Uwais Report And FG’s White Paper: A Compromise
Nigeria -As a cacophony of voices continues to trail Aso Rock Villa’s controversial White Paper on the report of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), Nigerians are still in a quandary as to the sincerity or otherwise of President Umar Yar’Adua in constituting the committee. In the White Paper, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) rejected certain recommendations of the ERC
including the appointment of the Independent National Electoral Commission’s chairman by the National Judicial Council (NJC), the deferment of the swearing-in of elected persons until the courts have fully disposed of petitions against them, and shifting of the onus of proof to INEC. Instead, the FEC insisted that the INEC chairman be appointed by the president, that the swearing-in of elected officials should hold on the announcement of winners, and that the onus of proof remain on the petitioner.
Aggrieved Nigerians who have continued to fault the Federal Government’s stand on some of the recommendations might find solace in indications that the National Assembly, particularly the Senate, may share their concern. The Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Dahiru Umaru (PDP, Sokoto), recently called attention to the fact that the Senate might veto the Presidency on the Uwais report. Umaru, who spoke to reporters in Lagos, was quoted as saying that though President Yar’Adua deserved commendation for initiating the reform, the Senate could initiate its own electoral reform (by way of a Bill) or amend the White Paper to reflect popular yearnings. “Where the position (of the FEC) runs foul of public opinion,” Umaru said, “we can change it to make it conform to what the masses want.”
Given the widespread condemnation of INEC over the conduct of the 2007 general election, it seems to be the consensus among Nigerians that not only should the entire electoral system be overhauled, INEC must also be made truly independent. For not officiating according to the rules governing its operations; for creating situations which continue to make it almost impossible to conduct a free and fair election, and for failing to create a level-playing field, INEC has contributed to besmirching its integrity and eroding public trust.
The electoral reform is therefore an idea whose time has come. Elections are the linchpin of all stable democracies the world over. They are the primary means citizens of a free nation use to choose their political leaders. Civilian-to-civilian successful transitions have eluded most African leaders since the attainment of self-rule from the colonial masters. In Nigeria, which prides itself as the “giant of Africa”, this problem has unfortunately developed into an inscrutable monster. The regional election crisis of the 1960s in the South West that culminated in the first military coup and the subsequent civil war arose from the nation’s inability to conduct a successful civilian to civilian election.
This shows how central the electoral process is to the political development of any given country. One of the tragic lessons for the hapless people of Nigeria is that any government that is constructed on a platform other than that of popular democracy, in the context of our post-colonial reality, will only breed sorrow, brutality, underdevelopment and anarchy. It is against this backdrop that we earnestly urge the Executive and the Legislature not to allow the controversy generated by the White Paper on the electoral reform report degenerate into a constitutional crisis with dire consequences for the nation. Rather than allowing the position of the FEC to hold sway or insisting on the original recommendations of the Uwais report, which would exclude the Executive completely from the process of appointing the INEC boss, we hold that a suitable compromise on the part of the three arms of government will provide a truce.
Our position is that the National Judicial Council (NJC) should be involved in the process by acting as the appropriate authority to nominate three Nigerians of impeccable character, and to propose them to the President; the President shall choose, from among the three, one name to be forwarded to the Senate for confirmation. This way, a feasible compromise would be reached among the three arms of government. Several people might share Senator Umaru’s optimism as the ideal situation. But can the Senate, dominated by the ruling party, “walk the talk”, by vetoing the President, when it comes to the crunch?