Last Tuesday, the Minister of Justice and Attorney- General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, inaugurated a 24-man Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee, with the mandate to “look into possible amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and come out with a more robust and generally acceptable electoral system.
According to Malami, the terms of reference of the committee, under the leadership of former President of the Senate, Senator Ken Nnamani, are to review recent judicial decisions on election petitions as they relate to conflicting judgments and absence of consequential orders; review the laws impacting elections in Nigeria, including relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2012 (as amended); and assess the impact of the various laws and their adequacy for the administration of elections in Nigeria.
The Nnamani-led 24-man panel has, as members, Oluwole Uzzi, O. O. Babalola, Duruaku Chima, Musa Maryam, Dr. Muiz Banire, Eze Philip, Bashir Ibrahim, Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Utum Eteng, H. A. Tahir, Ike Udunni, S. O. Ibrahim, Esther Uzoma, Ejike Eze, and Dr. Mamman Lawal, among others.
Much as the objectives for which the committee was set up are desirable, setting up another panel on constitution and electoral reforms at this time seems most undesirable.
To date, many of the recommendations of a similar committee, the Justice Muhammed Uwais Electoral Reforms Committee, set up by the Federal Government, under the leadership of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, had yet to be implemented.
To be sure, the Uwais committee recommendations, having covered all grounds of the nation’s electoral system, were generally assessed and accepted across the country.
Therefore, setting up another committee – with similar terms of reference – that will draw running cost from the national purse at a period when the nation is experiencing an economic downturn, is, to say the least, insensitive.
We believe that, contrary to claims by the FG that the Nnamani-led constitution and electoral reform committee is not an imitation, the endeavour is a sheer waste of scarce resources, as the new panel is unnecessary, unwarranted, diversionary and time wasting.
Many political analysts have also shared the same sentiments on the new panel. One of them, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science of the University of Lagos, opined that another electoral committee was unnecessary.
The political scientist berated the government for refusing to implement the recommendations of past committees, specifically, the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel, that had been set up to review Nigeria’s electoral system.
“SETTING UP ANOTHER COMMITTEE WITH SIMILAR TERMS OF REFERENCE, THAT WILL DRAW RUNNING COST FROM THE NATIONAL PURSE AT A PERIOD WHEN THE NATION IS EXPERIENCING AN ECONOMIC DOWNTURN, IS, TO SAY THE LEAST, INSENSITIVE”
Some of the recommendations of the Uwais panel yet to be implemented include the need for an Electoral Offences Commission to investigate and try electoral infractions; conclusion of petitions arising from elections before purported winners are sworn-in and holistic amendment of Sections 132(2) and 178(2) of the 1999 Constitution and section 149 of the Electoral Act, including the exemption of the Independent National Electoral Commission from the internal affairs of political parties.
The committee concluded its recommendation thus, “The Committee is convinced that the recommendations contained in this report are necessary and sufficient to improve the quality of our elections. To this extent, the committee recommends that there should be urgency on the part of the President, the National Assembly, Governors, State Assemblies and others, in effecting the constitutional, statutory, administrative and institutional changes required to achieve the desired effect.”
Perhaps, should there be a need to revisit past recommendations on electoral and constitutional reforms, it is our belief that all government needs to do is to simply dust up those recommendations and present executive bills on the various areas that require attention, either on constitutional or electoral reforms, to the National Assembly for consideration, rather than embark on another jamboree that would deplete the scarce resources of the state at a time majority of Nigerians are groaning under the effects of a severe economic crisis.
There is no doubt that the nation still has a long way to go in perfecting its electoral process. It is also a fact that President Buhari is determined to turn around the nation’s electoral system, in order to reduce the prevalence of polls rigging and violence. A major step in this direction, however, is making elective political offices less attractive monetarily.
Another way of improving the electoral system is ensuring that electoral offenders are given adequate punitive measures to serve as deterrent to future perpetrators and to also ensure that politicians are prevented from turning election environments into theatres of war.
But these can be achieved without setting up another committee on constitution and electoral reforms, else, the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government would end up being guilty of what it had accused former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration of – being a government of committees.