How issue of displaced persons may mar polls, by Uwais

Uwais FORMER Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman, Committee for the Review of the Electoral Law in 2007, Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais has raised the alarm on the possibility of a problem in the conduct of the February polls arising from the issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). 

   He, therefore, called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to prevail on the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act before February 14.

  The retired Justice said this yesterday in Abuja in an interview with journalists at a workshop on 2015 elections, which was held at the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD). 

   He was reacting to a question on the possibility of INEC conducting elections in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states which are under emergency rule, and the implication of holding elections for IDPs in their camps.

   Justice Uwais added that in 2010 when the Electoral Act was enacted, the law did not envisage the IDPs situation that is a reality today and that the constitution is also silent on such a situation. 

   “When the Electoral Act was enacted in 2010, this sort of situation on IDPs was not envisaged. So there was no provision in the law on how to deal with it. The constitution is also silent but the way to go round it is to get the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act and make provisions that will make it possible for the IDPs to exercise their franchise. I don’t know if this is possible within the next one month, it all depends on if the National Assembly is willing, they can pass the law within two days. They will go to the President and within a day or two, he can also assent to the bill.”  But “there is certainly a lacuna,” he said.

    Speaking on the gap that will be created with the prosecution of electoral offenders, especially as judiciary workers are on strike,  Uwais lamented the lack of commitment of the National Assembly to stamp the implementation of the Uwais Committee Report. “It has become the norm in Nigeria that when committees are set up in Nigeria and the committees submit their reports, the reports don’t normally get fully implemented. That was what became of the Uwais Committee report.

    “I don’t feel any regret but I feel disturbed. A lot of problems that we are facing now could have been resolved if some of the recommendations of the committee had been implemented. For instance, this morning we heard that out of 1,000 electoral offences that INEC is given the responsibility to prosecute, they have only been able to prosecute 211.  Now if you go back to our report, what we recommended was that there should be an agency, Electoral Offences Commission which will be charged with the responsibility of dealing with electoral offences. But that has not been implemented. I’m not sure it is accepted, that is why it is not implemented. So you could see that if that had been done, today we will not be talking about INEC not been able to prosecute offenders,” he said.

  Speaking on possible reasons why the legislators have not found it worthy for approval of the committee’s report, Uwais said: “I don’t see it as a conspiracy as such but  an issue of self preservation. A lot of the politicians who are in the National Assembly who are to enact the law that will create such a body are themselves co-offenders, maybe even the brain behind such offences. So they may feel they will be shooting themselves in the foot by passing such recommendation.      And perhaps that’s why they are not keen about implementing that recommendation,” he said.

  In an interview with The Guardian afterwards, Representative of the INEC Chairman at the occasion, Prof. Lai Olurode, said that though INEC was currently preparing to hold elections in the IDPs camps in the three states under emergency rule, it will subject its decisions to legal scrutiny and will not go ahead if the law was not amended before the commencement of elections.

  “We will not act outside the law. As soon as we are done with our processes and preparation, we will subject it to legal scrutiny. We are working to see how we can ensure that IDPs are not denied their rights to vote but we will only go ahead as far as the law allows us. We will however work with the National Assembly to ensure that we can conduct elections in the three north east states affected by insurgency,” he said.

   In his address earlier,  Olurode had informed that the commission had so far printed 54 million permanent voters’ cards and that 40 million had been distributed, leaving 14 million yet to be collected. 

   He said 70 per cent of the cards for FCT had been distributed. He assured that all logistics for the elections are ready and that ballot boxes are currently being delivered to the local governments. “We have all we need to conduct a credible election. The logistics will not be a problem,” he assured. 

   He also re-assured that card readers will be used for the elections and that the commission will not go back on its decision to conduct the elections only with Permanent Voters’ Card (PVCs).

    Reacting to the number of PVCs not yet collected, National Publicity Secretary for the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Mohammed said: “It’s a source of concern if 14 million people have not been able to collect their PVCs. INEC should do all it can to ensure they all collect their cards.” 

   He enjoined the commission to ensure transparency in the conduct of the election, adding: “It’s not acceptable to my party to revert to the use of temporary voters’ card. The unique advantage of the card reader is that it will only accept cards issued by INEC and those issued at the specific polling units.   Use of temporary cards will give room for manipulation. Our confidence is in the card reader and we insist on the transparency of the elections,” he said.

   Representative of the PDP, Prof. Wale Oladipo used the occasion to advocate a situation whereby the winner will not take it all as regards to governance.  

   “We should consider proportional representation in our legislative houses. We need national integration. The opposition that lost the election also has ideas which are useful to governance, their ideas should not be shut out completely’, he said.

   He lamented a situation whereby oppositions who lose are completely shut out.   “We should think of reviewing our constitution to accommodate more quality people into our political space,’ he urged.

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