On the need for electoral reforms
The renewed clamour for reviewing the electoral laws is coming against the backdrop of a failed effort to amend the Electoral Act of 2010 as amended by the Seventh Assembly. With such recent challenges as massive disenfranchisement and violence which have attended elections conducted in some parts of the country in recent times, a more detailed tinkering with the laws on election is indeed necessary.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, gave indication of the intention of the executive branch to push for more reforms of the electoral laws at the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room’s Stakeholders Forum on Elections, in Abuja, the other day. The Administration, he said, had gone into consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the judiciary to identify the clauses that need to be reformed. As he put it, “I have begun consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the judiciary to identify key laws and priority areas for reform. Our priority areas will be clearly outlined in our justice sector reform that we will propose to the National Assembly and align it with their agenda in order to achieve reform within the tenure of this administration.”
There is no doubt that the country has gone through troubled times especially in conducting free and fair elections devoid of avoidable obstacles and violence. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had problems in the Kogi State election where it ran into a legal dilemma following the death of frontline gubernatorial candidate, Abubakar Audu, while the elections were almost concluded and Audu was leading. Besides, there was violence resulting in the destruction of the commission’s offices in Adabi and Dekina in the same state. Also, INEC has run into a hitch with the inconclusive rerun elections held in Rivers State on March 19, 2016 where civil society leaders have also reported other obstacles, including violence and opposition to the use of card reader machine.
These problems are such that INEC’s leadership has had to admit that the commission is challenged by the resurgence of violence and other related problems.
Given the foregoing, the AGF has pointed out that a priority area for amendment would be to empower INEC and other relevant bodies to deal with perpetrators of serious election offences. Also on the amendment radar are the gaps in the electoral laws as manifested in the recent decisions of the Supreme Court on election petitions in ways that would ensure a level playing ground for competitive elections and guarantee all democratic rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution.
It is, indeed, necessary to amend the nation’s laws as the country confronts varying anti-democratic practices in its electoral process. Beyond those already highlighted above, there is still the enduring absence of internal democracy in the political parties. It is such that there is hardly any candidate who has emerged through free and fair primaries.
There has also been an obvious lack of sanctions for electoral offences and campaign financing is not only very expensive, it is rooted in corruption. Also, there is the odious and legally-induced contradiction in which fraudulently elected governors and legislators find themselves in the exalted state offices before the resolution of the attendant legal tussle. These must be the subjects of electoral reform.
As the Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko observed, “Credible election is the key to Nigeria’s greatness irrespective of the various challenges confronting the country. Once democracy can be entrenched through the principle of one man one vote, all the problems confronting Nigeria shall be a thing of the past.”
A ruling party championing electoral reform should, however, purge itself of bias. While it is important to reiterate that reform of the electoral laws is desirable, a non-partisan committee should be set up by government to look at the targeted clauses for reforms. This is for integrity and transparency to drive the electoral laws along the path of global best practices. Such a non-partisan committee is the only way to fulfill the intention of the executive as indicated by the AGF, which is to create “a level playing field so that competitive elections could be organised and all parties and candidates enjoy democratic rights and freedoms contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), including the rights of freedom of speech, assembly, and movement.”
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