The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had a somewhat bitter, sweet engagement with the National Assembly recently.
The issues bordered on the much-debated diaspora voting and pending elections into vacant legislative seats. Clearly both issues touch on constitution.
While the law as constituted does not allow for electronic voting as such voting must be by personal representation, the constitution provides that every constituency must have a representative through an elective process organized by the electoral commission. However it would seem that the commission is almost handicapped on both issues.
The 2015 general election was perhaps the most competitive election in the Nigeria’s recent political history.
Invariably, that electoral process opened up the system to the exploration of more technology with the introduction of the Smart Card Reader and Permanent Voter Card (PVC).
As such, in the build up to that election, the clamour by Nigerians living abroad to get involved in the process back home became much more noticeable.
For them, besides technology conquering the geographical hindrance to voting for any citizen (as evident in even small countries in Africa), the appreciable economic contributions they make through transfers back home warrants they have a direct participation in electoral process in the country.
According to a report by World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016, remittances from Nigerians living abroad hit $20.77 billion in 2015, making Nigeria the sixth largest recipient of remittances in the world.
It further revealed that remittances to Nigeria rose every year over the last decade from $16.93 billion in 2006 to $20.83 billion in 2014. In 2015, however, remittances fell slightly to $20.77 billion.
According to the report, the top two sources for Nigerian diaspora remittances in 2015 were the United States ($5.7 billion) and the United Kingdom ($3.7 billion).
More so, the report showed that Nigeria tops the top ten remittance recipients in Africa by $20.77bn, followed by Ghana ($2.0bn), Senegal ($1.6bn), Kenya ($1.6bn), South Africa ($1.0bn), Uganda ($0.9bn), Mali ($0.9bn), Ethiopia ($0.6bn), Liberia ($0.5bn), and Sudan ($0.5bn).
But, attempts at addressing diaspora voting has never gone beyond the discussion stage. The issue was deliberated at the 2014 National Conference. Former External Affairs Minister, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, had at the confab, captured the frustrations of millions of Nigerians abroad about their inability to vote.
Expectedly, he blamed the situation on the provision of the relevant sections of the Electoral Act and the Constitution of the Federal Republic, which discriminated against Nigerians living outside the country.
Despite the major leaps recorded by the immediate past leadership of INEC, diaspora voting wasn’t feasible for the 2015 election. With federal lawmakers fixated on returning to office, amending the constitution to accommodate Nigerians abroad was not a priority.
But, this INEC, under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, seems poised to address the issue, provided the National Assembly plays its part.
This much the chief electoral officer stated when he hosted members of the Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organizations, led by its Chairperson, Dr. Rose Oko, when they visited the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja.
He urged the National Assembly to expedite action by amending sections of the Constitution and the Electoral Act (2010 as amended) to make way for Nigerians living outside the country to participate in the electoral process and vote.
He said: “INEC believes that Nigerians living outside the country should have the right to vote for a variety of reasons: they are citizens of Nigeria interested in the affairs of their own country; they make considerable contribution to the economy through huge financial inflow to the country; there is a sizable amount of Nigerian citizens living outside the country; and Diaspora voting is consistent with global best practices”.
Professor Yakubu noted that: “Allowing Nigerians living abroad to vote will allow Nigerians in Diaspora to register and vote in their countries of residence”.
He however pointed out that: “for this to happen, several sections of the Constitution and the Electoral Act have to be amended to provide for the legal framework to allow for registration and voting by citizens living in the Diaspora”.
He disclosed that the Commission had identified areas of the Constitution and the Electoral Act which needed amendment and was willing to discuss it with the Committee. He assured that: “INEC is committed to providing Nigerians living outside the country the opportunity to have a say in who become our leaders at various levels”.
“I hope that arising from our interactions today, the legal and constitutional obstacles to voting by Nigerians in Diaspora will soon be removed so that Nigerians, irrespective of where they live around the world would have the opportunity to vote in future elections, but the first step towards actualizing that possibility rests entirely on the national assembly because you are the only people who have the powers to amend our constitution and laws,” he said.
