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Reform May Restore Time Frame For Electoral Cases--Ekweremadu

Source: burningpot.com
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By Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
THE three-month time frame stipulated in the 1979 Electoral Act for the conclusion of electoral cases in courts may be restored in the proposed electoral reforms.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, disclosed this at the weekend and said that the team, which worked out the 2006 Electoral Act could not address the issue following the position of the Supreme Court that pinning the courts down in terms of timing would not guarantee fair hearing to all concerned.

Ekweremadu, who is the chairman of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Reforms (JCCR), told reporters in Enugu, that the time being expended in discharging electoral cases is unfavourable for true democratic practice and that the issue would be reviewed in the constitution.

He also explained that the automatic ticket, which members of the National Assembly sought for the 2011 election, was for the continued stability of the country. He stressed that it was for best practices in view of the American constitution, which the country copied.

He said: "We are going to look at it as part of the electoral reform process. I was part of the team that worked on the 2006 Electoral Act and when we came to giving a time frame to conclude electoral matters, we were confronted by the Supreme Court position that you cannot pin down the court in terms of time for delivering judgment. They believed that for purposes of fair hearing, there should be unlimited time for courts to complete their cases.

"But I am aware that in 1979, there was a provision in the Electoral Act of a three month period, as option for conclusion of electoral matters. We intend to explore that option. Nigeria is not the only country with a fluid system. In the USA, there was a case that just ended of a senatorial election. The election was held last year, but they just concluded the court case arising from the election last week. Because of the peculiar nature of Nigeria, I am sure we are going to look at the legal possibility of creating time frame for the court to conclude election matter, making sure that we would not prejudice justice by so doing."

On the straight ticket to contest in 2011, Ekweremadu said that what the senators were asking for was beyond the next election. He explained that they were asking for a provision that could guarantee every members of the National Assembly an opportunity to return to the National Assembly and not being changed at every election. This he said would mean that the experience and training the lawmakers garnered from the job would not be wasted. He noted that with the high number of senators, it was wasteful to train new senators every four years. The request was in line with the American Constitution, which the country has adapted.

According to Ekweremadu, "it is not automatic ticket as such. We try to copy the best practices, especially from America where we drew most of the provisions of our constitution. You don't just change parliamentarians anyhow, because a lot is spent on training them. Nigeria has the highest turnover of parliamentarians and when you send people to seminar and workshops and they sit in parliament from year to year, at the end of the four years, they don't return the money, hence it is a waste.

"We are thinking that as much as our system can accommodate, let us ensure that we reverse this trend. A situation whereby 80 per cent of the senators don't return is not healthy. If we can turn it the other way round and say may be let 20 per cent do not return and let the others return, may be that will be part of growth. In the making of our 1999 Constitution, it was thought wise that in parliament, there would be no term limit, one can contest and win and then come back to the parliament as many times as one can. Our leaders were not stupid, because they knew the implication; they knew how much could have been invested in training these people; they knew the need to have parliamentarians much longer in parliament because it creates what is called institutional memory, because after being a senator for 20 or 30 years, you would have seen Presidents come and go, so if issues arise in the country that require institutional memory, you have to fall back on such people. In most places, senators are appointed for life."

In explaining the reasoning behind the agitation now, he said that it was wrong to have a repeat of what happened in the past where almost a whole parliament was removed, stressing that because of its negative impact.

"It is not healthy when you have done well and the problem you have is the issue of zoning and somebody who is incompetent is brought up because of this. It is better that people, who have been around and chaired various committees to manage than elect new ones," he said.

Meanwhile, former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, has said that the quest for automatic ticket by PDP senators was a confirmation of the absence of democracy in the country.

He said that the way the country's democracy was going, especially with the inability of the electorate to use their votes to change their leaders, it was possible for anything to happen in the country.

He said: "The way our democracy is going, it does not really make a difference, because since the votes of people do not count, it doesn't matter how anybody gets to become anything. It doesn't make a sense and of course this quest for automatic ticket confirms the absence of democracy."

He implored the senators to allow democracy to take root, as the clamour was a confirmation that some politicians have become desperate for the spoil of the office.

In related development, the Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, at the weekend tasked President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua on the 2011 election noting that democracy is in danger when malpractices continue to mar elections.

The National Deputy Chairman of the Labour Party (LP), Dr. Joseph Akinlaja, also said he did not foresee any free and fair elections in 2011 if nothing is done to correct the impression that politics is a do-or-die affair in the country.

At a lecture, "Democracy at 10: Gains and Pains" organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ondo chapter, Mimiko stated that democracy would continue to be under threat if rigging persists and votes were not counted.

The governor stated that history of nations shows that the more democratic a nation is, the more developed the nation becomes and that the issue of election malpractices needed to be addressed.

He stated: "A nation to seek greatness needs a leader who is decisive and well-equipped to provide national leadership guided and informed by the overall collective interest of the nation rather than primordial, ethnic, religious or personal interest."

Akinlaja noted that the only surviving industry in Nigeria today is politics. According to him, "2011 general elections would be battle of the gun; a battle of the fittest. We saw what happened in the re-run election in Ekiti State. Election was marred by rigging, violence and malpractices." He lamented that Nigeria is going backward instead of forward and that there is no reason why Ghana should be better than Nigeria. He pointed out that last year, Ghana celebrated constant power supply while Nigeria finds it difficult to produce just 2,000 megawatts.

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