By Emmanuel Aziken
The parade of certificate forgers, ex-convicts and folks of similar character as election candidates, and eventually as legislators and governors was one of the most poignant facts that came to fore at an Abuja gathering penultimate Tuesday.
Speaking at the validation conference of the 2017 to 2021 strategic plan of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the commission’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, however, confessed the incapacity of the commission to weed out such persons as candidates. That is because the Electoral Act bars INEC from disqualification of candidates. So even if a candidate is known to be of dubious reputation he or she can only be removed as a candidate by the party or the court.
The Electoral Act, 2010 as amended, and even the recently passed amendment sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege debarred the election management body from disqualifying candidates for whatever reason. The power of disqualification remains with the courts and the political parties who screen their aspirants to ensure that only qualified persons emerge as candidates.
The idea of the court nullifying the nomination of such forgers and ex-convicts ordinarily should bring some measure of discipline to political parties. However, as the unfolding scenario concerning some high profile political office holders will show, Nigerian political parties do not really mind. Party chieftains who have tainted themselves are easily compromised by party aspirants who do not brook any rule to put themselves or their favoured lackeys as party candidates.
A number of senators who make laws for Nigeria cannot travel to some countries because of the fear that they can easily be picked up on account of past infractions in those countries where the rule of law is no respecter of persons.
Even more, there was the instance of a death certificate even being forged to push through the nomination of a candidate in the All Progressives Congress, APC in 2015.
That certificate forgers, ex-convicts, such characters or cheats as they should be properly known are presently sitting pretty tight in office in the legislature and the executive branch at the federal and state levels should be troubling. It really goes far to say why Nigeria has not progressed much as a country.
It was Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police who famously drew the attention of the country to the presence of crooks in the National Assembly.
Aliyu then in his third term in the Senate had during plenary on January 23, 2008, shocked many when he said that “in this National Assembly, we still have 419ners.”
Senator Aliyu’s assertion may have shocked many, but certainly not some of his colleagues and Senate correspondents who had heard him make similar accusations in the past.
He had in April 2005 dubbed some of his colleagues as crooks and 419ners and at the peak of the third term debate accused the then Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ibrahim Mantu of bribing senators to support the amendment.
In all three instances, the institution of the Senate fought back forcing the former DIG to retract.
So given the capacity of corruption, as APC aficionados would say, to fight back, it is not surprising that the National Assembly has not been able to hold firm to its basic work of checking the executive and exposing corruption in the system.
Despite what some consider as salutary stances of its leadership in the persons of Senators Bukola Saraki, Ike Ekweremadu and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, the custom of corruption remains unmoving.
The seeming taunts by Governor Nasir El-Rufai on the National Assembly to expose its budgets to public scrutiny could, in the end, be to the benefit of all. After all, it is when their hands are clean that they can compel the executive to show clean hands.