Covid-19: The Legal Implications of Social Distancing To Edo 2020 Guber Polls
As the time-bound bell tolls towards the conduct of the 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo State, the only visible set back appears to be the emergency situation presented by the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
The world is currently on a stand-still in awe and unprecedented solidarity, as the most important global events like the Tokyo Olympics, which was supposed to take place this year postponed to 2021. Therefore, this short piece of mine seeks, inter alia, to examine the effect societal situations thrown up by government’s response to the coronavirus will have on the process leading to the September 19 gubernatorial election in Edo State.
Arising from the foregoing, it will be apposite for us to begin our voyage into this discussion with a little teaser. Can the governorship election taking place in Edo this year be postponed? If yes, under what circumstances can that be possible? To achieve the task of properly answering the above questions, recourse must be had to the highest law of the land or our grund norm, which is the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended.
The identifiable provision of the extant Nigerian Constitution on the singular reason upon which the postponement of a governorship election can be predicated is Section 180(3). This particular provision of the Nigerian Constitution allows for a six-month postponement of the governorship election of any State of the Federation.
Within the contemplation of that section, the election cannot be postponed in a manner to make it impossible for the incumbent to remain in office beyond the 4 year period approved by the constitution, except the condition precedent for the activation of that provision is present. What is the condition precedent? The Drafters of our constitution used the operative phrase, ‘if the Federation is at war…’, in ordaining the condition precedent. The purport of this provision is very clear and unambiguous. Therefore, Section 180(3) of our grund norm does not apply to the current situation in Nigeria, which Edo State is part of.
Moving forward, it is instructive to quickly emphasize that the social distancing rule contained in the statutory Regulations recently made by both the President of Nigeria and the Governor of Edo State have grave implications for the conduct of party primaries in the build-up to the main election in September.
The idea of conducting direct primaries, which will require members of the respective political parties to assemble in large numbers appears to be dead on arrival. The reason is not far-fetched. The time-line tied to the global projection for the total eradication of the coronavirus pandemic is beyond August this year. The calendar projected for Africa far transcends beyond those of other continents of the world.
It is worth emphasizing that the time stipulated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for political parties to conduct their governorship primaries in respect of the Edo guber polls is between the 2nd and 27th of June 2020. So, in the light of the globally and nationally approved rules for social distancing it will be practically impossible for any of the political parties to conduct direct primaries in respect of the Edo election this year. The remedy lies in indirect primaries.
The way forward
The Drafters of the Nigerian Constitution conferred certain emergency powers on INEC to regulate what naturally would have been the internal business of political parties, including the conduct of party electioneering campaigns and primaries. Paragraph 15(f) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended, gives INEC the wide discretionary powers to ‘…monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern the political parties’.
In the light of the above provision of the Nigerian Constitution, which does not require the slightest of sling-shot interpretation, it is incumbent on INEC to set the rules for the conduct of party primaries and the manner in which the parties will conduct their campaigns with redard to the Edo 2020 election. The Covid-19 pandemic lacks the power of freezing our democratic process. INEC like every other responsible State institution in Nigeria should brace up, by been more proactive and less reactive to the corona bug. We shall come out of this phase of our national history better informed, better assured and our resolve for free’r and fairer elections in our fatherland stronger than ever before.
Adaze Andrew Emwanta, a Constitutional lawyer and teacher write from the City of London.