Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Birth of CODER

Democracy can only have meaning when people’s supreme wish through the ballot box becomes inviolable and respected – Ayo Opadokun.
History was made in Abuja on July 30, 2009 with the birth of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER). Sheraton Hotel was agog with people from all walks of life who came to be part of the epoch-making event. The role call of dignitaries include political juggernauts like Alhaji Iro Dan Musa who was the chairperson of the launch, former Governors: Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Lam Adesina and John Odigie-Oyegun; former House of Representatives Speakers: Ghali Umar Naaba and Aminu Bello Masari; President of National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), Hajiya Ramatu Usman; Saida Saad; Prof. Awalu Yadudu; Senators Ben Obi, Nazif Suleiman, Olorunnimbe Mamora, Bode Ola, Ganiyu Solomon and former Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Audu Ogbeh. Governors Raji Fashola of Lagos and Peter Obi of Anambra sent representatives. Civil rights activisits were not left out. Among them were members of the Civil Society Coordinating Committee on Electoral Reform (CSCCER) such as Edetaen Ojo, Innocent Chukwuma, Emma Ezeazu and Angela Odah.
CODER is a child of necessity. Events in the polity is worrisome. Progressives , nay democrats are not convinced that the two year old electoral reform engineered by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is going to achieve any worthy outcome. They are right. The President sounded very convincing and seems to mean well at the inauguration of the the 22 member Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) headed by Justice Uwais on August 27, 2007 with the omnibus terms of reference (ToR) given to the Committee. The ERC worked for 16 months traversed the lenght and breath of Nigeria, soliciting and receiving memoranda. At the end of the day, a whooping 1, 466 memoranda were submitted to the 22 ‘wise-men and women’. On December 11, 2008 the committee submitted its report which has been receiving complimentary review in the press and among the political elites. Unfortunately, by March 2009 when the summary of the government white paper was made public, the enthusiasm of the people were doused as the key recommendations were rejected both by the Federal Executive Council and the Council of States. Among the vital recommendations rejected were those that has to do with the appointment to the Board of INEC and other proposed new commissions such as the Electoral Offences Commission; Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission and the Centre for Democratic Studies.
While the ERC wanted a more transparent board appointment process that will involve the National Judicial Council in the recruitment exercise through advertisement and screnning of applicants before recommending three persons to the Council of State who shall appoint one of them for Senate to screen; the FEC and CoS rather wanted the status quo to remain. Government also rejected the recommendations that election should hold six months to the expiration of the term of incumbents and that all election disputes must be resolved within six months and before inauguration; likewise government rejected the recommendation for a more transparent appointment procedures for the Inspector General of Police as well as proposal for adoption of Proportional Representation System. Ironically, these were same things contained in the ToR of the ERC. Though the president hurriedly sent six electoral reform bills to the National Assembly in April, these bills are at best cosmetic and shallow attempt at dealing with the fundamental problem of our electoral process. Indeed, two of the six electoral reoform bills have been rejected by the Senate.
The president on May 12 at his inaugural press conference with the State House correspondents threw a challenge to those who are dissatisfied with what he has in the executive bills to come up with their private member bill(s). This is the challenge that CODER has taken up. CODER, according to its facilitators, is an umbrella body for all individuals, group, civil society and non-governmental organisations, labour, women, students, religious, traditional leaders who suscribe to the main agenda of making peoples votes to count. CODER aims at working together with all other public spirited Nigerians for the purposes of ensuring that key elements of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform recommendations are passed into law by the National Assembly. The objective of the new Coalition is to devise appropriate constitutional, legitimate, lawful and democratic means including media campaigns, town hall meetings and rallies etc to sensitise, mobilise and educate Nigerians on the desirability of having a much more workable electoral system that will guarantee the sanctity of voters wish in Nigeria.
CODER’s implementation strategy is three fold: To set up State and Zonal committees for the purposes of education, sensitisation and mobilisation of Nigerians on the urgent need for the implementation of key recommendations of the ERC report; to collect signatures at the Local and State levels with the coordination at the national level in support of implementation of key proposals in the ERC report and lastly, to adopt and endorse the key ERC recommendations in form of a private member bill for presentation to the National Assembly. In order to fast-track the implementation of its objectives, CODER has set up a technical committee that has prepared three draft bills namely: a bill to amend the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, a bill to amend the Electoral Act 2006 and a bill for an act to establish the Electoral Offences Commission. The Technical Committee of CODER headed by former Governor John Oyegun has also prepared a position paper on electoral reform. All these documents and few others were distributed at the launch of CODER.
Like many of the dignitaries who spoke at the launch said, the task ahead for the group is herculean as the opposition to its redemption effort is formidable. This, the facilitators of the group, admitted. As for me, having registered promptly as a member of CODER, I want to align my view with that of the erudite law scholar, Prof. Awalu Yadudu that CODER need not submit any private member bill but should seek to influence the amendment of the four remaining electoral reform bills before the National Assembly. This can be done at the level of public hearings and even other avenues like lobbying. The time is just not there to initiate a PMB. I also concur with the submission of Chief Audu Ogbeh that a sub-committee of former and serving legislators should be inaugurated for intense lobby at the National and State Houses of Assembly. Serious networking with existing civil rights groups such as CSCCER is desirable. There is need to establish Eminent Persons Group for the pupose of diplomatic shuttle cum lobbying. Democrats and progressives out there, wouldn’t you rather join us?