Nigeria Decides 2019: The lesser elections that really matter

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Will people go out to vote on Saturday, 9th March? Maybe that is not the right question. Would more or less people vote in the gubernatorial elections than they did a week ago in the presidential and parliamentary elections?

A lot of Nigerians care a great deal about the presidential and parliamentary polls. For those of states and local governments? Not so much. So, considering how turnout was quite low for the former, there are concerns the potential disinterest might be worse for the latter. Still, it is best to be optimistic.

The big states, like Lagos, Kano, and Rivers, get some attention, though. And deservedly so. But because state politics tend to be in the firm grip of so-called ‘godfathers’, most people do not even bother to make the effort. I reiterate the need for conducting the presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial polls on the same day.

The states I am watching closely are Lagos, Ogun, and Imo.

Kano would have been part of my watchlist. But after the poor showing of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state during the presidential poll, despite its aplomb beforehand, I am not so sure there is a contest there.

The PDP secured 391,593 votes in Kano state during the presidential election, while the APC garnered 1,464,768 votes. So, the incumbent, Abdullahi Ganduje of the All Progressives Congress (APC), would probably secure a second-term in office.

The Lagos gubernatorial poll is one to watch. In the presidential election, the two leading parties, the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP garnered about the same votes. The APC secured 580,825 votes, while the PDP got 448,015 votes. Clearly, the underdog PDP has a fighting chance.

Ogun is perhaps the most interesting one. The outgoing governor, Ibikunle Amosun, of the ruling APC, who has already secured a senatorship, is supporting Adekunle Akinlade of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM).

True, Mr Akinlade and his supporters were forced to move to the APM after allegedly losing out to the powers that be in the APC. But as party men, it was ordinarily expected Mr Amosun and his protégé would lick their wounds and toe the party line thereafter. Mr Amosun would have none of it and has not hidden the fact that his support is with the APM candidate.

And there is ego at stake as well. Should Amosun prevail in Ogun state, it might be the beginning of serious divisions within the Yoruba political household currently under the leadership of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Amosun’s close relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari also means Mr Tinubu has to exercise tremendous restraint.

Incidentally, there seems to be popular support for Mr Amosun’s choice. On the face of it, at least. But considering how turnout at rallies has been a poor indicator of success at the polls, proof would be in whether Akinlade’s percieved lead translates into the majority of votes on polling day.

Should the Akinlade-Amosun alliance prevail, however, the APC would still need to figure out a way to punish Mr Amosun for his ‘anti-party’ activities on the one hand, having already suspended him, while on the other hand remaining well-positioned to benefit from his political fortunes.

Another state I am watching closely is Imo, where outgoing governor Rochas Okorocha has also been suspended by the APC. Mr Okorocha has also secured a senatorship. And just like Ogun’s Amosun, he is supporting Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA), a candidate from another party, to replace him as governor.

What the APC does after the results are released is up to it. But it clearly cannot afford to lose these states. And it must do its utmost to keep the two senators within the fold. But should the party also tolerate indiscipline? Certainly not.

Still, most would recall how similar infighting within the APC four years ago literally created an opposition bloc within the party, thus making it difficult for Mr Buhari to govern properly. The same mistake should not be made again.

macroafricaintel | Nigeria Decides 2019: Post-election note (2)

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Turnout conundrum
One of the facts that struck me after the release of the 2019 presidential election results in the last week of February was the relatively low turnout. Hitherto, anecdotal evidence suggested turnout was ‘impressive’. On a relative basis, it was not. But it was indeed impressive on an absolute basis; especially in light of the prevailing factors of the one-week delay of the poll, security fears and the logistical challenges of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

29 million registered voters were accredited for the 2019 presidential poll; the same number of voters that participated in the 2015 poll. Relative to the number of registered voters, however, the 36 percent that voted this time around was lower than the 44 percent of 2015. 82 million Nigerians registered to vote in 2019, more than 20 percent higher than the 67 million that registered to vote in 2015.

A well-known public figure made an interesting point about what could be responsible for the relatively low turnout. His view was that the turnout figures for the elections in 1999 (30 million), 2003 (42 million), 2007 (35 million) and 2011 (40 million), which did not use card readers for voter accreditation, were probably bloated. Put simply, they were higher because it was easier to rig elections back then when card readers were not part of the process.

