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2023 Presidential Election: Buhari’s Successor May Emerge Through Runoff

Unlike previous elections, there are permutations that the 2023 presidential election slated for February 25 may go into a runoff. If this happens, it would be historic as it would be the first in the country.

There is, however, a difference between a rerun and runoff election. A rerun election is conducted when the first one was marred by malpractices or when correct procedures were not followed. For instance, declaring an election inconclusive because of the number of polling units where the votes were cancelled. Thus, a rerun election can be so declared if the margin of victory in an election is lower than cancelled votes.

A runoff, on the other hand, is an election conducted when the first fails to produce a clear winner for the position of president or governor.

This can happen when the candidate with the highest votes does not have the required votes spread in the affected states/federation, thus a second election will involve just the two leading contenders.

While the runoff fear has been on the lips of not a few Nigerians and politicians alike, a delegation of a United States-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) openly muted discussion.

Speaking on the 2023 elections in Abuja, the delegation said the emergence of a former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and a former Anambra State governor and presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), may force the 2023 contest into a rerun or runoff.

They said this while presenting their first joint pre-election assessment statement and Osun State governorship election report, which was held on July 16.

The delegation of the NDI/IRI, which visited Nigeria from July 13 to 22, was led by the Secretary of State for State of Ohio, USA, Mr Frank LaRose.

Other members of the delegation are Dr Bernadette Lahai, former minority leader of the Sierra Leone parliament; Albert Kofi Arhin, national coordinator of the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) and former Director of Elections, Registration and Demarcation at the Electoral Commission of Ghana; Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa and Regional Director for Central and West Africa at the NDI; and Jenai Cox, Regional Deputy Director for Africa at IRI.

According to them, the 2023 elections would be a departure from some of the political dynamics that defined previous ones in Nigeria.

The report, which described Obi and Kwankwaso as a viable ‘third forces’, said their emergence as presidential candidates for the 2023 elections had excited many young Nigerians and would definitely impact on the conduct and outcome of the 2023 elections.

“If a third party draws sufficient support, a runoff presidential election could be a real possibility for the first time since the transition to democracy, adding complexity to the 2023 elections,” they said.

They also said the 2023 elections would present a significant opportunity to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy, especially that the 2022 Electoral Act enjoys a wide stakeholder support and has elevated public confidence in the commitment of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deliver credible elections in 2023.

What the constitution says about runoff?

Section 133 of the 1999 Constitution as amended states that a candidate for an election to the office of president shall be deemed to have been duly elected to such office where, being the only candidate nominated for the election, he has a majority of Yes votes over No votes cast at the election, and he has 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 and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

Also, section 134 (1) states that a candidate for an election to the office of president shall be deemed to have been duly elected where there are only two candidates for the election – he has the majority of votes cast at the election; he has 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 and the FCT.

Subsection (2) states that a candidate for an election to the office of president shall be deemed to have been duly elected, where there are more than two candidates for the election – he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election, each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the federation and the FCT.

In a default of a candidate duly elected in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be a second election in accordance with subsection (4) of this section, at which the only candidate shall be the candidate who scored the highest number of votes at any election held in accordance with the said subsection (2) of this section.

Subsection 4 states that in default of a candidate duly elected under the foregoing subsections, the INEC shall, within seven days of the result of the election held under the said subsections, arrange for an election between the two candidates, and a candidate at such election shall be deemed elected to the office of president if he has majority of votes at the election and he has not less than one-quarter of the votes at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the federation and the FCT.

Also, subsection 5 states that in default of a candidate duly elected under subsection (4) of this section, the INEC shall, within seven days of the result of the election held under the aforesaid subsection (4), arrange for another election between the two candidates to which the subsection relates, and a candidate at such election shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of president if he has majority of the votes.

INEC regulation and guideline on runoff

In the ‘Gegulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2022’ released in June by the INEC, article 63 states that the chief electoral commissioner and returning officer for the presidential election shall complete Form EC8E and return the candidate who has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and not less than one-quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of all the states and the FCT. 

Article 64 states that where two or more candidates score equal number of highest votes, the chief electoral commissioner and returning officer for the presidential election shall not return any of the candidates, and a fresh election shall be held for the candidates who polled the equal number of votes on a date fixed by the commission.

Where no candidate meets the requirements of the majority of votes cast and the two-thirds as provided in the regulations and guidelines, a runoff election shall be organised by the commission within 21 days, in line with the provisions of section 134 (2) to (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Article 67, which specifically lists ‘runoff elections for presidential elections, states said that where the margin of lead between the two leading candidates is not in excess of the total number of collected voters’ cards of the polling units where elections were not held or were cancelled in line with sections 24(2&3), 47(3) and 51(2) of the Electoral Act 2022, the returning officer shall decline to make a return until polls have taken place in the affected polling units, and the results collated into a new Form EC8D(A) and subsequently recorded into Form EC8E for declaration and return.

CSOs speak

Speaking on the mater, the Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said the 2023 elections would be quite different and would actually be a game changer.

“In these elections, emphasis is not just on majority votes, the challenge is the ability of any of the presidential candidates to get the 25 per cent votes in 24 states and the FCT as stipulated in the Nigerian constitution,” she said.

Also, the Executive Director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), Faith Nwadishi, noted that from the beginning, it was looking like a two-horse race, but everything is changing because of the new entrants.

“Now, we have a potential third force in Mr Peter Obi and his group, so it is no longer going to be an election between the two major political parties. We are seeing about two others coming into the polity.

“Look at the way people are receiving them. In all the elections we had in the past, it had always been a two-person race, but now, we are looking at three or four people in the race, so a possible runoff is envisaged. But that would depend on the turnout of voters. A lot of times we saw that before elections there would be much frenzy and  enthusiasm, but the number of persons who come out to vote depends of those who actually registered, collected their voters’ cards and come out on election day to cast their votes.

“So, while we don’t rule out the possibility of a runoff, we are also looking at the eventual turnout on election day,” she said.

The governorship candidate of the NNPP in Kaduna State, Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi, said that with the way things are unfolding, it might be difficult to have a clear presidential winner on the first ballot, in accordance with electoral guidelines.

He also said no political party should be underrated as a surprise could spring up in the 2023 general elections, especially that the presidential candidates are being given religious and ethnic coloration. He added that it might be a herculean task for any of the presidential candidates to secure 25 per cent in 25 states. 

First published in Daily Trust

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