The Senate has passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill after it was read for the third time on the floor of the Senate at the National Assembly in Abuja on Tuesday. This followed the adoption of the report by the Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on INEC. Senator Suleiman Nazif, who is the committee chairman, presented the report to the lawmakers. Following the passage of the bill, the Senate will forward it to President Muhammadu Buhari for the fourth time, after the President made observations and withheld his assent to it. The proposal caps campaign spending for next year’s elections. The following limits have been set: Presidential candidates and Gubernatorial candidates were retained at ₦5 billion and ₦1 billion respectively; Senate candidates and House of Representatives candidates were raised to ₦250 million and ₦100 million respectively, up from ₦100 million and ₦70 million. The Electoral Act also stipulates how electronic card readers, used for the accreditation of voters at polling stations, should work. The amendment says that should a card reader fail and a new one not be deployed within three hours, the election at that polling station should be cancelled and held within 24 hours.

Separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu, who has been missing for a year after a Nigerian army raid, on Sunday, disclosed on the radio that he was in Israel and was preparing for his upcoming return. Kanu also called on his followers to boycott next year’s elections. In its reaction on Tuesday, the Nigerian government dismissed Kanu and talk that he was returning to the country with hell. President Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said in a series of tweets that the country under Buhari was strong enough to protect its territory against threats and that it was also in contact with friendly nations that respected its sovereignty. Meanwhile, the Israeli government, speaking through Emmanuel Nashon, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said that there was no evidence that the IPOB leader was in their country.

The National Integrated Infrastructure Masterplan has revealed that Nigeria has fallen alarmingly short on the $127 billion estimated required investment to bridge the country’s infrastructure deficit. It said the country will need an average of about $25 billion (₦9 trillion) yearly, or five per cent its GDP for five years, to enable the country to kick-start its infrastructure renaissance as less than 10 per cent $11.5 billion (₦5.5 trillion) had been budgeted for capital projects in the last four years. It is recalled that ₦1.1 trillion was budgeted in 2014; ₦6 billion in 2015; ₦1.75 trillion in 2016; and ₦2.24 trillion in 2017, totalling ₦5.5 trillion, far below the estimated required investment to address the country’s infrastructure gap.

The Constitutional Council in Cameroon on Monday declared Paul Biya, the winner of the October 7 presidential election. The court’s president Clement Atangana declared the incumbent winner with a resounding lead of 71% of votes cast, while his closest challenger, Maurice Kamto garnered 14% of the votes cast. Victory for Biya came amid claims from opposition candidates that the election was marred by fraud, including ballot stuffing and voter intimidation. The Constitutional Council rejected all 18 petitions claiming fraud last week. The win gives the 85-year-old a seventh term in office and could see him in power until at least the age of 92. The only current African president to have ruled longer is Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

Commentary

  • The statement of intent by the Senate in the proposed Electoral Act amendment is clear – Nigeria must build on the incremental improvements from the last elections, a key representation of which is the card reader. It behoves of INEC to now take a real look at the failure points from the last election in the use of these devices, map potential failure points, and mitigate them. What must not be done is for INEC to discard card readers because of previous challenges. On campaign spending, we think the Senate has not set realistic benchmarks, as legitimate electoral costs, even cursorily calculated, outstrip what they have proposed. We must not make laws that are set up to be broken from day one. Rather than focus on setting limits, the Senate should strengthen campaign finance rules and monitoring of compliance with penalties for violating them, especially in the area of mobilisation of state resources to run political campaigns.
  • The reappearance of Nnamdi Kanu has provoked a flurry of speculation and conspiracy theorising. The one strand common to most of the conjecture and theories that have been floated is that his “return” was neither accidental nor coincidental. The initial mystery surrounding Kanu’s disappearance after the army laid siege to his house in 2017 has been replaced by the mystery of why he has resurfaced at this time. Among the leading theories is the idea that Kanu has re-emerged ahead of the 2019 elections because he is being unleashed to play a politically relevant role. Purveyors of this view believe that the government has been holding Kanu in custody all along and that he has been released from custody to help serve its re-election bid. There is no way of verifying this theory. However, a useful question is that of who benefits from Kanu’s reappearance and his brand of politics. Kanu’s call for a boycott of the elections by IPOB members will undeniably hurt the PDP by defusing the excitement and the anticipated electoral bump in the southeast and among Igbos that its vice presidential candidate, Peter Obi, brings to the ticket. Should this be the case, there is no doubt that the ruling party and its candidate will feel that their chances of victory next year have been enhanced.
  • The NIIMP report states that Nigeria needs $25 billion investment in infrastructure yearly, an amount equivalent to the country’s entire annual budget – which is itself funded in most part by debt. Borrowing to spend on infrastructure is normal for countries, but the interest rate and revenue generation potential determines the sustainability of that borrowing. At present, the government is borrowing at about 15% locally, which is unsustainable in any jurisdiction. Nigeria’s revenue generation problems have been well documented. Only recently the IMF called for an urgent review of the country’s tax policies, with emphasis on widening the tax base, increasing the tax on the richest 3%, and increasing compliance on VAT. Nigeria’s government has to, as a matter of urgency, divest away from spending on massive infrastructure projects (which it cannot afford to) and rather drive investment into them.
  • In Cameroon a favourable electoral outcome for Biya was a forgone conclusion once the Constitutional Council indeterminately delayed the release of the results. With continued discontent in the country’s two Anglophone regions – voter turnout in North West and South West regions was as low as 5%, according to the International Crisis Group (official figures put the number at 16%) – Biya’s election is almost certain to consigning the central African country to seven more years of violence, economic stagnation and runaway cronyism. Biya’s first act since the announcement was to reward the council, which dismissed 18 opposition petitions against the running of the elections, by inviting bids for the construction of a $475,000 mansion in an upmarket neighbourhood of Yaoundé for its president. Understanding how Cameroon’s political, economic and social structures remain under Biya’s vice grip is critical to making sense of where the country heads from here.