What Happened to the Uwais Panel Reports
Nigeria is a nation run on the erratic brainwave of those that have succeeded in cornering state power. Here, the attention span of both the leaders and the led is mercifully short. No importance is attached to details, both in conceiving the objective
principles of nationhood and the conceptualization and execution of projects that should enhance the lives of the populace. In Nigeria, issues and policies are short termed, in such a way as to survive for only a few weeks and are washed down a drain. Projects are embarked for a short time and then washed down a drain that is overflowing with the debris of ill conceived and hardly executed policies and projects. This forms the chassis of a nation in irredeemable ruination; a nation littered with debris of half cooked policies and projects and a nation stunted on the quagmire of abandoned hopes and aspirations.
Fresh from the universal condemnation of the shambolic manner the 2007 general election was handled, the then President Umaru Yar'Adua empanelled the Electoral Reform Panel, headed by retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammad Uwais for the purpose of putting in place appropriate reform to the dawdy electoral system and raise the prostrate hopes of Nigerians on credible elections. The committee traversed the country and gathered a huge cache of materials, 1,466 memoranda and public hearings were held in 12 selected states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) at which no less than 907 representations were made.
From this, the panel determined its final report, which was released on December 11, 2008. Its report was widely acclaimed and Nigerians demanded a complete adoption and implementation of the recommendations of the report, even as the federal government demonstrated open inclination to water down the report, in preference to a malleable process it can conveniently subject to manipulation, as we have seen over the years. But fired by this report, Nigerians would have nothing of the interference of the federal government in the panel's recommendations and a sing song was made of the demand for the full implementation of the Uwais Panel Report. It persisted till the appointment of a new INEC chairman, which was done outside of the recommendations of the panel, for Nigerians to know the determination of the federal government to do away with the recommendations, despite their insistence. That done, and with the federal government forcing its way through the appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega as INEC chairman, the Uwais Panel report was thrown into the rich dustbin where similar reports have ended. I bet that most Nigerians do not even remember that there was an Uwais Report, not to talk of its recommendations.
It is business as usual and our so called leaders have realized this dangerous predilection to pay short attention to issues and move on. They are exploiting it to the hilt to further the ends of macabre elections, as we saw in the recently concluded 2011 general election, which is a mere painted sepulcher that merely canonized the newest tactics of election riggers. The handling of the aftermaths of the election in the respective elections have just proved to be an affirmation of same of the same and Nigerians are being made to internalize the ethos of fraudulent elections, presented in several ways. The federal government has gone ahead to tinker with the composition of INEC and has indeed loaded the commission with men who have partisan interests in the PDP and we are back to the partisan INEC we are used to as Nigerians. The depletion this political anomie is bound to wreck on the entire system is all too obvious for all of us to see.
The highlights of the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel report are as follows;
1. INDEPENDENT CANDIDACY
Section 65(2) (b) and 106 of the 1999 Constitution should be amended to make provision for an individual to run as an independent candidate
2.PROCEDURE FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF THE CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF INEC BOARD:
For the above the National Judicial Council should:
A .Advertise the positions, spelling out requisite qualifications
B. Receive applications/nominations from the general public
C. Shortlist three persons for each position
D. Send the nominations to the National Council of State to select one for each position and forward to the Senate for confirmation.
3.REMOVAL FROM OFFICE OF INEC CHAIRMAN AND BOARD MEMBERS;
The Chairman and members of the INEC Board may only be removed by the Senate on the recommendations of the National Judicial Council, (NJC) by two -third of the Senate which shall include at least 10 members of the minority parties in the Senate.
The Election Expenditure and the Recurrent Expenditure of the INEC offices (in addition to Salaries and allowances of the Chairman and Board members) shall be charged on the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
5. DATES OF ELECTIONS:
Section 132(2) and 178(2) of the 1999 of the 1999 Constitution should be amended to appoint a single date for Presidential and Gubernatorial elections which should be held at least six months before the expiration of the term of the current holders of the offices.
Similarly section 64(1) and 105(1) of the 1999 Constitution should also be amended to appoint a single date for national and state assembly elections which should hold two years after the Presidential and Gubernatorial elections
6. ELECTION TRIBUNALS:
A. The number of Tribunals should be increased by reducing the number of Judges that sit on the Tribunal from 5 to 3,so that more Tribunal can be established per State
B. In order to minimise the filling of frivolous petitions, the electoral Act 2006 should be amended to provide that if a Petitioner loses a case, he should be ordered by the Court or Tribunal to bear the full expenses of the Respondent. The onus to prove that there was an election was transferred from the petitioner to INEC.
7.DETERMINATION OF ELECTION PETITION:
The 1999 Constitution should be amended to specify the period for considering petitions as follows: 'THE DETERMINATION OF CASES BY TRIBUNALS SHOULD TAKE FOUR MONTHS AND APPEALS SHOULD TAKE A FURTHER TWO MONTHAS, A TOTAL OF SIX MONTHS'
These are just highlights of the reports and Nigerians feel they are roadmaps that will guarantee a fairly free election. The federal government made a show of it and afterwards, went into watering it down. At the end of the day, the entire report was kept in the cooler and we were forced to continue the deliberate dance of electoral scams that has ran the country to an edge. The wonder is why the civil society groups, the media, the critical mass and other knowledgeable consciences of the Nigerian society have kept quiet while the government continues trudging the paths of electoral perfidy.
Nigerians must start a fresh demand for the full implementation of the reports of the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel or better still a more comprehensive overhaul of the present electoral system. Nigerians must decide to either have a reform of the electoral reform or give up the fight for credible elections and there are no half measures here. I believe it is time to put the recommendations of the Muhammed Uwais Electoral Reform Panel into practice to save what remains of our electoral system from the searing manipulation that has attended it.
Peter Claver Oparah.