So, the more reliable base to compare the 2019 turnout of 29 million should be the 2015 poll figure of the same amount. Why? Card readers were first used in 2015. In a nutshell, the turnout would be poor or good depending on whether you choose to look at the proverbial ‘glass of water’ as half-full or half-empty. Still, there was indeed significant voter apathy. And it is likely the one-week delay contributed to the disinterest.

Nothing wrong with going to court
I have been asked whether the decision by the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar to go to court is good or bad for the economy. My view is that it is good for our political development. Thus, unlike the popular view that Mr Abubakar should choose to be a statesman by conceding defeat, I think he would do a greater service to the nation by going to court.

Since it is highly unlikely Mr Abubakar would prevail in court, his primary object in taking legal action should be the improvement of our democracy. It could be hoped that the process would reveal certain irregularities and mis-steps that could in the aftermath of his legal action be corrected by a better electoral law.

Reform INEC & electoral process
There is clearly a need to unbundle INEC, for instance. While it could never be ‘independent’ in the real sense of the word, it could certainly be made more efficient. I would certainly recommend that the sequencing of the presidential, parliamentary and governorship elections be revised. A suggestion might be for the three to be held on the same day. Because after the presidential and parliamentary polls, which are held on the same day, there is a tendency for most politicians and voters to align with the ‘winning’ party in subsequent polls down the line.

Another reason is already palpable. After winning re-election for its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) almost momentarily suspended Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha and Ogun state governor Ibikunle Amosun for anti-party activities. While the party is justified in doing so, in light of their quite well-known political preferences, it is highly unlikely the party would have made the move before the presidential poll, when their political capital was needed to support President Buhari.

Is the Abdul-Salami Abubakar peace committee wasting its time trying to nudge the opposition PDP’s Abubakar to concede defeat? Not really. But I do not think it is necessary. Mr Abubakar has promised to only go to court. He has not, however, said he would engage in any form of public disturbance. Besides, the court action, which could take up to a year to finalise, may serve the additional purpose of keeping Mr Buhari on his toes. What do I mean? There is a risk of complacency in any second presidential term. An active opposition may help to ensure that Mr Buhari’s administration is more inclusive this time around.

The Kenyan precedence
When Raila Odinga, the main opposition presidential candidate in the 2017 Kenyan presidential election lost to the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, an aggrieved Odinga engaged in protests, and even swore himself in as substantive president. A wise Kenyatta, after initially taking the aggressive route, came to the realisation that both of them actually wanted the same thing.

They both loved their country. They both wanted to fight corruption. They both wanted a more inclusive politics and government. They both wanted Kenyans to have better lives. In what is now termed the ‘Handshake’, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga decided they would work together instead. And today, the fight against corruption in Kenya is gaining momentum. And a referendum towards a more inclusive government is now in the works.

The Nigerian case is not as serious as the Kenyan one, however. Politics in Kenya is almost strictly along tribal lines. Kenyan politics is also dynastic. In Nigeria, some tribal loyalties exist. But Nigerians do vote across tribal lines when they want to. And there is yet to be a political dynasty at the federal level in Nigeria.

A potential legal action by PDP’s Abubakar could also engender continued debate about how we want to move Nigeria forward, how to move our politics to one of ideas and not the pocket. In the aftermath of a possible loss at the courts, Mr Abubakar could go on to organise policy dialogues and debates that could even include the ruling APC officials in government. He would also likely get opportunities to give lectures at think-tanks and universities around the world. In the process, a new set of conservatives (‘Buharists’) and progressives (‘Atikulates’), that are younger, more enthused, detribalised and bound by a patriotic desire to serve Nigeria, might emerge.

macroafricaintel | Nigeria Decides 2019: Post-election note (1)

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

I spent the election weekend power-reading two books about Nigeria’s recent political evolution.

The first, “My transition hours” by former president Goodluck Jonathan, details the author’s version about the events that led to his concession of defeat in 2015 to incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari.

The second, “On a platter of gold – How Jonathan won and lost Nigeria” by former sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, provides a more objective view of the same events during the Jonathan presidency.

I also did a quick recap of two other books; namely: “Against the run of play: How an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeria” by former presidential spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi, and “Fighting corruption is dangerous” by former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

I was trying to get a better understandng of the workings in the corridors of power, the State House especially, during an election in which the incumbent is seeking a second term.

