Two things happened recently that should make us rethink the direction Nigeria should go with regards to the laws that govern us as a nation and the electoral law that guide the conduct of elections in the country.
Former INEC chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega’s opinion that the electoral laws should be amended and the revelation that Federal Executive Council would now hold only at the instance of the president, in addition to the long-forgotten agitation for restructuring and true federalism form the fulcrum of this article.
Until the last eight years, the agitation for restructuring of the federation had been ferocious. The meltdown began when those hitherto in the vanguard of the campaign found themselves at the corridors of power after they came together to unseat the PDP government of 16 years in 2015. To underscore their demand, part of the campaign manifestoes of the APC as enshrined in their constitution was to promote true federalism/restructuring and devolution of powers. After taking over the reins of power, the new government was reluctant to act on their pact with the Nigerian people.
Thinking that change was still in the offing, Nigerians variously pestered the new government until President Buhari set up the 23-man El-Rufai committee to address the issue of restructuring. The committee submitted its report in January 2018. Unfortunately, the governing party (or is it President Buhari?) lacked the political will to implement what it (he) initiated. And the matter died a natural death.
Five years down the line, APC was voted back-to-back, and President Tinubu, once in the forefront of the “fight” was elected president. These days no one talks about restructuring, a national conference to determine the wrongs in our constitution, and existence as a nation, and how to coexist as a people, willingly or otherwise. Although the National Assembly did make some amendments to the constitution, it is not far-reaching enough to positively impact the polity.
Almost all the NADECO activists and CSOs that confronted previous governments on the germane issues of our “togetherness, to be or not to be” now hide in their cocoons. No one talks about true federalism and restructuring again because it’s a new day and a new government of ex-agitators of true federalism. Is Nigeria no longer an accident of history, and the constitution not a military contraption as we were inundated by these politicians cum activists ?
Jega’s timely intervention added fillip to the need for continuous reforms of our electoral system. The former INEC boss called for further amendment of the electoral law at a retreat organized for senators in Akwa Ibom recently. He said the appointment of INEC chairman and commissioners should not be left in the hands of the president to avoid compromise on the part of the appointees. “Review the process of appointments into INEC, specifically to divest or minimize the involvement of the president in the appointment of chairman and National Commissioners of INEC, to free the commission from the damaging negative perception of ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’”, as contained even in the abandoned Justice Uwais Committee report.
Jega also called for the reform of the electoral law to make electronic transmission of results mandatory, diaspora voting, inclusivity for women and proscription of cross-carpeting by elected officials. I dare add that the amendments should include disposing of all election-related litigations before swearing-in of elected officials. This will stop influence peddlers already sworn-in from buying their way out of iminent judicial defeat.
Apart from conceding that INEC’ top decision makers can be influenced by the president, who appoint them, approximating good governance, and service delivery should be about the people of Nigeria and not the appointing executive. Therefore, all relevant laws, including the electoral Act should be amended in the nation’s interest.
Changes, amendments and reforms generally are for posterity, and the betterment of society and not for the satisfaction of those who lust after power. And like Richard Buckminster Fuller said: “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing (one) obsolete.”.
The powers vested in the president is enormous and therefore open to abuse. From time to time, we see a good dose of it. Before last week’s meeting, the Federal Executive Council meeting did not hold in over six weeks. In response, the president’s minders revealed that, going forward, FEC meetings which have conventionally been held weekly in 24 years of this republic would now hold when there are compelling reasons for it. This is not good enough.
However, after this development, pro-government commentators struggled hard to justify an obvious anomaly. To think that the all-important FEC where appointed ministers in conjunction with the president and his team in the Executive take decisions that affect the lives of over 200 million people will hold when there is a pressing need is to abdicate responsibilities. The needs of over 200 million people should be a daily priority for government. Although this was meant to deflect reactions to six weeks of lull without FEC after initial inauguration, it should be known that FEC is a constitutional provision. Even though the same constitution does not indicate time and frequency, it should not be trivialized and should not be at the behest of an individual’s convenience.
Article 144 (5) of the Constitution recognizes the “executive Council of the Federation (the Federal Council) as the “body of ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President”. So how does government function if its instrument (FEC), holds on needs basis? FEC is constitutional, which directs that meeting be held regularly, without indicating how regular. The constitution should be amended to include regularity and to debar government officials from evading it over flimsy excuses.
Governance is a serious business and continuous work. And reforming existing law can at best strengthen the governance system, enhance policies, and help with proper coordination of the activities of government. Recall that it took President Buhari almost six months to appoint ministers. However, the constitution was amended by the last National Assembly to accommodate only two months within which the president should constitute his cabinet. This, President Tinubu did. The work (good or bad) done in the last 5 months would have been lost to such a delay.
Zainab Suleiman Okino is a syndicated columnist and reachable via [email protected]