The announcement of a timetable for political activities last year by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the 2019 General Elections has, without doubt, provoked strategies by politicians either separately or in groups to fight for survival.
This is coming on the heels of political challenges experienced by the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) among others. While the APC suffered from internal disunity anchored on perceived alienation of some of its members from the corridors of power, the PDP for months struggled for its soul as leaders battled for control of the party. Besides these, the political atmosphere is replete with accusations ranging from inability to curb economic hardship to herdsmen attack and the like as well as counter jabs about past misgovernance and corruption.
With former President Olusegun Obasanjo adding to the fray with the unveiling of a third force ala the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), the urgency for realigments and strategies has doubled. And so, the new phase of the contest of wits which assumably popped up at the federal legislature where both parties and their allies hold substantial membership, did not come as a surprise to many Nigerians.
This was manifest on Tuesday with the passage of a new law by the National Assembly rearranging the order of elections come 2019 citing constitutional powers. The Electoral Act 2010 chronologically stipulates the conduct of the presidential and national assembly polls first before the governorship and state assembly elections but the two chambers of the federal House amended the Act to allow the national assembly election first before the governorship and state legislative polls, the presidential election coming last.
Given the fact that exigencies of time can prod election managers into seeking amendments in order to enhance the speed, transparency and integrity of polls ,NASS members often add what they deem wise. For example, salient issues like biometric accreditation of voters with Smart Card Readers, instant transmission of accreditation data and results from Polling Units to various collation centers, conduct of elections by electronic voting, electronic registers, death of candidates before or during elections etc should not be ignored in our technological age given our recent experiences.
However, in passing a Bill as important to the polls and indeed other Bills into law, due process must be followed as enshrined in the rules governing NASS proceedings. Usually, every item in a Bill before passage goes through rigorous scrutiny by committees before presentation to the general assembly for passage.
We therefore marvel at the speed with which the new Electoral Act 2017 was adopted and passed into law few days after receiving the House of Reps version straight from its committee on INEC. Evidence of the speed came to light when 10 senators initially walked out of the chambers in protest particularly against the shuffling of the sequence when Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki over-ruled Senator Abdullahi Adamu on debates over Section 25(1) which deals with it.
Usually, popular laws with national appeal often get bi-partisan support wherein lawmakers happily vote with air of satisfaction for a job well done. But in this case, the political suspicion associated with the swap of poll order makes it necessary to retain the status quo. In the first place, INEC worked with NASS to entrench Section 25 which prescribes presidential poll first before the 2011 general elections for administrative convenience and has not complained since then. The change only vindicates the assumption that the opposition is afraid of the landslide victory that is suggestive with the commencement of the presidential election.