Earlier, the Chairperson, Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organizations, Senator Rose Oko, had told the leadership of INEC that members of the Committee were in the Commission in respect of the quest for Nigerians in Diaspora to be part of the electoral process and to exercise their franchise.
Senator Oko, advised the Commission to look into the possibility of including Nigerians in Disapora to vote, and assured that the Committee would do everything possible to facilitate the amendment of the relevant sections of the Electoral Act to accommodate people living outside the country in the electoral process.
“We in the Senate Committee do believe that we would lend our voice very strongly to the call that Nigerians in Diaspora should be given an opportunity to exercise their franchise to vote in the countries where they are domiciled for a number of reasons,” she said.
By and large, according to analysts, the bulk of the responsibility lies with legislature. Nevertheless, while the National Assembly and the commission enthuse over the prospects of Nigerians in diaspora voting, the need to tidy up what has become perennial logistics challenges back home, would be key.
Also, the challenge of inconclusive elections, resulting majorly from insecurity, might be too much of a distraction for the commission. Still, other analysts believe that these challenges are easily surmountable, if key stakeholders play their statutory role.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari seems indifferent to the 2014 confab report which gave life to the prospects of diaspora voting, he has often expressed willingness to make Nigerians living abroad have a direct say in how their leaders emerge.
In March, while speaking to the Nigerian community in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, he had said: “The Independent National Electoral Commission will be encouraged to explore the possibility of Nigerians abroad voting in the 2019 general elections. We will do all within our means to fulfill that desire.
“I want all Nigerians to know that I respect them and their right to choose their leaders. Some African countries have started allowing their citizens resident abroad to vote in national elections, so I fully empathise with the desire of Nigerians in the diaspora to vote in national elections,” the President stated.
His optimism in Malabo was slight variance from his rather cautious desire in August 2015, where he stated that it was not feasible to implement the idea presently as there were still many factors militating against its realisation.
Speaking at the 2015 Diaspora Day held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, with the theme “Diaspora and Nigeria Change Agenda”, he identified some of those factors, which he argued were logistical, to include legislation, huge finance, and confidence in the electoral system.
The Senate President, Sen Bukola Saraki, had also expressed the upper chamber’s commitment as well.
Speaking at the one-day stakeholders meeting on electoral reforms organized by Senate Committee and Policy and Legal Advocacy Center (PLAC), Saraki had said the wish of Nigerians living abroad to participate in the process should be accommodated.
However, while the next round of legislative elections are months away, and with the Sen Ken Nnamani Electoral Reform Committee set to commence work, it is expected that diaspora voting would get serious attention this time.
However, while the electoral commission tasked the National Assembly on ensuring that Nigerians living abroad can vote in future polls, the federal legislature was not so charitable over its criticism of INEC for delays in conducting pending elections into legislative seats.
Both chambers had come down hard on the commission over pending polls, especially in Rivers and Lagos.
While the House of Representatives urged INEC to conduct the elections, Senate threatened to suspend plenary sessions if the electoral umpire fails to conduct all pending re-run elections into legislative positions in Rivers State.
This followed the unanimous adoption of a motion under matters of urgent public importance sponsored by Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, (PDP) and Senate Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, (APC).
In the House, the Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, (PDP) had sponsored the motion and the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC) had supported the motion.
Besides the bi-partisan party support that greeted the motion, the National Assembly found inexplicable that those pending elections has not be held, months after court rulings.
They cited breach to the constitution on the part of INEC, which touched on disobeying court ruling on time frame for rerun election, causing under representation of a people, which they say poses danger to democracy.
But INEC has often stated that its inability to conduct the polls bother on insecurity in those areas. Before then, the commission had early this year, said it would not go back to states where it had pending legislative reruns until stakeholders in those areas commit to the safety of electoral personnel and materials.
