There is no single doubt that much disputation has been visited on the Nigerian political landscape, following the calls for and against shifting the February general elections. There is also no doubt that if not carefully managed, this debate and, a fortiori, any attempt to shift the said polls, may snowball into a political violence of unquantifiable proportions. May that day never come again in Nigeria!
The dispute seems to be centered on the fact that many Nigerians have not collected their permanent voters’ cards (PVCs). Suggestions that the Federal Government should declare some days as public holidays to enable registered voters who are yet to collect their cards to do so have so far not been heeded, even as time for the election is fast approaching.
One sure way out is for the various State Governments to individually designate some days as public holidays for this all-important exercise to be carried out by Nigerians wishing to exercise their civic responsibilities.
The power of State Governments to designate some days as public holidays is derivable from section 2(2) of the Public Holidays Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which is to the following effect:
(2) Subject to section 1 of this Act, the Governor of a State may by public notice appoint a special day to be kept as a public holiday in the State concerned or in any part thereof, and any day so appointed shall be kept as a public holiday.
Even though only one day is contemplated by the above subsection, by section 14(b) of the Interpretation Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, singular is, where appropriate, to be interpreted as plural and vice versa. Besides, we have always observed public holidays declared by State Governors.
If any State Governor takes this lead, Nigerians will soon know who among the State Governors wants to truncate our hard-earned democracy, by refusing blatantly to make a similar declaration.
In conclusion, I will add my voice to those opposing the shifting of the February general elections on the simple ground that eligible voters have not collected their PVCs. After all, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has undertaken to continue distributing the said cards till the penultimate day of the first set of elections. In any case, if voters refuse, fail or neglect to go and collect their PVCs, there is little or nothing anybody can do about that, as such potential voters would be take to have jettisoned their electoral franchise
Sent in for publication by:
SEBASTINE HON, SAN, FCIArb.
(Constitutional Lawyer and Author)