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Between election postponement and constitutional provision

By Angela Ajetunmobi

NO matter what you thought of the postponement of Nigeria’s General elections from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11 2015, the truth is that the realityof the shifting has been accepted.

Was it to take the wind out of the sails of the opposition party APC in a campaign that many thought portrayed the ruling party PDP as the challenger and not the incumbent? We shall never know. But, what we do know is this: Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] NEVER stopped insisting that it was prepared for this election and would take no part of the ‘blame’ for the polls being shifted.

And while everyone vents their opposition to the six-weekshift on grounds [as announced by the Commission’s Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega] that security couldn’t be guaranteed on Election Day, the ‘Raison d’etre’ raises [in one’s opinion]other pertinent issues. Do not forget that when the issue of postponement was first broached on January 22, 2015, the venue was instructive. It was not in Nigeria.

The choice of Chatham House in the United Kingdom by Sambo Dasuki, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, made sure that the world was listening. Ranked second most influential think-tank in the world and the world’s most influential non-US think-tank, do note that the Royal Institute of International Affairs is a non-profit NGO, with a mission to analyze and promote the understanding of major international issues and current Affairs.

And we knew the world heard loud and clear because by January 25, the US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Nigeria with two messages: first, that the Presidential election must be without violence and second, without a change of [the February 14] date.

Interestingly, and possibly unnoticed too,President Jonathan while responding was silent on the February 14date issue but reiterated to Kerry that the May 29 2015 Inauguration date was in his words “sacrosanct”. To a few discerning people, it confirmed that President Jonathan was lukewarm about voting on St Valentine’s Day.

Add to that INEC’s statement that the National Security Adviser [NSA] Sambo Dasuki and indeed ALL Security Chiefs said and agreed that in view of renewed efforts to fight the insurgency in the North East region of Nigeria it would be impossible to provide security during the elections especially for INEC members of Staff and voting materials. Could one therefore take that to mean we are NOW officially at war?

And if we agree without conceding that we are indeed ‘at war’, can this war be said to be a ‘war’ as envisaged by Nigeria’s Constitution in S135 (3) [as amended]? Is it only where and/or when we are at ‘war’ with another country outside our shores that this section of the Constitution would work? Would fighting insurgency within Nigerian territory qualify to be called ‘war’ stricto sensu?

Now, read what the section says:

If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by resolution extend the period of four years from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time.

If we agree that Boko Haram has ‘captured’ some 30 Local Government areas out of Nigeria’s 774, does this not satisfy the requirement that it must be a “war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved”?

The Constitution leaves the decision to Mr. President to determine. All he needs to do is “consider that it is NOT PRACTICABLE to hold elections” and voila, it will then be left up to the National Assembly. If the National Assembly is agreeable and amenable to this ‘consideration’ by the President, they may resolve to extend the Constitutional four-year term [see S135 (2) of the 1999 Constitution].

Take note however that the Constitution does not provide a limit for such extensions. This means that there can be more than one six-month extension as long as the National Assembly is agreeable. There can be any number of extensions of tenure as long as all the ‘dramatis personae’ agree that the Federation is “at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved”.

Two extensions add one year; four extensions add two years to a normal four-year tenure. Legally! Surely, there is more to worry about with this legal extension freely given by the Nigerian Constitution, than the six-week postponement!


*Ms. Ajetunmobi, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.


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