In many ways, the leadup to Nigeria’s February 2015 elections is a familiar sight to any political observer, with ads blaring nonstop on national media as candidates squabble about the issues. Yet one oddity drastically separates the African country’s election from those the Western world are used to; only one month out, it remains uncertain if the election will even happen at all.
This is not an outlandish observation considering the security crisis in Northeast Nigeria with Boko Haram and the perennial underfunding of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC). But, more directly, there are two provisions of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution capable of being exploited to either undermine the integrity of the presidential election or postpone it completely. In a country polarized between two major parties, the invocation of either of these provisions is capable of devolving Nigeria into chaos.
The first of these provisions is section 135(3), providing the president emergency powers to extend his tenure for up to six months at a time with legislative approval 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 other provision, 134(2), obliges a presidential candidate to obtain not just a majority vote but also “not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation” in order to win. When these two provisions are weighed alongside the continuing Boko Haram war in the Northeast that has displaced countless citizens, the possibilities for election tampering or even postponement are quite worrying.
The emergency provision essentially acts as a political safety net the incumbent president can utilize for either genuine security concerns or selfish ones. As an unpopular president who is unwilling to face an election against a strong contender, Goodluck Jonathan may just stall the election for a few more months until his public image improves. Furthermore, the National Assembly, a legislature full of incumbents that have historically been cooperative with the president, with the exception of minor tussles, may be likely to support an extension of his presidential tenure.