Electoral Act ’22: Time to acknowledge novel political possibility foisted on Nigeria

President Buhari displaying a copy of the Electoral Act, 2022 after signing it into law.


By Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN.

The emergence of the Third Force as enabled by the new Electoral Act, 2022 may upset the political statusquo of the old hegemony that hold on to power in perpetuity due to unprecedented deep pocket that has characterised that style of politics. A surprise awaits this old tradition in 2023 general elections as the author predicts in this piece.

NIGERIANS please shine your eyes.  In the coming 2023 general elections  there will be no free lunch. As they say in Yoruba land,  Eniti yio wo ina, aa se wahala: (Even he that will make Hell must sweat for it). This time around the dominant elites will pay for their incompetence and strategic indolence – and it will be a just reward for their sins against good governance dividend; that  metaphorical Golden Fleece that was promised in 1999 when the nation trembled  to divest from military rule and reinvested the proceeds in constitutional democracy. The augury of that comeuppance is what has been explored in this presentation If anything has become obvious,  the critical innovations in new Electoral Act of 2022 were engrafted  by power outsiders in a silent coup while the highly indulgent and pampered political class was asleep.  Eternal vigilance is the price of retaining anything of enduring value that is never enough to go round, and that the society will tolerate being coveted – in this case, political power. Power and morality are strange bedfellows and from the tending narrative by the emerging  third force movement they too are still  short on this understanding for all they have done and gotten right so far. Sad as that truism is, it has been so from time immemorial and all across the globe . 
If the battle ahead is between good and evil ( where APC and PDP represent the evil ) as being defined by the third force , it will be naive to expect anything but a rofo-rofo fight . History affords us no precedent where such a fight between good and evil was ever free, fair and transparent or with both parties triumphant  . 
That the ruling parties are oblivious of the force of disruption being rolled out by the third force , and have kept making seemingly pedestrian missteps in planning their primaries, as well as  structuring their selling messages in keeping with its provision is telling. Too many groundbreaking and transformational booby traps are embedded in the Electoral Act, 2022 ( in  particular the statutory validation of BVAS and electronic transmission of results from polling units ). This has tempered public cynicism of the electoral process and heightened an understandable belief that votes will count as advocated by third forces (whose mole in the legal reform  effort are the tireless CSOs) . 
In other words,  APC government  enacted  a law to guide an election who’s implications on their  intent to hold on to power by all means possible, they played scant regard to, blinded by their overconfidence of incumbency advantage. And the hapless populace is grateful for the unexpected gift . 
It is obvious now that the established political class thought wrong. As a result, the coming 2023 general election is not looking to be like anything that’s ever happened before in Nigeria.  When I read the likes of Professor  Attahiru Jega ( ex INEC boss who has the distinct honour of supervising the only election in which an incumbent federal government in Nigeria was not only DEFEATED  but actually UNSEATED).  Prof. Pat Utomi , Femi Falana SAN , Senator Shehu Sani etc , NLC , TUC , ASUU  teaming up with the vocal youths, EndSARs army reserves and making  actionable and action-backed  declarations  and referencing provisions in the new Electoral  Act as motivating factors for their conviction  that votes will count and rigging scuppered, it would be delusional to write them off. They can be seen methodically  and   deliberately taking positions  in the front seat of an unfolding  coalition that is now focused on cataclysmic power change. They have moved from fringes of power as intellectual guides to the arena of contest. Most of them are no more  as politically naive as they were during the June 12 inspired pro- democracy struggles that culminated in restoration of civil rule in 1999. They went on loan into the field to understudy the ways and wiles of the political technocrats in the course of the last  two decades . They  flirted uncomfortably with AD, PDP, NCP APC etc but the liaisons led to no union or offsprings. But they are back now  better equipped and with practical store of  actionable experience. Their victory at the polls will not just be an upset, it will have devastating revolutionary implications for the entrenched political class as we know it . You cannot wage a successful war against ‘evil’ ( as the third force is making out ) and then preach accommodation of agents of devils in victory . That will be mocking God for His  Grace . 
The third force is gaining momentum steadily by a combination of compelling messaging, rigorous, strategic political engineering helped by absence of any alternative that is refreshingly resonant with the disaffected but partisanly  uncommitted majority of the ordinary voting public . It is largely driven by adoption  of a strategic  disruption game-plan. On the other hand , the  established power elites are not trained in upsetting the Apple cart that disruption entails. They are a band of closeted conservatives united largely in keeping the political status quo through trade offs, compromises; and occasional bluffing. Credibility of intent and purpose is on the side of disrupters which makes for savings in political advertisements and campaign expenses. Conversely credibility deficit is the albatross of the entrenched political parties. The Act is now more voter friendly but disruptive of traditional rigging designs built into previous Electoral Acts. The job of election riggers have suddenly been made more onerous. 
In a more serious polity, a comparatively radical electoral law like was enacted in 2022 should only have scaled through after hard-nosed negotiation by all interested stakeholders. And everyone would have been alert to its consequences to plan ahead and restrategise for their survival under it.  Eerily the entrenched parties  are still thinking and acting ‘business as usual.’ less than eight months to a defining election that has no precedent.  
Anybody who has passable knowledge of the theory and praxis of adapted disruption should make no claim or boast that the present challenge posed by the third force, emerging largely to benefit from the enabling provisions of the 2022 Electoral Act, can be safely dismissed.  
An open source online definition of disruption may not be out of context  to presage this exposition. Simply defined: “The theory of disruption predicts that when an entrant tackles incumbent competitors head-on, offering better products or services, the incumbents will accelerate their innovations to defend their business.” 
In a more illustrative explanation  culled from Harvard Law Review: “What Is Disruptive Innovation”, by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. Raynor, and Rory McDonald. The writers postulated in summary: “Disruption” describes a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses. Specifically, as incumbents focus on improving their products and services for their most demanding (and usually most profitable) customers, they exceed the needs of some segments and ignore the needs of others. Entrants that prove disruptive begin by successfully targeting those overlooked segments, gaining a foothold by delivering more-suitable functionality—frequently at a lower price. Incumbents, chasing higher profitability in more-demanding segments, tend not to respond vigorously. Entrants then move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents’ mainstream customers require, while preserving the advantages that drove their early success. When mainstream customers start adopting the entrants’ offerings in volume, disruption has occurred. (See the exhibit “The Disruptive Innovation Model.”).” 
Based on this theory,  an adaptation of it to present political contestation will reveal that the emerging third force is feeding and gestating on the theory of disruption. 
But are the incumbent parties restrategising or innovating to respond to the emerging third force? Perhaps it’s too early to call them out for their palpable inertia and defensive  response. Rather than confront the challenge, they are pitifully reacting by citing what weaknesses they observe in the third force, such as their supposed lack of finance, structure or pedigree on the field.  Coming months will tell if this overhyped Achilles  heel of the third force, suffices to outfox them in the field. The peoples  critical point of pain (if accessed  and politically canvassed) is less about religion, ethnic balancing, party identity or loyalty than about good governance deliverable only by merit guided by competent leaders who have demonstrable empathy and compassion  beyond mere promises. That message is fast catching on online and an unprecedented eight months of campaign will strike me as a generous leg up to effectively replicate the crusade offline right on the field.Their added advantage is that the market is flat and unsegmented, every vote by their disruptive effort carries the same weight as any other in the electoral stable . 

