By Taiwo Adisa
When President Goodluck Jonathan spoke about his take on off-cycle elections in the early morning of Saturday, November 11, just after he had cast his vote at Polling Unit 39, Ward 13, Otuoke, in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, not many understood his drift. The former President spoke of the need to cancel off-cycle elections, saying it was becoming a danger to democracy.
He also said that if the trend continued, it might happen that the nation’s presidential could become off-cycle one day, adding that in 2007, the election that brought the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and himself into office as President and Vice President was nearly nullified at the Supreme Court, with four Justices ruling in favour of the election and three against. He described the practice as “odd” and “not a global best practice” for elections. As it is usual, what elders see sitting down, the young won’t see even when they climb the Iroko tree. That is quite true of Jonathan’s postulation because a few hours after he made the comments, his fears were confirmed with different kinds of allegations and accusations booming from the affected states.
Hear what Jonathan had to say: “Let me congratulate the three states that had elections today; Bayelsa state, Imo State, and Kogi State. But, basically, because this is an off-season election, I get worried about the issue of off-season elections.
“I’ll use this unique opportunity to plead with the National Assembly that we need to block this off-season election.
“A country can elect their people at different times like America, they may not elect at the same time but every time they go on to do elections, they elect everybody that is meant to be elected. If we continue with this trend of off-season elections based on the interpretation of our laws, it will come to a time that the Presidential election will be off-season probably that’s the time that a lot of you media people should be worried.
“Look at the American system, everybody knows when the American elections will be conducted, that’s the standard practice of other countries. When I say the Nigerian Presidential election may be off-season someday, some people will say how? why? It almost happened in 2007 when I contested as a running mate to President Yar’Adua. You know that election, the seven justices that presided over the case, three of them, in their own judgment, said that the election be annulled, four of them sustained it and that is why we stayed, if one had crossed over, by now the presidential election will be off-season and it is not the best for a country.
“These seven states with off-season elections can be migrated back to fall in line with the other states. The National Assembly can do that, that is my message for the National Assembly and for Nigerians today.”
Shortly after Dr. Jonathan made his submissions, the off-cycle wahala, which has become a bye-product of off-cycle elections started rearing their heads in each of the three states and I am sure contestants are still tearing at each other as we speak.
Off-cycle elections came about as a result of judicial pronouncements starting from the troubled Anambra state election of 2003, dovetailing into other judicial pronouncements on the gubernatorial elections of Ekiti, Osun, Edo, and Bayelsa states. Imo state equally joined the list as a result of judicial pronouncement at the apex court, while a force majure-the death of a leading candidate in the middle of an election, imposed the off-cycle election on Kogi.
It was originally thought that the development would help cure the ills associated with general elections and help the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) stabilise itself after the excruciating tension and rigours of general elections. But elections in Nigeria are like a mirage. The more you look, the less you see.
From the medium sanity that prevailed during the military-supervised 1998/1999 elections, which ushered in the Fourth Republic, we have graduated through the schools of ballot snatching, ballot stuffing, orchestrated violence, and vote suppression. All these gerrymandering tactics have given rise to voter alienation, apathy, and general unconcern about what democracy should bring to the table.
We cannot possibly finish listing all the evil off-cycle election has wrought on the system in recent years. From Osun State, where an off-cycle election had to go through a rerun, to Anambra Kogi and Bayelsa, where unmitigated violence often reigned during elections, off-cycle elections have failed to bring about the desired peace. But the judicial pronouncements that brought about the off-cycle elections were meant to cure virus-election malpractice. Now, it has yielded more than we all bargained for. Political stakeholders exert their ingenuity in taking on the system and the anomie seems limitless. In the November 11, 2023 elections, we moved to another level as we started hearing of allegations of BVAS bypass and pre-filled INEC result sheets.
If these allegations are true, they are capable of completely rendering the voter power redundant, such that the use of political thugs would be supplanted by technological bandits. And that is where Jonathan’s admonition comes in.
But actualising his submissions would come as a tall order. It would take either, if not the twin options of a Doctrine of Necessity and constitution amendment to see the light of day. Incidentally, Jonathan’s presidency itself came about through a mix of the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity and an Act of God.
The Doctrine of Necessity will streamline the tenure of office of the current executive office holders across the states, while the National Assembly can then initiate amendments to the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution. The new amendments would stipulate dates for holding elections for different executive positions, as it is in other climes. Already, the tenure of legislative houses is a settled matter as the election into each legislative house whether at the state or national level is tied to the session of the respective houses.