True, the circumstances now are very different from those of four years ago. But as far as I know, there has probably not been an administration, with as many books by former insiders, so quickly after its end, as that of Mr Jonathan.

A fifth book, “Political order and political decay” by Francis Fukuyama, which I have to admit, I am yet to finish, has a whole chapter on Nigeria. It makes for sober reading.

The book reflects on the political evolution of different parts of the world. Why is northen Europe (“Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia”) more prosperous than southern Europe (Greece, Italy), for instance? Fukuyama identifies “clientelism” (or patronage) and “corruption” as key reasons why.

Still, these countries, though still troubled, have managed “to provide basic public goods at a level sufficient to turn their societies into wealthy developed countries.”

When we turn to the African country of Nigeria, however, we observe clientelism and corruption of an entirely different order of magnitude and, correspondingly, one of the most tragic development failures in the contemporary world.”

What is abundantly clear is that any candidate seeking to unseat an incumbent president of this country deserves our sincere best wishes. Because he or she would need it.

When you read the accounts of these former government insiders and reflect on the comments of key government officials during this election period, it is unbelievable how much you begin to understand. And how much more you do not.

You certainly know for sure that there is no such thing as an “independent” electoral commission in the Nigerian context, for instance. That is, in the practical sense of the word.

Because judging from the accounts of various schemes around elections during previous administrations, you realise there is a lot people in the executive branch of government can do to determine how “independent” or not an electoral commission would be.

Let us just say when the current insiders also write their books, there is likely a lot we would learn that is likely very different from what they have been telling us.

Was the adminstration totally caught by surprise by the postponement of the polls by one week, for instance? I have a view. But it is irrelevant now.

Still, I thought the consistency in the responses of ‘surprise’ by top officials of the ruling party in and outside of government, when the news broke, to be a little odd.

Regardless, as far as one can objectively assess what happened on election day, the presidential and federal legislative polls on the 23rd of February were likely better than they would have been had they been held a week earlier.

Turnout was impressive. And it was pleasantly surprising how the new accredit-vote-and-go process turned out to be quite effective. It reduced bottlenecks, as people did not have to wait till accreditation was over before voting.

It was also heartening to see governors, those of Kaduna and Ogun for instance, and other gubernatorial aspirants, stand in line with ordinary Nigerians, genuinely waiting to get accredited and cast their ballots.

True, there were some problems here and there. Card readers malfunctioned in some places. Ballot boxes were snatched in a number of places as well. Violence was also reported in at least three states. But by and large, these incidents were not outside the realm of expectations about a typical Nigerian election.

But that is the calm before the potential storm. It is the aftermath of the announcement of results that bears watching. The admonition to all the candidates is that in the event the outcome is not to their satisfaction, kindly do one of these two things: Go to court or go home and rest.

Nigeria Decides 2019: Pre-election note

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Concerns about potential heavy-handedness by the security services have likely been doused by the speech of President Muhammadu Buhari on the eve of the delayed 2019 elections now scheduled for the 23rd of February, a week later than initially planned.

Mr Buhari had remarked that he had ordered the police and the army to be “ruthless” with ballot-box snatchers and the like. There was tremendous outrage in the aftermath.

While he did not exactly say security personnel should shoot-to-kill electoral offenders, it was implied as such. The major concern was that the president might have inadvertently given the police and the army a long leash or no leash at all.

Irrespective of whether that was indeed the president’s intent, it is abundantly clear now he took note of the feedback. How so? His election-eve speech was designed to convey a softening of the pedal of sorts. He did not wear the full traditional attire, for instance, choosing to forgo the robe (similar to not wearing a jacket).

He also started his speech in an endearing manner. Typically, presidential speeches in these parts start with the phrase “Fellow Nigerians”. This time around, the president started his speech with the phrase “Dear Nigerians”. The drafters must have hoped these subtle changes would be noted. And on time, too. Well, they were.

Of course, the president’s true intent cannot be totally deemed to be objective. Since he is seeking re-election, he has little choice but to try to win over as many voters as possible. Still, the move was a welcome one. And it is likely to have the intended effect of putting voters at ease.

I followed the presidential campaigns closely. Based on my observations, the presidential election would likely be close. No one can say for sure which of the two leading candidates, Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would win.

