This is no time to squander scarce resources
It is easy to conclude that the 24-man committee headed by former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, and saddled with the task of reforming Nigeria’s electoral laws is dead on arrival. Since it was announced and inaugurated by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, it has come under searing attacks by social policy analysts and majority of stakeholders with keen interest for cleaner electoral process in the country.
The main grouse is that the committee, given its terms of reference, is a waste of time and scarce national resources because it seeks to duplicate a process that had been adequately undertaken with an uncommon unanimous public approval. According to Malami’s brief, the Nnamani 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.”
For the army of critics, this assignment was professionally undertaken in 2007 and competently concluded in 2008 by the 22-man Electoral Reform Committee instituted by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua which was headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Uwais.Members of the committee included the best of the stakeholders, attracting heavyweights from the academic, civil society organisations, professional groups and the public service. It was a testimony to the thoroughness of its outcome that the Yar’Adua administration accepted over 90 per cent of its recommendations and took immediate steps to implement them.
The Uwais committee in its report covered the field, recommending measures that would improve the electoral environment; strengthen the legal framework and enhance the independence of the election management body. Specifically, it recommended among others, constitution amendments that would insulate the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from the influences of the executive arm of government in terms of its composition and funding. The power to appoint INEC board was to be transferred from the president to the National Judicial Council (NJC) while its funding was to be a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue of the Federation. Election petition was to have time limit even as a Special Electoral Offences Commission was to be set up to try electoral offenders.
But for the refusal to cede the power of appointment of the INEC board, the Yar’Adua administration accepted most of the fundamental recommendations and was to begin implementation when the president took ill and eventually died. But President Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded him implemented the policy aspects and forwarded the entire report unedited to the National Assembly for consideration of areas requiring legal reforms and constitution amendments.
The financial independence granted INEC in the first amendment to the 1999 Constitution and the electoral reforms embedded in the Electoral Act 2010 as amended as well as the little known Electoral Act 2015 accented to by President Jonathan on the eve of the general elections were based on the committee’s report.
It is against this background that we agree with many critics that the Nnamani committee is unnecessary. We, therefore, endorse the declaration of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Abubakar Kyari, that the National Assembly would not wait for the input of the Nnamani Committee into its ongoing efforts to reform the electoral system since the Senate had almost completed the process of fresh amendments to the constitution and the Electoral Act 2015, using the Uwais Committee report as a base.
Given the prevailing dire paucity of funds in the country and the deafening clamour for the strengthening of our institutions, we urge government to immediately disband the Nnamani committee by making use of its existing bureaucracies and appropriate agencies, including the INEC, to conduct a review of the outstanding recommendations of the Uwais Committee report and forward them to the National Assembly for legislation.