The commission had lost an ad-hoc staff and serving National Youth Corps member due to violence in Rivers State. However after much agitation, the commission had held a had meeting with stakeholders from Kogi, Anambra, Rivers and Imo State where legislative elections were pending.
For Rivers State, series of peace meetings were held. Governor Nyesom Wike and his immediate predecessor and Minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had met with the heads of security agencies including the DSS and police as a way of deescalating the tension in the state. The two estranged political allies are the leaders of the two major parties in the state, PDP and APC.
However while the elections in Kogi and Imo held, that of Rivers did not hold due to resurgence of violence.
But during the debate on his motion on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Ekweremadu argued “that lNEC had successfully conducted elections in the North-East of Nigeria, especially in the areas around Sambisa Forest, in spite of the area having been acknowledged worldwide to be ravaged by terrorist activities.
“Also aware that INEC recently conducted successful elections in Edo State even after security advice from Police and DSS forced a rescheduling of the election date.
Ukaibe is a public affairs analyst.
Senate Sets Up Seven-Member Conference Committee On Electoral Act Amendment Bill
The Senate has set up a Conference Committee to harmonize positions on the Electoral Act Amendments Bill.
President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan who announced this Wednesday during plenary, said that the conference Committee will work with that of the House of Representatives in order to be on the same page on Electronic transmission of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
According to Lawan, Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, APC, Kebbi North will be the leader of the team.
Other members are Senators Kabiru Gaya, APC, Kano South to represent North West; Danjuma Goje, APC, Gombe Central for North East; Uche Ekwunife, PDP, Anambra Central for South East; Sani Mohammed Musa, APC, Niger East for North Central; Ajibola Basiru, APC, Osun Central for South West and Matthew Urhoghide, PDP, Edo South.
Recall that of the seven members for the Conference, while only Senator Urhoghide voted YES Electronic transmission of election results, Senator Ekwunife was absent during the voting time and the other five members who are of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC voted NO for electronic transmission of election results.
The Senate was before its annual recess thrown into confusion and uproar as Senators considered the Report of the Electoral Bill, 2021 which is a Bill for an Act to repeal the Electoral Act No.6, 2010 and enact the Electoral Act 2021, to regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory elections.
PIA: Buhari’s Aide Tasks Southern Govs, Lawmakers On Amendments
The Senior Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Senator Ita Enang, has asked the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) and members of the National Assembly to take advantage of the proposed amendment to the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) to change the Act on controversial issues of host communities development fund and the frontier basins exploration trust fund.
Mr Enang, a former senator, said members could propose amendments that could be consolidated with those proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He stated this while appearing on “Politics Today” a programme on Channels TV.
Mr Buhari had written the National Assembly on Tuesday seeking an amendment to the PIA on the administrative part of the law.
The letter dated September 16 was read by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives during plenary sessions on Tuesday.
The PIA, which was assented to by the president on August 16, was passed by the National Assembly under controversial circumstances in both chambers of the National Assembly in July.
The president seeks to increase the number of non-executive board members of the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority and the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory commission from two to six, to ensure representation of all geopolitical zones.
The Nigerian Governors Forum had in a communique after its 35th teleconference meeting in July expressed dissatisfaction with the ownership of the NNPC Limited and the issues of host communities and the frontier exploration trust fund.
The NGF recommended that given that the corporation is owned by the three tiers of government, the newly incorporated entity (NNPC Limited) should be owned by a vehicle that “holds th.e interest of the three tiers of government” – the institution that is currently positioned to carry out this mandate is the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).
The governors, in the communique, said they will address the issues using appropriate channels including the National Economic Council and the National Assembly.
Deepening Constitutional Democracy
One person who seems to be unhappy about the way the country runs its political parties is Mr Dan Nwanyanwu, the Chairman of Zenith Labour Party.
To him, funding of political parties should not be left at the whims and caprices of money bags, the president, governors or other elected officers of political parties.
He said that such would weaken the political system and make members mere spectators in their own affairs.
