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2011 Like 2007

NIGERIA is replete with experts in post mortem. We operate mostly with hindsight. There are no lessons to be learnt, there are no changes to be made. The 2011 elections could finally confirm the country’s inability to change – the elections are only 20 months away, though we carry on as if those 20 months are eternity.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is planning for the 2011 elections without knowing which laws would guide them. The reasons for this hazy situation are legion.

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s election was disputed until last February. He barely escaped with a 4-3 Supreme Court verdict. More cases remain at the appellate courts on the 2007 elections and some of them are in their preliminary stages.

More importantly, President Yar’Adua had promised electoral reforms, based on the report of the Justice Uwais Muhammed Committee, which he set up. The committee’s report has suffered butchering from various presidential advisers with the final output being a watered down version that seems incapable of changing the way elections are conducted.

As if that is not bad enough, most of the anticipated changes would require amendments of the Constitution and the Electoral Act. None of these processes has successfully begun. Efforts to commence amendment of the Constitution were mirred in controversies over appropriate protocols for senators and members of the House of Representatives when the houses set up a joint committee on review of the Constitution. The House of Representatives claiming equality of protocol ranking for themselves and senators stalled the process which should have commenced eight months ago.

Six bills on electoral reforms are before the National Assembly. The House of Representatives is holding public hearing on them, while the Senate is on recess. All these leave INEC uncertain about the laws with which the 2011 elections would be held. Some of the far-reaching recommendations of the Uwais Committee include a registration agency for political parties, stiffer punishments for electoral offences, disposal of election petitions before assumption of office, and different mode of appointing membership of INEC. Government rejected the recommendation that a body other than the Executive should appoint INEC members.

These recommendations require deep constitutional changes. The elaborate process of amending the Constitution may not be concluded in one year.

INEC Chairman Professor Maurice Iwu is already raising the alarm that the uncertainty would affect preparations for the 2011 elections.

Nobody is listening. Everybody remembers that similar inattentiveness adversely affected the 2007 elections. The Executive, then, was driving a 112-item constitutional review. The most (in)famous item on the list was tenure elongation for certain elected political office holders.  The focus was so much on tenure elongation that once it failed, the whole exercise collapsed.

When the constitutional review failed by May 2006, the preparations for the 2007 elections were almost a year behind.

The signs are there again that tardy constitutional reviews could compromise the 2011 elections unless the National Assembly acts timely.


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