Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who Misinformed Yar'Adua on Electoral Reform?

PRESIDENT Umaru Musa Yar'Adua committed a gaffe in his maiden press briefing at the State House on May 12, 2009. The president was quoted to have said in relation to why the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the Council of State (CoS) rejected the Justice Uwais recommendation that National Judicial Council should be involved in the appointment of INEC Chairperson and Board members that "The recommendation for the National Judicial Council to appoint the chairman and members of INEC is not in line with the fundamental process of the law."
Having been privileged to read the Uwais report, I make bold to say that the above assertion by the President is incorrect. What the ERC recommended which is contained on Page 27 of its main report is that the National Judicial Council will advertise all the positions, spelling out all the requisite qualifications; receive applications/nominations from the general public; shortlist three persons for all the positions; and send the nominations to the Council of State to select one from the shortlist and forward to the Senate for confirmation.
Similar nomination procedure was recommended by the ERC for the appointment of the Chairperson and members of the Board of Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission. Who could have misinformed the President to believe that NJC is going to usurp his power to appoint INEC Board members? After all, the President as the chairman of the Council of State will still be responsible for the final nomination to the Senate for confirmation.
What ERC recommended is already in operation in some African Countries. For example, in Botswana, the Chairperson of the Commission must be a Judge of the High Court, and he is appointed by the Judicial Service Commission, other members are appointed from a list submitted by the All Party Conference (APC), and where the APC fails, the JSC makes its own recommendations. In South Africa, members of the Electoral Commission are nominated by a four-member panel comprising the President of the Constitutional Court (as chair), a representative of the Human Rights Commission, a Representative of the Commission on Gender Equality and the Public Protector. The Committee's nominations are then forwarded to the National Assembly. There is nothing in Nigeria's statute books that says the three arms of government cannot jointly collaborate to guarantee the independence of a critical institution such as the election management body. There is no total separation of power without checks and balances anywhere in the world.
The President wants us to appreciate his adoption of 73 out of the 83 recommendations of the Uwais Panel report. However, he must be told that it is not the quantity but quality of the recommendations that matter to Nigerians. The 10 recommendations that were rejected by the FEC and the Council of State (CoS) represent the heart and soul of the ERC recommendations. A case in point is the issue of conclusion of election petitions before the swearing in of candidates which was part of the Terms of Reference (ToR) given to the ERC when it was inaugurated on August 28, 2007. ERC recommended six months for disposal of election petitions before the inauguration of winners; however the FEC and the CoS rejected the idea by saying that the present situation where over two years are spent to adjudicate election petitions in Nigeria serve the cause of justice. How can delayed justice be good for Nigeria?
Again, part of the Terms of Reference was for ERC to look at the merit of introducing Proportional Representation as a means of reducing post election tension and address the grievances of disadvantaged groups in the polity. This noble recommendation was made by the ERC but was dismissed by the FEC. Even all but two of the gender recommendations were rejected. The question is, if the government already knew what is best for the country, why wasting time and other public resources setting up a 22-member ERC which sat for 16 months only to reject the key recommendations made by the Committee?
It is hoped that the National Assembly will be guided by the ERC report and not the biased and parochial interest of government as contained in its white paper. President Yar'Adua should also commence full implementation of non-legal/ administrative recommendations of the Justice Uwais report, pronto.