Nigeria Forum: IDPs, Boko Haram and elections likely to be settled by the courts – By Idayat Hassan

It is no longer news that Nigeria is heading, with breakneck speed towards elections on Feb 14 and 28. Beyond the familiar issues of analysis, such as the country’s bifurcation along religious or regional  lines and the newly identified “˜Buhari tsunami,’ the likelihood of elections being held in the three north eastern states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno (currently all suffering under the Boko Haram insurgency) is uncertain. However, it must be emphasised that the citizens of these states are still clamouring to vote.

Boko Haram has an avowed disregard for democracy, as evidenced in countless statements release in the last 4 years and subsequently unlikely to let elections be held peacefully. The practicality of conducting elections in all the local governments in the three states under occupation is disappearing fast. At last count, Boko Haram was in total occupation/complete control of 13 local governments (and other swathes of land) in Borno and 2 each in Yobe and Adamawa. Can these territories be recovered from the insurgents with just days to go until the elections?

The answer is no. First, we must acknowledge that rather than Boko Haram decreasing in strength, they are showing themselves to be adaptable and resilient. Mapped incidences since the beginning of January show an intensification of attacks. Besides its capacity to sustain simultaneous attacks, the recent Baga massacre and the capture of a huge cache of arms and ammunition from the military barracks  there points to a trend of violent escalation. The use of female suicide bombers also demnstrates the insurgents’ ability to innovate.

The Nigerian government’s continuous trial of its soldiers for mutiny and other related offences does not help matters. Over 200 soldiers have been court martialed with several on death row.  A recent statement credited to the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki calling the soldiers on the battleground “cowards” points to the frustration of the government in curbing the insurgency and reaffirms its belief that it is not a lack of weaponry making the insurgents win the war, but a lack of motivation from its own soldiers. In January alone, the insurgents captured two military barracks in Baga and Monguno.

As Boko Haram continues to capture more territories, including recent attempts to take over Maiduguri, a foray into government house in Damaturu and incessant attacks on Potiskum, the probability of holding elections in the occupied territories is fast disappearing. The security of electoral materials, safety (and by extension availability) of personnel to be deployed is not the only thing in doubt – more impoertantly, who is going to vote when most of the people have fled the area.

This is an important part of the reasoning that informed INEC’s decision to allow IDPs within the three states to participate in the elections. The Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) distribution is ongoing in the states at the moment with large numbers of PVCs collected by IDPs who are grouped according to local governments in camps. INEC has utilised its powers to create new polling units under the 2010 Electoral Act.

But this plan has its limitations; the most pressing question being whether Boko Haram will allow elections to be held peacefully in these designated centres. A second question is whether the lack of proper identification documents will make it easy for insurgents to infiltrate the camps – the use of suicide bombers making it all the easier for them to attack the designated polling units.

The legitimacy of elections that only take into account IDPs resident in these 3 states is questionable, as IDPs have relocated to several others e.g. Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi and Abuja. With figures of between 868,235 according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)  and 1.5 million (bandied around by other stakeholders) the question is how many of these can be captured with INEC limiting participation to the IDPs resident in the 3 insurgency states.

The recently held Yobe State Peoples Democratic Party governorship primaries, which took place in Abuja, generated much outcry over legitimacy – based on the provision of the party’s constitution that stipulates primaries must be held in the state capital. How elections held in or outside the IDP camps will be received by the political gladiators in PDP and APC is also something to watch. However, all relevant stakeholders were duly consulted by INEC during its recent meeting to unveil the modalities on how IDPS shall participate in these elections, but the silence from the main actors leaves much to be desired.

The 1999 constitution, as amended in section 179, provides that to be declared a winner of the presidential office, you must score a majority of the total votes cast at the election and 25 percent of total votes cast in 2/3 of the states, ie 24 of the 36 states of the federation plus FCT, Abuja. The same provision applies for the governorship election as provided in section 134 of constitution, albeit in this instance it applies to local governments. How will these constitutional provisions be interpreted? Will the 25 percent of the 2/3 requirements of votes cast in either states or local governments in relevant instances be inclusive or exclusive of the states/local governments under occupation?

What constituencies will the lawmakers representing both federal and state constituencies  under Boko Haram control represent? Will the new constituency they represent be the people in IDP camps? What is obvious is the 1999 constitution as amended does not envisage the quagmire we are presently in, while the graveyard silence by the political gladiators provides cause for concern in elections as closely run as these.

What is becoming obvious is that lots of issues in this elections will be determined by the courts; how will play out in a country where the doctrine of separation of power is generally unclear, nor is confidence duly reposed in any arm of government?

And finally…

Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has been on strike since the beginning of the year; as a result all pre-electoral matters before the courts could not be determined. I am happy to report that JSUN federal staff have now called off their strike, but it remains ongoing in the State courts. If the strike issue is not resolved before the elections, the implications are better left  unimagined.


Idayat Hassan is the Director of The Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja.

This article was first published on Nigeria Forum: African Arguments

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