Yet Another Reform Committee

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Nigeria already has a surfeit of unimplemented recommendations on the reorganisation and improvement of the polity. Only a sincere determination by the Buhari government to implement the report of latest committee will make a difference to the country, writes Vincent Obia

Last week, the federal government inaugurated a committee on constitutional and electoral reform headed by former Senate President Ken Nnamani. Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said in a statement, “The committee is expected to review the electoral environment, laws and experiences from recent elections conducted in Nigeria and make recommendations to strengthen and achieve the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria.”

Many have suggested that such committee at this time is unnecessary given the plethora of unimplemented reports on electoral, constitutional, and structural reform of the country. Those misgivings are, certainly, valid. But it is also true that there cannot be an end to discussion, debate, consultation, and negotiation in a democracy. As society evolves, new experiences and situations emerge that constantly require discussion and agreement. This is the essence of democratic development.

However, discussion becomes boring and, indeed, frustrating when what is discussed and agreed upon is always abandoned by the very people that commissioned the dialogue. Which is the situation that Nigeria finds itself. The country has faced embarrassments and a surfeit of confusion over the inability to implement the products of its many discussions.

From the Niger Delta crisis to the Middle Belt situation, the religious crisis in some parts of the country to election violence, Nigeria is full of fine reports, products of intelligent, sincere, and conscientious discussions that, if honestly implemented, would have saved the country many of the crises it continues to contend with.

In August 2007, the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua set up a 22-member Electoral Reform Committee to “examine the electoral process with a view to ensuring that we raise the quality and standard of our general elections and thereby deepen our democracy.” The committee headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Uwais, submitted its report to the federal government in December 2008. It recommended wide-ranging constitutional, statutory, institutional, and administrative changes aimed at improving the quality of elections in the country.

The Uwais committee recommended, among others, a more transparent approach in the appointment of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, which would remove the subsisting exclusive powers of the president to make such appointment, subject only to the confirmation of the Senate. It also recommended the establishment of special courts to handle electoral offences to ensure prompter trial of such cases.

“The committee is firmly convinced that the acceptance and implementation of the recommendations contained in this report will significantly restore credibility in the electoral process and usher in an era of free, fair and credible elections in the country,” the Uwais committee stated in its report.
As yet the core recommendations of that committee have not been implemented, even though elections in the country continue to be hindered by the anomalies that those recommendations are supposed to tackle.

In 2005, the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo organised the National Political Reforms Conference. The conference, chaired by former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Niki Tobi, came out with outstanding recommendations on how to redefine and redesign the country for the good of the government and the governed. But the conference’s report has remained unimplemented.

The 2014 National Conference organised by the former President Goodluck Jonathan government, which was chaired by former CJN, Justice Idris Kutigi, also came out with lofty suggestions for the development of the country that have yet to be applied.

Before the Fourth Republic, there was the Political Bureau of 1986 established by the regime of then military president Ibrahim Babangida, which has been widely acknowledged as one of the broadest political consultation exercises in Nigerian history. Headed by Dr. Samuel Cookey, the bureau was charged with the responsibility of investigating the causes of the failure of the country’s political and democratic institutions, and recommend remedies to address glitches in the political and economic process. But besides the two-party system that the Babangida regime experimented, which turned out to be, at best, tenuous, most of the key recommendations of the bureau were rejected by the junta and ignored by subsequent administrations.

On the Niger Delta crisis, several reports have recommended solutions that have been largely ignored by the federal government, thus, allowing the problems in the region to fester, with devastating consequences for the whole country. The reports include the Willinks Report of 1958, Belgore Report of 1992, Don Etiebet Report of 1994, Vision 2010 Report of 1996, Ogomudia Report of 2001, Niger Delta Regional Development Masterplan (2004), Report of the Presidential Council on the Social And Economic Development of the Coastal States (2006), and Report of the Popoola Presidential Committee on the Development Options for the Niger Delta (1998). Others are Report on First International Conference on Sustainable Development of the Niger Delta (2003), the Niger Delta Human Development Report (2006) by the United Nations Development Programme, Report of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta (2008), and Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Nigeria (1997).

The Plateau crisis has also been investigated by a number of panels, which recommended far-reaching solutions to the perennial conflicts in the state and other parts of the Middle Belt. They include the Justice Aribiton Fiberisima Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the April 12, 1994 crisis in Jos metropolis; Justice Niki Tobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry on the Civil Disturbances of Jos and its environs in September 2001; Prince Bola Ajibola Commission of Inquiry on the November 2008 crisis; Abisoye Panel of Inquiry of 2009; and the Solomon Lar Presidential Administrative Panel in 2010. The reports of these inquests have remained unimplemented.

Nigerians are living witnesses to the many reports of government-commissioned inquiries that are either rejected completely or half-heartedly implemented, often at the partisan whim of the leader. This is always to the detriment of the country.

The current doubts about the Nnamani committee are, definitely, not about the integrity of the panel, but what might happen to its report. What would make the difference to the country is Buhari’s commitment to a fair implementation of the committee’s report.
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