Former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Action Congress (AC) in the 2007 election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar yesterday condemned the decision of President Umaru Yar’Adua to retain the power to appoint the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), saying it has made nonsense of the Uwais report and the entire electoral reforms.
Also yesterday, a member of the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), Barrister Festus Okoye advised Nigerians not happy with the White Paper ratified by the Federal Executive Council, Wednesday to take their battle to the National Assembly.
In Kano, the candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in the 1993 presidential election, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, said the decision of the President to retain the power to appoint the INEC chairman would be counter-productive.
Atiku in an exclusive interview with THISDAY said: “With the experience of the 2007 election, which has been judged, to be the worst and the most fraudulent ever, Nigerians had expected the government to embark on fundamental reforms of the electoral system.
“The recommendations of the Uwais Panel and the FG White Paper should be the minimum we can expect.
“I would like to appeal to the National Assembly and other stakeholders to ensure that INEC is truly independent by removing the power to appoint its members away from the presidency.”
The former vice president agreed with the recommendation of the Uwais panel that the burden of proof in an election petition should be on INEC and not the petitioner. He said it would help to ensure that petitioners receive justice.
“I would also want the government to accept the Uwais panel’s recommendation that all election petitions be decided or disposed of before swearing-in.
“The present situation where election riggers are allowed to remain in office for two years and more before being chased out is not good for our democracy.
“I believe we can hold elections four to six months before the swearing-in and use the waiting period to decide all election petitions as was the case in 1979,” he said.
The AC presidential candidate commended the FG for embarking on the electoral reforms. However, he said the government had not gone far enough.
“There was no need for a review panel after the Shettima Mustapha Commit-tee had produced a white paper on the Uwais Report.
“The review committee has made nonsense of the good job done by the Uwais panel. The government must take the electoral reforms as an opportunity to bequeath a good legacy.
“We must not allow narrow interests to derail the reform process. Nigeria is bigger than all of us. The national interest should be uppermost in our minds.
“This is the time for statesmanship. We must work together to save Nigerian democracy,” Atiku said.
Atiku was also not too happy with the retention of the multi-party system in the White Paper.
He argued: “Multi-party system is popular in multi-ethnic societies like Nigeria. But it is fraught with the attendant danger of weak opposition parties.
“Our experience since 1979 has clearly demonstrated that the system tends to leave the polity with a dominant party and a motley of small political parties.
“In the political game, the dominant party will not fold its arms and watch the opposition parties grow.
“The consequence is that the political landscape is dominated by a major party and a motley of struggling opposition parties who strive to remain relevant in the political system.
“The parties outside federal government therefore remain divided and unable to forge an opposition strong enough to effectively check the excesses of the dominant party.
“This does not help our electoral politics. Where opposing parties are strong, virile and present in all nooks and crannies of the country, they can checkmate the corrupt tendencies of each other at the polls.
“They become efficient agents of electoral checks and balances. They are better guarantors of free and fair elections.
“Since elections have emerged as a central factor in our democracy and its future, I believe that we should sacrifice the multi-party system for the two-party system at this early stage of our democracy.
“In a two party system, the urge for additional platforms to contest elections will be guaranteed by the provision for independent candidates. I therefore, advocate that we adopt the two-party system.”
Atiku challenged stakeholders in the society “to wake up to their civic responsibilities” and join advocates of electoral reforms to get the government to do the right thing with the ERP report.
Meanwhile, Barrister Okoye said the ERC was not under any illusion that its report would be fully accepted by the Federal Government without any modification.
Barrister Okoye said: “What we did in the ERC report to government is to state the facts as they are and let government know the feelings of Nigerians on how to ensure the survival and sustenance of true democracy in Nigeria.
“We were not under any illusion that our recommendations would be accepted by government hook, line and sinker. No, but what we did is to ensure that we told the story as it is and let government know what issues that would ensure the survival of true democracy in Nigeria.
“This was exactly what we did and we are proud of our work. It is left for the government to accept or reject our work. But the truth and fact of the matter is that we have done our work to the best of our ability.”
He advised that political parties and civil society groups that are against some aspects of the White Paper released by the FEC, to take their battle to the National Assembly.
Okoye stated: “there are hurdles before the White Paper at the National Council of States and the two arms of the National Assembly.
My advise is that civil society groups and political parties objecting to the White Paper take their case to the National Council of States and the National Assembly, since the White Paper will not become law until there are constitutional amendments to the electoral laws.”
The former NRC presidential candidate, Bashir Tofa further added that Yar’Adua’s decision to retain the power to appoint the INEC chairman was surprising.
“The ERC was set up, basically, to change our old ways of conducting elections, which for a long time has not favoured the common man and the nation in general.
“Nigerians are really worried with the way government tampered with the ERC report. For us to enjoy free and fair elections in the country, the report must be fully implemented.
“Our fear is for 2011, because we will fight against any form of manipulation during the election,” Tofa said.