Coming Political Stalemate in Nigeria


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The Coming Political Stalemate in Nigeria



Mobolaji E. Aluko

Thursday, March 27, 2003










G.       NOTE



 A political stalemate is brewing in Nigeria, and we got to put on our thinking caps before we get seriously engulfed in another crisis.

Today is Thursday, March 27, 2003. Beginning 16 days from now, we have the following set  elections upcoming in Nigeria:

- 12 April: National Assembly (House and Senate) elections
- 19 April: Presidential and state governors' elections
- 26 April: Possible run-offs
- 3 May: State assemblies' elections
- 29 May: President and other elected officials hand over?


1. The voters' register has been published only in the fewest of places in the country, probably no more than 5% of out of the 10,000 wards and 120,000 polling booths. [The registration was held September 12 to 21, 2002, and again January 21 to 24, 2003].

2. The 120,000 polling booths have not been designated.

3. The final list of candidates of the 30 parties – that is 20 presidential, about 100 gubernatorial, 500 senatorial, 3,000 House of Reps, 9,000 State assemblymen candidates - has not been cleared.

4. Samples of ballot papers have not been made available.   Final copies of 60 – 70 million of them are
obviously yet to be printed - in the absence of candidates' names and/or their parties' affiliations.

5. The INEC polling agents (500,000 ad-hoc employees) are still being sought.

6. Consequently, the parties have not designated their own polling agents/observers.


In short, obeyed in the breach – or in danger of being breached - are the following sections of the Electoral Act 2002:



i) Section 1 (1) which provides that: "No general election shall be conducted before the Commission has concluded the compilation and updating of the National Voters Register otherwise called Register of Voters which shall include the names of all persons entitled to vote in any federal, state or local government election".


(ii) Section 10 (1) which provides that "the Commission shall, by notice appoint a period of not less than 5 days and not exceeding 14 days during which a copy of the voters' register for each local government area or ward shall be displayed for public scrutiny and during which period any objections or complaints in relation to the names or omitted or included in the voters' register or in relation to any necessary corrections shall be raised or filed".


(iii) Section 20 (1) which enjoins INEC to conduct elections not less than 60 days after the display of voters register had been concluded.


(iv) Section 40 (1) which states that "every person intending to vote shall present himself to a presiding officer at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered with his voters card".


On top of all the above, politics/elections-based assassinations and intimidations are happening left, right and center – Harry Marshall (assassinated March 5, 2003, in his bedroom in Abuja) and the attempted assassination of Akin Osuntokun   (Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign Headquarters Director of Publicity).  Obasanjo himself and/or his operatives have fingered 12 hot-spot states, out of 36.

All of these lacunae are a recipe for chaos and violence if the upcoming elections still hold on the days set above.

One does not pray for chaos and violence.  In fact, one prays against them, but chaos and violence are the fruits of disorder and plan-lessness.  What you sow, you reap.





Some decisions have to be made - and pretty soon - if our "nascent democracy" is to be saved.


As each day passes, the options become fewer and fewer - and none very palatable - but one must still be chosen.  What are those options, and if possible, within Constitutional provisions?


  1. Hold the Elections Anyway


According to the law, this is an easy choice. 


(i)                   Sec 64(1): “The Senate and the House of representatives shall each stand dissolved at the expiration of a period of a period of four years commencing from the date of the first sitting of the House.”   [Section 105 (1) similarly covers the State Assemblies]

(ii)                 Section 132(2) of the 1999 constitution provides that election to the office of the president shall be held not earlier than 60 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.

(iii)                Section 135(2) which is subject to the provisions of subsection 1,  provides that the president shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years commencing from the date, when (a) in the case of person first elected as president under this constitution, he took the oath of allegiance and oath of office.


Thus, clearly the tenure of the president expires effectively on May 29, and the tenures of the National Assembly end on various dates in June, the last no more than 10 days later. 


But with the lacunae spelt out in the Introduction, would this easy choice be a wise choice?  I do not believe so.



  1. Postpone the Elections for A Time Definite – and Have the Present Government Continue in Office beyond May 29


There is what appears to be a precedence for this:  the local governments, whose terms expired in May 2002, but due to lack of preparedness of INEC – among other legislative and executive shenanigans – have since had their elections postponed until a time indefinite.


Nevertheless, the situations are not identical:  the local governments had a constitutionally authorized supervising body to fall back to – the state governments and their respective State Electoral Commissions.


Who do the federal AND state governments fall back to?  ECOWAS?  AU?  Or the toothless UN?


No one really.


The National Assembly has a slight upper hand here:  the term of the president ends about a week or so BEFORE that of the Executive.  So it can INSIST that the president leave, and then attempt to pass some laws that benefit itself to continue in power  – and hope that the nation will go along.


