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Uwais faults Yar’Adua on Electoral Bill

By EMEKA MAMAH

KADUNA- FORMER chief justice of the federation and chairman, Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais, has declared that President Umar Yar’Adua’s Bill for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution now before the National Assembly is at variance with the recommendations of his committee and the White Paper issued by the Federal Government on the matter.

Uwais also pooh-poohed claim by the Federal Government that the ERC’s recommendations that the National Judicial Council (NJC) should shortlist names of prospective candidates for the chairmanship of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) violated the principles of the separation of powers.

In a paper he presented to members of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution in Kaduna weekend, Uwais said: “If you look at the presidential bill for the amendment of the constitution now before the National Assembly, it is at variance even with the White Paper of the Federal Government and does not therefore fully represent the decision by the Federal Executive Council and the Council of States.

One of the reasons given for the rejection of the ERC’s recommendation is that the National Judicial Council (NJC) will appoint the chairman and members of the  INEC.

“Therefore, this will violate the principle of separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. The fact of the matter is that the ERC recommendation does not give the NJC any power to appoint the chairman and members of INEC. What it recommended is the screening of the applicants for the posts and forwarding the names of the most suitable candidates to the Council of State which will select the candidates to be confirmed by the Senate.

In other words, the power of selecting the candidates to be appointed rests with the Council of State, which is an executive  body, chaired by the president of the federation and consists of all the governors of the states and not the NJC-which is equated with the judiciary.

“With respect, the NJC is not synonymous with the judiciary for the simple reason that the chief justice of Nigeria is its chairman or the deputy chairman(the most senior justice of the Supreme Court) and six serving chief judges are its members. The preponderance of its members are not judicial officers. It may also pertinent to mention, further to the clarification that the NJC is not being proposed as the appointing body, that the president does not have unfettered discretion in the appointment of the chairman of the NJC, as he does, in the existing process of the INEC chair.

Under our constitution, in respect of the NJC chair appointment , the president has the discretion only to reject the names submitted to him on the recommendation by the NJC, but he is bound to limit his election in this respect to only those names provided in the list submitted to him by the NJC. In respect of the INEC chair, however, he may appoint any person that he deems suitable,so long as he or she falls within existing criteria provided in the constitution.”

Uwais also commented on what many Nigerians fear as the gradual emergence of a one-party system in the country, saying that if the Federal Government had accepted its recommendation on the issue, the problem would be solved with the 2011 elections. “One way to ensure that there is opposition in the legislatures (thus strengthening democracy) even if all the contested seats are won 100 percent by a successful party is to provide proportional representation.

In the present arrangement, which is called the First Past the Post (FPTP), if, for example, two candidates contest election where the total votes are 100;if the successful candidate wins 51 votes, the unsuccessful candidate wins 49, all the votes of the latter are worthless and therefore wasted. The role played by 49 voters is rendered insignificant also.

“But in the proportional representation, if it was provided, for example, that apart from the FPTP result, any party that scores 30 votes in the contest shall be entitled to one seat of proportional representation, the successful party will have one additional seat thus having two seats while the opposing party will also have one under the proportional representation”, he said.

Earlier in his own recommendation, the chairman of Ghana Electoral Commission, Dr.Kwado Afari-Gyan, said that speedy and fair resolution of electoral conflict, particularly disputes over nomination and election results, are critical in the development of democracy.

Afari-Gyan however said that disputes over nominations and election results for president should  go straight to the Supreme Court while a special electoral court or tribunal of High Court status should handle cases of electoral disputes for the Senate and House of Representatives with those for the Senate having a right of appeal to the Supreme Court.”


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