One esteemed analyst I asked says the winner between the pair would likely be determined by the courts in the end. There are those who probably reckon this conclusion has been reached by the leading candidates as well.

Most analysts, the ones I have discussed with, at least, are not particular about which of the two leading candidates wins. They see them as more of the same. And that is true to some extent. But they do care that the process be credible.

So, what is the probability that the elections would be free and fair? I think they will be. The presidential election, at least. The ones that concern one are for a number of states. Ogun state bears watching. Imo state too. Kano state as well.

macroafricaintel | Nigeria – Views of foreign investors ahead of polls

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Crucial presidential election in February has elicited mixed reactions about the economic and political outlook of Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second four-year term. His main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, is the country’s former vice-president.

Mr Buhari’s strong points are his anti-corruption war and the strides his administration is recording in building much-needed infrastructure. Mr Atiku has presented himself as a genial pro-business candidate. Because both candidates have a huge followership and strong political structures, the election is widely expected to be hard-fought and results likely tight.

Concerns grow
Thus, there are concerns that the polls might not be free and fair. These are not unfounded. The opposition complains about harassment and intimidation by the state. This sentiment is probably not unconnected to the corruption charges some of their members are currently fighting in the courts.

Mr Buhari insists there is nothing to be worried about, vowing the elections would be free and fair. And that he would accept the results, even if he does not win. Still, recent actions by his government have heightened fears about whether that would really be the case.

A familial connection has been established between the president and Amina Zakari, a commissioner at the electoral commission, for instance. And in January, Walter Onnoghen, Nigeria’s chief justice, was slammed with corruption charges. Coming just one month to the polls, especially as the judiciary could determine who is declared winner of the likely tight presidential poll, quite a number of people are wary.

Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, an Abuja-based thinktank, says she has “doubts [about whether the] two dominant political parties involved and [the] security [agencies] are interested in credible elections [as] the political actors are demonstrating unrestrained desperation to win…at all cost.” She believes “there is a high likelihood that the elections will end up in court…as both parties believe they will emerge winners”.

Not worried
In light of these developments, there is the perception that foreign investors are concerned about whether the polls would be free and fair as well. And what that could mean for the country’s markets and economy this year. But instead of assuming, why not simply ask those who should know?

New African asked Charles Robertson, global chief economist and head of macro strategy at Renaissance Capital, an investment bank focused on emerging markets, about what investors were telling him. “They are relaxed about the election,” says Robertson. His feedback is corroborated by Malte Liewerscheidt, vice president at Teneo, a global risk consultancy. “Investor sentiment is somewhat indifferent”, says Liewerscheidt.

These views are surprising. So why is the election not a key concern for foreign investors like would ordinarily be assumed? Teneo’s Liewerscheidt says “overall, few investors expect much to change, regardless of who wins the general election, [hence why] interest in the polls is muted.”

If foreign investors are not worried about the elections, why are they not putting their money where their mouths are then? Some foreign portfolio investors have reportedly been doing some quick trades in the markets as late as January. But flows have not nearly been as much as they used to be.

That is, even before the elections became increasingly imminent. Returns from local equities have not been encouraging, though; albeit this has also been the case globally. In response, Renaissance Capital’s Robertson says “[they] are deterred from investing in Nigeria due to the low oil price and uncertainty on FX [foreign exchange] policy after the election.”

Growth expected to pick up
In its 2019 economic outlook, the African Development Bank (AfDB) says “the slide in oil prices from late 2018 coupled with an output cut imposed by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) poses a downside risk to [Nigeria’s] economic outlook.” It also sees the “parliament’s approval of the 8.83 trillion naira 2019 ‘budget of continuity’ [being] delayed due to [the] presidential elections”.

In any case, economic growth projections for the year are quite decent. From the World Bank, International Monetary Fund to the AfDB, the expectation is that Nigeria would grow by at least 2 percent in 2019, from likely lower than that level in the previous year. So, what could be responsible for the improvement?

Mark Bohlund, Africa economist at Bloomberg Economics, tells New African that “Nigeria’s economy will probably accelerate in 1H19 [January-June, 2019], fueled by increased spending connnected to parliamentary and presidential elections in February.” In other words, he sees the upcoming elections driving growth to some extent. However, Bloomberg’s Bohlund sees “that acceleration [likely tapering] off over the year as the new government aims to improve longer-term fiscal sustainability.”

