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Fast-tracking 2011 elections

*What Constitution Amendment’s got to do with it

By Jide Ajani & Luka  Binniyat

The clamour for a possible fast-tracking of next year’s general elections for later this year continues to grow; which is why this report examines the pros and the cons of the debate.

It, however, concludes that with good sense, political will and uncommon dedication to the ethos of open-mindedness, the on-going constitution amendment can take care of the challenges of rescheduling the elections for this year.  This is without prejudice to the concerns for such an arrangement.

Commencement of a process- Because Nigerian politicians enjoy listening to the sound of their voices, they are already involved in a process without knowing it.  Or, they know it but are fixated on another agenda all together.
While the hallelujah politicians continue to chant the mantra of electoral reforms, there are quite a number of activities currently going on in the polity that are in themselves very critical steps pursuant to achieving the same electoral reforms. One of such is the move to amend the 1999 Constitution  and the Electoral Act 2006 by the House of Representatives.

Buoyed by what can be described as a desire to fast-track the 2011 general elections for this year, the House of Representatives is pursuing an agenda which would see elections rescheduled for and hold at least six months to the expiration of the tenure of offices of current holders.

The bills- The bills for this are already in their second reading.  Penultimate Wednesday, there was a  public hearing. The hearing was specifically on two bills. One of the bills deals with amendment of sections 76(2); 116(2), 132(2); and 178(2) of the 1999 Constitution to alter periods of election in Nigeria.  The bills provide for elections to hold six months before swearing-in of winners. The other bill is for the amendment of sections 145 and 146 on one hand, and sections 190 and 191 on the other related matters.

There were presentations and the kernel of the arguments appeared plausible on all fronts.
The issues- The main issues revolved round holding elections at least six months before the expiration of tenure and how long litigations arising from the same elections should last. And between these two issues is the other strategic matter of the composition of the board of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

The board of INEC- The     major reason why the board has not been constituted to have its statutory number of Federal Electoral Commissioners is because of the health of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Before his latest bout of health challenges, Sunday Vanguard learnt that Yar’Adua had actually got nominations for the board of INEC. Statutorily, the board is made up of 12 Federal Commissioners and the National Chairman of the Commission which makes the total number 13. For quite a while now, the board of INEC had atrophied to just three.

It is these three people who have been battling with and conducting  elections in recent times. Even before last month’s governorship election in Anambra State was  conducted, a court judgment had taken judicial notice of the seeming incongruity in the expected number of commissioners at the INEC headquarters and the actual number of people on the board.  In fact, the court ordered the election  not to hold. Weighed against contemporary realities of holding or not holding the election, INEC was said to have consulted widely and went ahead to hold the election.

Enter the National Council of State
Sunday Vanguard was told that the National Council of State, NCS, is expected to ratify the nominees put forward by the President, whereupon the National Assembly will then confirm the persons ratified by the NCS. The snag, however, is that the NCS has not been convened in a long while now on account of the absence of President Yar’Adua. It is hoped that this would be done soonest.

Can Jonathan create a paradigm shift?
Even at that, the question on the lips of many is whether Acting President Goodluck  Jonathan would be able to convene a meeting of the NCS; or whether he would firstly, shortlist a fresh set of individuals to be presented to the NCS meeting.

The first issue is effectively resolved in so far as the powers of the president and commander-in-chief reside  in the individual who presently acts as president. Therefore, he should be able to convene a meeting of the NCS. The second issue has to do with the expectation of a collective Presidency. The view is expressed that had both Yar’Adua and Jonathan been operating a Presidency that is built on the ethos of collective responsibility, then the names already shortlisted and meant to be presented to the NCS should have had inputs from Jonathan in his capacity as vice president and, therefore, would need no tinkering. However, if, on the other hand, Yar’Adua had compiled and short-listed the names meant to fill the INEC board without inputs from Jonathan, then there is every possibility that Jonathan might just have to prepare a fresh set of  names to be presented to the NCS for ratification before the onward presentation to the Senate for confirmation.

What Iwu told Reps– Therefore, when penultimate  Wednesday, Maurice Iwu, a professor of pharmacology and National Chairman of INEC took the stand at the public hearing, he spoke from the position of understanding of what the issues were.

Iwu affirmed INEC’s readiness to hold elections  to suit anytime frame that the proposed amendment of the Electoral Act stipulates in the ongoing electoral reforms. Iwu told the gathering that he was completely in support of the amendment of the Electoral Act, saying that his commission has strategised itself to meet the challenges of conducting future elections at any specified time. “Though we already have a time table for next elections”, he said, “we are capable of adjusting to new dates.  The INEC boss went on: “We have already fixed  March 16 to 18 for the release of the time-table for next elections”. “We have fixed between April to June for voters registration. Based on the  last election  which was the Anambra State gubernatorial election, we discovered that the use of National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members for election  was a wise and profitable experience. “The young men and women carried out their task with utmost patriotism and that greatly contributed to the success of that election.  That means that for future elections, we already have a huge, skilled and dependable crop of workforce that we can mobilise. “As part of preparations, we have three election voting centres.

