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Nnamani committee: Nibbling at electoral reform dilemmas

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Debating Nigeria

Haunted By Uwais, National Confab Reports
Ever since Nigeria began its experimentation with the presidential system of government, elections in the country have continued with progressive degeneration. Right from the 1979 debut to the 1983 landslide that ended in the military takeover, it has always been one debacle to another.

Second Republic Electoral Defects
Although the conduct of the 1979 election was under military supervision, there was minimal manipulation, but it was obvious long before the votes were cast and collated that election was tilted towards the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and its presidential flag bearer, Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Experts say, subject to constant variables, predictability robs elections of credibility and sanctity of process.

When NPN captured the presidential mandate again in 1983, it was clear as crystal that the power of incumbency assisted in no small measure to tilt unmerited victory to the ruling party. Perhaps on account of the unitary system within the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), the power of incumbency flowed from the federal might.

With the police and coercive institution under the control of the executive, state governors battled the forces of electoral infringement, which had the support of federal agencies, only for their power of incumbency to become of no effect.

In the old Anambra State, Governor Jim Nwobodo, despite his legendary charisma and political undergirding of the Right Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe, could not withstand the rampaging federalist powers supporting the NPN and its candidate, Chief Christian Onoh. Onoh was returned and after judicial ding-dong, inaugurated as Governor of Anambra State to the pain and regret of Nwobodo of Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP).

Another astounding instance of zigzag elections was that of old Ondo State. Akin Omoboriowo, a darling of Pa Obafemi Awolowo after a sizzling governorship primary, was made the running mate of Adekunle Ajasin, who was preferred by the elders in their Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). That was in 1979.

At the approach of the 1983 election, Omoboriowo defected to the ruling NPN, when it became obvious that Ajasin was not prepared to yield space for him to contest the governorship on UPN as purportedly prearranged. Similar to the old Anambra scenario, the NPN unleashed the full force of its electoral machinery and returned Pyrrhic victory for Omoboriowo. But unlike the old Anambra State example, the rigging triggered unprecedented violence that led to massive loss of lives and destruction of property.

However, it took the pronouncement of the court to have Ajasin inaugurated as governor before the military struck. As could be deduced, in those cases, none of the parties to a disputed election was inaugurated while the election cases lasted. Lawyers at the election petition tribunals complained that the haste with which the cases were dispensed did not help the cause of justice.

Third Republic: Crisis Of Codes
Not many people know that the Maradona alias given to the former military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida was due in part to the nimble way his administration experimented with the different styles of political transition and election models.

While the military president seemingly encouraged popular participation in the electoral process, he craftily kept shifting the dates for actual transition to full civil regime through a democratic election.

But in the aborted third republic, attempt was made to ensure that the will of the masses triumphed in the ballot. That was why the idea of option A4 system was toyed with. The cogs around the option A4 or even the modified open ballot were many. It was observed that having voters queue behind the candidates negated the fabric of free choice. Further, it was also feared that voters may be visited with sundry untoward actions for expressing political preference.

However, despite its incongruities, the modified open ballot system delivered what was clearly seen as about the most credible election in post independent Nigeria in 1993. The June 12 election, which ordinarily would have marked the glorious end to Babangida’s long winding transition programme and electoral experimentation, for inexplicable reasons was annulled.

As at the time of annulling the election, which Chief Moshood Abiola of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP), was on the verge of winning exposed the fact of endemic outside interference with elections. Consequently, election was seen as an aspect of military intervention in politics.

It should be noted that President Babangida put together a 17-member political bureau, ostensibly to advise the administration on its transition to civil rule programme. Yet, inspite of copious recommendations, the question of implementation continued to bog electoral fidelity in the country.

Fourth Republic: From Indifference To Impunity
At the birth of fourth republic in 1999, the spectre of infringement on the election environment hovered. The shortcoming manifested to a great extent with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which without doubt appeared as the favoured platform of the exiting military administration.

Right from the party’s convention during which the presidential candidate was chosen, the evil of outside influence or rigging reared its head. Top on that, the aspect of inducement was added, such that delegates were patronized with fabulous sums of money to cast their votes in a particular way.

