Stakeholders express concerns over increasing off-circle elections in Nigeria

On November 11, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, conducted off-season elections in three states.

DAILY POST reports that off-season elections have continued to increase in Nigeria, raising concern among stakeholders.

This began after the Supreme Court sacked Chris Ngige, who contested the 2003 Governorship election in Anambra State under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and declared Peter Obi, then a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, winner of the election.

Currently, Nigeria has about eight off-season governorship elections, including Anambra, Bayelsa, Kogi, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, and Imo states, with different election timetables.

Imo State fell out of the normal cycle after the Supreme Court sacked Emeka Ihedioha, who was earlier declared winner of the 2019 governorship election in the state.

The apex court on January 14, 2020, ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Ihedioha, a former Speaker of the State Assembly and give a fresh one to Hope Uzodinma, the current governor.

Off-circle elections began in Bayelsa State in 2007 when Timipre Sylva, the governorship candidate of the PDP, was declared the winner of the election.

The election was nullified after his main opponent, Ebitimi Amgbare of the Action Congress of Nigeria, challenged the PDP victory in court.

Amgbare lost at the tribunal and approached the Court of Appeal to challenge the initial ruling. He won at the appellate court as the court ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election in the state in 2008.

In Ondo State, the court had sacked Olusegun Agagu, of the PDP, who sought re-election in 2007 and won. The re-election was, however, challenged in court by Olusegun Mimiko, the then-candidate of the Labour Party.

In 2009, the court held that Mimiko was the actual winner of the polls and was sworn in as the governor in February 2009.

Kogi, Edo, Osun and Ekiti State also fell out of the normal circle following electoral litigations that voided governorship polls conducted during general elections.

DAILY POST reports that eight months after the INEC conducted the 2023 general elections, off-season elections were conducted in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa.

According to Atiku Bagudu, Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, about N18 billion was budgeted to conduct the polls in the three states.

Aside from this, there was a humongous amount of money spent on security agencies to ensure the safety of lives and properties during the exercise.

According to a cross-section of Nigerians, some alleged irregularities that reportedly marred the November 11 governorship polls in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi would have been avoided if the polls were conducted during the general elections.

DAILY POST recalls that former President Goodluck Jonathan on November 11 called for a stop to the practice of off-season elections in the country.

The former president expressed concern that if the country continued with off-season polls, a time would come when the presidential election might become an off-season election also.

He said, “If we continue with this trend of off-season elections based on the interpretation of our law by a judicial officer, it will come to a time when the presidential election in Nigeria may be conducted off-season.”

Similarly, some stakeholders who spoke with DAILY POST on Saturday urged the National Assembly to come up with a law that would mandate the judiciary to conclude all electoral matters before swearing-in.

A chieftain of Labour Party, Dr Onome Anthony, told DAILY POST that “if all electoral matters in court could come to a conclusion before any president-elect or governor-elect is inaugurated, several issues regarding elections in Nigeria would be solved.”

“You wait until someone is sworn into power before you treat issues about the election that brought him or her in; this is not correct.

“And I can tell you that this is one of the reasons our mandate in the 2023 presidential election was stolen both at the polling units and the courts,” he claimed.

“How do you fight someone who is already in power, controlling everybody? We are yet to have an independent judiciary; the judiciary in Nigeria still depends on the executive, so how is it possible for the same judiciary to rule against a ruling party?

“The best approach to this thing is to make sure that after the INEC declares the winner, if there is anyone challenging the victory in court, the matter should end in the Supreme Court before the winner is sworn in.

“If the National Assembly could enact a law to back this, we will not continue to have off-season elections,” he added.

Alhaji Yerima Shettima, the National President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, AYCF, while speaking with DAILY POST on Saturday, explained why off-circle elections should be stopped in the country.

According to him, conducting such elections can slow down legislative agendas and delay decision-making processes.

He said, “This can happen due to various reasons, such as death, resignation, or disqualification of the incumbent. In Nigeria, off-circle elections have become a common occurrence, leading to concerns about the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the electoral process.

“I support the proponents of enacting a law to stop off-circle elections; concluding all electoral matters before the swearing-in of elected officials would eliminate the need for these elections.

“If the electoral process is conducted in a timely manner, including the resolution of disputes or challenges, the elected officials can assume their positions without any interruptions. This would not only save time and resources but also ensure a smooth transition of power.

“I think one of the main advantages of this proposal is that it would enhance the stability and continuity of governance. Off-circle elections often result in a temporary power vacuum, leaving the constituency without representation for a certain period.

“This can hinder the progress of important legislative agendas and delay decision-making processes. The proposed law would ensure that elected officials can fully dedicate themselves to their responsibilities without any interruptions.

“I also believe concluding all electoral matters before the swearing-in would also address concerns about the cost of off-circle elections.

“These elections require significant financial resources to organise, including voter education, logistics, and security arrangements.

“The government can allocate these resources to other pressing needs, such as healthcare, education, or infrastructure development. This would result in a more efficient use of public funds and contribute to the overall development of the country.

“However, it is important to consider the potential drawbacks of this proposal. One of the main challenges would be ensuring that all electoral matters are concluded within a specific time frame. The electoral process can be complex and time-consuming, especially when disputes or legal challenges arise.

“It would require a well-functioning electoral system, including an independent judiciary, to resolve these matters promptly. There may be instances where off-circle elections are necessary due to exceptional circumstances, such as widespread fraud or irregularities in the initial election.”

Similarly, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, told DAILY POST on Saturday that the call for a stoppage of the off-calender election was a welcome development.

He, however, expressed permission that the call may hit the rock, stressing that the 10th National Assembly would turn down the demand.

He said, “Making a law to stop off-cycle elections by ensuring that all litigation and cases arising from elections are resolved before the inauguration of the government is a good idea.

“The National Assembly may not make such a law because the status quo is such that they would prefer so they can manipulate the system to gain access to political power, as it were.

“The current National Assembly is the most self-centred, non patriotic, and materialistic National Assembly since the current democratic dispensation began in 1999.

“The leadership of both Chambers of the National Assembly were imposed and railroaded into offices by the President and his supporters.”

Onwubiko added, “President Bola Ahmed Tinubu benefitted from a shambolic poll, so the administration may not be willing to collaborate with the National Assembly to stamp out the unfortunate phenomenon known as off-season election.

“However, off-cycle elections are not the fundamental cause of the degeneration of transparency and accountability in the conduct of elections in the country.

“The truth is that the hierarchy of INEC as currently constituted is made up of a bunch of corrupt, ethically challenged and wayward people who see their position in INEC as opportunities to line their pockets with filthy lucre.

“So even if we come up with the best of legislative frameworks, so long as the officials that populate INEC are predisposed to corruption, they will circumvent and undermine the law to manipulate the process.

“What is needed is a clear establishment of Election Crimes Commission, and special courts to try election offenders. The Election Crimes Commission need not be very elaborate in terms of bureaucracy, so it doesn’t become an avenue for job scams or to be seen by politicians as an avenue for creating jobs for their political loyalists.

“The Election Offences or Crimes Commission should be such that not more than 100 persons work as their staff, and this body should specifically partner with the ICPC and the EFCC to function optimally.

“Nigeria must find lasting solutions to election fraud and manipulation, which have become a hydra-headed monster that threatens democracy and the constitution.”

(Daily Post)

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