“We have them in Jigawa, Abia and Ogun State”. He said the voting centres  would help decentralise Abuja. According to him, contracts  for procurement of non-sensitive materials may be awarded by  July this year.
“For sensitive materials, we need just about eight  weeks’ period to elections to procure them with ease.  I am making this point based on our last presidential election.  Though we needed about eight  weeks to procure these  sensitive materials, if you recall well, the Supreme Court judgment that decided on an issue on the election, gave us only April 16 to 17  or five days to procure ballot papers. And we beat the deadline, and the election was conducted”, he said. Iwu  noted that waiting for six months before swearing-in winners would be a dangerous trend, considering the Nigerian terrain.  “I want to suggest that we limit the time to between 90 and 100 days.  In the wake of the 2007 general elections, there were waves of assassinations in Lagos, Kano, Bayelsa and several other attempted assassinations in many states”, he said. “We cannot allow winners of elections to be so exposed for six months”.

The Anambra experiment- The INEC boss    said the commission  had to do a lot of peace brokering in Anambra State before the February election  could hold. But, according to him, a political party based in Lagos was bent on causing mayhem during the election. “They brought in party thugs and armed them in their hundreds across Anambra”, Iwu  said. “The last Anambra election  proved that the evil cabal in Lagos wanted to truncate that election. “The cabal even wanted me physically eliminated so that the Anambra election cannot hold”. According to him, “unknown to the cabal, INEC had made Anambra  and the voting atmosphere impossible for the thugs to operate. It would , therefore, be dangerous to allow winners of election wandering about for six months before swearing them in.  People with mindset like that of the evil cabal can eliminate their opponents while the litigation lasts”.

Is INEC ready?
On the readiness of INEC, Iwu may be right. Sunday Vanguard had published that INEC’s decentralization policy played a major role in the Anambra election (see box). These steps, The INEC boss  had made Sunday Vanguard understand, would become a template for other elections in Nigeria as they were meant to reduce the level of electoral malpractices in future elections.  But that may in themselves not guarantee full-proof free and fair election.  The Anambra elections did not hold without its own flaws occasioned by the mix-up in the voters’ register – although Victor Umeh, chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, which won the election insists that the  mix-up was as a result of his party’s whistle blowing move on the leadership of some other parties who had padded the register with fake names and photographs, a situation which later led INEC to sack some staff, redeploy the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, and then clean up the register.  The clean up led to the mix-up, Sunday Vanguard was told after the election.

CNPP’s position- But while Iwu proposed 100 days maximum for litigation, the chairman,  Conference of Nigerian Speakers, Hon, Istifanus Gbana, who is speaker, Taraba State House of Assembly, said that the common position of the conference is that litigation should take not less than 120 days before swearing-in. “If we set a time limit beyond this, then many litigants would not have fair hearing”, he said of the resolution of all the speakers of the 36 states of the federation. “We want the election tribunals to give verdicts of their cases and set a different date for explaining reasons behind their judgments”, he said. But some attorneys  general of some states, who were in attendance, had a different suggestion. The attorney general of Borno State, former Ambassador Ahmed Jida, said that six months before swearing-in a winner was too long. “This would lead to  abuses of court process and lead to  ‘litigation prostitution’”, he said. “I want to inform you that, as at last week, Yobe State was still in the Supreme Court over a 2007 election matter”. “Though the Appeal Court is the Supreme Court of governorship election and elections to the federal legislature, litigants still find ways to go to the Supreme Court.

Yobe State therefore wants the time limit not to exceed 3 months. The attorney general of Plateau State, Mr Edward Pwajok, said  his state favours between 180 and  240 days before swearing-in of winners of future elections.

Proposed steps to stop mal-practices

*Establishment of Monitoring Team, made up of eminent pro-democracy activists to monitor the elections with the following terms of reference as demonstrated : Monitor the preparations, organisation and conduct of the Anambra State gubernatorial election scheduled to take place on 6 February 2010 (and indeed other elections to be so monitored); Consider and point out any factor that may affect the conduct and credibility of the electoral process as a whole; Propose to the Independent National Electoral Commission such action on institutional, procedural and other matters as would assist in advancing the electoral process; Determine if the results of the elections reflect the wishes of the people; Submit its report to the Chairman of the Commission at the end of the election and publish same for public consumption.
*Creation of Zonal Stores
*No more use of ad hoc staff for the elections
*Votes to be counted at every polling unit  immediately after voting in the presence of  agents      and voters alike
*Randomisation of ballot papers
*Colours of voting papers to be different
*NYSC members to be used as they have fixed    addresses and can be held responsible for their            actions
*Decentralised storage system in the zones of the      country
*6 data centres being built for voters  registration
*Reform of election monitoring


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