By Ehichioya Ezomon
The 2023 General Election is no longer in the realm of “years away” or “it’s too early to talk about it.” Preparations for the poll have begun, courtesy of two critical actions taken by the Independent National Electoral Election (INEC) towards meeting the basic threshold for the management and conduct of the processes.
On Thursday, October 15, 2020, the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, announced February 18 as the date for the 2023 Presidential (and National Assembly) election – five days short of the date that the twin-poll was conducted on February 23, 2019.
The Governorship and House of Assembly balloting is a given: It normally comes up two weeks after the presidential and national legislative election.
On Friday, November 6, Mr. Yakubu presented reports on INEC’s activities in the 2019 election cycle, including, “Report of the 2019 General Election” and “Review of the 2019 General Election: Report of the Commission’s Retreats and Stakeholder Engagements.”
While the reports were presented virtually, the announcement of the 2023 polls was made at the inauguration of the House of Representatives Special Committee on the Review of the amended 1999 Constitution, with an inevitable revisit of the Electoral Act 2010.
That the Electoral Act (as amended) needs reworking stems from its seeming inadequacies, and the many challenges thrown up in the conduct of the 2019 elections (and offseason polls thereof).
Nothing manifests these electoral anomalies than the 180 recommendations contained in the INEC review of the 2019 polls, including “early presentation of proposed amendments to the electoral legal framework, which should be concluded at least 12 months to the next general election, to provide effective planning.”
It’s instructive that the recommendations require administrative action by the commission or amendments by the National Assembly (NASS) to strengthen the existing electoral legal framework.
“Some of the recommendations that require administrative action by INEC are already being implemented, resulting in improved management of the electoral process, as seen in the recent off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States,” Yakubu said.
Stating that the commission was engaging with the NASS on aspects of the recommendations that require legislative action, the INEC chief hopes the reports “will serve as the promotion of a broader national discourse on the necessary reforms required for the continued delivery of peaceful, free, fair, credible, inclusive and safe elections in Nigeria.”
The “broader national discourse on the necessary reforms” of the electoral laws forms a major part of the review of the 1999 Constitution, which the House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila says is important to identifying and rectifying those areas “where the laws… have not lived up to expectations.”
Besides conduct of elections, there’re loopholes political actors can exploit in the constitution, which provides four basic requirements for an aspiring officeholder, as enshrined in section 65 (for NASS members), section 106 (House of Assembly members), section 131 (President/Vice President) and section 177 (Governor/Deputy Governor) of the 1999 Constitution.
The aspirants must be a citizen of Nigeria * he has attained the appropriate age (for the office) * he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party * he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
The focus is on the educational requirement, which political officeholders/seekers, aided by the courts, have abused due to the ambiguity in and/or interpretation of the constitutional provisions.
It’s such that barely literate persons can present themselves for elective positions on the strength of being able to read, write, understand and express themselves in the English language.
Yet, of particular attention is the reading given to having “been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent,” as condition precedent for qualification to elective political office.
Under ‘Interpretation’ in section 318 of the 1999 Constitution, “School Certificate level or its equivalent” means:
(a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or
(b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or
(c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and –
(i) service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of ten years, and
(ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Election; and
(iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Election; and
(d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Election.
It’s noteworthy that the constitution, in subsection (c)(i)-(iii) and (d) of section 318, gives INEC the power to determine who’s acceptable or satisfactory to it, to be cleared on grounds of work experience, attendance at courses and training, ability to communicate in the English language; and any other qualification acceptable to INEC.
Questions over the educational qualification have dogged the political paths of many officeholders because of the inherent flaws in sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the constitution. The allegations varied from individuals, but they emanate from the ambiguous educational requirements in the constitution for elective office.
With a clear-cut minimum requirement, the polity would be spared the “voyage of discovery” that courts are asked to embark upon, to ascertain and affirm the qualification of officeholders/seekers for the position of NASS/State Assembly members, President/Vice President and Governor/Deputy Governor).
For another alteration to the 1999 Constitution, it’s imperative for the NASS to mandate unambiguous minimum educational requirement, without recourse to rule-of-the-thumb interpretation of what constitutes qualification for elective political office.
Because lawmaking, and governance in general are a complex endeavour, the minimum educational requirement for National and State Legislators, President/Vice President and Governor/Deputy Governor should be a First Degree/Higher National Diploma or its equivalent Certificate obtainable in a four-year programme from accredited and recognized institutions in Nigeria or overseas.
Streamlining the requisite educational qualification should also include filling of Form CF001, accompanied with photocopies of the pledged certificate(s) of the candidates to contest elections.
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.