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Nnamani Committee: The challenges of electoral reforms

Questions flooded the airwaves following the announcement of the Senator Ken Nnamani-led Committee on Electoral and Constitutional reforms. Is it another job for the boys or step in the right direction? What unanswered questions are there for the committee to address in view of the much-talked about Uwais Committee report on Electoral Reforms of 2008? What avenues are left for electoral reforms? Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, dwells on the trajectory of electoral reforms and the issues this time?

 

THE news came like a bolt from the blue in October as the Federal Government announced the composition of an Electoral and Constitution Reforms Committee headed by a former Senate President, Ken Nnamani. Coming months after the National Assembly had inaugurated its constitution amendment committees and on the heels of several calls for the implementation of the national conference report of 2014, not a few criticised the decision to inaugurate another committee on the subject of electoral reforms. Some criticised the decision as one too superfluous and possibly a job to keep the president’s camp less restive.

A statement by the Special Adviser to the Attorney-General of the Federation, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Salihu Isah, indicated that the Federal Government had concluded plans to inaugurate a “Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee.”

The statement indicated that the committee was set up to reform the electoral process, adding that the  24-member committee would be chaired by the former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, while Dr. Mamman Lawal of Bayero University, Kano, would act as secretary.

The statement read in part: “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.”

While inaugurating the committee in October, Malami said that he was undertaking the assignment on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari who, he said, had affirmed a desire to deepen the country’s democracy and entrench the culture of an enduring electoral system.

He also decried some recent judicial decisions, which he said gave clear signals that the electoral system needed urgent rejigging, adding that at the end of the day, the committee is expected to come up with possible amendments to the constitution and Electoral Act which would enhance the robustness of the Nigerian system.

He said: “It is important to evaluate our democratic journey thus far with a view to fashioning out a more enduring system that will serve present and future generations…

“Identify and assess international best practices on electoral system relevant to Nigeria’s experience and identify best practices that would impact positively on the quality and credibility of the nation’s electoral process. Review the extent of the implementation of the recommendations of the 2008 Election Reform Commission headed by the Justice Muhammed Uwais and advise on outstanding issues for implementation.”

The terms of reference of the committee, according to him, include to review recent judicial decisions on election petitions as they relate to conflicting judgments and absence of consequential orders; to review of the laws impacting elections in Nigeria, including relevant provision of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010(as amended).

Nnamani, who responded on behalf of his committee, told the Attorney-General that he was confident that President Buhari was intent on enhancing democratic structure in the country. He said: “The issue of inconclusive election in the country affects national election which leads to loss of lives and the best way to handle it is to stop inconclusive election.

“The best way to stop it in advance is to support the government in implementing what will make Nigeria have a non-violence election,’’ he said.

Granted that the leadership recruitment process is germane to the success of democracies and representative government, the question of the right election environment should remain vital at all times. But the question of electoral reforms is almost sounding like a broken record in the polity.

In 2007, following his election which he admitted to be a flawed, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua promised electoral reforms. He subsequently put up an electoral reforms committee headed by the retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Uwais, whose committee presented one of the deepest peeps into the nation’s electoral reform process.

The nation has perpetually been in search of electoral Eldorado. In 2002, the National Assembly passed the 2002 Electoral Act, which governed the 2003 general election. The amendments effected in that Act were fallouts from the 1999 general election and the rulings of the courts in the aftermath of election tribunal battles. The same process was followed in 2006, when the National Assembly again, relying on findings from the election field in 2003 midwifed the 2006 Electoral Act. That Act guided the 2007 general elections, which the winner, Umaru Yar’Adua himself described as “flawed.”

Between 1999 and 2007, it appeared each election cycle was popping up with new laws. As the laws appear to address once incident, others tend to crop up. The challenge at the start of this Republic was the duration of election tribunals, which saw some persons stay in office of governor or even legislators for a whole term, before court verdicts are given. But the late President Yar’Adua did not hide his determination to write the wrongs. He set up Justice Uwais at the head of the electoral reform panel which completed its job in 2008.

There was national acclaim for the report of that committee both among the political class and the civil society. At a stage, the sing song in the polity was ‘On Uwais Report we stand.’ Perhaps, as a result of his illness, and eventual demise, President Yar’Adua was unable to see through the full implementation of that report. But his government had already reviewed the reports and commenced the process of passing some of the recommendations for passage by the National Assembly.

In 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan made the Electoral Reform bills the first set of bills he presented to the National Assembly. With some modifications, the government took excerpts from the Uwais Report, built them into five bills and forwarded same to the National Assembly. A good number of the bills got consolidated and formed part of the Electoral Act 2010, while some aspects were rejected by the National Assembly.

For instance, the National Assembly rejected aspects of the reform bills which intended to make aides of the president and governors automatic delegates to primaries of political parties.

It was gathered that the Senate, which was first to turn down the proposal, was of the view that governors could use the same clause to knock out a number of Senators and members of the House of Representatives from getting re-elected.

“Our assignment is not just to pass laws that would survive for months. We are passing laws for the good governance of the federation and the generations unborn. So we need to take many things which the executive might overlook into consideration,” a source in the senate had said at the time.

Justice Uwais, who spoke in Abuja recently during an electoral reform review session put together by the Policy and legal Advocacy Center (PLAC) noted that the crisis of electoral reforms in the country was traceable to the failure of the government to implement the report of his committee in a holistic manner. He said that the “pick and choose” strategy of government was negatively affecting elections in the country.

He had said: “As we know, the bill that was produced by the National Assembly though reflected on some of the recommendations of the Electoral Reform Committee, but not all of these recommendations were adopted. As far as the Electoral Reform Committee was concerned, the recommendations were intended to be in tandem with one another.”

