21 March 2011

Nigeria: The Self-Serving Bill Before the National Assembly


During the recent presidential election rally of the Peoples Democratic Party in Akure, Ondo State, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Dimeji Bankole, disclosed that Nigerian courts would no longer have jurisdiction to declare any petitioner as elected upon the nullification of the election of the presumed winner or the incumbent political office holder. According to the Speaker, a new amendment to the current Electoral Act will ensure that an Election Tribunal or appellate court can only order a re-run poll in the event of quashing the victory of any public office holder.

Section 147 of the Electoral Act, 2006, which the various tribunals and courts have relied on in determining the avalanche of petitions that trailed the 2007 general elections, states that "(1) Subject to subsection (2) of this Section, if the Tribunal or the Court as the case may be, determines that a candidate who was returned as elected was not validly elected on any ground, the Tribunal or the Court shall nullify the election. (2) If the Tribunal or the Court determines that a candidate who was returned as elected was not validly elected on the ground that he did not score the majority of valid votes cast at the election, the election Tribunal or the Court, as the case may be, shall declare as elected the candidate who scored the highest number of valid votes cast at the election and satisfied the requirements of the Constitution and this Act."

We recall that Governor Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party was declared the duly elected governor of Ondo State following the nullification of the April 14, 2007 victory of Dr Olusegun Agagu of the Peoples Democratic Party. The PDP governors in Edo, Ekiti and Osun also lost their seats to the opposition party through judicial intervention, even though the elections of majority of PDP candidates were affirmed by the courts. It would therefore seem that the National Assembly, which is overwhelmingly peopled by members of the Peoples Democratic Party, wants to put an end to a situation where their candidate in any election can be removed and replaced by another (from another party) through a judicial pronouncement. This position would seem inescapable given the manner in which the Speaker couched his statements at the rally and some other self-serving amendments that were introduced into the Electoral Act. For instance, on Thursday, March 3, 2011, the Federal High Court, Abuja, in the suit on the order of elections, ruled that "The National Assembly was not competent in law to have created section 25 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 when the Constitution has taken care of that. It is not the responsibility of the National Assembly to assume responsibility of another government agency whose functions are determined under the law."

The present Bill being prepared for enactment into law could also be construed as a product of lack of faith in the judiciary. The last general elections, we all recall, were marred by mind-boggling rigging, thuggery, intimidation and other forms of violence that alarmed the international community. This led to the intervention of the judiciary in an unprecedented scale in the determination of those to hold public offices. It is possible that the current state of the Bench might have engineered this reactionary Bill.

Why should tribunals or courts order re-run elections where there are candidates who truly won the said elections? Why should the state commit scarce resources to endless re-runs? What about the cost to the electorate, who will be called upon to decide such re-runs? And given the abuse of power of incumbency in the electoral process, as witnessed since independence in Nigeria, will re-run polls not be another means of legitimizing the illegitimate?

This newspaper condemns in unmistakable terms amendments to the Electoral Act that are based on wimps and caprices of the federal legislators. We hasten to add that the proposed law is a recipe for social disaster, as those genuinely aggrieved may be forced to take laws into their own hands. Therefore, we urge the National Assembly to devote its precious time to productive engagements and stop dissipating energies on worthless ventures, which ridicule the nation before the international community. If the motivation for seeking public office is actually altruistic, then an electoral contest ought not to be a do-or-die affair.

Ultimately, there is the urgent need to restructure the country along fiscal federalism in order to ensure the sanctity of the electoral process. Judicial intervention should be few and far between once the integrity of the ballot box is restored to the polity.

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