Dubious White Paper

Hon. Justice Mohammed Uwais (rtd)When the election of 2007 received remorseless attacks from informed quarters of society, President Umaru Yar’Adua could not resist a response to the cry for reform and sanity in subsequent polls.

Consequently, he set up the Electoral Reforms Committee(ERC) under a former chief justice of the federation, Muhammadu Uwais. He was lauded even if the move was also a vicarious admission of the flawed process that anointed him the President of the country.

A few winks and nods from the political and judicial elite gave him tentative legitimacy, which meant he had to work hard to justify his authority. The setting up of that committee came across as an ascent up the high arc of the people’s approval.

But the recent recommendations or White Paper of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) based on the Uwais-led committee report begs a lot of questions. Rumblings had come out that the panels that looked into the recommendations did not accept key and popular aspects of the report.

But it was necessary to see the actual positions of the FEC. What they want the National Assembly to approve will not guarantee the desired free and fair elections.

We accept the unbundling of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but we disagree with the part that makes the President the sole authority to determine who the commission’s chairman will be. What is the idea of making the electoral body lean and mean, but unable to deal a killer punch in the form of a free and fair election?

The Uwais committee did not append its signature to the idea of an electoral umpire who will be at the beck and call of a single man who has partisan agenda. That has been the case in Nigeria. The Uwais panel called for the electoral umpire to be recruited and fired by a process that includes a rigorous judicial process and the National Assembly.

This way, the man or woman can exercise judgement and authority untrammelled by partisan rancour and machinations. The acceptance of an independent funding arrangement that allows the INEC to operate from the Consolidated Revenue Fund creates palpable philosophical conflict. How could the nation’s chief electoral umpire seek money independently while still bowing to the authority of one person in the President?

We also object to the rejection of what observers have identified as the critical wisdom of the Uwais committee report: that there should be a period of six months between the election and the swearing–in of the elected officer. This will allow for enough time to complete all election-related litigations. We do not understand the logic behind this rejection if not a barefaced belief that the system as we have it today works for our democracy.

It has not. Since May 29, 2007, the nation’s judicial realm has been inundated with cases in which the elections were challenged. In quite a few of them, the results released by INEC were discredited, prompting election re-runs.

In a few others, the court ordered the dislodgement of the occupant of the office and replacement by the challenger. We have seen this trend in the governorship sweepstakes. In the north, there was re-run in Sokoto State. In the Niger Delta, there were re-runs in Bayelsa and Cross River. Even though the sitting governors won the re-runs, it was clear they were impostors on the throne.

In Edo State, Governor Adams Oshiomhole was ordered to replace Professor OserhiemenOsunbor who had served for about 18 months. In Ondo State, Olusegun Agagu was ousted by the Court of Appeal. Dr. Olusegun Mimiko was shown to have won the election and ordered to be sworn in as governor.

Also in the south-west, the Ekiti State governorship election re-run is already generating a lot of buzz. The Court of Appeal upturned the lower court’s decision by calling for another election in 10 local government areas and removed Olusegun Oni as the governor. In Osun State, the Court of Appeal has given a vibrant new life to the challenge from the Action Congress (AC) governorship candidate, Rauf Aregbesola, with the admission of Adrian Forty-led forensic evidence. Oyo State hearings also revived interest in the case against Governor Alao-Akala. Ditto in Ogun State.

Up till now, the direction of the Delta State governorship election is unclear as the matter has returned to the tribunal.

What all of these and more show is that the present situation allows impostors to serve as governors for as long as the courts dither and frustrate easy determination. They are not operating under any deadline. Some former governors, like Agagu in Ondo and Osunbor in Edo, occupied illegal positions for close to half of the constitutional tenure.

By rejecting the provision, the FEC is sending a wrong signal. It is suggesting that all those who want to rig can continue to do so. When they win, they can enjoy illicit power.

More importantly, it encourages corruption. Incumbency advantage goes to the person who illegally wins and exploits the treasury to pay lawyers and consolidate power that the people did not confer on him or her.

The FEC also abolishes the concept of the State Independent Electoral Commission. This is unacceptable. In this area, we also disagree with the ERC which made that recommendation. The reason for our objection is clear. We live in a federation. Centralising the electoral system reverses the trend of many towards focusing the nation on a federalist dream.

Aside from affirming bureaucratic burdens in the system, it opens the system to fraud and parties with larger interests could tamper with the election results. This can engender protests and mayhem as we often witness in the country.

It is instructive that those on the panel never benefited from a free and fair contest. That is why they cannot understand the nuance and beauty of an orderly election and also an orderly transition. The panel did not even debate the time between the election and the handover. They did not cut it to three months or four months. They absolutely rejected it. It was an act of egregious folly.

The matter should go to the National Assembly which is the closest we have to an elected body, for consideration. It should determine what sort of electoral laws should obtain in the country.

If the President set up the Uwais-led panel, it should at least let the National Assembly also consider its report.

We therefore call on the lawmakers to debate the matter and append their approval to the recommendations to determine all legal disputes before handover. That is how it is done in decent places. Ours should not be a brutish democracy.

We accept the call for independent candidates, the open secret ballot, the accommodation of women, an electoral offences tribunal, announcement of election results at polling stations and training for INEC staff.

But these do not tackle the fundamental issues causing us election woes from political cycle to political cycle

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