- Reform panel receives 23 memoranda in S’East
Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
The Chairman of the Constitution and Electoral Reforms Committee, Senator Ken Nnamani, has said that the ongoing reform of his committee will discourage the swearing-in of elected officials with pending cases at the election tribunals.
Nnamani, a former president of the Senate, who spoke o Monday at the South-east zonal public hearing on constitutional and electoral reforms in Enugu, said that the measure would discourage attempts by politicians to win at all costs.
He said politicians were in the habit of deploying unwholesome means to be declared winners, following which they would wait for their opponents to go to the tribunal.
He stressed that the need for a new Electoral Act could not be over emphasised, as laws are dynamic and must change with the dictates of time.
This came just as the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Ngozi Emehelu, advocated the extension of the 180 days statutory period within which election petitions are adjudicated, insisting that the stipulated timeframe was inadequate for petitioners to prove their cases.
The former lawmaker said: “We want to come up with a new system whereby no one can be sworn into office if they have election petitions hanging on their necks. Politicians are fond of fighting to win and saying, ‘Let’s go to court’.”
Nnamadi said it was sad that the prosecution of election cases had become more expensive than campaigns, as according to him, “Experience has shown that a majority of the cases in our courts are either pre-election or post-election matters and we want to find a way out of this.”
The former Senate president observed that the committee would ensure that future elections are credible such that no court would be able to upturn such elections, noting that this would also discourage unnecessary litigation.
He said that the prevailing circumstance where elections are won in the courtrooms was discouraging, noting: “We want to ensure that after a candidate has spent time to campaign and been given the mandate by the electorate such mandates will not be dropped at the court by way of losing in the case.”
He said the work of the committee would not go the way of others before it, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari, being a victim of electoral fraud, has shown enough political will to implement the outcome of his committee’s recommendations.
“The president has been a victim, so Nigerians should not entertain any fear whether or not the report of this committee will be implemented.
“I can assure you that if the president remains in office, he is most likely to implement the outcome of our work. The easiest thing anyone can do is to criticise but we are here to listen to the public,” he said.
In her remarks, Justice Emehelu who also made a presentation at the session, said that petitioners appear to have an uphill task proving their cases because of limited timeframe, suggesting that some areas of the Electoral Act needed to be tinkered with to make more time available for adjudication.
“The Electoral Act gives 180 statutory days within which to conclude petitions, but there are certain things that need to be put in place even before the adjudication starts.
“It does appear that petitioners have an uphill task, because time is not on their side, so there is need to tinker with some aspects of the law,” she said.
Justice Emehelu said that the Constitution and Electoral Act also need to empower tribunals to make consequential orders in the course of adjudication to accommodate the reliefs not sought by petitioners.
“There have been cases where petitions were well fought, but were lost because the proper reliefs were not sought by parties.
“We recommend that the tribunal be given legal teeth to make consequential orders to grant such reliefs not sought,” she said.
The chief judge said that the Electoral Act has been constantly criticised due to its inherent flaws notwithstanding the several alterations, stressing that “the problem with the system is not with our procedural laws but the unwillingness to enforce the electoral laws”.
“We recommended that the report of the Justice Uwais committee should be called into play when your committee is doing its work,” she added.
Justice Emehelu further called for the employment of more judges across the country to make up for lost time by the courts due to the enrollment of several judges to adjudicate in election matters.
“It is better to use high court judges to sit on election petitions but it has become necessary to employ more judges to check the depletion of our courts during election petitions hearings,” Justice Emehelu said.
On his part, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State advocated constitutional reforms that will take care of the lapses in Nigeria’s current electoral processes.
He said the call was necessary as a result of some of the obstacles associated with the elections and their aftermath in Nigeria.
He outlined some of the shortcomings to include: the huge financial cost which the conduct of elections entails, loss of lives and property during elections, violence as well as a general feeling of discontent, disenchantment and bitter litigation that follow each voting exercise.
“Reforms in our electoral processes are without doubt very critical, since it is generally accepted that free and fair elections not only constitute the pivot upon which democracy thrives and grows, but it also guarantees the peace and stability needed for the rapid and holistic development of the nation.
“It also needs not be emphasised that the severe economic and security challenges currently facing our country today make it imperative for us to do all that is necessary to reduce tension in the polity, to enable us focus attention on national development and also reinvent among our people a sense of patriotism and unwavering belief in our country,” he said.
Ugwuanyi added that the idea of granting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund and granting it financial autonomy also needs to be critically re-examined, in view of the recession and the application of Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy in the country.
He later commended the federal government for creating the opportunity for Nigerians to bare their minds on how best to entrench credible and hitch-free electoral processes in the country.
No fewer than 23 memorandums were received by the committee at the public hearing – the first of seven more that will be held across the country.