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Independent Candidacy: Waiting on National Assembly

By Dayo Benson, Political Editor and Tordue Salem

MORE than two years down the line, the din that dogged 2007 general elections have not died down. Elections petitions arising from the controversial poll are still before tribunals. And there are strong indications that some of the cases may not be concluded before 2011.

This darkly amplifies the seriousness of the flaws in that elections. This, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua acknowledged and he promised to carry out electoral reforms to address some of these fundamental ills inherent in Nigeria’s electoral process.

A first step in this direction was the Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Panel, which President Yar’Adua set up to come up with recommendations on how to remedy the situation. In its report, the Uwais panel made far-reaching recommendations but Federal Government write paper on it fell short of general expectations.

david-mark-2A second major step the President took was to send six bills to the National Assembly for consideration to amend the constitution. One of the proposals contained in the bill is the provision for independent candidate to contest future elections. If it sails through, individuals who wish to contest for the office of president, governor, Senate, House of Representatives and state House of Assembly do not need to be members of political parties.

If it eventually finds its way into the constitution, the provision will no doubt strengthen the nation’s electoral system.

Specifically, the executive bill is seeking to amend Sections 131, 177, 65, 106, and 221 of the 1999 Constitution. Section 131 deals with the qualification of a person aspiring to the office of the presidency of the country. Similarly section 177 is concerned withe qualifications for the office of governor while section 65 has to do with requirements for a person seeking to be member of the National Assembly. Also section 106 states the pre-requisites for state House of Assembly. However, section 221 concerns political parties that are expected to sponsor the candidate

For the office of the President Section 131 provides that: A person shall be qualified for election to the office of president if

A. he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth

B. he has attained the age of fifty years

C. he is member of a political party and he is sponsored by that political party and

D. he has been educated up to school certificate level or its equivalent

But the amendment bill states that “A person standing for an election to the office of President as an independent candidate shall be qualified for election if he is nominated by not less than ten registered voters, each of whose signatures on the nomination form shall be verified and certified as provided by law, from at least two_thirds of the electoral wards of the electoral constituency.”

In a similar vein, for the office of the governor Section 177 states that: A person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a state if

A. he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth

B. he has attained the age of thirty-five years

C. he is member of a political party and he is sponsored by that political party and

D. he has been educated up to school certificate level or its equivalent

However, the executive bill proposes that “A person standing for an election to the office of Governor as an independent candidate shall be qualified for election if he is nominated by not less than twenty registered voters, each of whose signatures on the nomination form shall be verified and certified as provided by law, from at least two_thirds of the electoral wards of the electoral constituency.”

On its part Section 65 which concerns the National Assembly states as follows:

(1) Subject to the provisions of section 66 of this constitution, a person shall be qualified as member of

A. the Senate , if he is a citizen of Nigeria and has attained the age of thirty-five years old; and

B. the House of Representatives, if he is a citizen of Nigeria and has attained the age of thirty years old

(2) A person shall be qualified for election under subsection (1) of this section if

(a) he has been educated up to school certificate level or its equivalent; and

(b) he is member of a political party and he is sponsored by that political party. On this the bill “requires independent candidates to the Senate and House of Representatives to be respectively nominated by at least forty and thirty registered voters from two_thirds of the electoral wards within the electoral constituency so sought.”

At the state level, section 106 provides that subject to the provisions of section 107 of the constitution, a person shall be qualified as member of a House of Assembly if

A. he is a citizen of Nigeria;

B. he has attained the age of thirty years

C. he has been educated up to school certificate level or its equivalent and

D he is member of a political party and he is sponsored by that political party. The proposed amendment bill states that independent candidates for election to the State Houses of Assembly shall be nominated by not less than fifty registered voters from two-thirds of the electoral wards of the electoral constituency.

Section 221 which concerns political parties stipulates that “No association other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidates at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.” What the bill seeks to do on this aspect is to add the phrase “or an independent candidate”

Speaking on the issue, Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze told Vanguard that “If that is what Nigerians say they want, of course, we will write it in the constitution and we would want them to confirm it through referendum. It is their constitution and we must respect their views. The constitution has provided modalities for rules of amendment and we must follow those modalities. The Senate does not have any mis-giving on the bill.”

