By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Political Editor
If the amendments so far effected by the Senate are enshrined in theÂ proposedÂ Constitution,Â the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) is likelyÂ to emerge from the exercise as a far more autonomous bodyÂ than the commission which conducted the three polls which had been held since the fourth republic was born.
The far-reaching amendment which placed INEC, the National Assembly and the Judiciary on the first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) of the federation would ensure the electoral body no longer goes cap in hand to the Presidency to beg for funds to conductÂ various elections across the country. It also means that the electoral body would no longer be subjected to the manipulations of the federal executive which had hitherto controlled its purse.
The amendment was part of the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review (SCCR) led by Senator Ike Ekweremadu. The Committee had recommended that Section 81 (3) of the 1999 ConstitutionÂ which deals with authorization of expenditure from the CRF be amended to read: â€œ The amount standing to the credit of INEC, NASS and the Judiciary shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in the case of the judiciary such amount shall be paid directly to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for disbursement to the heads of the courts established for the federation and the states under section 6 of this constitution.â€
The Committee had also recommended that the Chairman of INEC shall not be a member of a political party. The Senators dumpedÂ the recommendation of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais led Electoral Reform Committee stipulating that the National Judicial Council be involved in the selection of the boss of the federal electoral body; instead the CommitteeÂ recommended that the President should continue to retain the power to appoint the INEC boss.
The Federal Government had set up the committee following protests and international condemnation against theÂ manner in which the 2007 poll was conducted. The poll had been described by many local and foreign observers as the worst election ever conducted in the whole world.
Various stages of the election were openly manipulated and electoral rules violated with impunity. For instance, the votersâ€™ registration exercise which was one ofÂ the early steps taken by INEC under the leadership of Prof. Maurice IwuÂ was disorderly and seemed deliberately designed to disenfranchise voters living in places where the ruling party seemed to be unpopular.
For instance, at Agbado and several other communities in Ogun State, there were cases of Nigerians who searched for votersâ€™ registration centres which were supposed to be in their neighbourhoods for a whole week without success. The election proper was described as chaotic as voting did not start in time in many polling centres across the country. In many parts of the country,Â voters could not find their names on the voters register. The magnitude and scale of violence that characterized the poll in some states was indeed frightening.
Ballot-stuffing, snatching of ballot boxes and several other types of electoral mal-practicesÂ were committed in most cases through a connivance byÂ INEC officials and security men on duty. In many cases those who won at the polling booths had their victory upturned at the collation centres through fraudulent means. In the case of Ekiti State, both the 2007 gubernatorialÂ poll and the rerunÂ that was conductedÂ in 2009 after theÂ Court of AppealÂ annulled the 2007 poll were marred by massive irregularities and violence.
At a stage INECâ€™s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Mrs Ayoka Adebayo who conducted the rerun poll went into hiding for days for reasons yet to be explained to this day. Many of the results ofÂ 2007 election are still being challenged in various courts three years after it was held.
So far the courts have nullified the election of 10 governors who were declared winners by INEC during that poll.Â Indeed,Â the Supreme Court blazed the trail and removed the governors of Rivers and Anambra states Mr Celestine Omehia and Dr Andy Uba respectively shortly after they were sworn in due to INECâ€™sÂ Â dis
regard for the rule of law.
The Court Of AppealÂ also nullified the election of the governors of Edo and Ondo States Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor andÂ Mr. Segun Agagu respectively.Â The same courtÂ Â further nullified the election and ordered a rerun in Adamawa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ekiti, Kogi and Sokoto states.
Indeed, many analysts who were outraged when former President Olusegun had openly said prior toÂ theÂ 2007 election that itÂ would be a do-or-die affair, came to understand what the former President meant by that declaration given the scale of electoral fraud that was perpetrated in 2007. Prof. Iwu was generally perceived as the hatchet man Obasanjo used to execute that agenda.
Even President Umar Yarâ€™Adua who emerged victorious from the poll admitted it was flawed and went ahead to pledge to the entire nation that he would effect electoralÂ reforms as one of the cardinal pillars of his administrationâ€™s agenda.
When President Yarâ€™Adua went ahead and kept his promise by not only setting up the Electoral Reform Committee but also appointed Nigerians of proven integrity as its members, there was hope in many parts of the country that at last a messaiah had come to fix the nationâ€™s electoral problems.
The Committee toured round the whole country, received memoranda from many civil society groups and eventually submitted its report which contained detailed recommendations on how to tackle the nationâ€™s electoral quagmire.Â After the Committee submitted its report, there was a long lull on the part of the Federal Government and this led to agitations among civil society groups that the entire report be adopted without alteration. The agitation has been sustained up till now.
For instance, last WednesdayÂ the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) marched through the streets of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT) demanding the adoption of the ERC report without alteration.Â Â Penultimate Tuesday the North-Eastern sub-region of the Civil Society Coordinating Committee (CSCC)Â on Electoral ReformsÂ in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital demanded the full implementation of the Uwais CommitteeÂ report in order to ensure that all future elections in the country would be credible. The demand was made at a press conference held by the Convener ofÂ Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform Prof. Patricia Donli.
Many opposition political parties and groups including the Action Congress ( AC) ,Â a faction of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties ( CNPP) and the Mega summit Movement ( MSM)Â had joined the civil society groups to call for the complete adoption of the Uwais Committee report. In addition to demanding for full implementation of the report many of the civil society groups and opposition parties have also called for the sack ofÂ IwuÂ as the first step that must be taken in order to sanitize the nationâ€™s electoral system.
However, Iwu is no longer taking the criticism he has faced for the manner he handled the 2007 poll with equanimity. Although he initially responded once in while to uncomplimentary remarks about his office,Â it appears he has gone beyond that level in recent times. There are indications that he is actually lobbying for reappointment for another term as the commissionâ€™s boss. Infact, it is believed in some quarters that he has been reaching out to prominent Nigerians from the South-Eastern part of the country to convince the presidency to retain him as INECâ€™s boss.
It has also been alleged that he sponsored a group which marched to the National Assembly recently to demand for his retention as Chairman of the electoral body. The group which claimed it was a splinter of a faction of CNPP stormed the Senate penultimate Wednesday alleging that there was a plot by anti-democratic forces to truncate the 2011 elections. The group which was led by one Ikenga Ikechinyere also alleged there was high-level conspiracy b
y some politicians working to truncate the forth-coming election using the platform of agitation for the removal ofÂ Iwu as their launch-pad.