But without a President, who would sign such a law into effect?  With the near-zero credibility of the National Assembly, who will agree to that?


So we are stuck on that one.


Consequently, the only constitutionally-acceptable measure of postponement here with the present government continuing in office is a DECLARATION OF WAR!


How is that so?   Let us resort to the 1999 Constitution:



Section 64 (2):   If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved  and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National  Assembly may by resolution extend the period of four years mentioned in subsection (1)  of this section from time to time but not beyond a period of six months at any one time.  


Section 105 (1) similarly covers the State Assemblies.

How would this be done?  Again the 1999 Constitution:


Section 5  (4) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section:-

 (a) the President shall not declare a state of war between the Federation  and another country except with the sanction of a resolution of both Houses  of the National Assembly, sitting in a joint session


The most important question here:  against whom shall we declare war? Cameroon would have been convenient – over Bakassi – but it appears that cooler heads have since prevailed, and Presidents Biya and Obasanjo have carried their pan-African neighborly amity too far, and decided to settle matters amicably as gentlemen of gentle-countries.

But I have an idea:  we should have a meeting with the South-West pacific country of Tuvalu (population 11,156), come to some agreement that we will pay all their civil servants for the next ten years, and give them oil free for the same period – provided that they agree that we declare war on them, and they reciprocate!

That way, we will be kosher.    No guns, no army movements, nothing.  It would of course be a sham war, quite okay, but this would be a win-win situation to get us out of a tight spot – that is if the present governments INSIST on postponing themselves into continuation in office.


  1.  Postpone the Elections for A Time Definite – and Meantime Appoint the Chief Justice as President Pro Tem,  as This Regime is “Retired” on May 29

After May 29, there would technically be a vacancy.  But Section 146 of the 1999 Constitution which addresses vacancies in the Executive does not apply because neither the president or vice-president would, after May 29, have “unexpired terms:”


Section 146.

 (1) The Vice-President shall hold the office of President if the office of President
     becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity
     or the removal of the President from office for any other reason in accordance with
     section 143 of this Constitution.

 (2) Where any vacancy occurs in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (1) of
     this section during a period when the office of Vice-President is also vacant, the
     President of the Senate shall hold the office of President for a period of not more than
     three months, during which there shall be an election of a new President, who shall hold
     office for the unexpired term of office of the last holder of the office.

(3) Where the office of Vice-President becomes vacant:-

(a)     by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent  incapacity or removal in accordance   with section 143 or 144 of this Constitution;

      (b) by his assumption of the office of President in accordance with subsection (1) of this section; or

      (c) for any other reason,

     the President shall nominate and, with the approval of each House of the National
     Assembly, appoint a new Vice-President.


The Senate President, who is in line for the presidency, can make no claim here, because none of the methods in which the president that affords him that privilege of succession applies –  death, resignation, impeachement, permanent incapacity, etc. ; see (146 (3) a).

Unless of course they have bad new designs on him, but even time is an enemy in that venture.

So we are stuck on that one too. 

Now, if the Executives (federal and state)  INSIST on continuing in office, the People - as in “PEOPLE POWER”,most probably as represented by the political parties other than the ruling ones  - have a resort in Section 233 of the Constitution:  an appeal to the Court of Appeal, which could quickly end up in the Supreme Court.


Section 233. -

(1) The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other court of  law in Nigeria, to hear and determine appeals from the Court of Appeal.

(2) An appeal shall lie from decisions of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court as  of right in the following cases – ……….

(e) decisions on any question –

(i)       whether any person has been validly elected to the office of President or Vice-President under this Constitution,

(ii) whether the term of office of President or Vice-President has ceased,

(iii) whether the office of President or Vice-President has become vacant; ….


With the record of this Supreme Court, it is most likely that it would rule that the terms of office of the Executives have expired, and that their offices have become vacant.

Aha – but this leads to a good IDEA!  Why don’t we send the Executive AND National Assembly all packing, and encourage the Supreme Court to terminate them, with a view of ensuring that the only people of the realm without an expiring term is the Supreme Court and the Judiciary,  and then hint that we don’t mind the Chief Justice assuming the Presidency ex-tempore?

That would be a neat solution to this mess that we have set for ourselves.

Is this “Chief Justice-as-president” provision in our Constitution?  Unless it is written in invisible ink, I do not see it.  In fact, unlike the United States Constitution as amended (See Note 1), there is NO long line of succession provision in our 1999 Constitution when both President and Vice-President are unavailable.

But do you have any other ideas less desperate than this my preferred choice?