Asked whether if passed into law it will strenghten the nation’s democracy, he said. “Democracy will be strong, if the people of Nigeria decide that it should be strong. The electoral process, the electoral laws and the constitution as it is now, can serve the interest of Nigerians if everybody is mobilised and allow the process. It is the decision of the people and at the end of the day, it comes back to the people.

‘But for now the constitution says you must run on the platform of a political party, that’s what our law says.

On whether the bill may suffer the fate of the ones that have been thrown out of the executive bill, he said, “We have already referred the bill to our ad hoc committee on constitutional amendment and so, we have already escaped that process. What happens is that there is hope as far as this issue is concerned and one can be optimistic.”

His House of Representative counterpart, Hon Eseme Eyiboh told Vanguard that “The reason for independent candidacy is that when you see people running from one political party to the other, it’s as a result of lack of space. That’s why they run from one political party to the other.”

Independent candidacy will give individuals the opportunity to canvass and it will promote the ideals of democracy, which is of course campaign, manifesto. It will give people the opportunity to go and canvass and sell themselves to the electorate. Independent candidacy will help to promote the course and culture of debate and campaign”

Renown human rights activist and former NBA president, Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) said, “ it will prepare the state for more and more people who want to be involved in better life for Nigeria. Now, Nigerians have a choice not to go to any party if a party does not want them, so it makes choices.”

He added that “it will have a great impact because we have not been practicing real democracy and that is what has been causing these problems. Parties will now know that there are other options other than the party you stand for. If you are in a party and you want to come out for elections and your party does not allow you to do so, you can allow to go else where.”

If independent candidacy eventually finds its way into the constitution, the nation will be following American example where multi millionaire businessman, Ross Perot, contested the American presidential election as an independent candidate.

On February 20, 1992, Perot announced his intention to run as an independent if his supporters could get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. His candidacy received increasing media attention when the competitive phase of the primary season ended for the two major parties.

By the summer Perot commanded a lead in the presidential race with 39 percent of the vote, but on July 16, he unexpectedly dropped out. Perot eventually stated the reason was that he received threats that digitally altered photos would be released by the Bush campaign to sabotage his daughter’s wedding. Regardless of the reasoning for the drop_out, his reputation was damaged. Many of his supporters felt betrayed

But on October 1, he announced his intention to start running again. He campaigned in 16 states and spent an estimated $65.4 million of his own money.

At one point in June, he led the opinion polls with 39% (versus 31% for Bush and 25% for Clinton). Just prior to the debates, he received 7_9% support in nationwide polls. It is likely that the debates played a significant role in his ultimate receipt of 19% of the popular vote. Although his answers during the debates were often general, many Democrats and Republicans conceded that Perot won at least the first debate.

In the 1992 election, Perot received 18.9% of the popular vote _ approximately 19,741,065 votes (but no electoral college votes), making him the most successful third_party presidential candidate in terms of the popular vote since Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election.

He managed to finish second in two states: In Maine, Perot received 30.44% of the vote to Bush’s 30.39% (Clinton won Maine with 38.77%); In Utah, Perot received 27.34% of the vote to Clinton’s 24.65% (Bush won Utah with 43.36%). A detailed analysis of the voting demographics revealed that Perot’s support drew heavily from across the political spectrum, with 20% of his votes coming from self_described liberals, 27% from self_described conservatives, and 53% coming from self_described moderates.

Economically, however, the majority of Perot voters (57%) were middle class, earning between $15,000 and $49,000 annually, with the bulk of the remainder drawing from the upper middle class (29% earning over $50,000 annually). Exit polls also showed that Ross Perot drew 38% of his vote from Bush, and 38% of his vote from Clinton, while the rest of his voters would have stayed home in his absence on the ballot.

Will Nigeria’s political environment witness the Perot experience in the nearest future? The nation and indeed the people are waiting.

It is a democratic imperative —Reps

THE proposed amendments to the constitution as contained in a “Bill for an Act to alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and for Matters Connected Thereto, 2009”, are drawn from the Muhammed Uwais’ Electoral Reforms Report.

