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Electoral Reforms and 2011

March 5, 2010
The President in his maiden speech on Inauguration  Day on May 29, 2010, made electoral reforms a key issue to his Administration. This is to be expected because evidence shows that during the 2003 elections 523 petitions went to the President Federal Court of Appeal, whilst in 2007 this soared to 1,523. And for good reasons, Mr. President appointed a 23-person Committee eminently and competently headed by Hon. Muhammadu Uwais, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. At inception, many Nigerians were sceptical whether Justice Uwais Committee was not just a rubber stamp, a propaganda tool, or  mere mouth-piece to do the bidding of the President, just like some  Presidential Panels and Committees had done in the past.
As a result, it is even understandable why Memoranda to the Panel were so few, given the keen interest Nigerians showed in the elections and electoral review. Even at the public Hearings, the way some  State officials more or less tried to hijack the entire event, made many civil society groups to cry foul. However, in the end, the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) Report came out with very salient findings which the Federal Executive Council found unpalatable in some instances, whilst the civil society and the general public embraced them with utmost enthusiasm.

There are many pertinent things in the  CRC Report: INEC should recruit people of integrity to serve the Commission through advertisement, and it should draw its finances directly on the First line charge, from the Federation Account; INEC should prove in court that the elections it conducted were not rigged; no party candidate should be sworn in until elections petition are determined; There should be an election Tribunal for each state of the federation. Attorneys General at federal and State levels should not have any hand in electoral matters. The Police curriculum must be reviewed to include aspects of electoral and democratic processes, Electoral crimes should be punishable through judicial prosecution, Ad hoc Staff of INEC should be people of integrity drawn exclusively from NYSC members and the civil service, there should be 20% women representation in all political parties Governing Bodies. These, among others, are the salient recommendations contained in the CRC Report. The Federal Executive Council came up with a White Paper on the Report stating and noting some of the salient points, but going ahead to disagree with them. This shattered  many Nigerians.

It should be noted that Nigeria cannot go into the 2011 General elections without a credible and acceptable electoral Law. All parties are agreed that the Electoral Act in its current form, and  in spite of its being amended twice in the past, is still highly flawed; also, all are agreed that Nigerians cannot go into the next election with such a Law standing unrevised. If the Act is to be revised, things must be done fast-we are already in the month of  March, 2010. No matter how fast the NASS is bale to work on the proposed Bills, it will take a minimum of six months to get the Act passed. But why the delay? All kinds of technical arguments are being, including returning the Executive Bill sent by Mr. President on the Electoral Act. Using technicalities in the face of a severe electoral crisis. All this  will not endear the NASS and the FEC to the electorate. This is because people from all shades of  opinions and political parties are saying “Never, never again” will they allow what happened in 2007 General Elections to reoccur. And we continue to ridicule ourselves in the public view when we do not get our elections right. Elections are the foundation or fulcrum for building genuine democracy because that is where the people give their mandate to candidates of their choice; that is where a covenant is signed and that is where, thorough party programmes and promises, the electorate are persuaded to vote for one  party or another.

Mr. President had called for the assistance of the United States Government, and as a result, a team of Five persons led by Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan Chairman of Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana, with such eminent scholars as Professor Darren Kew of University of Massachusetts, whose Ph. D Thesis is on Nigeria’s Civil Society in the era of military rule, have already submitted their DFID-sponsored Report. They consulted widely with governance agencies, INEC, civil society activists and scholars  concerned about elections in Nigeria. The issue is for FEC and NASS not merely to “talk, the talk”;  but also to “walk, the walk”.  We must all take elections as very serious aspect of our democracy; we must not trivialise them neither should we make them  mere appendage to our personal greed and avarice. In trivialising elections we are merely saying that the people do not matter; that mandate does not matter and that the covenant is useless. If this were so, then,  what are we going into government to do? It means we are not in government to serve the people, but our personal interest. It means that our government is not derived from the ballot box, but from something else, perhaps the bullet.

Political violence and  assassinations,  and Godfatherism which are hallmarks of our democratic practices have made politics unattractive to decent people. T has made them scared for their lives. But who are the people responsible for this and how can they be excluded from the political process? These are the things the ERC addressed in its Report. We are in dire  emergency. All over, civil society groups are clamouring for the adoption and legislation on the proposals of the ERC. No matter what the technical problems may be they need to be resolved. There is also the issue of whether piecemeal Bills rather than a comprehensive Bill on the Electoral Act should go to the NASS, given the fact that the ERC was more an alternative Draft Bill to the current Electoral Act. The claim is that in sending Executive Bills piecemeal, there is risk that some of the fundamental recommendations of the ERC will never see the light of the day. The two challenges then are how to resolve the technical issues raised by NASS and then try to synthesise and incorporate all the issues for review and send them in one fell swoop.

Nigeria must not turn itself into a laughing stock before the international community. Damning reports were written about us in the 1998, 2003 and 2007 General Elections by International Election Observers, from the European Union, to the Commonwealth, to the Carter Centre, International Republican Institute (IRI), International Democratic Institute (IDI), and so on.. We may say  it does not matter. Well to be indifferent about this,  is at our personal perils. This is because there are international best practices in the conduct of elections and we cannot claim that these are not applicable to us. That will amount to eating our cake and having it. More importantly, what is said by these international Observers, informs how their nationals perceive and relate to the Nigerian Diaspora.  This does not show that we are learning from our past mistakes, or that we even considered that errors have been made in the past.  To be insensitive to the reports merely shows that we are further emboldened by those mistakes. It becomes because difficult to indeed classify such errors of omission and commission as “mistakes”. Is a political snatching ballot box at gun point a Mistake? Is assassinating a political opponent at election a mistake? Is relying on money bags a mistake? Is allowing Godfathers rather than party conventions and congresses to choose candidates a mistake? WE must prove to Nigerians that we were serious and genuine in setting up the CRC in the first place and this can only come from how seriously we take the recommendations of  the CRC at both FEC and NASS.

Nigerians must realise that if we do not get our elections right we cannot fix our social and economic problems neither can we properly govern, because the crisis of legitimacy will continue to dangle over our necks.

This is why all hands must be on deck to ensure that something is done about the electoral reforms and that these reforms are properly packaged as Bills and expeditiously legislated upon by the NASS. WE all stand to gain from the reforms and posterity  will record it for our current leaders that it was the generation that destroyed the electoral system that also found men and women who were, patriotic courageous and onerous enough to also rectify the defects in the Electoral Act and electoral behaviour.

Lets us all see the global picture rather than the smaller and narrow interests involved in not fundamentally reforming the Electoral process or by filibustering the process of reviewing the Electoral Act. Everybody is agreed that there are basic defects in the current Electoral Act. What is not agreeable to all is some of the  salient issues the ERC recommended. What is left to do? Let us find some consensus around those issues and overcome the technicalities identified by the Nigerian Senate. There is a “fierce urgency” that is needed to get this done and Nigerians cannot wait. If we do not act now and wait till the next General Elections, then only God can save us. I believe that our leaders mean well and will not allow us to be plunged into another electoral crisis in 2011.            



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