Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Between party supremacy and parliamentary autonomy

On April 10 and 11, 2017, a rainbow coalition of political heavyweights in Nigeria gathered in Abuja. Political party chairmen, present and past leadership of national and state assemblies, academics, international donor partners, members of the civil society and media juggernauts were all present at the national conference on “Political Party Supremacy and the Dynamics of Parliamentary Autonomy in Nigeria: Towards a more Harmonious Relationship” organised by the Political Parties Leadership and Policy Development Centre of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies.
The roll call include the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo represented by Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Senate President Bukola Saraki (represented), former Senate President Ken Nnamani and his Deputy, Senator  Ibrahim Mantu, erstwhile Speaker of  the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and his Deputy, Emeka Ihedioha, another former Speaker of House of Reps, Ghali Umar Naaba, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Senator Shehu Sani, Ambassador Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, veteran journalist, Dr. Tonnie Iredia and Rt. Hon. Abdumumin Ismaila Kamba who is the chairman of Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria,  to mention but a few. I was one of the privileged participants at the august event.
According to Jonathan M. Juma who is the Acting Director General of NIPSS, the aim of the conference was to find viable answers to the following questions:  What should constitute party supremacy in the context of Nigeria’s political system? What is the limit of party supremacy? What constitutes parliamentary autonomy in the context of Nigeria and to what extent can this be influenced by the political parties?  What are the implications of a polarised party in the National Assembly? What happens when there are gaps in the understanding of members of the political parties as well as the National Assembly as to what constitutes party supremacy and parliamentary autonomy? What happens when the interest of a political party conflicts with the interest of the National Assembly? What constitutes an appropriate behaviour of political parties in their relationship with their members in the National Assembly? What a bouquet of posers!
Various paper presenters and discussants at the two day conference were unanimous that both the political parties and the parliament are weak despite 18 years of unbroken existence of the two institutions of democracy, since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999.  The reason is not far-fetched, each time there is military coup, both institutions are proscribed. So, at the turn of every return to civil rule, they have to be rebuilt. Another point of consensus is that party supremacy and parliamentary autonomy are both desirable but cannot be absolute.  It came out strongly that the ceding of the position of ‘Party Leader’ to the president and the governor is an aberration which has impacted negatively on our democratic culture. This has made them to wield a lot of influence on the bonafide elected party executives at different levels.  The confab also revealed that weak financial base of political parties and overreliance on few moneybags for the running of the institution has greatly undermined its supremacy and disciplinary powers over its errant members.
The phenomenon of according sitting president and governors ‘Party Leader’ was cited as the rationale behind the overbearing attitude of these people. They dictate to party executives who to become leader of the parliament as well as who among the members should be accused and punished for anti-party activities. Examples cited include the undue meddlesomeness of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the emergence of Senate Presidents and Speakers of House of Representatives under his presidency. The failed attempt by former President Goodluck Jonathan to impose Speaker of House of Representatives during his tenure as well as the unsuccessful bid by the All Progressives Congress leadership to railroad its members to vote for other persons than those that eventually emerged as Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives in the eight National Assembly.   Instance was also cited of the governors’ pressure on the Speakers of States House of Assembly to reject financial autonomy during the 2010 constitutional amendment exercise.  
It also came to the fore during the conference that the undemocratic way some of the party executives emerged (many of them are alleged to be surrogates and hirelings of the president, governors and big party financiers) made them not to be independent minded. Many of the party executives therefore jettison the country’s Constitution as well as those of their political parties. They are wont to acting ultra vires particularly during congresses, conventions and party primaries. The ensuing culture of impunity is what Prof. Mohammed J. Kuna from the Independent National Electoral Commission called the new normal.
In proffering solutions to enhancing harmonious relationships between the political parties and the parliament, various speakers put out different suggestions. Among them is the call for credible leadership of both institutions which will be responsive and responsible to the yearnings of their members. Issue of internal party democracy has to also be taken serious with party members having a huge say in the decision making processes of their political parties. Public funding was also advocated for political parties in order to whittle down overdependence of political parties on political barons and godfathers. Negotiation was equally identified as key to amicable resolutions of conflicts between the two institutions. Supremacy of political parties and autonomy of the legislature should also be within the context of rule of law and legality.
In order to bridge the communication gap between political parties and the parliament, I suggested at the conference that parties with representatives in the legislature should also have liaison officers the same way president and governors have in the national and state assemblies. This will ensure that parties are not caught unaware about any brewing crises that may warrant their early intervention. Many speakers at the meeting also called for the reestablishment of the Centre for Democratic Studies to train elected political office holders on positive core values they need to uphold while in office. It was brought to the attention of the participants that the Act setting up the National Institute for Legislative Studies has been recently amended to include democratic studies. This is commendable. It is hoped that the institute will be well resourced to play this pivotal role.

