Abuja — Four years after he chaired the 22-member committee set up by the Federal Government to examine the electoral process in the country with a view to raising the quality and standard of elections, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mohammed Uwais, yesterday, regretted that the report of the committee, died on the altar of politics.
Uwais who for the first time broke his silence on the issue, noted that instead of implementing the recommendations of his committee holistically, the Federal Government, decided to "pick and choose."
He spoke at a dialogue on the review of the Electoral Law and Process, organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, PLAC, in Abuja, yesterday, 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 all of the recommendations of the committee wre adopted. 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. However, the 2010 Electoral Act was produced; it was put in practice in the 2011 elections.
"You are in the field so you are in the position to point out the shortcomings of the Act but I know from the legal point of view, some provisions, like the one that electoral petition should be completed by the tribunals within 180 days created some problems.
"But luckily, the Supreme Court was there to resolve whatever interpretation problems there was. I know among the lawyers, they are not happy with the solution provided by the Supreme Court. 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.
Meanwhile, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, at the event yesterday, said it may soon issue about 40 million electronic chip base voters card to electorates in preparation for the 2015 general elections, even as it called for an urgent amendment of section 52 of the Electoral Act to make provision for Electronic-Voting.
According to INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega who was represented by his Chief Technical Adviser, Mr Okechukwu Ibeanu, "As it stands today, the commission has 40 million electronic chip base voters card almost ready for use. Very soon, we will start the process of issuing the cards.
"73.504 million voters registered in 2011 may have this card 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 amendment of section 52 of the Electoral Act so that nobody goes to court to say that electronic accreditation is part of electronic voting."
"Prior to the 2011 general elections, INEC had over 80 percent separate contradictory ex-parte injunctions that prompted it to write to the then Chief Justice of Nigeria on the imminent danger posed by such injunctions.
"However, we were glad to note that there was over 50 percent 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 that the previous ones, however, it must be pointed out that it is not yet perfect. It is a work in progress that needs constant interrogation.
"Meanwhile, INEC has made request for 12 amendments to the 1999 constitution and 19 amendments to the Electoral Act which is currently pending before the National Assembly.
"We are equally studying various judgments within the years to enable INEC to improve on conduct of future elections. One of the areas that equally require amendment is the tenure of the Secretary of INEC. Presently, there is no tenure for that office. We are proposing an amendment to section 1(8c) of the Electoral Act to provide for a tenure of four years for the office, renewable only once.
"Likewise, there is need for an amendment to section 31 and 32 of the Electoral Act regarding the submission of candidates by political parties. Section 31, provides that political parties should submit candidates within 60 days to the election and that INEC should not reject such candidates whatsoever. However, section 87 of the same Act clearly stipulates how the candidates should emerge. It stipulates that only candidates that win primaries should be submitted, so there is no way the two provisions should be read in isolation of each other.
"We propose that section 31 should be amended to read, 'subject to provision of section 87 of this Act, every political party should within 60 days, submit its list of candidates to INEC in the prescribed form. This was a sinking point between INEC and political parties before the 2011 election.
"In the same vein, in view of section 35, we submit that candidates that scored second highest vote should be submitted in case of death of the original winner of the primary.
"More so, section 52, prohibits e-voting. It must be amended before people should start talking about e-voting. Other sections that need amendment are sections 48, 49, 50, 52, 59 and 60 of the Electoral Act. INEC should have powers to determine voting procedure depending on how ready it is.
"We also seek an amendment to allow INEC to designate two periods in the year that bye-election can hold," he added.
Meantime, in his address, Chairman Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Andy Uba, noted 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, and that these laws require further review as part of preparations for the 2015 general elections.
"The Senate Committee on INEC is open to suggestions and new ideas on how the legal framework for election administration can be further improved. 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 experiences 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 organizing during the New Year. Key areas of legislative interest will include but will not be limited to: the issue of Diaspora voting - presently, only Nigerians residing in Nigeria at the time of registration of voters can vote at any election. The committee is interested in suggestions on how we can address the yearnings of Nigerians abroad who desire to contribute to our democratic development and participate in our elections.
"Right 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 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 CSO'S and we encourage CSOs to look out for the Stakeholders Hearing in 2013 so that they can participate therein. The committee will like to see improvements to the Electoral Act happen before June 2013."