On 2010 Electoral Act Amendment: An Open Letter To The National Assembly
I have chosen to address you, Nigerian lawmakers, through an open letter because of three major reasons: 1. The contact information of some of you is not reliable for private communication. I have sent mails to which there have been no responses. I called and there have been call failures. Some of you do not even provide phone numbers that your electorates can use to pass information, concerns, and views across to you, which you need in the performance of your duty of law-making.
2. I would like the public—your constituencies—to add a voice, and so I have made this letter public.
3. I would like the executive to know that you have such a letter sent to you and that you listen to the public.
When you passed the 2010 Electoral Act, you accomplished three historical milestones:
a) You proved through some provisions of the Act that you, in your time of law-making, took sides with the people when, for instance, you inserted in section 87 (8): 'No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purpose of nomination of candidates for any election.' By this you made history by insisting that in the case of indirect party primaries the people (all registered members of a political party) can vote for their delegates, who would then vote for candidates for all elective political offices in Nigeria for general elections. You hugely chipped away at the awesome powers of the godfathers. By this provision you recognize the folly of asking a man to approve the termination of his appointment, for how can political appointees of an interested incumbent vote against the wish of their principal?
b) In the case of direct primaries, you empowered all registered members of a political party to directly participate in a transparent selection of their candidates for elective offices in the country. This is a great recognition that internal democracy is a precursor to true democracy in a nation.
c) By stating in the 2010 Electoral Act that no consensus candidate for any elective office will be allowed, you completely deflated the pumped-up ego of political godfathers in Nigeria. By insisting that INEC should monitor emergence of party candidates, you have eliminated the hazy cloud that usually settles on such emergence.
When the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) requested for extension of deadlines for the 2011 elections, which would require amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act only about two weeks after INEC had released a timetable for the 2011 elections on September 7, 2010, I wrote because I was suspicious. Now, the issue has gone beyond a mere adjustment of timelines for the 2011 elections. We are now fed with an executive bill that has been sent to you seeking some execrable amendments, which shall render our democratic journey egregiously undemocratic. I have read about the carrots being dangled before you, that should you approve of the intended butchering of internal democracy, you would have the 'right of first refusal' in selection of party candidates for the legislature. What insult on your intelligence! Some of you are scholars of note; some of your are well-trained ex-military officers. Would you fall for this? You are the first set of legislators to successfully mid-wife a constitutional amendment since 1966. You have given many Nigerians hope. You can boast, whether or not you return to the legislature in 2011, that you empowered the power of choice of the Nigerian electorate during your time—which is the lynchpin of democratic practice. You have a date with history; please, do not allow President Jonathan and his PDP to rubbish and blackmail you. If the power of selection of candidates for elective offices resides with the people as you have made it with the passage of the 2010 Electoral Act, then your accomplishment should be a campaign issue. For, when the choice of the people matters in our nation, even in the selection of candidates in party primaries, more Nigerians shall register to become members of political parties; then, good governance shall become a culture because of the fear of consequences.
I understand that the proposed amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act seek to waive party primaries, overturn the wishes of party members, install candidates by consensus, and exclude the courts of the land from enquiring into such party 'internal' matters. Would you allow Nigeria to go back to its vomit? Can't you feel the purse of the people? Some of us know what you have accomplished. Some of us know that you are the most productive legislature since 1999. You handled the Yar'Adua drama with wisdom, although with some initial foibles. You bent backwards to accommodate INEC's requests. Although INEC is yet to acquire the DDC machines for which you approved funds in August (about two months ago as I write); although INEC claimed it could complete voter registration in two weeks, and never raised the concerns of time until about two weeks after it, without duress, released the 2011 elections timetable on September 7, 2010, Nigerians must yet blame you! INEC pretentiously asked for extension of deadlines (Plan A). The executive jumped in, proposing to you curious amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act, which would destroy some important pillars of your good work (Plan B). INEC is quiet about the executive going the extra mile while it had pretentiously asked for just a mile. Then, the blame is cryptically shifted to you (although the professor says he was 'quoted out of context'). And you just play along. Your integrity is at stake. Time is running out.
As I conclude, let me remind you of what some of you did in June 2006. You killed the plan to extend the tenure of offices of the president and governors. You did it with boldness. It cost some of you your party's ticket. But that was because the cabals and godfathers were still in control of the selection process of candidates for elective offices. Would you again subject yourselves and future aspirants to elective offices in the land to the tyranny of godfathers who have held this country in their wicked grip for so long? Would you surrender the trophy you have won for our democracy? Can you explain why President Jonathan assented to the 2010 Electoral bill passed by you all against calls from some displeased godfathers, who are now exploiting the opportunity offered them by Professor Jega's naivetÃ© (or shall I say mischief)? Something unnatural forced Jonathan to assent to that bill, that thing they now seek to violate. It is just like Pharaoh, who after allowing the Jews their freedom from slavery suddenly woke up to reality. Being displeased at himself, he sought to bring them back. Well, he perished in the Red sea. Those that have ears let them hear. We must not return to Egypt! Where are the legislators that would stand with the people at this hour?
I appeal to you legislators to throw out the amendments proposed by President Jonathan the same way you threw out the tenure elongation proposal. We have wasted about a month since Jega's belated request for time extensions. His commission (INEC) has not even acquired the DCC machines yet, in spite of your approval of funds more than two months ago. We have enough time to plan, organize, and conduct the 2011 elections. What we don't have time for is the fickleness, inexperience, and puerile conduct by INEC. We can conduct elections in three months if we are serious. What happened after Jega's belated announcement was that political urgency within the political parties became dampened, confusion set in, suspicions crept in, and all is now history. Jega cannot blackmail you or Nigerians at this time. If he cannot guarantee credible elections, he had better resign. He is making more noises than sense. If you would like to grant him his wish on time extension, the insertion 'provided the 2011 elections are not held later than April 30' should be enough. We can ill-afford distractions now.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is the President of the Nigeria Rally Movement ( www.nigeriarally.org http://www.nigeriarally.org/ ) and Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria.
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