THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently shocked many Nigerians when its National Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, unfolded a 36-year electoral timetable which will cover all elections the Commission will conduct till 2055. It came in the midst of the ongoing dispute with the National Assembly over its 2019 general election timetable.
The INEC timetable had indicated that the Federal elections (Presidential and National Assembly) would take place on 16th February 2019 while the State polls (Governorship and State Houses of Assembly) would hold on 2nd March 2019. But the National Assembly while not altering the dates published by the INEC, amended the Electoral Act putting the National Assembly election first and the presidential poll last.
INEC’s publication of the long-term poll calendar in which the presidential election will come first is obviously an affirmation of its self-assumed power to fix the dates and sequence of elections without “interference” from the National Assembly even in the near future. It runs against the grain of the National Assembly’s own self-assumption that it has the power under the constitution to amend the electoral laws including the electoral sequences.
It is our strong belief that whenever there is a dispute between the National Assembly and the Executive Branch or any of its departments, agencies or commissions (of which the INEC is one) the Supreme Court should quickly be approached to resolve it. That is the role the constitution assigns to the Judiciary. Self-help of any sort, apart from smacking of impunity, could precipitate a constitutional crisis that could derail the 2019 elections.
In the matter of the 36-year timetable, the INEC Chairman put federal elections on the 3rd of February and State polls two weeks later on the election years. He believes that it will put to rest any uncertainty about the dates and sequences of future polls. He attributed this adoption to “best practices” in advanced democracies. This again, is a decision that should not be arbitrarily taken by any single body. There must be broad-based dialogue over it, and any decision to adopt this tradition must be reflected in our constitution.
Even the United States which adopted “Tuesday after the first Monday in November” made that decision based on its economic, cultural and religious realities as an agrarian society. Today, arguments are building up in favour of a pragmatic attitude to election dates as the American society has changed drastically since 1845 when the decision for a fixed date for the general elections was taken.
Besides, the Electoral Act has always been tinkered with in every transitional period to accommodate new developments in the polity. If we are to adopt fixed dates for our general elections it is not the INEC or National Assembly alone that should make the decision. It is a matter for constitution amendment.