuously made effort to retrieve their voters’ cards.

This willful failure to distribute permanent voters’ cards by INEC to all registrants, compelled me to make inquiries from foreign jurisdictions regarding how elections are conducted in those nations.

My younger brother Mr. Emeka Onwubiko who read philosophy in Nigeria but is doing a law programme in Australia gave me an insightful information that in Australia, voting is mandatory for all eligible citizens.

He said anyone who chooses not to vote is fined $30 USD and if such a person fails to pay, the interest would accumulate but that it is obligatory that the fine must be paid.

He said in Australia, people are allowed to go about their duties even whilst elections happen.

This is fundamentally different from what obtains in Nigeria whereby the police takes the law into their hands by restricting movement of citizens during the duration of elections. As i will show below, the police don’t have such wide powers.

From just a very innocuous research, it is indisputable that the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution are binding on governments, authorities and persons. Section 1 (1) of the 1999 Constitution provides: The Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

To further express the superiority of the Constitution, Section 1(3) adds: If any other law is inconsistent with the provision of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.

If you probed further by inquiring about what section 45 of the 1999 Constitution says on this, we are told as follows:  45 (1) Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –

(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or  (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons

(2) An act of the National Assembly shall not be invalidated by reason only that it provides for the taking, during periods of emergency, of measures that derogate from the provisions of section 33 or 35 of this Constitution; but no such measures shall be taken in pursuance of any such act during any period of emergency save to the extent that those measures are reasonably justifiable for the purpose of dealing with the situation that exists during that period of emergency: Provided that nothing in this section shall authorize any derogation from the provisions of section 33 of this Constitution, except in respect of death resulting from acts of war or authorize any derogation from the provisions of section 36(8) of this Constitution.

(3) In this section, a ” period of emergency” means any period during which there is in force a Proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President in exercise of the powers conferred on him under section 305 of this Constitution.

I repeat, the restrictions by the Nigerian Police Force, through an Order by the Inspector General of Police contravenes the Section 45 of The 1999 Constitution (as amended) ; -limits freedoms, as in all cases are where they impinge on the rights of others, or where they put the welfare of the society or public health in jeopardy. The law’s role is to ensure the fullness of liberty when there is no danger to public interest. The courts are the institutions society has agreed to invest with the responsibility of balancing conflicting interests in a way to ensure the fullness of liberty without destroying the existence and stability of society.

See Article 12 of International Covenant Civil and Political Rights states that expressly cites the contravention of Restrictions to Movement during Elections.

  1. The right to freedom of movement during elections is essential that all those participating in the electoral process- are able to move without restrictions from the police or any other security agency or apparatus. Without fear or intimidation should have access to electoral events related like venues (e.g. Voter registration, political rallies, polling stations).This applies not only to members of political organizations and their supporters, but also to voter’s and the general population.

Where voters can travel freely to cast their votes on the polling day.

Where any measures taken against any candidate, members of a political parties or voters or others subjected to pressure or threats or aggression designed to limit or prevent their right to freedom of movement.

Exceptions;

Restrictions are permitted only if provided by law and insofar as these are necessary to protect National security, public order, public health or morals or rights and freedoms of others.”

Now the question to be asked before we delve into how elections are conducted in the United States and Britain, is to ascertain why politicians view election as warfare.

It is in the news that the Rivers state governor, who is a lawyer of many years standing and married to an accomplished jurist, had accused his political opponent and Transport Minister Chibuike Amaechi of calling out his supporters to ferment trouble during the polls in Rivers.

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has alleged that the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, has concluded plans to bomb the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), destroy voting materials at Registration Area Centres and disrupt the peaceful conduct of the general election in the state using some unpatriotic military and police officers.

But Amaechi has described Wike’s accusations as childish and an indication that the governor is afraid and a coward. The minister also accused INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, of working for Wike, who was minister of state while he served as Director of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND).

In a state broadcast yesterday ahead of the general election, Wike said he had credible intelligence that revealed the plot of the minister.

He said: “Credible intelligence has linked Rotimi Amaechi and his cohorts in the factionalized APC to prevent the peaceful conduct of the general election in Rivers State with the support of some unpatriotic military and police officers.

“The security officers have been detailed to provide covert operational covers for Rotimi Amaechi’s armed militants and thugs on military camouflage and fake police uniforms to bomb INEC offices, cart away or destroy voting materials at Registration Area Centres, and disrupt the voting processes across the state on a scale that will force INEC to abruptly call off elections on the ground of insecurity.”

The governor said several Hilux vehicles painted in military colours and gunboats donated by the Executive Director (Technical) of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hon Sekonte Davies, have been handed over to the militants to carry out the attacks across the state.

He said: “May I call on the international community, particularly the United Nations, the European Union, ECOWAS as well as the governments of the United States of America, United Kingdom and France to hold Rotimi Amaechi, his cohorts in the factional APC and the compromised security officers responsible for any electoral and or related violence in Rivers State during and after the general elections”.

But in his reaction, Amaechi, described Wike as childish, afraid and a coward in his allegations.

Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt yesterday evening, he said while he would never support or embark on violence, he would never condone injustice.

