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Electoral reform: Senators set to battle Yar’adua

Already, the bills have been mired in controversy. From the lead debate presented by Senate Leader Teslim Folarin to contributions by majority of senators When…

Already, the bills have been mired in controversy. From the lead debate presented by Senate Leader Teslim Folarin to contributions by majority of senators When the Senate commenced debate on the general principles of the Political Party’s Registration and Regulatory Commission (PPRRC) establishment bill last week, there was the resolve to ensure that the president’s power of control over some of the proposed electoral bodies are curtailed.

Specifically, Senator Folarin condemned the position of the executive on sections 5 and 14 of the PPRRC establishment bill which seeks to vest absolute power of control on the president. While raising concerns over the powers of the president to hire and fire members of the board of the commission, Senator Folarin said: “There are some observations which I would like to make in respect of sections 5 and 14 of the bill. Section 5 allows the president to remove a member of the board at anytime, if he so wishes. I feel this will not be good for our democracy.

“Apparently the executive arm is interested in vesting so much powers of determining how political parties in the country function by having total control of the proposed board of the PPRRC. The executive proposal does not envisage for approval of the Senate or the National Assembly, making members of the board of the commission solely subservient to Mr. President. This will give the president additional powers which can be used for personal gains during elections,” the Senate leader added.

Senator Folarin also expressed dissatisfaction with section 14 of the bill, which states that it is mandatory for the board of the PPRRC to carry out or comply with any directive made by the president. The Senate leader argued that the provision will worsen the present spate of rigging and irregularities in the electoral process. According to him, board members who ordinarily re supposed to ensure a smooth electoral process can be easily compromised to act out the president’s script because they are bound to obey any order he gives to them. Senator Folarin however, suggested that for the provision to sail through, a caveat must be included in the bill requiring the approval of the Senate.

Senator Joy Emordi (PDP/Anambra) in her contribution tore the bill to shreds, describing it as only fit for the trash can. In her bold submission, Senator Emordi said: “Section 5 permits the president to dismiss a member of the board of the commission at any time without any reason. It is final. Then look at section 14. This is a complete paradox. It says that the president may give to the board a directive of general notice, and such a directive is mandatory on the board to comply with. And we are talking about democracy in Nigeria.

“Honestly, I am worried about the quality of legal advice or the legal institution in the Presidency for them to have brought this thing here. As far as I am concerned, this is fit for the trash! Yes, let us not waste our time on this. Do we actually need a political party commission? As far as I am concerned, this is an era of cutting wastages. Given the global meltdown and the economic recession, having a commission to deal with registration of political parties is not good enough. We have to cut expenses. There is no need for this.  

“What we need in this country today is to strengthen the INEC; make it independent and impartial by removing it 100 per cent from the executive arm of government. And another one, giving it financial autonomy through first line charge provision. That is what we need, not proliferation of political parties because this is making a caricature of this very important chambers. It is necessary to advise those who are responsible for bringing this bill here to bring high quality bills that will agitate our minds and exercise our brains not all these kinds of bills. I therefore urge all of us to throw out this bill.”

Other senators toed Emordi’s line of argument with some trying to fault the procedure of considering the bill. Senator John Thompson Sekibo (PDP/Rivers) the bill cannot be considered without going through the constitutional amendment process. Senator Ahmad Lawan (ANPP/Yobe) the bill is needless, saying “let us set aside this bill. We should reject it and get people to run the INEC transparently, so that people will have confidence in the INEC. A department of the INEC fully enhanced can do these functions very well. We don’t need to create any commission. I don’t support this bill.”

Also contributing to the debate, Senator Bala Mohammed (ANPP/Bauchi) described the bill as diversionary and deceptive. “What we have here is deception and diversionary. We cannot discuss this bill without discussing the INEC. The INEC has done very well. Nobody has complained about registration of political parties. This bill should be thrown out. This is not what Nigerians are expecting. They expect repositioning of the INEC. We should throw away this bill not because it is coming from the executive, but because it is unnecessary.”  

It is apparent from the contributions of senators that another face-off between the executive arm and the legislature is looming. Obviously, President Umaru Musa Yar’adua and his men must have underrated the capability of the present crop of lawmakers to resist any attempt at hijacking the political landscape through handing the president absolute powers over the electoral process. In the thinking of members of the National Assembly, they have been reduced to an irrelevant bunch as they were sent the six electoral reform bills without having the opportunity of glimpsing the Uwais panel report which gave birth to the bills. Majority of senators are demanding for copies of the report. Some senators insist that the electoral reform bills can only be considered after they have studied the Uwais report. The mood among senators is that they align themselves with the recommendations of the Uwais panel.

Another contentious issue that may hinder the passage of the electoral reform bills in the senate is the terms of reference of the comatose National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitution Review (JCCR). It is understood that efforts at reviving the committee failed because of attempts by the senate leadership to force the president’s agenda on committee members. Sources claim that at a closed door meeting, the 44 senate members of the JCCR vehemently opposed attempts by the leadership to streamline the agenda of the panel to just the electoral reform bills sent to the National Assembly by the president. This has now made the issue of the invincible hand behind the stalemate in the constitution amendment process clearer.  

However, the Presidency can bank on the loyalty of Senate President David Mark, who is ready to ensure that the interest of the executive arm is protected even when majority of his colleagues seem to be against the attempt to reduce the political terrain in the country to a one man show. It is envisaged that the ingenuity of Senator Mark in legislative manoeuvres may give the bill a safe landing. Consideration of the six bills on electoral reform bother on constitutional provisions and therefore certain sections of the document must be amended. For instance, in the case of the Political Party’s Registration and Regulatory Commission (PPRRC), the commission is to assume some functions of the INEC and so sections 222-226 of the constitution must be looked at. Parts of Section 222 reads: “No association by whatever name called shall function as a party, unless -(a) the names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission;”

Section 15 of the third schedule of the constitution also vested in the INEC with powers to register and regulate the activities of political parties. The section reads: “The commission shall have power to – (b) register political parties in accordance with the provisions of this constitution and an Act of the National Assembly; (c) monitor the organization and operations of the political parties, including their finances; (d) arrange for the annual examination and auditing of the funds, and accounts of political parties, and publish a report on such examination, and audit for public information; (f) monitor political campaigns and provide rules, and regulations which shall govern the political parties.”

In all these, the lawmakers must be ready to face the challenge of protecting the nation’s fragile democracy.