An edited version was published by New African magazine in February 2019

macroafricaintel | Nigeria – Assessing the Abubakar & Buhari policy documents

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

It is election season in Nigeria. Elections for the presidency and federal legislature are slated for mid-February. In early March, those for the governorship of each of the country’s thirty-six states and others would follow. Naturally, the greatest focus is on the presidential race. And while there are more than fifty contestants for the job, including a few internationally recognised technocrats, all eyes are on the two leading presidential candidates.

Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is seeking a second four-year term. His main opponent is former vice-president Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Both candidates hail from northern Nigeria, but from different parts. President Buhari is from the northwestern part of the country while Mr Abubakar is from the northeastern part. Whereas the northwestern geopolitical zone is quite peaceful, the northeastern part suffers from insecurity, with terrorists attacking key cities and towns now and then.

Incidentally, the insecurity in that part of the country is why Mr Buhari beat former president Goodluck Jonathan some four years ago. It also helped his chances that Mr Jonathan was a southerner. Northern voters did not have a difficult choice to make. Things are not so straightforward this time around. That is even as Mr Buhari still enjoys a cult following in the north. Inevitably, a significant portion of northern voters are likely to pitch their tents with Mr Abubakar; in the northeast especially.

Mr Buhari is thus likely to secure most of the votes in Western Nigeria and Mr Abubakar the East. Understandably, most forecasts point to a likely close tally. To change the dynamics and perhaps win comfortably, each of the candidates must demonstrate the superiority of their ideas. And in this age of social media, the voting public is able to easily assess them very quickly.

In view of this, the leading candidates have made a big show of their policy documents. Mr Buhari calls his the “Next Level” while Mr Abubakar’s is “Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again”. Nigerians are quite used to these well-packaged plans now. There have been many in the past. But since the problems they were meant to solve continue to endure, they would not be blamed if they are somewhat sceptical about these new ones. Still, what is probably uppermost on their minds is prosperity. Put simply: jobs. Both candidates promise as much.

Of course, the incumbent is probably best judged by his administration’s policy document: the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). In doing so, it is realised some gains have been made. And quite a lot remains to be done. In any case, renewed terrorist attacks in the northeast has yet again put security on the front burner. Even so, it is widely believed poverty is the root cause of insecurity in different parts of the country.

Clashes between cattle herders and farmers in the middle belt of the country have an economic rationale, for instance. Drought effects, like the drying of the Lake Chad, is believed to be one of the factors behind the relatively high poverty levels and consequent insecurity in the northeast. Thus, it is their economic visions that should matter the most. Does Mr Buhari plan to do anything differently to improve the economy? And what is Mr Abubakar proposing to do differently? New African asked three leading analysts for their views.

Amaka Anku, Africa director & practice head, Eurasia Group
“So I think what’s really at stake for Nigeria is revenue growth and infrastructure investments – so that’s the paradigm through which I’m analyzing their policy documents.”

“My main criticism is that both documents are extremely ambitious (unrealistic perhaps) in their spending plans without much focus on generating revenue to implement those plans. Politically, I can understand why that is the case – talking about collecting or raising taxes isn’t exactly compelling for the general public.”

“I was surprised that Buhari’s document is completely silent on the oil & gas sector – does this mean his administration will not push any reforms in this area? Quite strange to simply ignore such an important sector of the economy.”

“For Atiku, I’m concerned about the grand plans for infrastructure spending ($90bn a year) with zero discussion of revenue growth or even foundational work that needs to be done to formalize the economy and move Nigeria towards better tax collection (like the national ID scheme).”

Omotola Abimbola, Fixed income and currency research specialist, Ecobank
“We believe Nigeria could have its first presidential election campaign fought on ideological grounds in 2019, with the two major parties campaigning on ideologically opposed sets of policies and programmes.”

“At first glance, President Muhammadu Buhari’s “Next Level” plan appears to be a continuation of his administration’s existing policies and programmes such as social investment schemes, welfare spending on the vulnerable, deficit-financed infrastructure investment and public sector job creation.”

“On the other hand, candidate Atiku promises reforms and policies to increase private sector participation in the economy, particularly privatization of underperforming government assets in the oil & gas and transport sectors, liberalization of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, reduction in corporate tax rates, lower regulation, PPP funded infrastructure investments and promotion of investment friendly policies.”