Four things shocked me at the conference. The first is that I learnt that the Ministries, Departments and Agencies which are being over-sighted are responsible for the provision of logistics for members of the parliament. This is an aberration! National and State Assemblies are supposed to adequately provide the logistics for the various committees set up to conduct oversight of MDAs. Two, former Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu said Nigerians are ‘greedily corrupt’ and need to be born again. Third is the absence without representation of the All Progressives Congress chairman, Chief John Odigie- Oyegun who was supposed to speak on “Political Party Supremacy and the Challenges of Parliamentary Autonomy in Nigeria”. The last shocking revelation was that made by Dr, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed  who is the Chief of Staff to Senate President when he said you cannot call someone thief if he or she has not been convicted by a competent court of law. Amazing! 

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

If Buhari’s ERGP will not be a paper tiger

On April 5, 2017, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari took a bold step towards revamping the comatose economy by launching the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. The ERGP is the blueprint that enunciates the details of how this government intends to get the country out of recession and put it on the path of prosperity.
At a brief ceremony held inside the Aso Presidential Villa, the president, in the presence of key government functionaries, said the ERGP focuses on agriculture with a view to ensuring adequate food security as well as energy, industrialisation and social investment. He said the ERGP is an ambitious plan that seeks to achieve a seven per cent economic growth by the year 2020. Buhari opined that the roadmap is not just aimed at getting the country out of recession, but to put it on the path of strength and growth, away from being an import dependent nation. He stated further that the ERGP clearly sets out what his government is committed to doing by creating an environment for businesses to thrive. He called on state governors to draw inspiration from the plan and articulate their own plans that will lead them to real growth.
Commenting earlier, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, said the plan has put together in “one place, for easy access, all the sectoral plans that the government has been working on, from inception, including the strategic implementation plan for the 2016 budget.” He claimed that many of the initiatives in the plan are contained in the 2017 budget proposal which was submitted to the national assembly last December. According to the minister, “The broad objectives of the ERGP are to restore growth, invest in our people and build a globally competitive economy”. Udoma also stated that the president has already approved the establishment of a unit in the presidency that will monitor the implementation of the plan.
I have had the rare privilege of analysing this document before and after its launch. I have discussed it in the Sunday Guardian of March 19, 2017 as well on Radio Nigeria and Love 104.5 FM Abuja. My personal view about the ERGP is that it is a laudable initiative. As I observed in my earlier comment on the document, the roadmap looks good, with all the niceties, sound-bites and desirable action plans. However, experience from the past has shown that we are long on rhetoric, but always short on delivery of all our noble plans.
I could recollect that we have had several developmental plans in the 1960s and ‘70s and in the ‘90s we had Vision 2010. Under President Olusegun Obasanjo we had National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy. Thereafter, we had Vision 20:2020 aimed at making Nigeria one of the 20 strongest economies by Year 2020.  Under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration’s we had the Transformation Agenda. How have they all fared? Woefully! I do hope this ERGP will not follow suit of failed promises and unrealised ambitions.
In truth, I am excited about the promised diversification of the economy, ease of doing business, increase oil production, reduction of inflation, effective collaboration between the public and private sector, as well as between the federal and the state governments, the leverage on science, technology and innovation and building of a knowledge-based economy. It is also heartwarming that the economic blueprint is consistent with the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals given that the initiatives address its three dimensions of economic, social and environmental sustainability issues. It is also laudable that the document is a product of wide consultations.
One of my worries however is that ERGP came late. As I observed in my Guardian newspaper interview earlier cited, “Launching this, two years into this administration, with 2020 deadline is a big minus. This administration will face election in 2019. Should it lose reelection bid, the ERGP may be in jeopardy, more so that there is no law backing it up. Even if there is, there is nothing that stops a new administration from repealing such law and coming up with a fresh plan.”
Another major concern I have about the ERGP is that while the plan aimed at a partnership with the state, it left out the 774 Local Government Areas. This is a significant composite unit of the country that is being neglected. This seems like a costly omission. Furthermore, the global ascendancy of protectionism may impact negatively on many of the projections as several countries of the world and political groups like European Union embark on economic protectionism, which will necessitate review of trade agreements and economic partnerships. Widespread restiveness, terrorism and pervasive insecurity will pose a major threat to the realisation of the many beautiful recommendations in the ERGP.
If this Buhari’s economic blueprint will not be mere paper tiger, the nuts and bolts of its implementation has to be tightened. Vertical and horizontal synergies have to be built among the three arms of government as well as the three tiers of government. The private sector will need to be incentivised through an improved investment climate devoid of undue bureaucratic bottlenecks. The Small and Medium Enterprises as we know is the engine of growth in every society. To stimulate this economic cluster, cost of doing business needs to be scaled down through provisioning of adequate social infrastructure such as electricity, potable water, as well as good road and rail networks. Access to single digit interest rate loan facilities and a robust import substitution policy are needful.  It is also imperative to normalise our budgeting process. Our financial year should be January to December and not the warped system we currently run. Government will also need to eschew wasteful spending and combat corruption in truth and indeed.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Gaps in Nigerian senate’s electoral act amendment

