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Senators’ Interest and Botched Electoral Amendment Bill

A call on senators to do justice to the bill.
I do not envy Ayogu Eze, spokesman for the Senate, on whose  shoulders the usually challenging duty of cleaning up the mess in the Upper Chambers of the National Assembly falls.

Wednesday 20th October was one of such difficult days for him. Shortly after the Senate shot down the Bill by President Goodluck Jonathan for an amendment to the Electoral Act 2010, Eze was saddled with the duty of explaining what has become an embarrassment to the Peoples Democratic Party whose members control the nation’s presidency as well as the Senate.

The more he laboured to convince National Assembly correspondents of the Senate’s supposed good intentions, the more it became obvious that the legislators had either fallen to the designs of Jonathan’s opponents or they had allowed their selfish or group interests to influence their sense of fairness.

Either way, the ruling PDP which was portrayed as a divided house and President Jonathan who forwarded the Executive Bill to the National Assembly, were left to bear the embarrassment of that legislative indiscretion.

Although, the intention behind the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 was clearly in response to the request from the Independent National Electoral Commission to postpone the 2011 general elections from January to April 2011, the President also sought through the bill, to correct what many believe to be provisions in the existing Act that are anomalous to party autonomy.

In Section 87(7) for instance, he had proposed that parties should be free as democratic institutions to determine the rules governing procedures for primaries.  In essence, that provision would have jettisoned the obnoxious policy whereby INEC imposed conditions for political parties in the nomination of their candidates for election.

Even more obnoxious is the present provision in Section 87(8) of the Electoral Act 2010 which provides that: “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purpose of nomination of candidates for any election.”

The new bill had sought to delete this Section not just because it does not conform to long-standing political traditions whereby presidential and gubernatorial aides attend party conventions as automatic voting delegates, but because it runs against the grain of normal practice in most presidential democracies.

It may not have been the design of the lawmakers — most of who have issues with their state governors — to target President Jonathan. But in shooting down that Executive Bill, he invariably became the victim.

For a ruling party warming up for a crucial national election in which its hold on the polity is being threatened, there could be no stronger signal of divisions within the PDP leadership.

Opposition figures within the PDP had, prior to the Senate decision, sworn to ensure the Bill was defeated. While the campaign organizations of President Jonathan’s rivals played the scare-monger, raising alarm that the new provisions which the Presidency sought to introduce would confer undue electoral advantage on Jonathan in the forth-coming PDP primaries, Arewa leaders were busy playing the ethnic card.

It was all in the manner of the new opposition within the PDP which seeks to controvert any presidential intention and extract political advantage in any and every issue involving the President, even if ultimately it takes a chip off the party.

So, did the Senate accept the arguments by opposition politicians within the PDP that deleting the section would skew the primaries in favour of the President and governors, or was it an excuse to serve their self-interest?

These questions become necessary as many discerning Nigerians hold the view that the Senators, many of whom were affected adversely by these kinds of provisions in the last election cycle, predicated their action on the need to preserve their group political interest rather than the national interest.  If this is so, then the Senators must have failed in evaluating the issue on its merit.

The integrity of the Senate also comes to question. There were speculations in the media that when the existing Electoral Act was to be signed into law last August, the President vehemently protested the removal of presidential aides as automatic delegates.

This also tallied with public outcry over the imposition of INEC’s brand of ‘internal democracy’ on what are clearly internal procedures within the political parties. It is a well known fact that Mr. President appended his signature to the document grudgingly, after the National Assembly leadership had promised to listen favourably if he returned with an amendment.

As an unjustifiable interference in the internal affairs of political parties, there is no doubt that the piece of legislation on party primaries falls short of global political best practices.

Not only does it take away the right of the parties to determine their own procedures for the selection of candidates, the Senate rejection of the popular quest to restore non-elective automatic delegates, is in itself vindictive and self serving.

The attempt to clip the wings of the executive which they believe – rightly or wrongly— had powers to determine their own political future, is evidenced by their attempt to insert the right of first refusal clause in the law before public outcry forced them to step it down.

How low can law-making get, that group or personal interests are considered above fairness and national interest?

The ruling party working through its Senators has a duty to rise above sentiments and narrow political interests on this issue that is crucial to the survival of democracy in the country.

The 2011 election, over which so much divisive tactics have been introduced in the ruling party by some of its high-ranking members, cannot be toyed with if the party genuinely hopes to remain relevant beyond 2011.

The indiscretion of Senators over the Electoral bill goes far in symbolizing a disunited party.

More than ever before, the party yearns for fence-mending, even more so now that the Bill may get a second chance in the Senate. Maybe –just maybe – the distinguished legislators may consider it on its merit, and not allow themselves to be rail-roaded into an unnecessary confrontation with the Executive with which it has shared a cordial and harmonious working relationship.

Tunde Falolawrote in from Abuja


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