The 25% Abuja cut-off mark

The Ram

By Abdu Rafiu

The controversy over the constitutional electoral hurdle a candidate with his gaze fixed on the presidential seat at Aso Rock must clear will continue to befog political discourse until the Supreme Court makes a pronouncement. The debate has been fierce among lawyers as well as politicians. The impassioned nature of the debate has put a great many on edge about what the constitutional requirement actually stipulates with the special reference to Abuja. Is scoring 25 percent of the votes cast in Abuja mandatory? Predictably, some lawyers believe it is, while others vehemently disagree. Some lawyers say the Supreme Court has made a pronouncement on the subject before. That Abuja is to be regarded as a state, yes; but that if a candidate does not scale the hurdle of a 25 percent score, he cannot mount the saddle, not to the recollection of many people who should know. We have Sir Robert Clarke S.A.N.; Dr. Ajulo and Senator Saidu to thank for their enlightenment. Robert Clarke and Saidu said making winning a 25 percent score mandatory in the Federal Capital Territory would be tantamount to according Abuja superiority over every other state in the country. That cannot be the intendment of the framers of the constitution. The constitution recognises the Federal Capital Territory as a state quite alright. It is understandable, with the President overseeing it as a state.

The intendment could not have been to arm it with veto power such that if 36 states in the country say yes, but Abuja says no, Abuja would carry the day. It would mean Abuja can overturn the choice of 29 states put together as in the case of Bola Ahmed Tinubu—Abuja with a current population of 3,840,000. In 2022, the metro area population was 3,652,000. The number of registered voters in Delta State is 3,221,697. That of Oyo State is 3,276,675. The voter population in the two states beats that of Abuja. Rivers alone has a 5,537,190 voter population. The Federal Capital Territory is trailed by Katsina with 3,516,719 registered voters. Kaduna: 4,335,208. Kano: 5,921,370 and Lagos with the highest voter population of 7,060,195. If scoring 25 percent in Abuja is an unassailable conditionality, it would mean whatever choice is made in Abuja must be superior to the choice made by any other state or a combination of them, implying that voters everywhere else are second-class citizens. That certainly is absurd, indeed provocatively ridiculous.

There are 93.4 million Nigerians on the voter register. INEC reported that only 87,209,007 which are 93 percent collected their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). Even then, only 25,286,616 voters, that is 28.63 percent of all eligible voters in Nigeria, participated in the Presidential election, with voter turn-out dropping from one election cycle to the other. In 2011, voter participation was 53.7 percent which was described as impressive. This declined to 43.7 percent in 2015. In 2019, it came down to 34.75 percent. This year, the participation went further down to 28.63 percent. Increasing voter apathy is a subject for another day. Why are Nigerians staying away from polling booths? It is a serious matter for reflection.

In spite of voter apathy, we must worry about the process and what the Constitution says. I can see why it may be tempting for the Labour Party to throw the Abuja cut-off mark into the faces of everybody, insisting that a Presidential candidate must have 25 percent of the votes cast in addition to the 25 percent in two-thirds of all the states of the Federation. In Abuja the Labour Party won by a very wide margin — Labour Party: 170,392 beating APC to 29,596 and PDP to 26,407 votes. But we cannot look at Abuja alone. Before the supplementary elections of last Saturday, 15 April 2023, APC already had 57 Senators; PDP, 28 Senators and Labour Party, 6. In the House of Representatives, APC was already ahead, boasting 162 Seats, PDP, 102 and LP, 34.

In the words of the Constitution, Section 134, sub-section (2): “A candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election—
(a) he has the highest number of the votes cast at the election; and
(b) 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, Abuja.”

The bone of contention is the sub-section (2). The argument has been left to mainly lawyers to beam light on what the section is saying, yet we know that hardly do we have two lawyers agree on the meaning, the letters, and the spirit of a statute. Statutes everywhere are clothed in obscurity. The more elements of obfuscation a draftsman can infuse into a law, it would appear, the closer to winning a gold medal he stands. It requires a special skill. And only judges can disentangle the knots. With the sword of Damocles hanging on the head of the nation, with boasts and threats flying from some directions, perhaps we should implore linguists, grammar experts, and those who pre-occupy themselves with language, to come to our rescue. Take Sub-section (2) (b), for instance, that is the crux of the disputation, speaking as a layman, inserting a comma between “…one-quarter of votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja” to read “… one-quarter of votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all States of the Federation, and the Federal Capital, Abuja.” The use of commas in the latter rendition gives Abuja a special place as a state among her sister states. That is when the argument that to be pronounced a President is conditional on scoring 25 percent in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, can, in my view hold water. That is when it can be said it is mandatory for a Presidential candidate to score 25 percent before he can be said to have won. Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines comma as a punctuation indicating a break made for the sake of clarity. It goes on to state that it is derived from “16c Latin, from Greek comma short clause.” Over to you, Professor Segun Awonusi! Over to you Prof. Olatunji Dare; Prof. Jemie; Henry Odukomaiya and George Okoro, my bosses; Dan Agbese; Dr. Chidi Amuta; Ray Ekpu, and Dr. Lasisi Olagunju!! Banji Adisa, my colleague, where are you? Or perhaps we summon Adamu Ciroma or famous linguist Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) from the Beyond. There are many more that worry about the correct use of the English language. Will Wale Edun and Yemi Ogunbiyi step forward, please, and be counted?!

In the absence of a comma, or semi-colon in the sub-section, no special attention is being drawn to FCT. Abuja as a state is not any more crucial than any other state in the Federation. If a candidate were to win in 24 states and he needs an additional state to make 25, the Abuja score of 25 percent is as good as the score in any other state. He would have met the mandatory number of states in addition to having the highest number of votes, which the grundnorm stipulates, to become the victor. If he were to win in 30 states but fails to add Abuja to his kitty, he has not lost anything because a loss there is not any threatening than not scoring 25 percent in Ebonyi State or Yobe State.

All said we await the pronouncement of the Justices who will be expected to draw on their learning, wisdom, and keen sense of justice.

Back To The Basics
My thoughts in the foregoing on the essence of clarity of language remind me of a piece I wrote on these pages 30 years ago, directed at the erudite Professor, Ben Nwabueze. The article was captioned Professor Nwabueze, please! “Back to basics.” Prof. was Education Secretary the nomenclature that would go today for Minister of Education. The article making reference to International Express, a weekly at the time, read in part:

“SCHOOL English classes are set to return to basic, traditional lessons in grammar, punctuation and spelling. New guidelines will finally banish ‘modern’ methods. Under plans drawn up by government advisers, teachers will be told to encourage pupils as young as six to speak standard English and not local dialect.”

I am recalling the column to see if anything has changed on the subject in many quarters over the years. The publication continues:

“OUT go the remains of trendy teaching methods from the 70s. IN are correct use of capital letters and full stops by the age of seven, commas by the age of 11, apostrophes and speech marks by 13, and colons by 16. The National Curriculum Council also wanted 16-year-olds to be taught the error of split infinitives like ‘to boldly go’ and youngsters to read by the traditional method of sounding letters”. I did state at the time:

“The above culled from International Express, a weekly, should interest our Education Secretary, Professor Ben Nwabueze. And if I may add: he should return us to pre-1966, that is the era before rigour was taken out of the study of English language in secondary schools, the era students familiarized themselves with ‘subject and predicate,’ ‘clause analysis,’ ‘restricted and unrestricted parenthesis.” It was when students were able to identify a ‘nominative absolute,’ and students of Literature could do literary appreciation of a work.” They could tell when to use the phrases ‘Owing to’ and ‘Due to.’

“These days, even in respectable quarters, you hear ‘Mr. President will be the Chief Guest of Honour at Ereko. He will be in town tomorrow.’ If I remember my conjugation well, ‘Mr. President’ is a Vocative Case, not a Nominative. It should be ‘The President will be the Chief Guest of Honour at Ereko.’ Where the word President is preceded by Mr., it becomes vocative: “Mr. President, Sir!’ or ‘Mr. Speaker, Sir!’

“Why the concern over the declining standard of English language, it may be asked. What is wrong with the new words being manufactured to tear down gender barriers? There is a lot wrong with introducing distortions into a language. Language is the mode of expression of a people. Words which they press out from within them and string together form sentences which they cloak in sound—the spoken word. Any distortion to a language obviously diminishes its perfection. The language retrogresses, and in the process narrows the range of vision and dims the clarity of the people who use it. They are dragged down.

“The point being made will be appreciated better if we draw from a higher perception of the word with which any language is formed. Words as we are permitted to know today, is a gift to human beings, for it is a faint reflection of the sacred Word which is Life and out of which Creation arose following the great Word of the Most High, the Almighty: “Let there be Light.” The Word being radiation of Divine Will formed Itself into the Living Cross, the radiating, living form of Truth. It was from the Cross, its radiations that Creation issued. Thus, Cross is the Truth, the Law. The Cross was seen by those gifted radiating behind the Lord Christ, being Life and Truth and Dove, signifying the Power of the Holy Spirit above His Head—both testifying His Identity when He lived on earth among us. We owe our existence to the Word, to the Cross. Everything swings in the Word, in the Cross, in the Law.

“Thus our words are formed under the pressure of the Law. These words ought to be invested with nothing other than their natural purity and approached in awe, reverence so that they can formingly also bring beauty, quickening, upliftment, nobility to us and our environment. Forms arise from the meaning of words even if a different meaning from what was uttered was unintended. From the foregoing, we can see that language is much more important than the levity with which various peoples have tended to treat it. The word, the language moulds a people. We now know through recognition afforded by higher knowledge that you can tell the nature of a people from the way they speak. A ponderous language forms a ponderous people. A man of polish cares about his language, and he speaks sparingly!
The early educationists admonished their pupils to use language correctly, to write and speak it well. They encouraged the pupils to watch their diction. Queen’s English was the standard. The picture one gets reflecting on Queen’s English is that of grace, majesty, polish and propriety. It is not the same picture Pidgin English flashes before our gaze or presents to our ears. A slang, broken English must produce a distorted, broken people, considering the power of language. A soothing word brings peace and harmony. An idle, careless talk causes harm and strains relationships. Good writing gladdens the heart of the reader. And most of us enjoy listening to good speakers: Professor Ayo Banjo; Dr. Stanley Macebuh, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Professor Alfred Opubor, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chief Segun Olusola to mention but a few in public glare. We should not shrink from protecting whatever language we choose to speak.

“The discussion here is not exhaustive. The human word will be treated fully at some other time.

“Professor Nwabueze, one more assignment before you go in addition to returning voluntary agency schools to their owners: Back to basics.”

That was 30 years ago. What has changed, if I may ask?

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