Given the sordid developments in the Babangida long and treacherous transition programme, most experienced political actors were indifferent to the processes associated with the incoming republic. As it turned out the indifference provided the military the enabling environment to pander the electoral process towards their predetermined end. Most importantly, being tired of the long military interregnum Nigerians seemed to indulge the military to ensure that they see no reason to further obviate their exit.

If the 1999 experience exposed the endemic culture of flawed elections, the subsequent exercise in 2003 convinced all and sundry that emergent political class and their military apologists did not want the free expression of the people’s will in the choice of their representatives.

Determined to force itself on the nation despite its suspect acceptability, the PDP federal government led by President Olusegun Obasanjo bulldozed itself back to a second term in office. The electoral process manifested the power of incumbency and apparent hegemony of the ruling party.

With the charade called election over in 2003, Nigerians, it seemed, decided to endure the imposed government in the belief that a change of style and personnel must come around four years later.

Nonetheless, it was a mixed bag of bitterness and relief. Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who succeeded the mercurial Obasanjo, not only confirmed the rigged process that threw him up, but also resolved to improve on the electoral process. More than anything else, the President’s avowals that no longer should the rule of law be sidelined in the nation’s democratic experimentation was like a balm on the people’s traumatized psyche.

By putting together the Electoral Reform Committee, otherwise known as the Uwais Panel, President Yar’Adua put life to his promise of healing the nation’s diseased elections. The retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammad Uwais, alongside his team toured the country. And after receiving as much as 1,466 memoranda, holding public hearings in some 12 selected states, as well as, the Federal Capital Territory, it made a wide ranging recommendation in its report that was made public by December 2008.

From Uwais Panel To Jega’s Panel
Some of the salient recommendations of the panel include; independent candidacy, transparent and inclusive system of appointing chairman and members of INEC board, expenditure ceiling and campaign funding, date of elections, duration and nature of election tribunals, among other constitutional amendment proposals.

The untimely death of President Yar’Adua poured cold water on the far-reaching recommendations of the Uwais panel. But despite the constitutional road blocks thrown along the way to possible full implementation of the Electoral Reform Panel’s report, President Goodluck Jonathan, who succeeded Yar’Adua found the wisdom of sanitizing the electoral environment and its systems.

Because, while the interval between the time of his mounting the saddle as substantive president and that of the approaching 2011 election could not be said to be enough to fully infuse the Uwais report into the election, President Jonathan appointed Prof. Attahiru Jega as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Bringing his own personal initiative as a former consultant to the INEC chairman, Jega, introduced some innovations in the continuing bid to make Nigeria’s election credible and conform to international best democratic practices.

The capture of biometric details in permanent voter cards (PVC), as well as, the use of card readers during elections was hailed as foolproof method of checking electoral heist, impersonation and ballot box snatching during elections. But after the 2015 election, it was evident that the PVC and its technical twin brother, Card Reader, was not the magic wand to make elections credible and faithful to voters’ wishes.

Again the beneficiary of the perceived innovations in the 2015 election, President Muhammadu Buhari, perhaps, out of previous experience or well founded reservations about the electoral process, decided that something more needs be done to get the electoral process right. But quite unlike his predecessors, President Buhari did not make more than passing comments on the issue of faulty electoral system in the country.

That may be why when his administration decided to make its own electoral reform initiative, the lot fell on the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to inaugurate the Senator Ken Nnamani committee.

Nnamani Committee: Want Of Definition, Purpose
THE initial perception about that Ken Nnamani committee was that coming long before the next election; the committee would do a thorough job without haste and constraints. Yet, the purpose of the committee was seen to exist within a halo of apprehension that its recommendations will go the way of those before it.

At the time of its inauguration on October 4, 2016; the Constitutional and Electoral Reforms Committee, as the panel was officially designated, the chairman, Nnamani, was not a member of any political party, having resigned from the PDP and gone into political sabbatical.

Malami had explained that the committee was put together to reform the electoral process. The AGF added that “the committee is expected to review electoral environment, laws and experiences from recent elections conducted in Nigeria and make Recommendations to strengthen and achieve the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria.”

So, given his support against the unconstitutional attempt to elongate the tenure of the President in 2006, the former President of Senate, was perceived as a fit person to undertake the assignment.

But somehow, despite the fact that the secretary of the committee, Dr. Mamman Lawal was an academic from the Bayero University, Kano, Nigerians wondered why the legal adviser of the ruling APC, Dr. Muiz Banire was enlisted without his counterpart from the opposition PDP, for balance.

