Leadership (Abuja)

29 March 2009

Nigeria: National Assembly Will Decide Who Becomes INEC Chairman - Mana

interview

He is one of the few former military officers in the country today who could be said to have really imbibed true democratic traits. Having served as a military governor during the military era, Senator Mohammed Mana [PDP-Adamawa] brings his wealth of experience to his legislative duties so much that he is one of the respected voices in the Senate.

As the deputy chief whip of the upper legislative chamber, Mana's opinion is always consulted by his colleagues on crucial national issues. In this interview with Stanley Yakubu, the senator bares his mind on certain national issues, including the Electoral Reform report of Justice Mohammed Uwais' committee. Excerpts:

The Justice Mohammed Uwais Committee recommended among other things that the National Judicial Service Commission be the body to appoint the chairman of the INEC and the commissioners, but the Federal Executive Council [FEC] rejected that particular recommendation. What is your opinion on this?

I want to use this opportunity to commend Justice Uwais and his committee for coming out with these far-reaching recommendations. My position on that is that the separation of powers between the distinct arms of government should be recognised. In asking the judiciary to appoint the INEC chairman, we should not forget that it is the judiciary that determines the cases that will come up after elections. In this case, how would the judiciary adjudicate on matters arising from the elections? I think the issue of appointing the chairman of the INEC should be left to the executive since it is responsible for the executive function of the government, and the judiciary is to adjudicate on matters arising. If they nominate the chairman and the chairman now chairs the INEC and cases arise from elections, how fair would he be? I think these should be issues on separation of powers.

In past elections, it was alleged that some resident commissioners of INEC were canvassing for members of the PDP. The thinking is that, if we have a president who belongs to the ruling party appointing the INEC chairman and commissioners, we may not have a free and fair election. What is your thought on this?

I think there should be checks and balances. We have seen the mistakes of the past where what you have said now might have happened. But I think in this dispensation, the National Assembly now has a role to play in making sure that all the loopholes are blocked, such that you don't have members carrying cards of political parties being nominated as either chairmen or commissioners of the INEC. I think as members of the National Assembly, we would really have to be sure that the three nominees that will be forwarded to us for screening and approval are the best men with impeccable character, who will be the ones to be selected to chair the INEC. Let us not forget that this process of selecting the INEC boss will still go through the council of state before it will come to the National Assembly. Perhaps by the time it comes to the National Assembly, it will be fine-tuned such that the process of getting the INEC chairman will be very clear and unambiguous.

Do you promise Nigerians that the National Assembly will do a good job by identifying a credible candidate for the post, despite party affiliation?

Of course. When it comes to matters of national importance, if we don't take the issue of these elections very seriously, it might bring this country down. We should be able to bring up a system that will be honest and unambiguous in order to bring out the best. The National Assembly stands for the good of this country. If we are unable to conduct credible elections, then democracy will suffer. It behooves on all of us to ensure that the next elections are very clear.

One other recommendation is that all electoral cases be decided before elected officials are sworn in to avoid a situation where elections are nullified after about two years like we are witnessing today, yet the FEC rejected that too. Do you also accept that?

I don't agree with the FEC because this is a very good introduction into the system. I think all elections must be decided before the National Assembly is convened and before governments are inaugurated because it will ensure that what we have even in my state does not happen again. A situation where a governor has been sworn in and as a governor for one year, then suddenly an election is nullified and a fresh one re-ordered, and the governor wins again and starts new a term is not good. So, instead of spending four years as provided by the constitution, he spends up to five years. I agree that all cases must be disposed of before governors and legislators are inaugurated.

I have spoken with some of your colleagues and they have assured that when the electoral reform bill finally comes to the National Assembly, they will tinker with some aspects that are not favourable to Nigerians. Can you promise that the National Assembly will surely be responsible to the Nigerian people?

The National Assembly will carry out its duties without fear or favour. Note that the electoral reform bill will not automatically become law until the National Assembly endorses it. The National Assembly is desirous that elections be free and fair because that is the only way to sustain democracy in this country. So this National Assembly will ensure that future elections will be free and fair.

Events in your home state suggest that since the annulment of governorship election last year that saw governor Murtala Nyako leaving government house temporarily, the relationship between the executive and the legislative appears to have faded. Are you not worried that the two arms of government are working at par?

I don't believe that there is no love between the executive and the legislature in my state. There have been some frictions here and there and this is normal with democracy. I think the areas of differences are being narrowed down. The governor is now working amicably with the House of Assembly. What has happened before has been put behind us. We went through a process of election twice and because the PDP is in total control of Adamawa State, we won without much problem. I can assure you that we have been working round the clock to resolve the contending issues and the governor too has been calling meetings to resolve areas of disagreement. Disagreement is a normal process in a democratic system. It does not mean that everybody must have to agree with you all the time on every issue. The governor has his role as the chief executive of the state. The legislators have their own roles as the elected representatives of the people from their various constituencies. So, many areas of the disagreement have now been narrowed down drastically as much as I know. There is cordiality between the executive and the legislative in my state now and things are fine now.

Are the National Assembly members really serious to amend some parts of the constitution as promised?

Oh yes. As far as I know, there are some parts of the constitution that really need to be amended and that is the process that has been started. But unfortunately, the process has been stalled because of the little family disagreement between the House and the Senate. I believe that it will be resolved soon and it is my prayer that the National Assembly resume the process of looking at some of the contentious issues in the constitution. The electoral act is one such area. There are a few contentious issues that can also be quickly amended in the constitution. Note however that constitution making is a continuous process, but if we start with some of the less contentious issues, we will be able to carry out this assignment as quickly as possible. The Land Use Act, the electoral law and the INEC are some areas that can quickly be amended for the survival of democracy and good of the country.

The Senate's spokesman Ayogu Eze has lamented on several occasions that the National Assembly was sleeping in the process of resolving the problem between the two chambers. How long will it take to resolve this issue that has stalled the process of the constitutional amendment?

Like I have said, there has been a little family misunderstanding. The misunderstanding to the best of my knowledge is in the process of being resolved. It is not a matter of the leadership family. This is democracy at work. Even in a family, there are misunderstandings between siblings, between husband and wife. So I believe that reconciling or not, the issue of amending the constitution is very important for this country. The issue is very critical to the sustenance of democracy for this country. Whether the Senate or this leadership of the National Assembly is able to do it or not, it shall one day be done. But like you have said, time is against us and if we are not able to resolve it now, it means that a very good process that would have fine tuned our journey towards a firmer democracy would have been missed.

What exactly is the problem that is yet to be resolved?

The problem is known all over the newspapers. It is just making sure that what we have been used to doing is continued. It has been written on severally, so it is not time to dwell on that again.

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