He recalled his experience when he gate-crashed in a meeting of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), presided over by the National Chairman, late Adisa Akinloye.
He noted that party supremacy was the in-thing, as the then President Shehu Shagari and his Deputy, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, sat where ordinary members of the party were all seated.
He stated that Akinloye, as the chairman and other party executives sat in a special seat provided for them.
Nwanyanwu said that in those days, there was equal ownership of the party, because members contributed and were unwaveringly committed to the party’s ideology.
The Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Mr. Leonard Nzenwa, stated that non-payment of party dues by party members, remained the core problem in deepening constitutional democracy in the country.
He said that political parties should be mass-owned, mass-oriented, mass funded and must be people-centred, stressing that it is the only way to ensure equality of members in any political party.
According to him, where it looks like few people put funds together to bankroll or fund any political party, such will remain a major problem to constitutional democracy.
Nzenwa who doubles as the Chairman of Action Alliance (AA), noted that funding of political parties by money-bags or few individuals, is a setback to constitutional democracy.
He observed that Nigeria is the only country where members of political parties would refuse to pay their party dues.
He said that in South Africa, the legendary Nelson Mandela, never claimed ownership of the African National Congress (ANC).
“Even in the days of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello, they never claimed to own their party as members pay their dues as and when due,” he said
The IPAC boss said that if today promoters of political parties are laying claims to ownership of their respective political parties, it showed the sad reality of the time.
“Even in America where we borrowed our democracy, no one claimed to own the party even as rich as former President Donald Trump is, at no time did he claim to own the party unlike what is obtainable in Nigeria,” he said
He said that the idea of certain individuals claiming ownership of political parties should be stopped, adding that such people used it as a vehicle to blackmail others.
Nzenwa noted that such abuse must be addressed through party structure, commitment of members to the party and high sense of responsibility.
“Hardly do members pay party dues, including my political party and this is because of non-chalant attitude of members, so the money-bags hijack the parties.
“Political parties cannot survive if members refuse to pay, because why we have problem in political parties is that members do not want to make commitment and do not want to take responsibility.
“Members are not sincere and that is why we have this issue because people keep jumping from one political party to the other once they see that there are going to get money there, there is no ideology whatsoever,” he stated.
The Publicity Secretary of Young Peoples Party (YPP), Mr. Wale Martins, on his part said that YPP members pay their monthly dues, which according to him, is what has been keeping the party going.
He stated that donations are also welcomed from members and highly spirited Nigerians, but added that, that would not confer undue advantage on them.
“YPP members pay monthly dues which differ from state to state; for instance, in Lagos members pay N1000 monthly, while in some other states, they pay between N500 and N100, while party executives pay N3000,” he said
Martins stressed that payment of dues create a sense of belonging, adding that it would further help to promote accountability.
Martins said that members were reluctant to pay their dues because money-bags had hijacked the political structure and members had given tacit support to those willing to drop money in a bid to control the soul of the party and dictate the pace.
Martins said that vote-buying, manipulation and other shenanigans are fallout of this ugly development, especially during party primaries to elect candidate that would fly the flags of the parties.
He also said that government’s withdrawal of payment of subvention to parties was responsible for hijacking of the political process by powerful individuals.
“The government used to give political parties subvention, but the sudden withdrawal of such subvention eroded their confidence and left members with no choice than to embrace money-bags,’’ he said.
The Executive Director, Adopt A Goal For Development Initiative, Mr. Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said that the country cannot deepen constitutional democracy without political party reformation.
He said that the reformation must guarantee internal party democracy and ensure that party members and officials adhere strictly to rules, guidelines and the constitution.
He noted that the products of political parties become the drivers of the nation’s democracy; hence, the country must focus on the basic foundation of ensuring the process of party membership conforms to best practices.
“We must ensure that few money bags and people in power do not undermine and appropriate the functions of political parties,” he said.
To get the best out of this democracy, Atoye stated that the country needs political parties that are funded by members and the public and not a few political merchants.
Ogunshola writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
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