By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Ben Agande, Inalegwu Shaibu and Tordue Salem
LAGOS—THE Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has sided with governors in the dispute over the Electoral Act amendment bill that aims to make federal legislators automatic members of the National Executive Committees of the nation’s political parties.
Meanwhile, the governors are sharpening their weapons in the proposed face off with National Assembly members with the prospect of weighing in against recalcitrant lawmakers bent on forwarding the bill in the forthcoming party primaries.
Vanguard learnt, yesterday, that the legislators are sticking to their guns on the bill and may seek to use it to negotiate favourable terms for their re-election in the 2011 National Assembly elections.
Meanwhile, governors who are peeved by the determination of the lawmakers to pursue the bill have changed stance from dialogue to aggression as they boycotted the public hearing on it. The boycott was against the earlier desire by the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, Dr. Bukola Saraki, that the governors would be making a representation to the National Assembly on the bill.
Vanguard gathered that the aggrieved governors have sworn to frustrate the implementation of the bill which they have said was a contest of powers between them and the federal legislators.
Control of the parties
A confidant of one of the governors told Vanguard: “They say that they want to control the parties, but are they prepared to fund the parties? You want to control but you don’t want to provide the money and we see this is as essentially another bid by some of the lawmakers to further their gubernatorial ambitions and that is not the way to go about it.”
Meanwhile, no reason was given for the absence of the NGF at the public hearing on the bill in the National Assembly, yesterday.
Senate President David Mark who declared the hearing open nevertheless declared the readiness of the National Assembly to accommodate all interests as he said the legislature had no fixed position on the issue.
PDP Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo and chairman of the Conference of state Chairmen of the PDP, Dr. Emmanuel Agbo, separately declared the opposition of the party to the proposed amendment at the joint public hearing of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the bill.
They were joined by a cross section of Nigerians who said the inclusion of the federal lawmakers would amount to giving them undue advantage.
Yesterday’s public hearing recorded a huge attendance with some participants being frisked with metal detectors before being allowed into the venue of the event.
Dr. Agbo, who summed up the position of the Party noted in his contribution that allowing the amendment as it was being proposed by the National Assembly would “amount to over regulating the conduct and general management of the affairs of parties.”
Agbo noted that rather than seek to regulate the internal affairs of political parties through the Electoral Act, the various caucuses of the political parties in the National assembly should negotiate with the national executive council of the various political parties for more representation of members of the National Assembly.
Eroding public confidence
He said that going ahead with the amendment would amount to “a particular constituency trying to take undue advantage of its functions to the detriment of others” warning that “as we move towards the 2011 elections, whatever would erode the confidence of the public in the National Assembly should be avoided.”
Agbo added: “In the interest of our nascent democracy, that aspect of the amendment (inclusion of National Assembly members in the NEC of parties) should be expunged to give room for dialogue between the caucus and the leadership of the political parties.”
National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Nwodo, who concurred with the state chairmen, said if National Assembly members were allowed into the NEC of the parties.
He said: “They will overwhelm other members and this may precipitate a crisis. The National Assembly members may take decisions that would favour them and always get away with it. The National Assembly should throw away the amendment since the party is considering a concession that would make National Assembly have more representation. It is not something to legislate on.”
Regimentation of parties
Chairman of the Citizens Popular Party, Maxi Ukwu, in his contribution opined that parties should be allowed to run their affairs, said the parties should not be regimented through parliamentary legislation.
Ukwu said: “Uniformity as is being sought by the amendment is military tendency.
There should be differences in the political parties. We seek that parties should be allowed to run their affairs. We cannot regiment them. We cannot control them. Members of the National Assembly seeking by fiat to write themselves to the national executive committee of their political parties are improper. They have the powers to do that but it is improper.”
In her contribution, representative of the Gender and Affirmative Action, Mrs. Omowunmi Ashiaru noted that “regulation of political parties by National Assembly through an Act is an aberration and must not be allowed.” She added: “If this amendment is allowed, there would be no room to accommodate the vulnerable groups like women and youth.”
She suggested that the Electoral Act should be amendment to allow for 35 per cent of candidates to be fielded in each election to be reserved for women.
While declaring open the public hearing, Senate President, Senator David Mark, said the decision of the National Assembly to conduct a public hearing on the bill “was to provide an opportunity for Nigerians to make inputs into the bill based on their convictions for the growth of our democracy.”
Mark said what the National Assembly was doing on the proposed amendment was nothing extra ordinary because “the constitution allows the National Assembly to make laws for the political parties. I find it strange that political parties that have members of National Assembly as members of the National Executive Council of their parties are up in arms against the bill.”
He said what informed the decision on the proposed amendment was to strengthen internal democracy and to engender a robust National Executive Council for the political parties and not a handful of individuals taking decision on behalf of majority of the people.
The Senate president, however, added: “We have not made up our mind on what will be in the bill or what will not be in it. We will not be swayed by emotions but superior argument. We want a robust NEC for our parties where more individuals will have a say and not a handful of people. We hope to have a bill that would reflect the views of Nigerians.”
Legislating on political parties
National Chairman of the All Progressives’ Grand Alliance, APGA, Mr. Victor Umeh admitted, however, that under section 223 of the 1999 Constitution and section 56 of the Exclusive Legislative list, the National Assembly has the right to legislate on political parties.
Former Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Dr. Hakeem Baba_Ahmed, who pointedly told the lawmakers that the “proposal to include yourselves as members of the National Executive Committees of your parties is morally wrong,” however, advised them to stick to laws that would make the 2011 elections free and fair and be careful not to jeopardize the political future of Nigeria.
A question and answer frenzy ensued as the lawmakers took him on, reeling out reasons for the proposed amendments in the first place.
Co_sponsor of the Bill, Rep. C.I.D Maduabum, in his submission, described the structure of parties as bad adding that “political parties are worst political terror tools.”
Earlier in his welcome address, chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Isiaka Adeleke, said the controversy trailing the proposed amendment was unnecessary as the National Assembly was only seeking to entrench internal democracy in the various political parties.