The lead debate on the Bill by the House Leader, Tunde Akogun, says “The Bill provides for independent candidate, thereby expanding the political space for persons seeking election as the President, Governor, Members of the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly”.

Minority leader, Muhammed Ali Ndume, in his contribution on the matter, said with reports from the National Political Reform Conference, Uwais Report and the immediate past efforts to amend the Constitution, the work of the job of the National Assembly was half done.

“There was National Political Reform Conference, the report is there. There was a constitution reform effort in the last House and the report is also there. What we now need is the input of Nigerians.

“Nigerians are so anxious to contribute to Constitution review, so I am pleading with my colleagues to let this Bill pass through second reading”.

He however faulted the independent candidacy proposal, insisting it will cost the Country dearly, in terms of logistics and preparations for elections.

The inclusion of a clause to sanction independent candidacy would not only democratise the suffocating political space in the Country, but open another gaping vista in human rights.

Take for example, the small Central African Republic (CAR), and Algeria with thin political histories: Recently, the Supreme Court of Algeria cleared 6 Presidential candidates for the April 9, 2009 elections, with one of them Mohammed Said as an Independent candidate.

the Presidential elections of CAR staggered between March 13, 2005 and May 1, 2005, had four independent Presidential candidates, with the then President of the Country, Francois Bozize as number one independent candidate.

Other independents in the CAR elections were Henri Pouzere, Josue Binona, and Jean Jacques Demofouth.

Despite its troubled political history, riddled with military interregna, the Central African Republic was described by The Ecologist Magazine as “the world’s leading Country in sustainable development”.

Eugene McCarthy, a United States Senator from 1959 to 1971, ran as an independent candidate in the 1976 elections and appeared on the ballot in 30 states. Sen. McCarthy did not even go with a running mate in some states, while in other states he ran with 15 running mates, and he yet ended up with 740,460 votes, coming 3rd in the closely contested elections.

Eugene McCarthy’s record shattering race for the Presidency did not attract the “wrath” of the Yankees’ electoral umpire. His rights under the Constitution to run without a platform did not even attract the apathy of voters.

He glided through, attracting doting appellations until he breasted the tape as number 3 among well known contenders amid a throng of political parties. It was the triumph of freedom. The victory of human rights against party ‘supremacy’.

For a man who did not even believe in “canvassing or mobilizing for funds”, it was amazing that he could go that far.

In several chats with this reporter, some of these politicians (Senators and Reps), have lamented the political party intrigues threatening to strangle life out of our wobbling democracy.

Politicians would complain about party demands, but none for fear of the un_known take an “independent” initiative. The real reason is the fear to eschew perquisites that come with being under the umbrella.

Politicians in Nigeria are synonymous to jail birds who can only chirp but can’t break lose from their political cages.

But all said, the National Assembly and the entire proletariat, now have an opportunity to embrace change. President Umaru Yar’Adua has forwarded a Bill to amend some sections of the 1999 Constitution to the House of Representatives.

A letter signed by the President and addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, attached the amendment bill seeking the inclusion of “independent candidates” in the Constitution, immediately after “candidates of political parties”.

The Bill is titled: A Bill for an Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and For Other Matters Connected Therewith”

The President’s response to the controversial issue of independent candidacy, comes on the heel of Muhammed Uwais’ report on “Electoral Reforms”

“I forward herewith, for your kind consideration and passage into law, the attached draft Bill for an Act to Alter the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Amendment III).

“Pursuant to the above, therefore, and in line with the powers vested in the National Assembly, I hereby present the said Bill for the kind consideration of the Honourable Members of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“It is my hope that the Honourable House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will consider and pass the amendment Bill in your usual expeditious manner,” he stated.

It should have occurred to politicians in elective positions that the defeat of the third term clamour of 2005/6 provided a veritable reason for them to embrace independent candidacy.

If the National Assembly includes a clause on independent candidacy in an amended version of the 1999 Constitution, Nigeria will be one of the few democracies in Africa to legitimize independent candidacy in elections.

