By Nnanna Ochereome
HAPPY New Year to my esteemed readers. I hope all Nigerians will be brave and sensible enough to capitalise on the politics of this year and elections of next year to conclusively put the prevailing security and economic challenges behind us by choosing competent, educated, patriotic and visionary leaders for the country.
In examining today’s topic, let me make it clear that I am not among those who believe that the All Progressives Congress, APC, is an irredeemable party. The APC is just like any other party, apart from the fact that it is the current ruling party. It is neither good nor bad. Today, we are seeing mainly the ugly side of it, which is the reflection of the people at the helm of its government.
If tomorrow the true Nigerian leader we have been waiting for mounts that helm under the party’s flag, this same APC could still put a smile on our faces. We saw the same thing in the much-abused Peoples Democratic Party, PDP when the party held sway. Most of us can still remember when we could walk into our bank and request a facility to enable us to buy brand new cars and pay in instalments, just as it is done in other civilised parts of the world.
I have reasons to wonder aloud whether the ruling APC is afraid of losing power in 2023. Perhaps they have now realised that their six and half years of misrule have pushed Nigerians to the brink. Why is it that the Presidency and the National Assembly that the APC dominates are doing everything in their power to ensure we do not have the right enabling law for free and fair elections in 2023?
To make our democracy better, we must keep upgrading the laws guiding our elections. If the dethroned PDP regimes had not permitted electoral reforms, the APC’s victory in the 2015 polls would not have been possible. Having assumed power, the APC seems afraid to continue with reforms.
We can clearly see it in the manner they have handled the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. Since this Bill started its missionary journey in 2016 under the watch of Senator Bukola Saraki as head of the National Assembly, it has been vetoed by President Muhammadu Buhari a record five times, with flimsy excuses.
The APC has been battling against the will of the people to allow three clauses of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill passed in peace. These are Clause 52, Clause 87 and Clause 31(5). Clause 52 deals on Mode of Transmission of Elections.
Nigerians and INEC want the results of future elections transmitted to the national collation centre of the INEC electronically. What it means is that once Form EC8A is duly approved, it will be uploaded to their national headquarters and Nigerians will be able to see it in real-time.
Results will no longer be snatched on the way. Ballots thumb-printed in the private homes of politicians will no longer count. Falsification of results at the collation centres will be a waste of time. Post-electoral violence will be reduced to the minimum, and post-election litigations will also be minimised.
The APC leadership in the Senate enlisted their cohorts in the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to inform Nigerians that INEC could only transmit results electronically in 50 per cent of polling units.
Based on this, Ahmed Lawan’s Senate passed a version of the Bill instructing the INEC to liaise with the National Assembly in deciding where to electronically transmit election results from.
The INEC, conscious of its constitutionally-granted sole power to conduct elections, debunked this NCC claim, asserting that it was capable of electronically transmitting from all their polling units nationwide.
The INEC assured Nigerians that it would never share its constitutional powers with anyone. Public pressure eventually forced the federal lawmakers to pass that clause allowing electronic transmission of results.
But before the Bill went to the president, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila’s House of Representatives, reportedly inserted the controversial Clause 84 which aimed to force all political parties to adopt by law the direct mode of primary elections. The lawmakers aimed at loosening the grip of the governors who usually prefer indirect or delegates’ primaries in choosing candidates.
This imposition of direct primaries is not only undemocratic, but it is also expensive for everyone involved, including the INEC. The correct thing is to allow the political parties to choose the mode of primaries that are convenient for them and enables them to win elections. Any provision that hampers the parties in any way might elicit another presidential veto which we can no longer afford.
The third problem that some APC members of the NASS seek to inflict the Electoral Act Amendment Bill with is the plan to change Clause 31(5) which deals with eligibility to challenge the credentials submitted by candidates for election.
The existing law permits anyone who believes that any document submitted by an aspirant is false to file a case at the High Court. The lawmakers want to restrict that privilege only to fellow aspirants for the position concerned.
This is totally unconstitutional because it seeks to oust the right of individuals to expose corruption and seek redress thereof. Many prominent legal minds have already pronounced the plot as “dead on arrival”. The danger, however, is that if this clause goes into the harmonised Bill to be sent to Buhari, the president will be handed a sound and legitimate reason to reject the Bill once again.
That could render it irreparable before the general elections of 2023. We would then find ourselves exactly where undemocratic elements in the ruling party want us. We must come out now and resist these plots. Otherwise, we will remain with ballot snatching, falsification of results at collation centres, electoral violence and protracted/expensive election tribunal battles where the courts choose our leaders for us.