By Samson Ubiri
The Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee recently inaugurated by the Federal Government is an ill-advised, needless, diversionary, and time-buying jamboree. It is another job for the boys.
Honestly, there is virtually no purpose this Committee intends to serve, which the Justice Mohammed Uwais Committee report will not serve. Membership cut across the civil society, academia, security, judiciary, etc. we had eminent and knowledgeable Nigerians like Bolaji Akinyemi, Olisa Agbakoba, Prof. Grace Alele-Williams, Bishop Matthew Kukah, Mr. Festus Okoye, and Prof. Attahiru Jega, Musliu Smith, etc. Consultations held all over Nigeria over about a year with inputs from foreign experts.
Very sound recommendations were made, most of which were already effected during the Constitution and Electoral Act amendments in 2010 under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Local and international communities have lauded that process piloted by Chief Ike Ekweremadu as the greatest effort at reforming the electoral system in this dispensation.
Among other breakthroughs the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was removed from the political shackles of the president. That was why Jega could hold his own because he did not have to go begging Jonathan for money. The use of Administrative Panels to witch-hunt and blacklist opponents from electoral contests as was seen under Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007 was also abolished.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Paul Unongo v Aper Aku and others in 1983, which removed time limits for election petitions on the grounds of principles of Separation of Powers and fundamental human rights was inherited by the 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act. Some cases dragged until well after the disputed tenure. Although the Uwais Panel recommendation for the exhaustion of election litigations before inauguration did not fully scale through, the National Assembly towed a middle ground by providing for a maximum time for hearing and determination of Election Petitions. Further efforts to extend the time limit to pre-election cases in 2015 sadly did not receive Jonathan’s blessing.
My point is that we have made a lot of progress in electoral reforms, without which an opposition party could indeed not have won the 2015 general elections. Admittedly, there are a few key recommendations by Uwais Committee not yet ingrained in our laws. They include the mode of appointment of INEC Chairman, establishment of Electoral Offences Commission, and provision for independent candidacy. In the appointment of INEC Chairman and members, for instance, it removed presidency as the appointing authority and vests it in the National Judicial Council (NJC) in a competitive process.
So, why did Buhari have to inaugurate another panel, especially at a time like this? More so, when the National Assembly is already taking steps to further improve the electoral process? Why not dust up the Uwais Panel report, look at the key recommendations (like removal of presidency as the appointing authority of INEC board) that are not yet integrated into our laws, meet with the leadership of the National Assembly and relevant Committees, discuss these matters, and have your suggestions integrated into their ongoing work? Must we set up a Snake Killing Committee when we already have sticks and machete?
Besides, there is so much that the Buhari administration could improve in our electoral system by simply respecting/implementing the existing laws and by the right democratic body language. For instance, does Buhari need a Committee to know that it was morally wrong to have appointed a fellow Fulani as INEC Chairman? Would Buhari have accepted an Ijaw man as INEC Chairman under Jonathan or a Yoruba man under Obasanjo? By this precedent, a Nigerian president may one day appoint his/her spouse with the INEC Chairman. After all, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua recently nominated his wife, Rosario, as his vice presidential candidate in the November 2016 election. Impunity begets greater impunity.
Conversely, in the last English Premier League season, Kevin Friend, the original referee for Tottenham Hortspur and Stoke City match was changed because he lived in Leicester City, home of Tottenham’s main contenders and eventual EPL winners. But the Third World is just Third World.
Furthermore, does Buhari need a Committee to promptly fill vacant positions in the INEC board of 13 members, which he allowed to deplete to as low as just two Commissioners at some point, obviously due to post-2019 considerations? Does he need a Committee to fulfill the provisions of Section 14 (2) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution by filling the 21 vacant positions of State Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, to enable INEC function optimally?
Does he need a Committee to obey court orders or respect the principle of Separation of Powers ingrained in our constitution? Does he need any Committee to know that the National Assembly is not a branch office of the presidency and are at liberty to choose their leaders?
Furthermore, does INEC need a Reform Committee to conduct rerun elections within the timeframes ordered by Election Petition Tribunals/Courts in line with the Electoral Act and Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution? Does INEC need a Committee to know that the inconclusive elections and capricious postponement of elections at the behest of the powers that be composes a requiem for our democracy, leaving millions of Nigerians without representatives?
Did President Jonathan need any Committee to call to congratulate Buhari even while collation was ongoing, in order to defuse the bloated tension in the country? Even when Card Reader refused to accredit Jonathan and wife, he ensured that monkeys and baboons did not soak in their own blood. Throughout his tenure, he did not need any Committee to congratulate the opposition each time they won- by ballots or courts/tribunals.
Lastly, Senator Ken Nnamani’s democratic credentials may not be wonderful after all. Like most gullible Nigerians, I used to hold him in high esteem until his dastardly role in his State’s politics in the run up to the 2015 general election. I did not believe the media reports that he was staunchly with ex-Governor Sullivan Chime on the compulsory retirement of National Assembly members from his Enugu State to be able to replace them with their acolytes- without recourse to primaries. But his open endorsement of the chicken impeachment unleashed on ex-Deputy Governor Sunday Onyebuchi opened my eyes. Onyebuchi’s offence, according to media reports, was that he indicated interest in a senatorial seat against ex-Governor Chime and Senator Nnamani’s preferred candidate- Ifeoma Nwobodo.
– Ubiri lives in Ogoja, Cross Rivers State