It’s likely going to lead  to  implosion of the country if the major parties take too long to appreciate their threat and respond in kind by recalibrating  and retooling  their winning formula to make it fit for the new purpose. Being defenders of the said status quo they are the target for disruption; but so far they come across as fixated- unprepared and probably ill-equipped to compete on the disruptive turf. 
They are so far, in denial that the market is going to be receptive to the new deal on offer by the third force .  
On the other hand,  the disrupters are also merely exploiting the momentum while adapting and improvising on the road. This is because the third force is feeding on popular anger and disaffection with the current power wielders. The composition and contradictions will inevitably lead to cacophony of dichotomous  objectives – workers,  the left-behind and marginalized members of the middle class as well as  ethnic jingoists disguising as nationalists are mingling with some  upper class members in forging a joint venture to rival and take on the  two, highly resourced and entrenched competitors that are in the business for blood diamond profit – there is bound to  be schism  at the annual general meeting  of the third force which reverberations  may decisively disrupt the market .  
We are arguably heading to another June 12 where the likes of ASUU, NANS, NLC and ITT (previous class enemies) suddenly and unexpectedly locked themselves in a rainbow battalion to battle against established order that was heavily invested in keeping a business asset jointly owned and run with ITT before disagreement ensued. The old order is alarmed. They might go for broke in their desperation by resorting to war tactics outside the rule book of Geneva Convention (as was the eventual culmination of June 12). 
Meanwhile it had better dawn on the seemingly entrenched  parties (APC and PDP) that they are endangered regardless if their gut feeling to the contrary. The  burden on them to rebrand and reinvent themselves cannot be dismissed or wished away if they hope to  stave off or effectively  compete with the marauding machine of political disrupters in the medium to long term. The third force is here to stay. It cannot be wished away by the bombastic bravado of the dying hegemony in the Nigerian  political space.  

Now, the right attitude  to adopt by all stakeholders who have something to lose, if hell breaks loose  and PRESCIENT POSSIBILITY (even if a distant probability) happens, is to manage and cope with the possibilities that the third force may prevail at the general election.  It is counseled that  everyone psyches himself or herself to live  through the shock that it portends and wait for better luck another day.  The shock of June 12 more than the  fact of it was it’s undoing – it was  an unplanned and sudden revolution which nobody prepared for and so could not be assimilated and endured  by the losers and could not be competently managed by the victors.  
It bears acknowledging  that  modern history is not a stubborn goat repeating and reproducing  itself, it’s a cloned version injected with a modifying DNA of a chameleon.  Only the biophysicist who engineered the modified  DNA can predict the end product.  Who is that biophysicist in this instance? The jury is out. Hopefully the jury will be the electorate; not one dark-goggled Aladdin. 

A.J. Owonikoko, Esq is a Lagos-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN).


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