OFF-CYCLE ELECTIONS AND ESCALATING COST OF GOVERNANCE
By: Augustine Omilo
Going by the electoral laws of Nigeria, elected political office holders are meant to be in office for four years, but subject to re-election for a second term of the same duration. This is particularly so for the local government chairmen, governors and the president. The members of parliament are permitted by the constitution to contest for re-election for as many times as their constituents are willing to vote for them.
Though no presidential election has been nullified in the country since 1999, about seven governorship polls have been up-turned by the nation’s courts of competent jurisdiction. And the election result nullifications arising from these judgments against INEC and the initial winners have brought about the off-cycle elections as we have them presently. Many of those who came to power through the decisions of the judiciary equally demanded and got compensated for the periods they were stopped from being in office as decided by the electoral umpire. There are those who never bothered to seek extension of tenure to make up for the same type of temporary loss of power.
Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state rose to power through the judiciary. He won the PDP governorship primary election in Rivers State in 2007. He won but his name was substituted with that of Celestine Ngozichim Omehia who later won the election. Amaechi went to court and got his mandate back as the judiciary felt he was the duly nominated candidate of his party for the election.
Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of the Peoples Democratic Party contested and won the governorship poll in Delta state in 2007 with Chief Great Ogboru of DPP coming second. Ogboru rejected the result. He got the nod of the court in 2010 for a re-run of the election in January, 2011. Uduaghan lost three months in the process as he later reclaimed his mandate in 2011 through another electoral victory with narrow margin against Ogboru. Neither Uduaghan nor Amaechi pressed for extension of teure to cover lost tenure periods.
However, His Excellency, Mr. Peter Obi contested the governorship of Anambra state in 2023 on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. Dr. Chris Ngige of PDP defeated him. He went to court and “retrieved” his mandate after three years. Obi sought for three years extension of office and got it. Thus, the Anambra state tax payers paid seven years salaries for service one governorship tenure shared by two governors. No refund was demanded from Ngige. Even when Obi was impeached by the state house of assembly, he also got his mandate back with the reasoning of the judiciary.
Amechi, Peter Obi and Uduaghan are not the only ones that got involved in mandate reclamations. others include Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola (Osun state), Adams Oshomhole (Edo state) and Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo state.
Unlike the southern part of Nigeria, the only state in the north where off-cycle governorship election takes place is Kogi. This came about as a result of the death of the death of one of the elected governors. Another person had to be sworn in in his stead as governor. Meanwhile, the 2023-elected governors of Zamfara, Plateau, and Kano states have been “sacked” by Nigeria’s court of appeal. Unless the Apex court in the land reverses these verdicts, more states from the north will be added to the already plenty ones in the south with off-cycle elections status. This will mean that the nation’s electoral umpire the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will soon begin to organise political contests every year.
Democratically welcomed as these acts may appear, they have correspondingly inflicted economic and security pains on Nigeria and Nigerians. Statistics has shown that the cost of organizing an off-cycle election in a state is often higher than the cost of organizing the governorship and house assembly elections in such place when taken on the same day. Citizens are subjected to the same security threats they face when the presidential, national and state legislative elections are held within the same period.
The recent off-cycle governorship elections in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa states have clearly shown that credible elections in Nigeria cannot be achieved by merely implementing isolated state elections put in place as a result of court directives.
It is therefore imperative for the national assembly to consider the removal of off-cycle elections from the nation’s electoral laws. For this to happen, all legal tussles emanating from election disputes must be resolved before the inaugurations of eventual winners. This is necessary, even if it means allowing for three months between the time of primary elections and the elections proper on one hand and three months between the time of election and the time for inauguration on the other.