On Tuesday last week, January 9, the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] issued the 2019 Election Time Table and Schedule of Activities for 2019 Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Elections. It will be recalled that on March 16, last year INEC announced the dates for the 2019 elections. INEC fixed Saturday, February 16, 2019 as the date for Presidential and National Assembly elections while Governorship and State Assembly elections are to hold on Saturday, March 2, 2019. It said FCT Area Council elections will also hold on Saturday March 2, 2019.
Last week’s announcement built up on that. INEC National Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who addressed the press in Abuja, said political parties should conduct their party primaries, including the resolution of disputes arising from primaries, between August 18, 2018 and October 7, 2018 for national and state elections while that of the FCT Area Council is slated for between September 4 and October 27, 2018. Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said the commission arrived at the schedule of activities after its meeting held on the same day.
He said the Publication of Notice of Election for National and State Elections would be on August 17, 2018 while that of the FCT Area Council Elections would be done on September 3, 2018. Collection of nomination forms by political parties for national and state elections will hold from August 11 to 24 while that of FCT Area Council elections would be between November 3 and 10, 2018. Commencement of campaign by political parties would be November 18 for Presidential and National Assembly Elections; December 1 for Governorship and State Assembly elections and December 2 for the FCT Area Council elections. The last day for the submission of nomination forms to INEC is December 3, 2018 for Presidential and National Assembly Elections; December 17 for Governorship and State Assembly and December 14, 2018 for the FCT Area Council Elections.
INEC also fixed February 14, 2019 as the last day for campaigns for Presidential and National Assembly Elections while February 28, 2018 is the last day of campaign for Governorship, State Assembly and FCT Area Council Elections. Prof Yakubu then appealed to all and sundry to eschew bitterness and conduct their activities with decorum. He said, “The 2015 General Election was a watershed in the history of our democracy. The Commission is determined to build on this legacy by ensuring that our elections keep getting better.”
INEC set the right tone last year when it fixed permanent dates for Nigerian elections. It said henceforth Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on the 3rd Saturday of February of each election year while Governorship and State Assembly elections will hold two weeks later. It also said when the end of tenure of FCT Area Councils coincides with the general election, FCT Council elections will be held together with Governorship and State Assembly elections.
Release of the election time table was generally welcomed by political parties. The Inter-Party Advisory Council [IPAC] welcomed the early release of 2019 time table and said it would ensure early preparation for the elections. IPAC urged political parties to keep to the timetable and play by the rules of the game as specified in the Electoral Act and the Constitution. PDP’s National Publicity Secretary Mr Kola Ologbondiyan also said, “As a party we welcome the release of the timetable and schedule of activities. It is a welcome development.”
Early though the release of this time table is, conducting the 2019 elections will still be an uphill task. INEC is expected to conduct elections for 1,558 Constituencies. These are one Presidential, 29 Governorship and 109 Senatorial and 360 Federal Constituencies as well as 991 State Assembly Constituencies, 6 Area Council Chairmen and 62 FCT Councillorship positions. INEC’s task was slightly reduced because seven state governorship elections [Edo, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti, Anambra, Kogi and Bayelsa] are now off-cycle.
Compounding the task is the number of registered political parties. Last week INEC presented registration certificates to 21 new political parties, bringing the total number of registered political parties in Nigeria to 68. Prof Yakubu said last week that INEC still has 90 applications and that more parties could be registered before the election. This means more local and state congresses and national conventions, more election candidates at all levels and very long ballot papers for all the elections.
Rolling out of the election time table and schedule of activities effectively kick started the 2019 election season. The registered parties have a few months to go before they conduct their primaries to elect their candidates. As at now most of them are disorganised, including the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP, not to mention the remaining parties including the recently registered ones that have no structures of any kind across the country. Yet, democratic choice must be made at the party level before it can be made at the level of the wider electorate. At present Nigerian law forbids independent candidates so the electorate has no choice but to choose between candidates fielded by political parties.
Unfortunately, a lot of our electoral problems emanate from the party primaries. Ugly episodes such as imposition, granting of automatic tickets, rigmarole in arranging conventions, squabbles over zoning, last minute change in names of convention delegates, illegal substitution of elected candidates and endless litigation around “pre-election cases” characterise party primaries and often serve to disorganise INEC and confuse voters. This time around, we urge the Chief Justice of Nigeria [CJN] to come down hard on judges who issue ridiculous ex-parte orders to stop elections or to substitute candidates, which also adds to the confusion. As for INEC, we must remind it that its performance in 2015 under the former chairman Prof Jega was acclaimed throughout Nigeria, Africa and the world. We expect it to do even better than that in 2019.