By Dennis Agbo
THE Nike Lake Hotel venue of the first zonal public hearing of the Senator Ken Nnamani-led Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee had a touch of the unusual, last Monday. Present at the venue were constitutional experts and students and political stakeholders all with the common objective of fashioning the best electoral cum constitutional framework that will guarantee the survival of Nigeria’s democracy.
About 23 submissions were made to the committee at the poorly attended function which was meant for the South East zone. Even though Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State was in attendance and made suggestions on what he felt should be reformed in the electoral system, it was obvious that he was fairly not comfortable with the apparent partisan display at the hearing.
The hearing had apparently become an opportunity for the longsuffering All Progressives Congress, APC in the region to show strength in the face of the electoral dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the region. Among those who gave a partisan hue to the hearing were the APC women in the state led by Lolo Nwankwo who took to the stage to demonstrate solidarity for the committee’s outing, while making submission for gender-related issues.
The period of his steeping aside only lasted for ten months as he last January registered as a member of the APC in his ward in Enugu. That was well before he was appointed to head the electoral and constitution reform committee. Given that the committee’s assignment was seen as a duplication of effort on the job done by the Justice Mohammed Uwais Committee and the National Conference set up by the last administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, it was not difficult for some to allege that the constitution of the Nnamani Committee was just another job for the boys.
Another job for the boys
Among those present at the hearing were elements of civil society, the judiciary, and the political class. Speaking passionately on the electoral challenges faced by the Judiciary in handling both pre and post electoral petitions, Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Ngozi Emehelu, demanded for extension of both the 21 days time lag for filing of petitions after elections and the 180 days statutory period within which election petitions are given to be decided upon.
On their own part, a civil society group, the Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, demanded that the appointment of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and its board members should no longer be left solely to the discretion of the Nigerian President but should involve the imput of the National Assembly, the Civil Society Organizations and other relevant stakeholders, adding that Section 221 of the constitution should be amended to give room for independent candidacy.
The representative of the Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, Mrs. Miriam Menkiti, in her submissions said that amendments of relevant laws needed to be made to provide for electoral offences commission, adding that all sections of the constitution or Electoral Act that had provisions for gender needed to be amended to check gender discrimination.
From contributions from participants, one recommendation that may top that to be presented by the committee is the proposal to stop the inauguration of political office holders until after all litigations are completed. That was apparent from the welcoming remarks given by Senator Nnamani. “We want to come up with a new system whereby no one can be sworn into office if they have election petitions hanging on their necks. Politicians are fond of fighting to win and saying ‘let us go to court.
“Experience has shown that majority of the cases in our courts are either pre-election or post-election matters and we want to find a way out of this. We want to ensure that after a candidate had spent time to campaign and given the mandate by the electorate, such mandates will not be dropped at the court by way of losing in the case. The president has been a victim so Nigerians should not entertain any fear whether or not the report of this committee will be implemented,” Nnamani said.
Critics said the Enugu sitting exposed the prospect of only the APC accepting the work of the committee given that the exercise was largely boycotted by PDP members with the possible exception of the governor who came as chief host.
Among those who spoke at the public hearing was a former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, who frowned at what he described as the duplication of efforts by the committee which he also described as partisan. Eya said: “The committee is a party committee, Ken Nnamani just defected to the APC, and you know charity they say begins at home. The national conference convened by the Jonathan administration touched on all these things; they just want to spend money on their party members.
“The national conference came out with 63 resolutions but the present ruling government doesn’t want to touch it, we can go on with the jamboree. Why didn’t they make the hearing open? We can’t keep quiet when things go wrong. It’s an APC thing, and I don’t have to complain. It’s a political organization matter and Ken Nnamani having joined the party newly wants to live up to their billing.”
Validating a national assignment
In his reaction, the Executive Director of Youths Education on Human Rights and Civic Responsibility, Mr. Cromwell Chibuzor, said: “The committee is not a national thing; it’s just a political party arrangement with the purpose of validating a national assignment so that APC as a government will not be put at disadvantage. It’s a tool for political mobilization and visibility.”
But the South East zonal publicity officer of the APC, Hon. Hyacinth Ngwu, said that it was understandable why APC members would form the majority in the composition of the committee. He further affirmed that Senator Nnamani had not registered as a member of APC when he was appointed to head the committee.
Ngwu said: “Of course APC members will be more in all the appointments because they are the ones wearing the shoe and they are the ones appointing. It, therefore, follows that they will be in the majority. When Nnamani was appointed, he was not in APC, then he was apolitical, and that shows the magnanimity of the APC-led government. Ken is a man of his words besides he just joined the party a few weeks ago.”
On the allegation that the committee’s assignment is a duplication of that already done by some past committees, Ngwu said “Laws are not static, they are dynamic, they keep changing otherwise you won’t have the National Assembly that deals with issues of lawmaking.
“Since human beings are dynamic in nature when issues arise committees would be set up to deal with them. Between the time Justice Uwais report was submitted and now, many things need to be amended like the issue of the Kogi state governorship debacle is a recent development. Again you can look at the issue of assigning powers to the Federal Executive Council, FEC, in a case of incapacitation of a President, should it have been the national assembly? These are evolving issues that the present committee can deal with.”