Independent candidates face fresh hurdles

By Emmanuel Aziken & Emma Ovuakporie

ABUJA —THE election to choose the nation’s next President is to be held as early as November this year, under proposals separately articulated by the Senate and House of Representatives committees on the review of the constitution.

The proposals which were presented to the Constitution Review Committees of the two chambers by a joint technical committee also provide stringent criteria for the participation of independent candidates in all classes of elections.

Vanguard findings reveal that the proposals are to be fast-tracked for passage next month in the two chambers and will include measures to prevent governors and other elected executive office holders at the federal and local government levels from decamping from the political parties that brought them to office.

Normally reliable sources privy to the reports told Vanguard that under the proposals, individuals who participate in primaries conducted by political parties would be barred from running as independents.

Details of the report also show that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the National Assembly and the State legislative houses are to be placed on the first line charge in the national and state budgets.

Vanguard learnt that agitation for the abrogation of State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECs, were abandoned by the two National Assembly constitution review committees on the basis of exigency.

Cooperation of governors

One source said: “There is no way governors would have cooperated with us if we had abrogated SIECs,” as he stressed the determination of the National Assembly to woo governors to fast-track the amendment.

Two thirds of the nation’s 36 State Houses of Assembly are expected to pass the amendments before they can become law. And nearly all the State Houses of Assembly are generally regarded as appendages of the governors.

Already, the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives, it was learnt, have reached a convergence on fast tracking the proposals after the retreat at the end of the month.

The first, second and third readings would be held in March after which the proposals would go through the 36 State Houses of Assembly for their endorsement.

Under the proposals obtained by Vanguard, yesterday, elections would be held not earlier than 240 days and not later than 120 days before the exit of the present office holders.

Under that proposal, the presidential, gubernatorial and elections into the federal and state legislative houses could hold as early as November this year which is 240 days before the May 29, 2011 exit date for executive office holders.

The elections are being scheduled to hold that early to allow time for judicial resolution of electoral disputes arising from the elections.

Vanguard learnt that the committee has also proposed to allow independent candidates to run in elections but under strict conditions. Individuals who decide to contest as independent candidates in elections must, however, swear not to participate in primaries conducted by the political parties.

One source told Vanguard: “The reason for this is that we want to prevent a situation where those who fail to get their party tickets swarm the electoral body with requests to contest as independent candidates and thereby compound logistics.

“In Anambra State, for example, where more than 43 persons sought the ticket of the PDP, that would have meant about 42 persons flooding INEC at the eleventh hour to be considered as independent candidates and you know that would have complicated the elections.”

The proposals were articulated by the technical committees of the Senate and House on Constitution Review which decided to work together for the purpose of fast-tracking the process of the constitution review, it was learnt.

Committee officials of the two houses, however, ruled out suggestions that the Senate and House committees on Constitution review had submerged their efforts into one committee against the grain of the bickering that split the joint committee last year.

A joint retreat of the two committees was abandoned last year following claims of equality with senators by members of the House of Representatives delegation to the retreat.

Suggestive of the continued power rivalry between the senators and the House of Representatives, Vanguard gathered that the forthcoming retreat for members of the two committees holding in Uyo at the end of the month will discard protocol in order not to revive the supremacy question between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Receipt of Joint Committees’ reports

The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, received the report penultimate Wednesday while the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives who also chairs the House committee on Constitution review received the report last Wednesday.

The technical committee of the two committees worked jointly to prepare similar reports for the two houses, a development that overwhelmed the persisting determination of the two houses to work independent of each other.

The technical committee comprised Clement Nwankwo, Dr. Kabir Mato, Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, former Special Adviser on Legal Matters to Gen. Sanni Abacha, Professor Auwal Yadudu, Professor Gidado Maxwell, Peter Eze and former member of the House of Representatives, Celestine Ughanze.

“Non-fundamental provisions in the Constitution dealing with elections have been deleted from the Constitution and transferred to the proposed Electoral Act 2010,” the technical committee submitted in its report to the deputy presiding officers of the two chambers.

“In many instances, these provisions have been modified to cure identified mischief and to reflect practical realities,” the eight man technical committee submitted.

Also, provisions “in the body of the Constitution dealing with matters of procedure in election petitions have either been banished to schedules or deleted entirely from the Constitution and moved to the proposed Electoral Act, 2010,” in a bid to achieve a leaner Constitution, the technical committee submitted.

INEC displays voters’ register  April

Apparently worried by the lapses experienced during the just concluded Anambra polls, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, said it would commence a nation-wide display of voters’ register in all the wards of the country from April to June, 2010.

The commission said the exercise will be without prejudice to the display of voters’ register that will be carried out few months to the elections as prescribed by law, adding that the idea was to ensure that the hitches experienced during the governorship election in Anambra State did not resurface anywhere in the country.

INEC, however, said the recent outcome from the polls were indications that the country would soon arrive at the point where the standard of elections and behaviour of contestants will align with the best practices in a democratic order.

Speaking at the post Anambra State governorship election review meeting with key electoral officers, yesterday in Abuja, INEC Chairman, Prof Maurice Iwu said: “I have no doubt, there is work still to be done and there is no time to waste.

The commission has committed itself to ensuring that whatever the lapses were in the voters’ register will be addressed without any delay ahead of the 2010 general elections.

“Consequent upon this commitment, there will be a nation-wide display of voters’ register in all the wards in the country from April to June 2010, for the purpose of correction and re-validation of authentic names on the voters’ roll.

This exercise will be without prejudice to the display of voters’ register that will be carried out few months to the elections as prescribed by law. “


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