So my preferred choice is an Interim government   centered around the Chief Justice of the Federation and the Chief Judges of the States, who can then set about creating federal government of national unity, governments of state unity, etc.  I suggest that we give them 18 months - say up to October 2004 -  rather than by the end of 2003 to get it right in terms of re-engineering the failing state called Nigeria and arranging for new elections.

And yes – not before a Sovereign National Conference.

A slight problem:  who would PROPOSE these STEPS formally, and then ACCEPT these recommendations?  It is not likely that the present governments - state and federal executives and legislators – will commit political suicide!

Could it again be by “PEOPLE POWER” – as in street demonstrations - and not just political parties?   The prospects of that are bleak.   Let us be frank:  it is most likely that 80% of Nigerians don't know that we no longer have a military rule and/or that Obasanjo is civilian president.  Maybe 60%.  Of the 20-40% left, 50% are either not of voting age, or could care less what happened in Abuja or the state governments: they don’t impact their lives.  Of the 50% left, 50% support the Executives and Legislature continuing: they don’t want too many complications.  Of the 50% left, 50% would not move to do anything against him.   Of the 50% left who want to do something, 80%, being 32% Hausa-Fulani, 21% Yoruba, 18% Igbo and 29% non-Hausa-Fulani-Igbo-Yoruba, will argue until tomorrow as to what to do.

If we waited for Peoples Power in Nigeria, we would be terribly stuck.



Much as I hate to admit it, the Military has a crucial role to play here, not in the traditional role of coup-making, not to become governing autocrats once again – a role in which they have woefully failed over the years, and would require a regime more evil in enforcements than Abacha’s to maintain  - but as obedient guarantors of the Constitution.

The fact of the matter is that whoever they pledge their allegiance to – whether to the incumbents continuing in office, or to a Supreme Court Judge as Executive President Ex-Tempore – will win the day.  That is the reality.

The problem is whether the Military will resist the temptation to take our ball and run with it.  We would then be pilloried by the Military once again with the myth of public invitation.



In looking at the political horizon of Nigeria, one is exhausted.  It is at that point that one offers up the only thing that one has:  prayers to the Omniscient, Omnipotent God for our potentially great country.

So:  May God guide us aright to make the wisest choice! [Amen.]



INEC’s Many Troubles

Vanguard, March 22, 2003

How Prepared is INEC for April Polls?

This Day, March 26, 2003

Yusufu, Ajuwa Raise Alarm over Voters' Register

This Day, March 26, 2003

Candidates Jittery over Delayed INEC List

This Day, March 26, 2003

April Poll: Police Patrol Team Now to Protect Politicians

This Day, March 26, 2003

FG moves to deploy troops to volatile states ahead April polls

Vanguard, March 26, 2003

Osuntokun and the assassins – Rueben Abati

Guardian, March 21, 2003

Confusion as PDP, AD Present Same Candidates

This Day March 20, 2003

NBA Moves Against Political Assassinations

Vanguard March 24, 2003

2003 Polls:  Can the Police Cope?

Vanguard, March 15, 2003



US Presidential Succession Act

Constitutional Topic: Presidential Line of Succession

The 25th Amendment reiterates what is stated in Article 2, Section 1: that the Vice President is the direct successor of the President. He or she will become President if the President cannot serve for whatever reason. The 25th also provides for a President who is temporarily disabled, such as if the President has a surgical procedure or if he or she become mentally unstable.

The original Constitution provides that if neither the President nor Vice President can serve, the Congress shall provide law stating who is next in line. Currently that law exists as 3 USC 19, a section of the U.S. Code. This law was established as part of the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. There, the following line of succession is provided:


Speaker of the House of Representatives


President Pro Tempore of the Senate


Secretary of State


Secretary of the Treasury


Secretary of Defense


Attorney General


Secretary of the Interior


Secretary of Agriculture


Secretary of Commerce


Secretary of Labor


Secretary of Health and Human Services


Secretary of Housing and Urban Development


Secretary of Transportation


Secretary of Energy


Secretary of Education


Secretary of Veterans Affairs


Secretary of Homeland Security


In 1792, Congress passed the first presidential succession act. This act was fraught with political wrangling between the Federalists and Antifederalists, as much early U.S. policy was. The Federalists did not want the Secretary of State, since Thomas Jefferson held the position, and he was emerging as a leader to the Antifederalist camp. Some were wary of the President Pro Tem of the Senate, because of the apparent mixing of the branches of government so recently established. Ditto the House Speaker and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The eventual compromise did include two persons to fall in line past the Vice President. The President Pro Tem of the Senate first, then the Speaker of the House.

The issue was taken up again in 1886, when the Congressional leadership was removed from the line and replaced with the Cabinet, with the Secretary of State falling first in line. Finally, the 1947 Act added the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem back in the line (but reversed from the 1792 order).


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