Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari called on members of the National Assembly to amend some sections of the Electoral Act 2022 that contravenes the rights of political office holders to vote and be voted for in political party conventions and congresses.
The Electoral Act provides for the structure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), its powers and guidelines for registering voters, procedures for the conduct of elections, the registration and regulation of political parties, electoral offences and the determination of election offences.
The President made the call via a letter to the National Assembly and during the long-awaited assent to the Electoral Act in an event that took place at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
Specifically, the President objects to Section 84 (12) which, he said, constitutes a disenfranchisement of serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at conventions or congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the national election.
According to the President, the section has introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection.
“The practical application of section 84(12) of the Electoral Bill, 2022 will, if assented to, by operation of law, subject serving political office holders to inhibitions and restrictions referred to under section 40 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as amended,” he said. “It is imperative to note that the only constitutional expectation placed on serving political office holders that qualify, by extension, as public officers within the context of the constitution is resignation, withdrawal or retirement at least 30 days before the date of the election.”
Consequently, the President points out that it would not be right for the country, in the process of implementing its democratic processes, to run counter to the provisions of the Constitution.
Some highlights of the Electoral Act 2022 Buhari is expected to assent to include the provision for early conduct of party primaries and submission of candidates’ list. Political parties must submit their list of candidates to INEC not later than 180 days before the election’s day.
There is, also, a provision for the early commencement of campaigns. Clause 94 extends political parties’ public campaigns from 90 to 150 days before polling day and will finish 24 hours before that day.
The problem of candidate substitution in the event of death during the election is also addressed. Clause 34 allows political parties to hold primary elections to replace a candidate who dies after the polls have begun but before the final results are announced and a winner is declared.
In the case of legislative elections, the election will be re-run and a bereaved political party can have a new primary within 14 days to nominate a new candidate.
Concerning presidential and governorship elections, the deceased candidate’s running mate will continue the election and select a running mate.
Regarding the controversial section, the purport of this is that such political appointee cannot be a delegate or aspirant unless he or she resigns from such political appointment; and resignation would have to be about a year before the election, because of the timelines for the events that build up through the Conventions to the Primaries and finally the elections. This would certainly not go down well with political appointees, who for one, prefer to use the power, paraphernalia of office and so on to win their elections.
But, be that as it may, Section 84(10) of the Electoral Act 2022 is unconstitutional, since the kind of limitation it seeks to place on political appointees, is only extended to people employed in the civil or public service of the federation – which, it can be argued, whether or not, political appointees are considered to be.
And, even if political appointees are considered as such, the Constitution only requires civil or public servants to resign from their employment 30 days before the date of the election.
It doesn’t stop them from voting or being voted for either as a delegate or aspirant at a Convention or Congress. This is so because, when it is 30 days to an election, all processes including primaries leading up to an election are completed, except the actual election itself.
Citizens’ role in management of security
President Muhammadu Buhari, timely and rightly so, urged Nigerians to work with the nation’s security agencies to tackle insecurity in the country.
Rightly, too, the President extolled the courage and bravery displayed by security agencies and their personnel in the onerous efforts to engender, sustain and promote peace and order.
However, in his address at the opening ceremony of the Alumni Association of the National Defence College (AANDEC), the President said higher degrees of law and order can be attained in many parts of the country through participation and cooperation of citizens in the process of peace sustenance.
“Security is not just a military concern but a challenge for all Nigerians,” he said. “No matter the amount of money invested in military operations, without the support of the people, display of patriotism and preparedness for everyone to be ready to take ownership of securing our environment, success will be limited. Consequently, we must look beyond the military and the security agencies for enduring solutions to the security challenges we are facing.”
And, again, the President is right. Citizens have a role to play in the process of engendering and management of security. A more sustainable approach is to think about security as a continuous and all-encompassing process that involves every action, citizen and stakeholder in our country – Nigeria.
However, all the efforts and security procedures come to nought if security is not embedded in the DNA of Nigerians. This means that everyone must be aware of what constitutes good security and this, in turn, requires constant education and understanding.
Still, while the President is right about citizens’ participation in the process of building and sustenance of peace, it must be recognised that, in real terms, the federal government is the primary stakeholder for cooperation and the main contributor to a more peaceful Nigeria.
Essentially, the government should realise that peace is a process, not an end in itself. So many things go into the process of peace among which is the management of resources. Grievances and they are many in Nigeria, around access to resources are some of the primary contributors to violent conflicts in the country.
A fair, effective and efficient allocation of resources, therefore, is an important entry point for sustainable peace. However, the allocation of resources is not necessarily improved or guaranteed by putting the decision-making power in the hands of people. Therefore, mechanisms that consider citizens’ participation in the allocation of resources need to be promoted.
Inclusive citizens’ participation can also help amplify the voices of the marginalised. A second important source of conflict and a general challenge to sustainable peace and development is the exclusion of social groups based on a number of characteristics including gender, ethnicity, economic status, age and disability.
Having an intersectional perspective when employing mechanisms of citizens’ participation is important as it strengthens the voices of the marginalised and leads to better identification and understanding of their needs.
Violent conflicts have an impact on local contexts. Irrespective of the national nature of underlying factors and the dynamics surrounding conflict or violence, national conflicts affect the livelihoods of people in local communities.
Solutions to these conflicts need to be based, therefore, on the perspectives of those affected. Local governance, as the closest level of governance to the people, offers a space for discussion and it is well suited to gather these perspectives and encourage citizen participation in the process of peace.
In improving peoples’ efforts for sustaining peace, it is important that our leaders focus on mechanisms that ensure strong participation from citizens in local governance.
A more expansive concept of government as the primary provider of peace lies in the fact that the government needs to cushion the inability of citizens to provide for themselves, particularly in the vulnerable conditions of youth, old age, sickness, disability and unemployment due to economic forces beyond their control.
The government must provide infrastructure other necessities for citizens to enable them to flourish socially and economically as doing so equates provision of social security that enables citizens to create their own economic security which, in turn, leads to general peace in society.
Of course, the use of physical force is essential in the process of engendering peace and, therefore, it is heart-warming to hear Buhari say that his administration has put in place measures to adequately support the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies in terms of provision of modern equipment, boosting the strength of their manpower and financing their operations in Nigeria and international assignments.