12 December 2008

Nigeria: Electoral Reform - UWAIS Panel Recommends Independent Candidates

Abuja — THE Justice Mohammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) yesterday recommended the introduction of independent candidates even as it called for the trial and sentencing of electoral fraudsters during elections.

The committee which formally submitted its report to President Umarlu Musa Yar'Adua, in Aso Villa yesterday, also advised the government to establish new legislative bodies to deal with the problem of election rigging and irregularities in the country.

Specifically, the committee recommended that several bodies be created to deal with problems of election frauds. They include, Electoral Offences Commission (EOC), Constituency Delimitation Commission (CDC), and Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission (PPRRC).

The committee's report which was submitted to the President by Uwais, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the committee also recommended the "re-introduction of independent candidature in all elections", disclosed that the new electoral regulating bodies would help tackle the problems associated with electoral fraud in the country.

"Some of the recommendations in our report will require changes in existing electoral procedures, reallocation of functions which are presently performed by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) and States Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC), and necessitated the creation, by legislation, new bodies, that is Electoral Offences Commission (EOC), Constituency Delineation Commission (CDC), and Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission (PPRRC)," he said while submitting the report.

According to him, in order to facilitate and speed up the implantation of the recommendations, "we have annexed to the main report three draft bills for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act, 2006 as well as the establishment of the EOC".

Giving insight into how the committee arrived at its decision on some recommendations, he said the committee has established that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SEICs) lack the requisite independence."

"This is a key deficiency of our electoral process. Accordingly, the committee has made appropriate recommendations to address the focal issues of their composition, administrative autonomy and funding."

The committee chairman said the committee has equally made recommendations aimed at improving the performances of various election related institutions especially the national assembly, the executive, the judiciary, the political parties, security agencies, civil society organisations, the media and the general public.

The retired Justice said the committee during its work found that "election mind-sets are part of the elements that determine the success of election practices; and the mind-sets of Nigerians are not only generally negative but also irrational.

"Therefore, appropriate recommendations have been made aimed at changing this attitude so as to minimize electoral violence and rigging and enhance the building of lasting democratic institutions and culture."

The Electoral Reform Committee, he noted, was "firmly convinced that the acceptance and implementation of the recommendations in the report will significantly restore credibility to the Nigeria electoral process and usher in an era of free, fair and credible elections that will conform to international best practices."

While acknowledging the recommendations by the inter-party consultative committee, to the committee's work, Uwais said the reform committee has "where appropriate, incorporated to a large extent, the aspects of the recommendations by the inter-party consultative committee, which accord with its reasoning and decisions."

Arriving at their recommendations, he stressed that the committee examined the strength and weaknesses of past and present electoral process in relation to electoral best practices in countries similarly placed as Nigerian and make appropriate recommendations aimed at "promoting greater inclusiveness and minimise both pre- and post election tension."

"In this regard, the committee has recommended proportional representation in elections to the legislatures and local government councils. The advantages of the proportional representation system are its inclusiveness, simplicity and accountability. It promotes universal suffrage by ensuring that all votes are of equal value, that no valid vote cast is rendered useless, ineffective or wasted as all votes cast nationwide or statewide or local government area wide, as the case may be, are taken into account. It also facilitates representation of women and other disadvantaged groups in the legislature and the local government councils."

Uwasi explained that the committee in carrying out its task consulted widely with individuals, institutions, state and local governments and received 1,466 memoranda adding that public hearings were held in 12 selected states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) "at which no less than 907 representations were made."

He disclosed that experts came from 11 countries and that all stakeholders, maintaining that past Nigeria leaders were consulted.

The report consists of six volumes, volume one deals with the main report while volume two and three deal with memoranda received by the committee made up of 22 parts and analysis of the presentations made at the public hearing held by the committee.

Volume four which is in 13 parts contains the verbatim report of the public hearings, while volume five and six contain reports of retreats held with foreign experts and the appendices to the main report.

Responding, Yar'Adua said the government would do everything within its powers to ensure that the recommendation is fully implemented with a view to guaranteeing credible electoral processes in the country.

"Our focus on the electoral reform is predicated on the belief that elections are the very heart of democracy, hence they must not only be fair but they must also be seen to be so by our people and the rest of the world," Yar'Adua said.

He continued "It is our abiding belief that failure in instituting an acceptable process by which the representatives of the people are chosen will definitely resort in failure in the long run. For us to succeed in our effort however, we need the buy-in of all stakeholders, politicians, the media, civil society and indeed all Nigerians."

He added "Nurturing and sustaining credible electoral regime indeed entail the cooperation and magnanimous winner who can appreciate the burden of responsibility and gallant losers who will gracefully accept defeat in the certainty is the process if the process is just ensured."

Yar'Adua said from inception, "this administration has considered it a sacred mandate to institute deep and elaborate reforms that will lead to the restoration of the integrity of the electoral system in this country and to ensure that future elections will meet minimum acceptable international standard."

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