 

The Scenario from 2010

The Uwais Report, the Yar’Adua, former President Goodluck Jonathan as well as the Sixth and Seventh National Assemblies and in another breath the judiciary have to share the credit for the reforms so far witnessed in the electoral process so far.

While some have likened the scenario before 2007 as electoral bazaar sort of, the system has largely changed ever since the electoral reforms reports got submitted to the National Assembly and as they got passed into the 2010 Electoral Act which became law on August 16, 2010 and the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Act, which became law on December 10, 2010.  Much of the reform agenda were also incorporated into the 1999 Constitution amendment bill which also sailed through the National Assembly and the entire amendment process in 2010.

Thus, as the lawmakers perfected a number of reforms in the Electoral Act, they equally passed the electoral reform components in the 1999 Constitution, with the amendment coming into effect on January 6, 2011.

Some of the key components of the reforms had seen to the stabilisation of democratic values at the federal and state levels to the effect that acting governors and acting presidents now routinely emerge, while the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) got its statutory financial independence when it got placed on first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation. During the administration of former President Jonathan, the autonomy granted INEC was also to the effect that most of its procurements were exempted from the Bureaucratic processes of the Bureau of Public Procurement, otherwise known as the Due Process Office. The commission also got wide latitude to conduct elections henceforth while it was given preference to choose between a space of 120 days and 30 days to the election. In effect, the commission can now conduct elections well ahead of scheduled hand over of power if it so wishes.

But so many things were still left undone; there is the question of legal lacunas still widespread. The nation was indeed taken aback when the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Kogi governorship election died in the middle of the election in November last year. The legal tango had been temporarily solved by the Supreme Court but it remains an issue the National Assembly must resolve.

Also, the series of amendments thus far failed to professionalise INEC, ensure electronic voting, even though the card reader system was introduced in the 2015 election cycle, while also failing to set up electoral offences commission. A major component of Uwais Report is the balkanisation of INEC into smaller professional units that will make for easy conduct of elections. If that is done, an agency, possibly working with the National Population Commission and the National Identity Cards Management Commission would probably be in charge of voter registration, while another agency would prosecute election offenders, something that has remained elusive since 1999.

 

How far can Nnamani Committee go?

The 24-member Nnamani Committee, according to findings, has been given eight weeks to complete its assignment. Last week, its members were locked in a retreat in Abuja during which they were able to review the Uwais Report, the electoral reforms component of the 2014 National Conference, the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) and the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Senate President Bukola Saraki
Senate President Bukola Saraki

It was gathered that the Committee was addressed by constitutional experts and scholar during the retreat, a development a source in the committee said had opened the eyes of its members to widespread outstanding issues left unattended to by the electoral reforms reports on ground so far.

“The committee was given eight weeks to address all issues and turn in a report that would strengthen the nation’s electoral systems. We believe that we would be able to go far within that period and even if we won’t meet up the time frame it would only be an addition of a few days,” a source close to the committee had said adding that so far the committee was not drawing conclusions but analyzing the details affecting the election process so far.

On Wednesday, the Senate tasted perhaps what looked like a foretaste of the electoral reforms process this time. The chamber received a voluminous electoral reforms report from the Committee on INEC and slated the same for deliberation and passage into law. It would have amounted to the third amendment of Electoral Act 2010, which had been amended in December 2010 and in January 2011 by the National Assembly.

The 2011 amendment was a single clause amendment which reenacted Section 9(5) of the 2010 Act to abridge the time from 60 days to 30 days within which the Independent National Electoral Commission is to stop the registration of voters before any general election. But the amendment process was stalled over arguments on who should replace a governorship or presidential candidate who dies in the middle of an election as it happened in Kogi State.

Senators were on sharply divided during the debate with some supporting the idea that the supported the idea a runners up at the primaries should take the slot, while others insisted that since the candidate is not complete without his running mate, the running mate should automatically replace a dead candidate.

Chairman INEC Committee, Senator Abubakar Kyari who submitted a report on “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and for other related matters, (S.B.231 and S.B.234),” said that the Committee combined the two bills because they cover aspects of the electoral process.

Debates were however deadlocked as he the Senate President introduced Clause 6 of the amendment bill which seeks to amend Section 36 of the Electoral Act by providing for substitution of a dead candidate with the first runner up at primaries.  The Senate immediately got divided into two factions; those who supported the position of the committee and those who said no.

The proposed Section 3 reads:” If after the commencement of poll and before the announcement of the final result and declaration of a winner, a nominated candidate dies, the chief National Electoral Commissioner shall, being satisfied of the fact of the death, proceed with the election after allowing the political party whose candidate died to substitute the late candidate with the person who scored the next highest number of lawful votes in the primaries, which was won by the deceased candidate, as if the substituted person was the candidate originally nominated by that party.”

The amendment was intended to fill the lacuna created following the death of Alhaji Abubakar Audu in the process of the last Kogi governorship polls.

But Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who led the group of Senators who argued against the proposal raised constitutional points of order to insist that a candidate cannot be deemed to have fulfilled the law without a running mate and that since the running mate is an integral part of the ticket, he or she should take over the ticket when the principal dies.  Some senators also raised the questions of zoning adding that once a candidate from a particular zone dies, he should be replaced from the same zone.

It became contentious that the Senate had to suspend the passage of the bill till a future date.

Will the committee receive similar accolades as that of Uwais? That is a question left for time to decide. The reality on ground has however prepared a clear space for the committee to excel, if it is so intent on doing so. Luckily for it, the Senate was unable to conclude its amendment of the Electoral Act last Wednesday. That would have made its job a little superfluous as some sources claimed at its inauguration.