Come February 16 and March 2, 2019, Nigerians will file out to vote for leaders that will pilot the affairs of the country at the federal and state levels respectively for the next four years. On those days, the nation will elect the President of the Federal Republic, members of the National Assembly; as well as governors and members of the state houses of assemblies.
While attention has been understandably focused on the presidential and governorship polls, it has become necessary to stress the fundamental imperative of adequate scrutiny of the legislative elections. Experience has shown that there is always a heavy bias for the polling involving the contest for executive offices to a near total neglect of happenings around voting for members of the legislature. Election observation activities, real-time reporting and analysis (even on anecdotal margins) on polling day are more often than not operated along this skewed template. OrderPaper Advocacy Initiative urges that this scenario must witness a shift for the 2019 polls.
This is because the prime place of the parliament as a co-equal arm of government in a presidential democracy as is currently practiced in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasized. The legislature is the fulcrum of representative democracy and its members have a mandate to exercise powers on behalf of the people of Nigeria. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) unambiguously in Section 4(2) says the National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigeria. The grundnum clearly spells out in details the roles and functions of the legislature. It is therefore an unassailable fact that the stability of the nation and enjoyment of the dividends of democracy by citizens is undeniably contingent on this arm of government. In other words, the inter-relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government is a most critical factor in the execution of the social contract between leaders and the led in a democracy. The frosty and fractious state of affairs that has defined much of the inter-relations between the Muhammadu Buhari presidency and the incumbent 8thnational assembly, which negatively impacted on governance in more ways than one, is an eloquent testimony to this point.
In choosing legislators that will join the president as commander-in-chief and head of the executive arm of government to run the country for the next four years, electors must be very conscious of the heavy burden this particular civic responsibility places on them. Ditto for the sub-national elections. The choice of legislators who will prioritize and promote national cohesion over and above primordial and parochial interests; and build a nation-state where socio-economic development will be anchored on fairness, equity, peace and justice such that all constituent parts of the federation have a sense of belonging is a very important task Nigerians must discharge next Saturday. Citizens should also be guided in their choices by the personal character and integrity of those presenting themselves for legislative posts given that billions of naira are annually expended in the controversial constituency projects scheme with very little to show on the lives and living conditions of constituents.
It is therefore worth emphasizing that equal attention must be paid to the national and state assembly polls. Voters, observers/monitors, journalists, analysts, political parties, security agencies and the electoral management body must all discharge their roles with a high sense of awareness and responsibility for the freeness, fairness and credibility of the legislative elections on February 16 and March 2, 2019 respectively. We urge that voters MUST accord the same importance to both the presidential/governorship and legislative polls and extend equal amount of participation and vigilance in the ballot towards ensuring that all validly cast votes count. All concerned stakeholders have a duty to ensure the sanctity of the votes from the polling units to ward, LGA and State Collation Centres across the country. In this regard, all campaigns and legitimate measures against vote buying in any form and guise MUST therefore be extended to the national assembly elections as well as the state legislative polls that will hold subsequently.
The eventual choice of 109 senators, 360 members of the House of Representatives, and 990 members of state houses of assemblies from the list of candidates cleared for the crucial elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must emanate from the well-considered judgment of electors. More importantly, the outcomes must be a true reflection of the votes of the people of Nigeria in every nook and cranny. The world is watching.
Executive Director, OrderPaper Advocacy Initiative