18 December 2012

Nigeria: Uwais - Political Interests Killed My Report

Abuja — A former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mohammed Uwais, has expressed regrets that recommendations of the report of the 22-member electoral reform committee that he chaired in 2007 were killed by political interests.

Speaking at a dialogue on the review of the Electoral Law and Process, organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, (PLAC), Uwais observed that instead of implementing the recommendations of his committee fully, the Federal Government opted to "pick and choose" what it wanted.

He said: "As we know, the bill that was produced by the National Assembly, though reflected on some of the recommendations of the Electoral Reform Committee, but not virtually all of the recommendations of the committee.

"As far as the Electoral Reform Committee was concerned, the recommendations were intended to be in tandem with one another.

"If you want to make a good job of it, you cannot just pick and choose a few. Unfortunately, although I am not blaming the National Assembly, party interest came in as well."

The former chief justice, however, acknowledged that the Electoral Act was amended in 2010 and was put into practice in the 2011 elections.

"You are in the field so you are in a position to point out the shortcomings of the Act but I know from the legal point of view, some provisions, like the one that election petitions should be completed by the tribunals within 180 days, created some problems.

"But luckily, the Supreme Court was there to resolve whatever interpretative problems there was. I know among the lawyers, they are not happy with the solution provided by the Supreme Court.

"Also, at the moment, we are aware that there is an exercise going on and we cannot amend the Electoral Act in certain respects without amending the constitution," he added.

In his speech, the Chairman, Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Andy Uba, maintained that "drawing from the experiences of the 2011 elections, there have been suggestions that the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, as amended, have not fully addressed the gaps and challenges to the administration of elections in Nigeria".

He noted that these laws required further review as part of preparations for the 2015 general election.

According to him, the Senate Committee on INEC was open to suggestions and new ideas on how the legal framework for election administration could be further improved.

Uba said: "It is my understanding that this dialogue is geared towards generating new ideas and initiating the very important discussion on the review of electoral laws in Nigeria.

"The National Assembly intends to build on the success of amendments to the Electoral Act in 2010. We hope that your experience with the implementation of the 2010 Electoral Act will help to achieve a settled Electoral Law in Nigeria.

"The Senate Committee on INEC has been listening to various suggestions being made in the public arena and is interested in bringing together participants in a stakeholders' forum that the committee will be organising during the New Year."

He said the key areas of legislative interest during the forum would include, but would not be limited to: the issue of Diaspora voting - presently, only Nigerians residing in the country at the time of registration of voters can vote in any election.

In this regard, he said the committee would focus on addressing the yearnings of Nigerians abroad that are desirous of contributing to the nation's democratic development and participating in the elections.

He explained that other areas would include: rights of election day workers - the current situation is that some citizens are disenfranchised from voting where they registered to vote.

"There needs to be an examination of the rights of election day workers to vote at polling stations where they are discharging their election day duties.

"Other issues include possibility of e-voting and making adequate provisions for persons living with disabilities to vote.

"We believe that the committee's work will be strengthened by the participation and contributions of civil society organisations (CSOs). The committee welcomes particularly, the inputs of CSOs, which it knows will enrich the review process.

"To this end, I on behalf of the Senate Committee on INEC extends an open invitation to CSOs and we encourage them to look out for the stakeholders' hearing in 2013 so that they can participate therein," he added.

In his contribution, the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, who was represented by the commission's Chief Technical Adviser, Mr. Okechukwu Ibeanu, disclosed that about 40 million electronic chip-based voters' cards were almost ready for use, saying, "Very soon, we will start this procedure of issuing the cards."

He said: "About 73.504 million voters registered in 2011 may have the cards before 2015; you can use a card reader that may not require taking prints from 10 fingers.

"We are already testing the system; nevertheless, we are asking for an amendment to Section 52 of the Electoral Act so that nobody goes to court to say that electronic accreditation is part of electronic voting."

He said prior to the 2011 general election, INEC had over 80 per cent separate contradictory ex-parte injunctions that prompted it to write to the then CJN on the imminent danger posed by such injunctions.

"However, we were glad to note that there was more than a 50 per cent reduction in post election cases after the election, compared to what we had in 2007.

"It was obvious that the 2010 Electoral Act was much stronger than the previous one. However, it must be pointed out that it is not yet perfect. It is a work in progress that needs constant interrogation," he said.

He added that INEC had made a request for 12 amendments to the 1999 Constitution and 19 amendments to the Electoral Act which is currently pending before the National Assembly.

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