By Louis Odion… With the inauguration of the Ken Nnamani committee on Tuesday, the Buhari administration is following closely the footsteps of his predecessors in what seems to have become a perennial national racket. But coming soon after the president had openly dismissed the report of the 2014 National Conference as only fit for the archives, this sudden U-turn is bound to arouse suspicion.
Increasingly censured for being too obsessed with the anti-corruption advocacy as if it were the sole purpose of governance at the expense of other equally critical pillars of nation-building, President Buhari is perhaps learning fast how to keep sections of the political class busy in the times ahead and also give the people something to distract them from too much talk about recession.
Buhari’s offering comes even as the legislative branch of government has continued to splurge tax-payers’ money on its never-ending “constitution amendment” exercise.
In the terms of reference read by the federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, the 24-man panel is expected to “Review Electoral environment, laws and experiences from recent elections conducted in Nigeria and make recommendations to strengthen and achieve the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria.”
It was further challenged to “take a holistic look at the recommendations of Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Committee.”
On that note, it is perhaps safe to infer that the body will also dust up the report of the 2004 confab set up by the Obasanjo administration as well as that of 2014 inaugurated by the Jonathan administration.
For now, we can only hope President Buhari does not, as usual, succumb to the temptation of raising yet another panel to receive and further review whatever the Nnamani panel recommends before taking his time to shop for legal draught-men to draft an executive bill before being tabled before the National Assembly for consideration.
As the panel makes hay ahead of the 10-week deadline to submit its report, it surely will soon find that nothing is new really. More like putting old wine in a new skin to con unsuspecting onlookers into a false sense of change.
To start with, the same Nnamani now in the pilot’s seat played a role in the 2014 conference and, in fact, headed its committee pertaining to electoral reforms. So, in every material particular, it remains to be seen what “transformation” he underwent in the past two years to radically change his views about Nigeria.
Truth be told, the issue with the nation is not so much about the surfeit or paucity of laws, but the lack of will to uphold the letter and spirit of what already exists. We often look to the United States, the acclaimed bastion of liberal democracy, for inspiration to grow our own. But we are unwilling to cherish their values nor keep their rules. There are precisely 4543 words in the original US constitution, while The Declaration has 1458 words. Ours is a verbose volume replete with inconsistencies, worsened by the pervasive culture of impunity in its operation.
If any lesson is to be learnt from the great democracies elsewhere, it is the fact that the constitution is made a living organism. It grows, expands and adapts to the realities of the day. Whatever major amendment the US Constitution of over two centuries has recorded only resulted mainly from the re-engineering of America’s Supreme Court in form of landmark pronouncements against perceived inadequacies of the existing provisions or in response to new realities.
In fact, experience has shown that the more laws a nation makes, the more lawless it tends to become. For instance, sections of the subsisting Electoral Act expressly state conditions that conduce internal democracy within political parties. Nowhere will any provision be found to support the sheer banditry that unfolded in the primaries conducted by All Progressives Congress in Ondo State last month.
Following widespread protests by contestants, the party’s internal conflict resolution mechanism was activated. Eventually, the review committee reportedly recommended that a new exercise be conducted in the spirit of fairness and justice. To be sure, the matter was put to another round of voting in the boardroom, with a simple majority also rooting for justice. But as the story went, it eventually pleased the National Chairman of the party to unilaterally vetoed the majority and so casually torpedoed democracy.
So, the puzzle is how a party that professes change and is indeed seeking to rally the nation at large into a new life of constitutional chastity is able to live with this sort of brazen travesty at home and pretend all is well outside.
Overall, Nnamani and his team will not have to reinvent the wheel. To invert the popular saying of Karl Marx, philosophers and political scientists have already diagnosed what ails our nation; what remains is to summon the will to administer the prescriptions. The 2005 confab had furnished the nation with over 100 recommendations, some of which substantially address aspects of the now vexed National Question like the devolution of power between the centre and the federating units and a more equitable revenue-sharing formula. The only offensive part was the tenure elongation clause smuggled in by deluded Obasanjo then seeking to make himself life president.
Unfortunately, all the other fine points were “killed” and “buried” with Obasanjo’s Third Term Agenda in May 2006. Some of them found their way into the report of the 2014 confab. The Nnamani committee is well advised to exhume both documents and see what could be salvaged.
On electoral reforms, one of its priorities should be helping to formulate a constitutional basis for the adoption of the innovative card-reader to become part of our electoral culture, thereby quashing noxious precedent set not too long ago by the court which had curiously entered a judgement invalidating its use. Other than that, the panel will find that it has little or nothing to add to the recommendations of the Uwais panel. In its own 319-page report, the Uwais committee had already furnished us with enriching ideas which the Jonathan administration typically chose to implement skeletally.
Broadly, what the Uwais roadmap outlines is no more than changing the rule to generally make INEC truly more independent, efficient and effective. Aside praying its funding be made first-line charge, the report recommends the electoral umpire be restricted to its core duty: organizing and supervising elections. Registration and supervision of political parties should be left to a different commission.
To further liberalize the political space, the Uwais report also lists a few other progressive ideas like stiffer penalty for those convicted of electoral felonies, independent candidacy as well as integrate the State Independent Electoral Commission into INEC for more credibility. No less far-reaching is the other proposal seeking to shift the burden of proof from petitioner to INEC to show that the exercise it conducted was indeed free and fair and truly reflective of the electoral wish of the people.
Not until all these brilliant ideas are synthesized and framed into a coherent report could the Nnamani committee be said to have indeed done a damn good job.
Ripples Nigeria…without borders, without fears