More reasons to doubt the neutrality of the committee emerged when Nnamani joined the ruling party. To a large extent that step encumbered the definition of the committee and the fidelity of its purpose.

Unmindful of those institutional question marks, the committee toured the six geopolitical zones and gathered the inputs of stakeholders. What remains is for the committee to prepare its report and send to the National Assembly as the AGF explained for legislative conclusion.

Zonal Stand Points
From the Southeast, the focus was on election petitions, independence candidacy and creation of electoral offences commission. Chief Justice of Enugu State, Justice Ngozi Emehelu, spoke of the need to extend the 21 days window for filing petitions, as well as, the 180 days deadline to conclude election petitions.

The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) picked holes on the appointment of INEC chairman, stressing that the President should cease from performing that role without involving the National Assembly, Civil Society and other crucial stakeholders.

Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, noted with pain that there has never been any free and fair election in Nigeria, pointing out that dubious election was responsible for the country’s constricted democratic practice.

Being its first port of call in the geopolitical tour, Nnamani had told the audience at the Nike Lake Hotel venue that “we want a new system whereby no one can be sworn into office with election petitions hanging on their necks.”

The former President of Senate noted, “Majority of the cases in our courts are either pre-election or post-election matters and we want to find a way out of this. We want to ensure that after a candidate had spent time to campaign and given the mandate by the electorate, such mandates will not be dropped at the court. The president has been a victim so Nigerians should not entertain any fear; whether or not the report of this committee will be implemented.”

A former INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Chief Nduka Eya, however decried the evident duplication of efforts, even as he described the committee as a partisan contraption. “The committee is a party committee, Ken Nnamani just defected to the APC, and you know charity they say begins at home,” Eya observed, wondering why the national conference report that touched on virtually all critical issues should not be implemented instead of spending money on APC members.

In Southwest the question of the ambivalent position of the committee chairman reared its head. Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose faulted the choice of Senator Nnamani as the committee chairman, pointing out that the major problems facing electoral system are not limited to lack of reforms. He frowned at the composition of the reform committee members, INEC and the attitude of the security agencies, especially the police.

According to Fayose, the only time Nigeria attempted a reliable electoral reform was during the tenure of President Yar’Adua, recalling that by appointing retired Chief Justice Muhammad Uwais as chairman, conferred “credibility, widespread acceptability and massive support from all over the country and across political divides.”

Nnamani however deflected the allusion to partisanship by pointing out that members of the National Assembly will deliberate and craft the final working document from the exercise.

The Southwest stakeholders maintained that no meaningful reform could be possible without the restructuring of the country. Chairman and Secretary of the committee agreed that the Southwest position was unambiguous, stressing that their stand would help the committee arrive at a basis for the reform of the electoral acts.

Nnamani remarked that unlike the positions of other regions, “the South West position is very clear on restructuring, which is to enable justice, equity and fairness, rather than for an exit.”

Governor Ibikunle Amosun, who sat through the session, declared that Ogun would support the effort of President Buhari, assuring that the outcome of the committee would help move the nation forward politically.

But the position of geopolitical zones in the north contrasted with the stands of Southern counterparts. Through the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the north repudiated the call for restructuring, stressing that attention should be focused on selecting purposeful leaders. In the memorandum signed by its Secretary General, Col. J.I. Ubah (retd), ACF declared: “ACF is of the firm belief that the problems of Nigeria are more with the failure of leadership, collapse of national ideals and moral value, rather than the structure of the country or its constitution.”

The disparate positions taken by the various geopolitical zones and the fact that the entire outcome of the Nnamani panel would be subject to further x-ray and action by the National Assembly raise the possibility that the effort may end up as its forebears.

It is either that fresh call for another look at the Uwais panel report may be made or the National Assembly may fail to agree on the findings of the Nnamani committee, which is seen as a creation of the Executive. Furthermore, the politics of 2019 and crisis of confidence between the Presidency and NASS may becloud the effort to sanitise the electoral environment.

As it gets down to reducing its findings in black and white, the Nnamani committee may be haunted by the ghosts of Uwais panel and the national confab reports. Above all, the central dilemma of the Nnamani committee is how it discharges the burden of credibility of its recommendations, particularly against the background of North-South political dichotomy.


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