Last Thursday, March 30, 2017, news broke that Nigerian Senate had passed the amended 2010 Electoral Act. The passage of the Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and for other related matters (SB 231 and SB 234) followed the consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission. According to the Daily Trust newspaper of April 1, 2017, there are 17 key highlights of the newly passed legislation. It would be recalled that INEC on March 9 this year announced February 16 and March 2, 2019 as the dates for the next general elections. It is heartwarming that Nigerian Senate had keyed into INEC plan to ensure early conclusion of electoral reform so as to give sufficient time for implementation of the new law. How adequate are the Senate amendments of the legal framework for Nigerian elections? However, before I go on to answer that poser, I need to voice my worry about what may be a snag in what the senior lawmakers had done.
Before what the Senate had done can become law, two critical steps had to be taken. First, the House of Representatives must agree with Senate on its amendments  or if both chambers passes different versions as it is most likely, there will be a conference committee of both chambers set up to harmonise the two positions. It is the clean copy of the harmonised version that will be transmitted to the president for his assent. I foresee a situation where the president may withhold his assent on the ground that some of the major  recommendations that will likely come from the Senator Ken Nnamani Presidential Electoral Committee will not be reflected in the amendment passed by the National Assembly. Recall that in October 2016, the presidency decided to set up 24-member Nnamani Committee which was meant to sit for about six weeks but almost six months after just concluded holding public hearings across the six geo-political zones. By the time it will eventually present its report to the president, there will still be a white paper committee to review its work. That is the tradition which does not lend itself to expediency given the snail pace nature things get done in this country, especially in government circle.
The other concern I have about the Senate amendment is that I would have preferred the constitutional 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 constitutional amendments to be on sound legal footing. What I would have preferred is a comprehensive, once-and-for-all amendments of the constitution and electoral act with input from the report of the Nnamani committee.
Having flagged that however, there is no gainsaying that many of the changes are desirable in order to enhance transparency and accountability in our electoral process and thereby deepen democracy.  Those that caught my fancy include the lifting of ban on electronic voting, approval of the use of Smart Card Reader, electronic transmission and collation of result, reduction in the amount payable by political aspirants as nomination fees to their political parties, expansion of electors of party delegates to include all party members, strengthening of the oversight role of Party Agents in tracking of election materials, and publication of Voters Register on INEC’s website.
Other well thought out amendments include the disempowerment of political parties from imposing extra-constitutional provisions on aspirants (for example, demand for tax clearance as a qualification requirement), resolution of Kogi electoral conundrum where a party candidate died midway into the electoral process. The Senate now prescribed that “A political party whose candidate dies after commencement of an election and before the declaration of the result of that election now has a 14-day window to conduct a fresh primary in order for INEC to conduct a fresh election within 21 days of the death of the party’s candidate.”
In all honesty, the aforementioned amendments will help to improve our electoral process. However, they are not far reaching enough. There are several things left out of the desirable electoral reform. Some of them include early voting provision especially for the millions of people who are disenfranchised from voting in election due to the nature of their work. These include many who will be on election duty during the voting period; they are the accredited observers, party agents, security agents, election officials, and journalists. This category of people, in well-established democracies, is usually allowed to vote few days to election at designated voting centres. Their votes would however not be counted until the day of the general elections. Apart from United States of America, some African countries like Ghana have these provisions in their electoral law.
Out-of-country voting also known as Diaspora voting has been agitated for over the years. Given the positive impact that foreign remittances from Nigerians abroad has over the country’s economy, this should have been granted.  More so as Justice Adamu Bello of Federal High Court, Abuja had in 2009 given judgment asking INEC to make provision that will enable this category of Nigerians to participate in the electoral process. There is also nothing in the Senate electoral act amendment that seeks to improve the participation of women, youths and persons with disabilities in the electoral process. There has been agitation for affirmative actions for these vulnerable groups of people. Nothing in the amended Act guarantees inclusivity or better enhancement of the less privileged groups in the electoral process.

The nagging issues of establishment of Electoral Offences Commission/ Tribunal , independent candidacy,  political finance reform, desirability of timeframe  for dealing with pre-election disputes, conditions for registered political parties to be on the ballot, need to increase the number of days for organising presidential election run-off from seven to twenty-one days (section 134 of the 1999 Constitution  of Nigeria as amended)   have all been left out of the amendment exercise, yet they are highly desirable if we’re not to return to another protracted electoral reform exercise post-2019 general elections.