By Ben Agande
The decision by the National Assembly to effect another proposal to amend the electoral Act 2010 after the first amendment proposal introduced by the executive arm of government was thrown out has continued to generate intense debate and reactions from a cross section of the polity.
For most observers, the proposed amendment coming on the heels of the condemnation of the action of the president which sought to make appointed aides voting delegates at the convention of the political parties is a betrayal of trust and confidence reposed on the National Assembly by the Nigerian people.
The proposed amendment to the Electoral Act (2010) in Section 87 aims to make all Committee Chairmen and their deputies in the National Assembly members of the National Executive Committees, NECs of their political parties.
The proposed amendment also seeks to provide adequate timeline for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to issue notices, receive nominations of candidates from political parties and prescribe the code of conduct for political parties.
The bill also seeks to bar political parties from substituting names of candidates who have already been submitted to INEC excepting the case of death or voluntary withdrawal.
Although some of the amendments being proposed could be said to be noble bearing in mind the experience of the recent past where leaders of political parties could substitute names of candidates without recourse to any statue, the proposed inclusion of senators and members of the House of Representatives as members of the National Executive Committee of political parties tend to create the impression that the motive behind the proposed amendment was anything but noble.
On the day the Electoral Act amendment bill was read for the second time in the senate, senators were unanimous in their commendation of the proposed amendment.
Leader of the senate, Senator Teslin Folarin succinctly captured the essence of the spirit behind the bill when he led the lead debate on the the bill. According to him, ‘the rational here is to ensure robust discussion on party issues by a larger number of party members and to avoid a situation where a very few party members sit to decide the fate and the affairs of the political parties’.
Trying to downplay the controversial provision that seems to have caught the attention of most critics, the senate leader also emphasized that the proposed amendment also sought to insulate staff of INEC from being held liable for their actions while on official duties because according to him, “The commission is expected to defend its officer and not the officer defending himself/herself in the course of his/her responsibility to the commission.
Paragraph 51(1) of the first schedule which this bill seeks to amend provides for the joining of an officer as a respondent in an election petition where the action of the officer is complained of”.
He added that the bill also seeks to amend Section 31 of the Principal Act by replacing it with a new section, which compels every political party to submit the list of candidates they propose to sponsor at an election ‘ not later than 90 days before the day appointed for a general election’, emphasizing that the advantage inherent in this provision is to give INEC enough time to ‘prepare ballot papers reflecting the party and the candidate and this would avoid post election litigation that was witnessed in the last election where parties and candidates seek nullification of election on the grounds of their picture not appearing in the ballot paper and their party not properly listed in the conduct of election’.
The argument advanced by the senate leader found favourable ground with his colleagues who supported him during contribution to the debate. Senator Ayogu Eze in his contribution to the debate pointed out that the senate should “pass the bill expeditiously as it is a bill that could ensure the best practices in democracy”.
While the senators may have sincerely believed that the proposed amendments were to deepen democracy, no sooner had the bill been read for the second time than an avalanche of criticism began to trail it. Some political observers pointed out that the decision by the National Assembly to make themselves members of the National executive council of their various political parties was to counter the overwhelming influence of the state governors who from the experience of the ruling peoples Democratic Party, dictate what happens in the party and who the party fields for any post.
Out going chairman of the governors forum and governor of Kwara state, Dr Bukola Saraki while condemning the action of members of the national assembly pointed out that the proposed amendment was antithetical to the very essence of the law making powers granted to the National Assembly by the constitution to make laws because it will “impact positively on the country and its citizens.
“As leaders, we should always see to it that the welfare and interest of the electorate are ahead of our own and that is why we (governors) will never support this constitutional aberration which comes in the name of Electoral Act Amendment” he added.
His position was also shared by members of the opposition party under the aegis of the Conference of Nigerian Political parties who adduced that the proposed amendment to the electoral Act by the national Assembly is not only self serving it is unbecoming of the highest law making body in the land.
With the hoopla that the proposed amendment has engendered, it is obvious that the National Assembly cannot but beat a retreat when it reconvenes next week from its Sallah recess. Some members of the senate who spoke to Vanguard confided that the proposed amendment which was done with the best of intention ‘has become a subject of blackmail especially from the governors who believe that by allowing members of the National Assembly to be members of the national Executive council of the parties, the days of the stranglehold of the governors on the party is all but over’.
In an interview with Vanguard, spokesman of the senate, Senator Ayogu Eze said the decision of the national assembly to amend the Act to accommodate some emerging scenario was borne out of altruism but if Nigerians feel that the time is not yet ripe for the proposed amendment, is subject to change according to the views of the Nigerian people .
“This is a law that is still in the process of being made and the opinion of Nigerians are welcome because we are going to hold a public hearing on it and all the views will be taken on board and at the end of the day we will make a law that will reflect all the views of Nigerians.
“We represent them and we need to see that we are not making a law that is serving ourselves. You should also know that apart from one or two of these political parties, members of the National Assembly are members of the National Executive Committees of their parties.
By the end of the day we will be guided by the views of Nigerians and the debate is indeed very healthy” he said.
If the senate is able to reverse itself and yield to the views of the Nigerian people by disqualifying its members from being members of the National Executive Council of the political parties, one can say with some level of confidence that the will of the Nigeria people in deciding what is good for them is gradually but steadily being imbibed by our elected representatives.
This would be the ultimate demonstration that there is a deepening of democracy and not the self serving actions of some of our representatives that we have witnessed since 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule.