By Tordue Salem
The House of Representatives Wednesday passed the 5th alteration to the Constitution, extending the existing timeline demanded by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct free and fair polls next year.
The house also adopted the 150 days recommended by the Muhammed Uwais’ Electoral Review Committee, to allow time for judicial pronouncements on election litigations.
The 150 days as contained in the amendment, stands in par to the 30-day minimum required for handover after elections would have been held in either March or April and the winners declared.
The 150-day post_election time frame for litigations as provided, though would not apply for the 2011 elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could abide by the “upper limit” of 150 days in subsequent elections.
The sections that were amended are: 116, 132, 178, 10, 11, 76, 17, 5, 10, 11 and 17 of the 1999 Constitution.
The House Ad hoc Committee has in the past two weeks been working on the alteration of the clauses.
The strenuous efforts of the dominant members of the PDP in the House nonetheless, the opposition All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) through its National Chairman, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu was able to stress the need for elections in all tiers of government to be conducted in one day.
“We in the New ANPP believe that if this is not seriously addressed, it will weaken the interest of Nigerians in the electoral process. We need to ensure that only those who are the choice of the people are declared winners of elections.
It is our conviction that conducting elections on the same day, will greatly reduce cost for INEC since the number of elections will be reduced from three to one. The funds to be saved in the process, can be used in providing better infrastructure badly needed by Nigerians”, Onu advised.
In his open remarks at the public hearing on the alteration of the constitution, the Deputy Speaker, Usman Bayero Nafada said the amendment to allow extension of time, unlike other amendments to the Constitution, was an easy and unambiguous one, and the House of Representatives would not oppose it.
“This amendment is a very straight_forward one and as you are all aware, the Uwais’ Committee recommended 150 days after elections to allow the Courts to decide on cases of elections and 90 days before handover date, but with this extension sought by INEC, 30 days would now become the minimum and 130 or 150 days will now be the upper limit for handover”, he said.
Nafada did not fail to address the objection to staggered polls as raised by Onu as he asserted that “it will not be feasible for all elections to hold on the same day”, just as he adviced INEC to do its part, by ensuring a free and fair election as desired by the majority of Nigerians.
“I hope and believe that from today, since we have given you our time table, you will go back and work on your time table and preparations for the 2011 elections so that we will have a peaceful and credible election in 2011”, he said. The Deputy Speaker contended that the success of the 2011 elections and beyond depended to a large extent on the clergy across faiths in Nigeria for success.
“But again, apart from our own efforts and the efforts of INEC, the elections in 2011 may not be successful. For a peaceful and successful election, we need the efforts of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Islamic Clerics to mobilise voters”, Nafada said.
He however cautioned that instead of jumping the gun on assent, Nigerians should occupy themselves with the success of the amendment and the 2011 elections.
The Chairman of the INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, in his reaction promised to conduct a credible election in 2011.
“We have nothing, but appreciation and commendations for the way you have granted our requests for time extension to enable us conduct a free and fair election in 2011. Nigerians are looking forward to a free and fair election and we at INEC are looking forward to making sure the desire of Nigerians is fulfilled”, he said.
The amendments, by implication rule out the issue of automatic delegates for all political office seekers. But they also portend danger for the future. For example: The retention of 30 days for post_election litigations means that by next year, many lawmakers and other public office holders by default would be basking in usurped offices, why the rightful owners of the mandates would have a short time to sort themselves out at the courts.
The amendments, though commendable in some respects, seem to be self_serving. The problem is however, not just with the National Assembly, but with the equivocation of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC).
Despite the monumental releases made to INEC, the Commission is yet to purchase the machines required for Direct Data Capture and certainly not proposed dates for the registration of voters. With all the signals, the electoral future of the Country despite the latest amendments, remains bleak and uncertain.