Members of the House who spoke with Vanguard, endorsed a proposal from President Umaru Yar’Adua to amend the 1999 Constitution to approve independent candidates in the 2011 elections.

Rep. Abass Braimoh, who represents Etsako Federal Constituency of Edo State in the House, said it is a great idea with several prospects for the country.

“Well, it’s quite noble and forward_thinking to inject that element of independent candidacy in the entire system. We have seen that work in America , we have seen it work in other developed democracies. People should be able to look at themselves. People should be able to know what we are bringing to bear on the politics of the Country”, he said.

According to him, “We would want to know your character content and of course your philosophy about politics and all other elements, and bringing in independent candidacy is quite laudable and as soon as we are able to strengthen the electoral process, independent candidacy will carry a whole lot of weight”.

He advised opponents to the idea that if the proposal is allowed in the constitution, it will bring merit into the country’s electoral process.

“It is critically very important to have a level_playing field for all to participate politically and it is always easier through political parties, but then, if independent candidacy is allowed we would be injecting the culture of merit”

Rep. Abdulkareem Abisodun, representing Oyo State in the House, on the Action Congress (AC) platform, described the proposal as a welcome development that would transform for the better, the country’s political landscape.

“For me, I see it as a welcome development. In any elections, the opportunity of one going for an independent candidacy is there, and for that reason, we will be serious in our electioneering campaigns and politics in general”, he said.

For his colleagues who may be opposed to the idea, he said “There is nothing that has advantage that does not have disadvantages in it too. So if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages why not. So to my mind, allowing for an independent candidate to come up, whether they are numerous or otherwise, it doesn’t matter”

Rep. Uche Ekwunife (PDP/Anambra), welcomed the idea with a caveat: she advised that stringent candidacy must be placed on it, to avoid problems of over_crowding the political space and logistics for INEC.

“In as much as I give my support, we have to bring in some stringent conditions, for us to have independent candidacy to make sure that we don’t have more than 100 candidates in an election”.

She advised that “we should prune down to two or three political parties”, that, according to her, “will encourage hard work and make it attractive to anybody that wants to join party politics”.

…It will throw up credible candidates

Prominent human rights activist and former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), is an advocate of independent candidate as part of the nation’s political process. In this interview, he spoke of the benefits of such a position in the constitution. Excerpts:

You are an advocate of independent candidacy in our electoral process, now that President has sent a bill to that effect to the National Assembly as part of constitution amendments , how does it make you feel?

Well, it will prepares the state for more and more people who want to be involved in the better life for Nigeria. Now, Nigerians have a choice not to go to any party if a party does not want them, so it makes choices.

What do you see about the attitude of the National Assembly towards it?

Well, we have not seen any form of seriousness to get this thing resolve all the issues about electoral reforms. I don’t I’ve seen the seriousness I’m yet to see of the reforms will be in place before 2011 and part of this is because they are all in different parties.

But there is need for certain change, there is need for advocacy groups, the media to really hit the issue on the front burner so that we can have the change we are looking for and it will have effect in the next election because Nigeria’s challenge is really about electoral reforms. If we want good government, we must have electoral reforms first.

Do you think the President is actually convinced that it is high time we started having independent candidates in our electoral process?

I don’t know why but at least, he took a bold step. I don’t know what is on his mind but we will deal with it from the point of view that the bill has been submitted. And that every other person must work very hard to make sure that the thing can pass within the right time and despite the fact that there is no sign of seriousness on the part of the National Assembly to see that this thing is used for the elections of 2011.

If eventually the bill is passed into law and it becomes part of the constitution, what impact do you think it’s likely to have on our electoral process?

It will have a great impact because we have not been practicing real democracy and that is what has been causing these problems. Parties will no know that there are other options other than the party you stand for. If you are in a party and you want to come out for elections and does not allow you to do so, you can allow to go else where.

So, now that there is another platform for people who don’t want to be on any party to go, I think it will open the space and allow persons who are credible. But the reform of INEC is the most crucial element.

But given our political experience, do you think independent candidates stand the chance of winning elections in this country?

Of course, people can win elections at the ward and council level. I expect that the independent candidacy will play a very great role at the grass root level.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.