18 March 2010

Nigeria: Electoral Reform - Can Jonathan Make Any Difference?

Lagos — Last week, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan forwarded an unedited copy of the report of the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) to the National Assembly for approval. Charles Ajunwa writes on the tasks before the legislature, asking whether the reform will be ready before the 2011 general election which is barely 10 months away

Recently, the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan sent an unedited copy of the report of the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee to the National Assembly. This move has been interpreted to mean that he may have wholly decided to implement the report of the Uwais panel. The new copy of the report sent to the lawmakers by Jonathan will automatically replace the edited copy earlier sent to the legislature by President Umaru Musa Ya'Adua last year.

The alleged watering down of the ERC recommendations by the Presidency did not go down well with many Nigerians and organised groups who demanded for the original report of the ERC.

The Uwais' committee's recommendations were applauded within and outside the country as having the potency to positively change the flawed electoral system in the country.

News that the unedited report has been sent to the National Assembly by the Acting president was broken by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, while receiving the protesting members of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) agitating among other things for electoral reform and the perceived hiding of "invisible President Yar'Adua" who has not been seen publicly since he returned from a medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Jonathan who has reiterated his determination to conduct a credible, free and fair election at the next general election assured Nigerians that he would ensure electoral reforms ahead of the elections.

Ahmed, who received the protesters on behalf of Jonathan, said it was because of the love the Acting President has for the agitators that he directed that he should receive their letter on his behalf.

He said: "Acting President believes strongly in a constitutional democracy and he has promised that your requests would be looked into. To underscore his determination, he has sent to the National Assembly, the report of the Uwais' Committee on Electoral Reforms unedited. He asked me to assure you that your demands would be met," Ahmed said.

The SGF was in the three-man panel set up by Yar'Adua to look into the report of Uwais panel and come out with recommendations.

Yar'Adua had during his inaugural speech in Abuja in May 29, 2007 pledged to address the flawed 2007 general election, of which he is also a beneficiary. He later constituted a 22-member Electoral Reform Committee headed by the former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Mohammed Uwais, to make recommendations to government on how to restore sanity to the nation's electoral process. Other members of the ECR include Justice Godwin Ononiba, Alhaji Ahmadu Kurfi, Alhaji Musiliu Smith, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, Professor Attahiru Jega and Professor Grace Alele-Williams, Chief (Mrs.) Toyin Olakunrin, Mr. Jibril Ibrahim, Professor Okon Uya, Professor Gambo Balaraba Abdullahi, Mr. Ndanusa Alao, Comrade John Odah; Hajiya Dije Bala, Major-General Oladapo Popoola, Barrister Festus Okoye, Alhaji Aliyu Umar, Mr. Abdurahim Ujo and Barrister Steven Dike.

The Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee after completing its assignment made far-reaching recommendations to the Federal Government.

Precisely on December 11, 2008 the panel submitted its reports to the president. The committee recommended among others, the introduction of independent candidates, and the prosecution of electoral offenders. It also advised the government to establish new legislative bodies to deal with the problem of election irregularities in the country.

The committee recommended that other bodies should be created to deal with the problem of electoral malpractices. These are, Electoral Offences Commission (EOC), Constituency Delimitation Commission (CDC), and Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission (PPRRC).

According to the report, in order to facilitate and speed up the implementation 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", adding "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."

Acknowledging the recommendations by the inter-party consultative committee, to the committee's work, the panel had where appropriate, incorporated to a large extent, the aspects of the recommendations by the inter-party consultative committee. In arriving at the recommendations, the Uwais panel said the committee examined the strength and weaknesses of past and present electoral process in relation to electoral best practices in countries having similar democratic disposition and made appropriate recommendations aimed at promoting greater inclusiveness and minimize 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."

The committee, according to Uwais, in carrying out it's assignment consulted widely with individuals, institutions, state and local governments and received 1,466 memoranda adding that public hearings were held in 12 selected states Including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) at which no less than 907 representations were made.

According to Uwais, experts came from 11 countries; all stakeholders were consulted, noting that the report consists of six volumes. volume one deals with the main report while volume two and three deal with memoranda received by

Responding, President 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.

However, when the Federal Government finally forwarded a White Paper on the report of the panel to the National Assembly, ten important recommendations out the 83 recommendations intended to strengthen the electoral process were rejected. This caused anxiety among the civil society who suspected that government might not be sincere in his quest to reform the electoral system.

The recommendations that were rejected include the removal of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from the list of federal executive bodies and the screening of its nominees by the National Judicial Council (NJC), those on special consideration for gender, handicapped persons and professional groups in INEC's composition; conclusion of election cases before the swearing in of candidates; putting the burden of proof about the fairness of elections on INEC instead of petitioners, and simplification of procedural rules that are applicable to election petitions.

This development gave rise to agitations by individuals and groups calling for the full implementation of the Uwais committee report tandem with the view expressed by notable Nigerians and groups in the past few weeks.

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