Amaechi explained that his speech during Tuesday’s presidential campaign was not aimed at inciting violence but to warn Wike and his group that APC would not allow its members and supporters to be killed or harassed as was the case in 2015.

“In 2015, APC leaders were either arrested or killed. Today, we are telling him that he cannot do that again. We assured Nigerians to go out and vote peacefully. We will not allow people to be killed.

“Before today, Wike could chase us out with his thugs; he could behead us. But today, he cannot. We mean we will defend ourselves,” he said.

On the political developments in the state, the minister said, “I know that everybody has been expecting me to talk on the court cases but I will not because I am just a member of the party. The party chairman has already said that the INEC is working for the PDP.

“An example that INEC is working for the PDP is a fact that there is a stay of execution granted by the Court of Appeal, just because the INEC Chairman was Director of TETFUND under Wike as Minister of State for Education, he now chooses the Court order to implement and the one not to implement.

In Kaduna state, the other day, the governor who is facing re-election made a categorical statement calling for violence when he said foreign observers who interfere in elections will return in body bags.

But election ought to be a very peaceful process except that most politicians in Nigeria see it as a business whereby they invest their entire wealth hoping to reap abundant profits through corruption if they gain political powers.

I decided to research into brief guide to elections in two of the most famous democracies in the world being the United States and United Kingdom and i found a trailer load of facts from experts who uploaded their findings and observations and from all the resource materials i found the below stated opinions.

In America we were told that people vote for the president and their state representatives separately, while in Britain the vote is all wrapped up in one.

When Brits go to the polls in a general election, they are voting to choose who will be their local MP, most of whom are members of one of the main parties in Westminster.

The party with the most MPs then generally goes on to form the government and the leader of that party becomes prime minister.

Therefore a vote in a British general election represents, to varying degrees, a vote for a local MP, for a party and for a prime minister.

In America, the votes for the president, for senators and for members of the House of Representatives are kept separate – so in theory someone could cast a vote for a Republican president while at the same time voting for a Democrat senator.

Unlike an American president, the prime minister can change during a term because their party collectively decides who leads them – not the electorate.

For an American president to change during office they would have to be impeached (removed by a vote of no confidence), or die prematurely to be replaced by a Vice President, as with John F Kennedy in 1963.

A president is also the head of state, where a prime minister is not.

Election system

The UK uses a First Past the Post electoral system where the country is divided into 650 voting counties, called constituencies, each represented by a corresponding Member of Parliament (MP).

On polling day, voters place an X next to their choice and the candidate with the most votes at the end of the night’s count is then instated as that constituency’s MP.

The party with the most elected MPs is then left to form the ruling Government (the Executive) and that party’s leader becomes prime minister.

In America, presidents are decided by the Electoral College system whereby every vote for a particular presidential hopeful actually goes to a group of people known as “electors” – each of whom belongs to a particular party and pledges to vote for that party’s candidate.

Each state is represented by a different number of electors, depending on the size of that state’s population.

The country’s 538 electors then each cast one vote for one of the presidential candidates, and the person with more than half (270 or more) wins. The new president is then inaugurated in January of the following year.

Parliament versus Congress

Unlike the UK system, where each vote is cast for a parliamentary party as much as a Prime Minister, the US holds separate elections for its two legislative chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Where the UK parliament is made up of 650 MPs corresponding to 650 voting constituencies, each of the American states is represented by two Senators and a differing number of Members of the House, depending on the size of that state’s population.

In the US, presidential elections are fixed every four years, Members of the House are chosen every two years, and Senators every six with overlapping terms so that only a third go up for election in each election cycle.

In the UK a general election, effectively entailing the election of both a prime minister and the parliament around them, takes place every five years unless the government of the day wins the approval of Parliament to bring that date forward – as Theresa May did this time.

Campaigning

One of the key differences between the British and American systems stems from the use of campaign money: America is huge, and that means it takes a lot of cash to spread the word.

In Britain there are tight controls on what parties can spend on campaigning, and private contributions are relatively modest.

In the US, the size of the country alone demands far more from private investors to get a candidate’s message heard, and campaign spending typically runs into the billions of dollars.

The size of US rallies, too, tends to dwarf public appearances by party leaders in the UK. In either election, key states or constituencies are usually chosen for stops on the campaign trail, but US candidates tend to focus heavily on tactical “swing states” where a change in affiliation from one party to another can have a huge impact on the outcome of the election.

TV debates

It’s becoming more common in the UK, but British TV debates are not guaranteed.

In America, however, they are integral to the election cycle. Not only do presidential candidates from each opposing party debate on live TV (usually moderated by a prominent broadcast journalist), but there are also several televised debates before the primary elections take place.

In the UK, politicians are not necessarily expected to take part in televised debates, although a growing public interest in the medium has put pressure on party leaders to engage – pressure that May managed to resist this week.

Back-to-back office?

A US president is only allowed to take presidential office for a maximum of two terms. A UK prime minister can take office for as long as her or his party remains in power, and they remain leader of that party.

May i then ask Nigerians to see elections as moments of decision making in peace and tranquility.

*** Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

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