Recently, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, announced dates for general elections for all time for the nation. The announcement showed that INEC has fixed the date for the National Elections for the third Saturday in February of the election year, followed by State elections two weeks later.
Although the new permanent election dates will begin with the next general election in 2019, INEC said it would apply to all future elections. Contrary to popular belief, therefore, the new election date is not election timetable. Election timetable has 14 components. These include the dates for notice of election, commencement of campaign by political parties, collection of forms for all elections by political parties, and conduct of party primaries.
Other components of election timetable include the dates for last day for submission of forms, publication of personal particulars of candidates, last day for withdrawal of candidates, last day for campaign, etc. Election date is just one, but last, of such components.
What INEC has done, in our opinion, is to set a date for all future elections. For example, we can tell that the 2019 presidential election would be on February 16. Similarly, subsequent presidential elections would hold on February 18, 2023; February 20, 2027; February 15, 2031; February 20, 2035; February 19, 2039, etc. We can now say with a measure of certainty that presidential elections will hold on or between 15 and 21 February of every general election year. That, in our view, is a very brilliant introduction to our democratic experience by the Professor Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC.
This shows that people who suggest that it is too early to set election timetable for 2019 are wrong. As we have shown, our understanding of INEC’s announcement is not about 2019 election timetable. Rather, it is permanent election dates for our general elections. We, therefore, disagree with those who have accused INEC of planning to rig the next election based on this premise. INEC, as we can see, has not released 2019 election timetable yet.
The idea for permanent election date is not unique to INEC, as it stated in its announcement. The innovation first started when the United States legislature made a law for American general election to hold on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November of every general election year. That was in 1845. The arrangement indicates that election can only hold from November 2 to November 8 every four years since then. That is over 170 years ago, and ever since, this date has not shifted!
Other countries have modelled their own arrangements based on what they learnt from the USA example. Countries like Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Kenya and even Ghana have all successfully followed the American example. Ghana, in particular, started hers in 1996. Since then, general polls in that country have always held on December 7 of election years. Twenty years running, and it has not shifted.
This is where we implore our politicians to show a measure of political maturity in their assessment of INEC’s plans and arrangements. This is not only in the interest of the country, but even in their own, often narrow, interest. As we have shown, America has adopted this arrangement since 1845. She was barely as young as we are now as a country. Yet, not even her civil war (1861-1865) interrupted the arrangement! Elections were, indeed, held during the war on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November 1864, as scheduled. Right in the middle of the civil war!
We noted with great displeasure how INEC was forced to shift the last general election during the tenure of Prof Attahiru Jega. The excuse by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan then was security concerns. What security concern could be greater than a civil war? Sadly, the present government has done nothing to show that it is different. Rather, it has confirmed our fears that it would follow a similar pattern, as was seen in the last gubernatorial election in Edo State. INEC was once again forced to shift election on security concern.
The new national election dates have further manifested the electoral umpire’s zeal to conduct hitch-free polls. It is the duty of all Nigerians to support the current handlers of election matters to guarantee credible polls in the future. While we commend INEC, we nonetheless urge it to remain resolute in defending and enforcing its new policy.