By Tony Momoh
Rigging elections may manifest in phases you never have thought of until at the end of the day you discover they were part of a grand design to undermine due process.

I have for 11 years of monitoring governance every week come to know, with the benefit of hindsight, that where we thought the road was leading when issues were  tabled for discussion, was really not it, but a decoy only crooked and demonic minds would fashion to derail.

How happy they had been to see us breaking our bones and wasting valuable time making suggestions no one intended would be part of the solution that would resolve the issue.

I sincerely hope that the trip we are on now debating whether presidential assent is needed before amendments to the Constitution take effect is not one of those routes mad men in our midst are taking to ensure that next year’s elections are either postponed or rigged.

Either way will without a doubt undermine the promise of credible elections  that President Jonathan has given. Before we join the fray, let us look back to these schemes which we were all sold on only to discover that those who programmed them had other destinations in mind.

In 2005,  former President Olusegun Obasanjo took the country by storm in a bid to fashion for us a political reform everybody thought would address what  Pronaco (the pro-national conference groups that Tony Enahoro, Wole Soyinka and other civil society bodies led) were asking for.

I was one of those taken in by this intervention of the president when he set up a political reform conference.  I believed him and even defended what he was out to do because in his swearing in on May 29, 1999 he had promised to address 18 key problems in Nigeria within six months of assuming office, and  political reform was one of them.

So when he set up a political reform conference which was funded from secret sources, I sent a booklet entitled In Search of a Viable Nigeria and asked for decongestion of the political space.  The first shock I had was when I called on one of his ministers and the minister was arguing that what Nigeria needed was centralised administration and more powers for the president!

So, instead of providing a forum to work for amendment of the Constitution so that powers of the centre would be downloaded to the regions and even collapse the states and make some of the public officers do their work part time, we had a massive underhand and underground campaign to extend the tenure of the president.

Can anyone deny what is now open to everyone that the lawmakers to whom the recommendations of the conference were sent were being offered large sums of money to extend the tenure of the president and because that could not be done, all the recommendations at that conference were jettisoned, thus callously throwing away the baby with the bathwater!

Another ploy was the mess-up of political parties by asking INEC to register them in such number as to water down the process itself.  Gani Fawehinmi had gone to court to show that INEC was deliberately installing road blocks on the way of party registration.

When the courts ruled in  favour of the protesting parties, the decoy experts went to work and INEC approved applications for registration of parties that had empty spaces in Abuja as party addresses. And who funded these mushroom groups to strengthen the belief of those who had always preached that a one-party system is what African countries need to grow them.

Yet many were shouting praises for democratisation of the party system.  Did the House and the Senate last year not go into verbal blows as to which of them should host the president’s budget presentation to cover up his incapacity to stand long sessions in public?

And why in the build-up to the amendment of the Constitution did the National Assembly spend money to organise whatever they called it in Minna, but wound it up because of quarrels over nomenclatures?  The House committee chairman wanted to be addressed as co-chairman of the joint constitution amendment committee rather than deputy chairman.

Each body then opted to work on its own, spending public funds and refusing to listen to those who have known and pleaded for seriously addressing our structural problems.

Having worked as law makers without any visible input from the executive or the judiciary or any other organ of the polity, they have come up with subverting the Constitution as to when a bill becomes law. Yet the Constitution  provides for how a proposal will be handled to become a law binding on the polity.

Section 58 of the document is  unequivocal about what should be done. The National Assembly must pass the bill,  through the due procedure for doing so established in the House rules.  If there are disagreements, both houses sit down and resolve them.

They then send the bill to the president for his signature.  There is only one way the bill can become law if the president withholds his assent.

That is provided for in the constitution, clearly under subsection 5 of section 58. In the case of creation of states and change of provisions of the constitution, the provisions are settled in sections 8 and 9 respectively.

What everything boils down to in the making of laws in the polity is that  at the end of the day, an action of the National Assembly becomes operative only after presidential assent.

It is an administrative requirement in democracies where even different pens are used to record the beginning of another phase in the life of a people. I do not know where the argument that we need no presidential assent will lead to in the scheming of the professional diverters from the truly intended.

The Constitution is an Act of the National Assembly.  In the amendment of an Act, changes are made and such changes take effect only after presidential assent which if refused will become law when the procedure to override veto is followed.  I do not want to strain myself being part of this debate.

If the past is a lesson, those now arguing about whether the president’s assent is needed or not have another agenda coming.  Like they say, let us shine our eyes.  The Fixers are back at work.

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