Buhari’s legacy on elections and lessons for President Tinubu, By Samson Itodo

Posted by Timige, On 20 Jun, 2023 | Updated On 21 Jun, 2023 No Comments »


Former President Buhari’s ascendancy to office of the President was partly attributed to electoral reforms introduced by Jega-led INEC between 2010 – 2015. These reforms include, a fairly credible voter register, Smart Card Reader for electronic voter accreditation and a truly independent electoral commission. The former President attested to the centrality of these reforms in defining his electoral fortune in the 2015 elections. In his words, “When the time He (God) had set for me came, He used technology to bring me in,”. His testimony underscores the power of electoral technology in deepening electoral integrity.

Buhari’s recognition of the value of the electoral reforms is undisputed. However, his commitment to credible elections and electoral reforms leaves a sour taste and deserves further interrogation. Two general elections held under his tenure. First, the 2019 general election where he was reelected and the 2023 transitional elections. Both elections were enmeshed in controversies and legal contests. Throughout his tenure, Buhari was vocal about leaving a legacy of credible elections, possibly because of the legitimizing benefit of maintaining that posture, but some of his actions proved otherwise. In fact, the constitutive elements of the much-mouthed legacy of credible elections were unknown to the public. No doubt, the former President deserves accolades for his contributions to electoral reforms. However, he bequeathed a litany of bad precedents whose negative effects will have lasting impact on election landscape.

Commendable Lasting Legacies

  • Legacy of non-interference with off-cycle governorship election

Fourteen off-cycle governorship elections held between 2015 – 2023. Pres Buhari ensured the traditional tactic of deploying ‘federal might’ to influence governorship elections was reduced to barest minimum. He is believed to have resisted pressures from his party men to interfere in four elections his party lost in Edo 2020, Anambra 2017, 2021; and Osun 2022. Former President Buhari stands out as one President who proactively extended his congratulations to winners of elections from the opposition party against the preferences of his party. When the Inspector General of Police, IGP withdrew security aides from former governor of Anambra, Willie Obiano  during the 2017 Anambra governorship elections, the President ordered the IGP to reinstate the aides. Some of Pres Buhari’s predecessors may not have extended the same grace to Governor Obiano given their antecedents.

  • Legacy of an improved electoral legal framework

Credit must go to the former President for assenting to the 2022 Electoral Act after several years of intense advocacy, intrigues and controversies. In addition, he gave assent to landmark constitutional amendment bills related to elections such as the bill to increase the timeframe for bye-elections from seven days to twenty-one days, grounds for de-registration of parties, time for the determination of pre-election matters, age reduction bill popularly known as the Not Too Young To Run law and “restriction on tenure of president and governors” The 2022 Electoral Act is touted as the best piece of election law in Nigeria’s 25 years of uninterrupted democracy. The Act guarantees timely release of election funding to INEC and permits INEC to deploy electoral technology for elections, amongst other changes which renewed citizens faith in the electoral process. INEC’s deregistration of 74 political parties in 2020 for failure to meet requirements imposed by the amended constitution improved election logistics greatly. Thirty-seven young people between 25 -29 have been elected into the National and State legislatures between 2018 – 2023 as a result of the Not Too Young To Run Act.

Retrogressive Legacies

  • Legacy of withheld assent to electoral bills

Former President Buhari will go down in history as the President with the highest record of withheld assent to electoral bills. He declined assent to electoral bills five record times before signing the 2022 Electoral Act on 25 February 2022. The reform process that produced the 2022 Electoral Act commenced in 2015 shortly after the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly. The 8th National Assembly passed amendments to the Electoral Act but the amendments suffered an ill-fate as former President Buhari declined assent to the electoral bill four times, citing drafting issues, assault on INEC constitutional powers, and late passage of the bill as reasons for withholding assent. These reasons though plausible were a smokescreen for a deeper political agenda. In December 2021, he declined assent to the electoral bill due to the restriction on political parties to adopt only direct primaries for nominating candidates. 

  • Legacy of late appointments into INEC

To deliver credible elections, electoral institutions must be fully staffed with competent personnel. This underscores the importance of early recruitment and appointment of these individuals to facilitate effective planning for elections. Ideally, appointments into INEC should be structured in a manner that it aligns with the electoral calendar to allow for seamless transition and adequate time for newly appointed commissioners to settle into new roles, plan and effectively discharge their responsibilities. Buhari’s late appointments into INEC leaves a legacy of misalignment in the tenure of commissioners and the electoral calendar. As it stands, the 2027 general election will be managed largely by greenhorns who will have limited or no time to understand the dynamics of election administration. The tenure of the current INEC Chairman ends by the first week of December 2025 leaving us with 918 days to the 2027 elections. Similarly, five current National Commissioners will end their term by October 2026 and over nineteen states will be staffed by new Resident Electoral Commissioners just three months to the 2027 elections. These transitions will impact INEC’s strategic planning, and operational capabilities.

  • Legacy of brazen assault on INEC’s independence

In recent history, no President has attacked INEC’s independence with tenacity, audacity and brazenness like former President Buhari. Most of his appointments into INEC failed the constitutional test of non-partisanship and unquestionable character. His most controversial appointment was the appointment of his partisan media aide as INEC National Commissioner. Although the appointment encountered stiff resistance from the public, the President defied ethics, morality and constitutional fidelity and insisted on pulling through with the appointment. As President, he appointed a former member of his party who contested elections in 2015 as Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) including the REC who committed electoral coup in Adamawa state during the 2023 election. All the RECs suspended by INEC for incompetence, and election manipulation were appointed by former President Buhari despite petitions against their appointment. INEC’s financial independence was also attacked under Buhari’s administration. INEC received 60% of the funding for the 2019 elections barely six months to the elections which impeded the commission’s ability to deliver an election free of operational lapses. As a remedy the 9th National Assembly introduced a clause in the 2022 Electoral Act that makes it mandatory for the executive to release election funding to INEC at least one year before a general election.

 Buhari’s legacy is etched on the annals of Nigeria’s election history. There are key attributes that President Tinubu should emulate from his predecessor as he builds his own legacy. Creating a conducive environment for competitive elections will enhance Nigeria’s democratic credentials and put him in the class of statesmen. Timely appointment of competent INEC commissioners with impeccable character will deepen the Commission’s independence and effectiveness. Partisan considerations should be eschewed when making appointments into INEC to rebuild the broken public trust. The forthcoming November 11 governorship election in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo state is a litmus test for the Tinubu administration. Will he sustain the legacy of non-interference or will he return the country to the dark days of influencing election outcomes from the villa? Time will tell. For now, he has the daunting task of redeeming Nigeria’s electoral process from Buhari’s legacy of a weak electoral governance architecture, and heightened distrust in the electoral process.

Samson Itodo is an election, democracy, and public policy enthusiast. Itodo serves as the Executive Director of Yiaga Africa. He is also a Board member of the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Board of Advisers of International IDEA. Please send comments and feedback to sitodo@yiaga.org. He tweets @DSamsonItodo.





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