There is anxiety in the political space following the release of the revised electoral calendar by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which mandates the conclusion of all party primaries by June 3.
Top contenders for various positions as aspirants, including frontline ones like a former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; current Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, are said to be upping their games ahead of the impending primaries in about four months’ time.
According to the new timetable for the 2023 general elections released on Saturday, the electoral umpire directed all parties to conclude primary elections for all positions by June 3.
This means that all the registered political parties must pick all their candidates for the 2023 presidency and other contestable positions latest by 3 June, within a 60-day or two-month grace period.
Unlike in previous arrangements, INEC said disputes arising from political party primaries must have been resolved by June 3, 2022, while all withdrawal and replacement of candidates should be concluded by August 12
“All political parties are supposed to comply with the timetable and schedule of activities released by the commission. Any political party that operates outside the timelines provided by the commission with respect to party primaries will not be expected to submit the name of their candidate(s) to the commission,” said Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman.
Yakubu who made the announcement a day after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law also announced that the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 25, 2023, while governorship and state assembly polls will take place on March 11, 2023.
While Tinubu, Atiku and ex-Senate President, Bukola Saraki have publicly declared their interest in succeeding Buhari and have been consulting nationwide, Osinbajo is yet to openly do so even though his body language clearly shows his intention to run.
PDP, APC, others react
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as civil society organisations have reacted to the development.
The APC is struggling with the process of producing its national leaders having called off its national convention earlier scheduled for February 26 to March 26.
The Director-General, Press and Media Affairs to Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee, Mamman Mohammed, told Daily Trust in a telephone chat that the party would conduct primaries within the stipulated time.
He said, “The electoral act is meant for all political parties. If you don’t do it, you will lose out. So the APC will work within the confines of the law and the provisions of the electoral act.
“Obviously, the party will work hard to see that it meets up with the time as stipulated by the law and the 2023 election timetable.”
On its part, the opposition PDP said it will field candidates within the time stipulated by INEC.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba told Daily Trust in a telephone chat on Sunday that political parties that want to participate in the 2023 general elections should comply with the new INEC timetable.
“The party will at the appropriate time, within the time limit stipulated by law, do the needful by producing its candidates for elections.
“Since the INEC timetable and guidelines are in accordance with the law, we should obey it. All parties and stakeholders, all participants in the process must obey it,” the party said.
Similarly, the National Secretary of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Agbo Gilbert Major, told Daily Trust that the party was ready to conduct its primaries within the limited timeframe.
He said, “Do we have a choice? It is Nigeria first. Nobody wants to begin to throw blames now but if we were to blame anybody, we will be blaming the President for not assenting to the electoral bill in good time to accommodate constitutional provisions that the election timetable must be released at least one year to an election.
“He wasn’t guided by that and when we were clamouring for the bill to be assented to, it never sounded like a serious thing to anybody. He is coming to assent to it now, about a month and a half behind schedule. This is what has given birth to this emergency timetable.
“So in putting Nigeria first, we don’t have a choice. This election has to hold but if you ask whether the right thing has been done at the right time, we will tell you no. We will deploy extra energy to ensure that we get it done.
“We will adhere to the limited time available; we are set. We have always been a grassroots party so we are ready even if you say the election is tomorrow we are prepared.”
The National Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) Engr. Yabagi Yusuf Sani, said: “I believe it is okay as parties have been waiting for this legislation for long.”
The Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayt Hassan, said the timetable is long enough a period.
“It will also make the primaries to be less contentious. In fact, the law should not have taken any serious candidate by surprise; they had the draft bill and were expected to study and project. Two months is enough, the emphasis should be on calming frayed nerves after the primary and again they have enough time for it,” she said.
Initiative good, but… – Dons
A renowned political scientist at Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Professor Kamilu Sani Fage, observed that one of the major advantages of this longer timetable is that parties would be able to settle their internal affairs before the election days.
“At least, before the period, if there are any (primary) election challenges or litigations, they could be resolved before the election day. In Nigeria, hardly do we have elections that are concluded at the polls; people always contest the elections.
“Number two advantage is that there will be sufficient time for the party’s candidates to be known by the electorates,” he said.
He, however, noted that as good as this development may be, it also has some disadvantages including but not limited to the heating up of the polity for a longer time.
“In Nigeria, politics is like a do or die affair. Another thing is that it may heighten the politics of money; using the money for campaigns, inducements and the likes because the longer the people are involved in the process, some people will see it as a means to use the money for exercise,” he said.
Prof Fage noted that this will also affect governance, “especially those who are hoping to come back, they will concentrate more on campaigning than delivering on the mandate of the people. Technically, the end of a government is on May 29, but all these months (preceding this date) nothing will be done. A lot of energy and resources will be channeled to campaigning; so, the government attention and resources would be diverted to electioneering rather than delivering the mandates of the people.”
Also speaking, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science of BUK, Dr. Aminu Hayatu said as laudable as the development is, it would be bastardised by politicians who will take negative advantage of it.
“The only problem now is our peculiar Nigerian politicians. They will abuse that time as it will give them the advantage to look at what they might have lost and the processes and some strategies that were followed.
“The reason why elections are conducted in a sort of snappy period is that you have to take politicians by surprise. INEC will do things that politicians will not know how they will do and before they know, the election would have been over but with this longer period, there will be some challenges because they will take advantage of that to abuse and misuse it.”
He said unless there are different sets of politicians, the process will be abused especially going by the body language of the politicians to this development. “A lot of them are happy with it,” he added.