OPINION: Time To Expedite Action On Electoral Reform -By Jide Ojo
Seven months after its inauguration, the 24-member Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee led by Senator Ken Nnamani has submitted its report to the Attorney-General and Minster of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
It would be recalled that President Muhamadu Buhari had directed the AGF to inaugurate the committee last year. Precisely, on October 4, 2016, Malami set up the committee and instructed it to look into possible amendments to the Constitution and Electoral Act, come out with a more robust and generally acceptable electoral system, as well as review recent judicial decisions on election petitions as they relate to conflicting judgments and the absence of consequential orders, among other things.
The committee was also urged to take a wholistic look at the recommendation of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee report of 2008.
Members of the Committee are former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, OluwoleUzzi, O. O. Babalola, Duruaku Chima, Musa Maryam, H.A Tahir, Ike Udunni, S.O Ibrahim, and Esther Uzoma. Others include Muiz Banire, Eze Philip, Bashir Ibrahim, Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Utum Eteng, Ejike Eze, Mamman Lawal (Secretary), A.C Ude and E. Ifendu, Also, Francis Bullen, AnikeNwoga, Cecilia Adams, Clement Nwankwo, C. Jude, Mohammed Tukur and Juliet Ibekaku were appointed as members of the committee.
At the report presentation ceremony, held at the Ministry of Justice, Abuja, the AGF said, “The inauguration of this committee was the first major step taken by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration towards realising the goal of improving Nigeria’s electoral process and to put a stop to the wanton destruction and violence often occasioned by failure of law enforcement agencies to tackle electoral fraud.”
He expressed joy that the committee had made meaningful recommendations on “how to strengthen the Independent National Electoral Commission, the participation of independent candidates, the management of political parties, tackling of electoral offences and management of electoral dispute resolutions, as well as the issues affecting State Independent Electoral Commissions”. Other areas that he mentioned are “the use of technology in elections, Diaspora voting and access for Persons Living with Disabilities”.
According to Senator Nnamani, the report of the Committee was in two volumes. “The first volume is the main report containing recommendations on how to improve the electoral process in Nigeria. Attached to it are four draft bills on the amendment of relevant provisions of the constitution, amendment of the Electoral Act, establishment of the Political Parties and Electoral Offences Commission and the founding of the Constituency Delimitation Centre. The other volume contains minutes of our meetings, cluster reports, proceedings of the retreats and public hearings and copies of memoranda we received from the public,” he said.
In a piece entitled ‘Another electoral reform committee? Not again!’, which was published in this column on October 5, 2016, I had expressed my reservation and indeed, kicked against the setting up of another electoral reform committee. I saw it as a waste of resources and wrongly timed.
I said inter alia, “Sincerely, my worry about the inauguration of Ken Nnamani electoral reform committee is that it has a tendency to distract the electoral commission from its plan for 2019 general elections…..National Assembly is already neck-deep in constitution reform exercise. Will it hold back for the Nnamani committee to finish its work and pass on its report to it?
“Whatever timeline the committee is given to do its work, the Presidency will still set up a white paper committee to review it before it will now forward the recommendations that need legal reform to NASS which may decide to filibuster on it and pass the bill late so as to make it inapplicable in 2019.
“It is a truism that the beneficiary of a systemic malaise will be reluctant to change the status quo………What we need is the implementation of the extant reports on this critical issue plus attitudinal change of stakeholders’ without whose support and buy-in there can never be credible and successful polls.”
Recent events have proved me right. The Nnamani committee was reportedly given six weeks to do its work. It ended up spending seven months. In the course of that period, the Independent National Electoral Commission had on March 9, 2017 rolled out the timetable for the 2019 General Election, while the Senate had passed its own version of the amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act on March 30, 2017. What these mean invariably is that the Nnamani report is arriving late for any meaningful electoral reform exercise.
As it is, the AGF, on receipt of the report last Tuesday, promised to transmit it to President Buhari who, thereafter, will set up a white paper committee to review the committee’s work before sending those in need of legal reform to the National Assembly. As at today, unless the report will be presented to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for immediate action, Buhari is out of the country on indefinite medical leave. As I have observed in my earlier commentary on this issue, PMB, if at all he has felt a need for it, ought to have set up this committee in his first year in government so that its recommendations could fit into the legislative agenda of the NASS.
I have earlier expressed concern about the way the entire electoral reform project of the Muhannadu Buhari administration is going. In my review of the recent Senate Electoral Act amendment entitled “Gaps in Electoral Act amendment” and published in this column on April 5, 2017, I had noted, among other things: “The other concern I have about the Senate amendments is that I would have preferred the constitution amendment to be concluded first and then a consequential amendment in the Electoral Act to reflect the constitutional alterations. This is tidier. This is because it is easier to amend the latter than the former. There are some amendments by the Senate that may need constitution amendments to be on sound legal footing. What I would have preferred is a comprehensive, once-and-for-all amendment of the constitution and Electoral Act with inputs from the report of the Nnamani committee.”
Needless to say, all the review exercises have to be expeditiously concluded to give sufficient time for proper implementation ahead of the 2019 polls.
Specifically on the snippets in the public domain on the recommendations of the Nnamani committee, I laud and concur with many of them, although they are a rehash of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee proposals of 2008. I however will like to place on record that I disagree with the call for the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commissions. In federalism it is not out of place to have two electoral management bodies. I know that SIECs have the problem of undue interference from the governors who deliberately starve them of funds to conduct local government elections and tend to dictate to the Commission. The way out of that quagmire is to give financial and administrative autonomy to the electoral management body. Before the 2010 constitution and electoral amendments, INEC was like the SIEC until its funding was made to be a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund with a good dose of administrative independence as well.