Recently the Senate annual retreat ended in Enugu with issues bordering on the proposed constitutional and electoral reform taking centre stage. Apart from using the brimming opportunity afforded by the retreat to reminiscence on their activities in the preceding year, the Senate also uses the forum to search for functional electoral system.
Also, late last month the launching of the Face of a Nation: Democracy in Nigeria, Foreign Relations and National Image at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in Lagos opened another window for Nigerians to chart a new course for the nation’s problematic electoral system. The current efforts at reforming the nation’s electoral system formed major part of the discussion.
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua declared the readiness of his administration to provide the necessary support for the National Assembly in the ongoing process to amend the constitution and the Electoral Act preparatory to 2011 election insisting that once the process was effectively completed, it would go a long way in checking the myriads of social ills bedeviling the country.
He noted that once the issue of election was addressed, every other thing would fall in place, adding that since the people were very eager to be counted in the process of governance, getting their confidence had become paramount.
The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark stated that the Senate had a number of significant bills before it for consideration, noting that one of the most pressing issues has been that of electoral review. According to him, the major issue before the Senate and as the elected representatives of the people was how to provide the nation with an enduring electoral system, true representation of the wishes and aspirations of the people of Nigeria.
He made it clear that transparent, free and fair elections bestow legitimacy on leadership and create the vital link between government and people. In his words: “We cannot overemphasise the need for a well articulated and functional electoral system that meets all standards of creditability, acceptability, goodwill, fairness and justice”. Basically, as it were Mark then took on those calling for the removal of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, as panacea to the problems plaguing the nation’s electoral system as only trivialising an important national issue. He said that removing the chief electoral officer should not be the utmost importance at this point, but that efforts should be made to ensure that the on-going review of the electoral process be conclude before next general election.
The Senate President stated that the theme of the retreat “legislating for an Enduring Electoral System in Nigeria” was apt as it has come at a time when the Nation is working assiduously to catch up with other developed democracies of the world by ensuring that the process that throw up a transparent electoral process is entrenched. Admittedly he said, “there is room for improvement in our electoral system and I also admit that there is need for reform in our system. But may I quickly add that our process is certainly not the worst in the world as some self-styled political analysts would want to believe and let me say further and more emphatically this time that the removal of Prof. Maurice Iwu is not the review or reform of our electoral process. Removal of Iwu is not synonymous with electoral reform or review. Those calling for the removal of Iwu as the first step are trivializing a very serious national issue.
“There are some people who however, are of the opinion that the electoral system in Nigeria has progressively posed problems since our Independence. What is before us now, is to see how best we can reverse this trend and opinion so as to ensure that subsequent elections, there is less rancour, acrimony and disagreement.
And also as Nigeria has been at the forefront of championing democratic processes, regionally in West Africa and on the continent, we cannot afford to fail.”
Mark also emphasised the need for an enduring electoral system in order to sustain democracy and for Nigeria to play her role in the international arena, where many countries look up to the country for support and leadership.
Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi who presided at the launching of the Face of a nation. Democracy in Nigeria, set the ball rolling by drawing attention to some issues in the electoral reform and the need for the elected National Assembly members to ensure the completion of the electoral process before 2011 elections.
He also made comparison between option A4 and open-secret ballot system, insisting that the latter is the best system for the electoral system in the country.
There is now a consensus that it is the better part of wisdom for the National Assembly to concentrate on just electoral reform than lump them with constitutional reforms.
According to him, 2011 is too critical for the survival of this country for us to miss the opportunity to put a credible electoral system in place, at least, a year before the actual elections starts. Therefore, he appealed to the National Assembly to forgo the exercise of a wholesale revision of the 1999 constitution and concentrate on the various electoral reform bills before it.
Secondly, he noted we need to be careful that the solution which we propose will not do more damage than good.
Let me say with all the emphasis at my command that option A4 is not the solution. It is inappropriate and inapplicable. The historical facts are that option A4 was used for party primaries was that contests started at ward level and state level before the national level. So much has been said about voters queuing behind pictures of candidates. It did not happen all over the country. The common feature in all the elections was the use of the open-secret system, where ballots are marked secretly but cast openly, is the best system. That is what we should be emphasising and advocating. The use of the open secret system, where ballots are marked secretly but cast openly, is the best system”.
Former Senate President Senator Ken Nnamani, in his own presentation submitted that every development starts from the ballot box, not necessarily election, even as he admitted that the 2006 Electoral Act passed under his leadership in the Senate omitted certain things that would have helped the electoral process in the country.
He listed four things that National Assembly should endeavour to include in the electoral reform namely: Appointment of the chairman of the electoral body not be done by a sitting executive recommended by the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee, no candidate must be declared winner until all judicial interventions have been concluded, onus of proof should be on the candidate not the electoral management body and the Independent National Electoral Commission should be autonomous.
Nnamani appealed to the National Assembly to conclude everything on the electoral reform before 2011 election, adding that the Electoral Act is not the problem but the inability to apply it properly by the relevant institutions entrusted by law with such power.
Noting that the electoral process would be better if things are done accordingly.
Our problem is not electoral reform, our biggest problem is the lack of free and fair election in the country.