Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Another electoral reform committee? Not again!

From the blues came the information that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari had identified 24 Nigerians to be led by a former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, to embark on another voyage of electoral reforms. A statement released to the press on Sunday, October 2, 2016 by Salihu Isah on behalf of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said, “The committee is expected to review electoral environment, laws and experiences from recent elections conducted in Nigeria and make recommendations to strengthen and achieve the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria.”
With due respect, I do not think this is a priority issue now. Even if it is, it’s a right thing being done at the wrong time.
In August 2007, former President Umaru Yar’Adua, seeing the deeply flawed election of that year, set up Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais 22-member committee to reform our electoral process. The committee sat for 16 months and came up with 83 recommendations which many informed Nigerians believed if well-implemented would therefrom give the country credible electoral process and outcomes.
When the report was submitted in December 2008, Yar’Adua set up a White Paper committee headed by the then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice who submitted its report in March 2009. Thereafter, President Yar’Adua sent six electoral reform bills to the National Assembly many of which were rejected. Though some of the key recommendations of the ERC were vetoed by the White Paper committee, it still stands to the credit of Yar’Adua that the 2010 constitution amendments and Electoral Act which eventually gave the country a credible election in 2011 were derived from the ERC report.
Despite the successful and credible general elections of 2011, about 800 lives were lost and properties worth billions of naira destroyed in pre-election violence in Akwa Ibom State and post-presidential election in some northern states.  President Goodluck Jonathan on May 11, 2011, inaugurated the Sheikh Ahmed Lemu-led 22-member presidential panel of inquiry to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the incidences of electoral violence. The panel submitted its findings to the former President on October 10, 2011. It is instructive that five years after, many of the recommendations, just like those of the ERC report before it, had yet to be implemented. To the best of my knowledge, the only thing I’m aware Jonathan did was to pay compensation to some of the victims of electoral violence. The arrowheads and their foot soldiers who perpetrated the mindless acts were never brought to justice.
After that came the 2014 National Conference set up by President Jonathan. About 500 eminent Nigerians were brought to Abuja from all over the country to jaw jaw for months. They came up with hundreds of resolutions. The confab cost the country about N7bn, yet it has been kept on the shelf in the Presidency. None of the beautiful recommendations has been implemented.
In the lead-up to the 2015 general elections, the two chambers of the National Assembly voted billions of naira to carry out a comprehensive constitution amendment exercise. A total of 360 public hearings were held across the federal constituencies while another 109 public hearings were held at all the senatorial districts. Memoranda were submitted by different interest groups and eventually when the amendments were passed in 2015 and sent to Jonathan for assent, he refused to append his signature to the bill because, according to him, it was not passed by at least four-fifths majority of all members of each House of the National Assembly as stipulated in Sections 48 and 49 of the Constitution. The President listed 10 other reasons that made him withhold his assent. That was how the billions spent on the Fourth Amendment of the 1999 Constitution went down the drain.
If indeed President Buhari was convinced of the need to have another presidential committee on electoral reforms, why did he tarry to this time? Why did he decide to allow the National Assembly to inaugurate another constitution reform committee before coming up with this Nnamani panel? Do we even need another electoral reform committee when, as cited above, there have been several electoral reform proposals from the Uwais’ ERC, to Sheik Lemu’s and even the National Conference report? Like Nnamani said at a civil society event sometime ago, Nigeria is becoming a nation of perpetual reformers. The issues with our electoral process have been well-articulated and solutions proffered but government has been tardy and sloppy with implementation. What assurances do we have that this 24-member Nnamani committee is not a ruse?
To drive home my point, part of the ERC recommendations was the establishment of Electoral Offences Commission. The Presidency adopted this and the Federal Executive Council in 2012 or thereabout approved the set-up. Yet, the inauguration of this all-important commission that would have helped to sanitise our electoral process has been kept in abeyance. The 1999 Constitution, as amended, in spite of its perceived weaknesses says emphatically in Section 7 that the local government system shall be democratically governed.
 As I write this, more than half of the LGAs are administered by sole administrators and caretaker committees as governors claimed that they do not have money to fund State Independent Electoral Commissions to conduct elections into the LGAs. Meanwhile, these same governors are in a rat race to establish Local Council Development Authorities thereby increasing exponentially the cost of local government administration. Nigeria has one of the most vibrant and robust political finance regulations but these have been observed in the breach. Last Wednesday’s election in Edo State was reported to have been tainted by high level of inducement and vote buying by major political parties. What did the Independent National Electoral Commission or the security agents do about it?
Sincerely, my worry about the inauguration of the Nnamani electoral reform committee is that it has a tendency to distract INEC from its plan for 2019 general elections. Nnamani was quoted ahead of the inauguration of his committee that their report would be passed on to the National Assembly. The body is already neck-deep in a 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 the National Assembly 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 beneficiaries of a systemic malaise will be reluctant to change the status quo. My final submission on this matter is that we do not need another electoral reform committee. 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.
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