PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari surprised many Nigerians when he named a committee to reform the constitution and electoral processes, with a former President of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani, as its Chairman. Other members were drawn from all walks of life.
The panel was inaugurated by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) shortly after the independence holidays on Tuesday, October 4, 2016. Prior to the inauguration, a terse statement from the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (OAGF) had declared: “The committee is expected to review the electoral environment, laws and experiences from recent elections conducted in Nigeria and make recommendations to strengthen and achieve the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria”.
No one can argue against the fact that our electoral laws are in dire need of attention to ensure that the outcome of elections conform closely to the expressed wishes of the electorate.
This is even more so at a time when the credibility quotient of our democracy seems to have dropped from the enviable height it achieved during the years when Professor Attahiru Jega was in charge of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). During that period, both the ruling and opposition parties won elections around the country, and this was topped with the defeat of a sitting president at the 2015 general elections.
The past one year since Professor Mahmood Yakubu took charge has been bedevilled by numerous inconclusive polls But, do we really need a new electoral panel to deal with the identified problems? Our answer is no. The recommendations of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Panel set up by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua are still waiting to be implemented.
Of particular import in ensuring free and fair elections, is the recommendation to give the National Judicial Council (NJC) the power to nominate the Chief Electoral Officer of the Federation to the Legislature for approval, rather than the current practice of the President, a party leader and electoral contestant, being the appointing authority. It will amount to positive “change” if the Buhari regime implements the Uwais Report. We also need to fully include electronic voting in our laws and set up parameters for bringing violators of the Electoral Act to book. All these can be accomplished without setting up another time- and money-guzzling panel.
President Buhari must also complete his own assignment of fully constituting the INEC Board and filling the vacant positions of the State Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC’s).
Though Nnamani did well as Senate President, his current involvement with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) could inflict a crisis of confidence on his panel, unlike the Uwais committee, which was totally above partisan politics.