“In American political parlance, the PDP appears to be more conservative – smaller state, big business and low corporate taxes – while the APC’s plans bear close resemblance to the democratic-party agenda – big state and welfare spending to support the vulnerability. Ultimately, both candidates’ promises are ambitious vis-a-vis current fiscal realities and their policy documents are conspicuously light on revenue generating strategies to create more fiscal space.”

“President Buhari wants to continue current approach to creating jobs using government subventions and direct employment, a position at odds with increasing revenue pressures, already-high recurrent spending and a bloated CBN balance sheet. Candidate Atiku promised to create 3m jobs a year and double Nigeria’s GDP to USD900bn in four years, which is tall order with little consideration for age-long structural challenges limiting short term growth potential.”

“On the ERGP, we think the implementation is still standing on its first pillar of reforms (restoring macroeconomic stability), and implementation of the other four strategic areas (Economic Diversification and Growth Drivers, Competitiveness, Social Inclusion and Jobs, Governance and Other Enablers) will be further out due to administrative inertia in pushing through important structural reforms.”

Malte Liewerscheidt, Vice-president, Teneo
“Atiku’s stated aim to double the size of the economy by 2025 would require annual GDP growth rates to jump to 12%. This is highly unrealistic as double-digit growth rates over longer periods are historically unprecedented. While the plan is almost guaranteed to fall short of target, the liberal reform measures suggested are still likely to inject desperately needed new momentum into the economy.”

“Buhari’s re-election manifesto, on the other hand, essentially features more of the same. The state-centric approach to economic development has been preserved, while higher targets have been set. Yet given the weak economic performance, rising unemployment and a mounting debt pile over the past four years, there is nothing to suggest the old recipes would produce different results in a potential second Buhari term.”

An edited version was published by New African magazine in January 2019

macroafricaintel | Nigeria – Deal with Onnoghen matter after the polls

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In January, Walter Onnoghen, Nigeria’s chief justice, was served with charges for failing to declare certain domestic foreign currency accounts. Ordinarily, such matters would be handled by the National Judicial Council, the watchdog for judges, before further steps are taken, if at all. At least, so it was thought. Arguments have been raised since then suggesting that may not necessarily be the case when the allegations are criminal or in the judge’s personal capacity. In any case, that is a matter for the legal system to resolve.

Considering how crucial the upcoming elections are, and the important role the judiciary would likely play in them, many wonder if the beleaguered judge is not being hounded out of office to make way for someone more acceptable to the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Like the president, the next in line to the embattled chief justice is a Northern Muslim. Mr Onnoghen is a Christian southerner.

There is precedence for these concerns. The chiefs of the army, airforce, intelligence, police, customs, immigration, electoral commission, to mention a few, are Northern Muslims.

President Buhari was not quick to appoint Mr Onnoghen to the top of the judicial profession. He did so only after tremendous pressure. Recent events suggest the matter was likely never put to rest. That is even as Mr Buhari was reportedly caught unawares by the development.

To be clear, no one is above the law. The chief justice can be petitioned, charged and prosecuted. And there is an abundance of laws and process to ensure he faces the music should he be found culpable. But a development that could potentially lead to the resignation of the chief justice or his removal just a month to the polls is very suspicious indeed.

Still, it must be borne in mind that senior judges have been prosecuted in other jurisdictions. A more recent and perhaps most relevant example is the case of Philomena Mwilu, the deputy chief justice of Kenya, who is currently under prosecution for corruption. In her case, she appeared in court as scheduled in the full glare of cameras before later securing reprieve over the jurisdiction of the lower court which docked her.

Thus, there is nothing wrong with the chief justice appearing before the Code of Conduct Tribunal or any other legal venue. For the avoidance of doubt, the complications in respect of this matter relate to the timing and due-process of the law.

It is hard to justify any benefit to the polity from clearly attempting to remove the most senior judicial officer in the land, who would be a key adjudicator in election disputes, just a month to the polls. In fact, the action has the potential of heightening regional tensions.

Incidentally, the president might have been done a great disservice. The outcry by the main opposition party that he desires a dictatorship and a return of northern hegemony has been given greater credence by this recent event.

Now that the legal due-process has been put back on track, the advocacy now is that whatever action is to be taken be deferred till after the polls.