Wednesday, July 21, 2010

INEC board and electoral reform

This is, indeed, an exciting time for Nigeria. After an initial lull in the preparation for the 2011 elections, two recent events have brought about some animations in the polity - the announcement on June 8, 2010, of the nominees for the chairman and board members of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and the successful alteration of the 1999 Constitution by the Senate and the House of Representatives on June 2 and 3, 2010.
The presidential nomination and endorsement by the Council of State, of Professor Attahiru Jega and 10 other national commissioners, as well as 19 other resident electoral commissioners to fill the vacuum in INEC has been largely well received, except for the pocket of protests about the partisanship of few of the nominees.
Good enough, the President promised to replace all the nominees with party affiliations. This is heart-warming. Attahiru Jega is the first northerner and Muslim to be appointed Chief Electoral Officer of Nigeria. The good thing about Jega’s nomination is that he possesses the requisite pedigree being a political scientist, a university administrator and one-time member of the Electoral Reform Committee, which charted the transformation agenda for the country, between August 28, 2007 and December 11, 2008.
Also, out of the 13-member board, INEC now has three female national commissioners, from one in the last set. This is also commendable, as it shows that Nigeria is taking her national gender policy and other international covenants and protocols on gender serious. Nigerians wait with bated breath to see if these handpicked men and women will be able to deliver to us credible polls, come 2011.
Some of the hurdles that still need to be crossed in our preparation for the next general election are the screening of the nominee national commissioners and chairman of INEC by Senate, and the conclusion of the Constitution and Electoral Bill amendment exercise. The pleasant thing is that, work on the amendment of the legal framework is at advanced stage.
At present, we are a step to the conclusion of the Constitution amendment exercise, as two-thirds of the 36 states have to concur with the altered sections of the Constitution as proposed by the National Assembly before we can start to reference the amended version. With the support from the state governors, and the Forum of Speakers of state House of Assemblies, it is hoped that Nigeria can have cause to celebrate a successful constitution amendment exercise in its 50th year of political independence.
Some of the key constitutional amendments which elicit hope of democratic consolidation and prospects of better elections are as follows: Financial autonomy for INEC, national and state Assembly and the Judiciary; Amendment to section 156 and 200 of 1999 Constitution, which now prevents chair and members of INEC board, as well as those of State Independent Electoral Commission from belonging to political parties; Alteration of Section 145 and 190 of the 1999 Constitution, making it mandatory for president and governors to transmit a letter to the Senate and Speaker of House of Reps (for President) and Speaker of State House of Assembly (for governor), respectively when going on vacation or incapable of discharging their duties of office; The amendment to Section 160 (1) to the effect that INEC’s powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedures shall not be subject to the approval or control of the president; Timeline for conclusion of election petitions (180 days at the tribunals and 60 days at the appellate court), and the reduction of tribunal judges from five to three.
Other noble alterations include, the elimination of tenure elongation through the back door, with the amendment of section 180 subsection 2c to read: “In the determination of the four year term, where a rerun election has taken place and the person earlier sworn in wins the rerun election, the time spent in office before the date the election was annulled shall be taken into account.” The National Assembly is also poised to come up with guidelines for internal party democracy and empower INEC to play more active role in ensuring that political parties observe principles of internal party democracy.
It is hoped that by the first week of July 2010, all the remaining issues about the legal framework viz constitution and electoral act amendment would be sorted out, and the new board of INEC inaugurated, to enable them commence prompt preparation for the next general election, which is due in January 2011, going by the provisions of sections 76(2), 116(2) and 132(2) of the amended Constitution, which now put elections at not earlier than 150 days and not later than 120 days before the expiration of the term of the incumbent political office holders.
However, even if and when all these are done, the greater challenge will be that of implementation of these new laws. Nigeria’s political system will only derive maximum benefits from these new legal provisions, when relevant authorities and political elite decide to play by the rules. Culture of impunity must be broken.