On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, the red chamber of the national assembly dissolved into a rowdy session as senators adopted the amended electoral act.
Senator Suleiman Nazif who is Chairman of the senate committee on INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission), presented his report before Senate President Bukola Saraki.
In that report were amendments to the order of the 2019 elections as unveiled by INEC in January
Saraki thereafter subjected the recommendations to a voice vote after a war of words with Senator Kabiru Gaya; as the atmosphere grew even more tense.
Of course the ‘ayes’ had it and the sequence of the 2019 elections was altered by the Senate after the House had passed a similar recommendation.
The Senate session became rowdy and a few lawmakers engaged in shouting matches with their colleagues across the aisle.
More than a dozen furious lawmakers staged a walkout from the chamber.
What are the old and new sequence of elections?
In INEC’s election timetable unveiled on January 9, 2018, the sequence of elections are as follows:
a) Presidential and National Assembly elections (February 16, 2019)
b) Governorship and State House of Assembly elections (March 2, 2019)
INEC’s sequence has the election to choose a new president coming before all other elections
However, in the amended version of the election timetable, the presidential election comes last.
The senate’s sequence is as follows:
a) National Assembly elections.
(b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections.
(c) Presidential election.
All of the above will occur on separate days.
Essentially, Section 25 of the Electoral Act has been substituted with Section 25 (1) which has now been adopted by a joint session of the national assembly.
Why is the sequence of elections such a thing?
Because there’s something called the ‘bandwagon effect’ during election season in Nigeria.
When a president from a particular political party wins the popular vote, that party then goes on to sweep parliamentary and State elections.
It’s almost a given in these parts. Ask the PDP.
Once Buhari won the 2015 election, the APC went on to win most governorship and parliamentary seats across the country.
In the north of Nigeria, it was called “APC SAK”; which is roughly translated to “vote for APC everywhere, no matter which candidate is on the ballot”.
Many candidates became governors and senators off Buhari’s popularity, goodwill and instant name recognition.
Besides, when a president is elected from a particular party, it is rule of thumb that parliamentary elections are skewed in favour of that party just to align with Aso Rock for pecuniary reasons.
Votes are also rigged in favour of the party that has just produced the president. Don't ask us how.
Executive is not liking new sequence
The reason why the executive may not like the national assembly’s election sequence is because if other elections hold first and the president’s party is already losing seats in States and parliaments, it would be as good as Buhari’s fate being sealed before his own election.
The presidency is already viewing the move from senators as a ploy to unseat Buhari in 2019, sources have said.
If APC loses parliamentary and governorship seats before the presidential election, that may send a message across the world. A message that says Nigerians are on the verge of voting out the incumbent president.
It may also lead to the governing APC and Buhari throwing in the towel at the center.
But does this mean that the national assembly sequence of elections is now law?
No, it isn’t.
Buhari has the final say here because he has to assent to the resolutions from the national assembly.
If he vetoes it as he’s likely to, then the resolutions of both chambers of parliament will have no effect whatsoever.
However, the national assembly can then override the president’s veto, leaving room for a legal battle on this between the executive and the legislature.
INEC may also sue, asking the court whose right it is to determine election sequences: the legislature's or the electoral umpire’s?
INEC national commissioner on voter education and publicity, Solomon Soyebi, puts it this way: “If it's assented to by the president, it becomes a law. We have no basis to disobey the law; we have to work within the law as it is.”
Implication: Your move, Aso Rock.