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Revisiting Justice Uwais’s Electoral Reform Report

Revisiting Justice Uwais’s Electoral Reform Report

The Nigerian federal government in 2007, under President Umaru Musa Yar’adua led government constituted an electoral reform committee spearheaded by the former Chief justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Uwais. Members of theUwais committee composed of a highly intellectual and erudite class including the best brains from the academic, Civil Society Organizations, professional groups & the public service. As attested, it was as a result of the thoroughness and comprehensiveness of the outcome (the report) that the Yar’adua’s administration accepted over 90% of its recommendations and took immediate steps to implement some of them. The Uwais committee in its report actually covered the field, recommending precise measures that would improve the electoral process and environment; strengthen the legal frameworks and enhance the independence of the electoral body. The Committee has also made recommendations to improve the performance of various institutions and stakeholders in the electoral process. These include the Legislature, Judiciary, Executive, Political Parties, Security Agencies, Civil Society Organisations, Media and Nigerian citizens. The Committee has found that election mindsets are one of the critical elements that determine the success of electoral practices, and the election mindsets of Nigerians are not only largely negative; they are also largely irrational. Appropriate recommendations have therefore been made to change the election mindsets of Nigerians in order to minimize the spate of violence and rigging in elections and build lasting democratic institutions and culture. Specifically, it recommended among others: [1]

  • Constitutional amendments that would insulate the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from the political influences of the executive arm of government in terms of its composition and funding. The power to appoint INEC board was to be transferred from the president to the National Judicial Council (NJC) while its funding was to be a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue of the Federation.
  • The functions of the police on election duty stated in the PSC guidelines on code of conduct for officers should be incorporated into the Police Act.
  • Election petition was to have time limit even as a Special Electoral Offences Commission was to be set up to try electoral offenders.
  • That no elected person should assume office until the case against him/her in the Tribunal or Court is disposed of.
  • The amendment of the Constitution for the appointment of 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 an amendment of the Constitution to appoint a single date for National and State Assembly elections which should hold two years after the Presidential and Gubernatorial elections.
  • The number of tribunals should be increased by reducing the number of judges that sit on a tribunal from five to three, so that more tribunals can be established per State.

Aside the refusal to cede the power of appointment of the INEC board the Yar’Adua administration accepted most of the fundamental recommendations and was to begin implementation when the president took ill and eventually did not return to office. His successor, former President Goodluck Jonathan implemented the policy aspects and forwarded the entire report unedited to the National Assembly for consideration of areas requiring legal reforms and constitution amendments.

Prevalent Issues

The urgency of reinforcing the electoral laws in Nigeria seems to be undermined by the politics of the critical stakeholders- the executive and Legislative arm of governments. The dawdles between both arms of government over the amendment of the electoral law, basically on account of partisan politics, has threatened the passage of the electoral amendment bill in the current dispensation. As against promises of robust electoral laws that would guarantee free, fair and credible elections come 2019 by the current administration, President Muhammadu Buhari had on three occasions declined assent to the bill seeking amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended), which was passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly.

This scenario, according to political analysts, bashes public expectations of having better electoral laws to govern the electoral process, bearing in mind the ugly incidences that trailed the 2019 general elections.Political Analysts are of the opinion that except the 9th National Assembly quickly addresses the concerns raised by the President and resend the bill for possible assent, or resolve to override the president’s veto, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, the hope of having a new electoral law to govern the next general election is indeed dreary, given the various controversies surrounding enactment of the bill.

Although the last version of the bill was rejected by President Buhari due to drafting issues, which according to the Presidency, remain unaddressed, a fresh revelation that a provision which seeks to guarantee the use of card reader in the election was not included is another controversy which requires urgent explanation by the National Assembly.[2] Reliving the history of the Senator Nnamani-led committee, one would imagine why the government waited until about 157 days to the elections before coming-up with the new electoral bills-Constitution Alteration Bill (2018); Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill (2018); and the Electoral Offences Commission Bill (2018).

The proposed bills were attributed to the efforts of the 25-man Electoral Reforms Committee set up in October 2016 by President Buhari &led by a former President of the Senate, Ken Nnamani. The Committee according to its mandate reviewed electoral environment, laws and experiences from recent elections conducted in Nigeria and made recommendations to strengthen and achieve the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria in the country. “It is important to evaluate our democratic journey thus far with a view to fashioning out a more enduring system that will serve present and future generations,”[3].

Recent judicial decisions have shown that there is urgent need to scale up confidence in the electoral system in Nigeria, as many citizens have totally lost confidence in the system and electoral management body.A situation where electoral officials & citizens are killed or kidnapped and where politicians make the environment for elections a war theatre (Rivers state a case in point), makes it absolutely eminent to raise the bar on the legal framework guiding our electoral process.

The Ken Nnamani committee was expected to look into possible amendments to the Constitution and Electoral Act and come out with a more robust and generally acceptable electoral system. It was also expected to take a holistic look at the revolutionary recommendations of Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee and adopt them. Whether that was done or not will form subject for another write up.

Some political analysts[4] have rightly opined that there was no reason why the current government should constitute another electoral reform committee in 2016, as a similar assignment was professionally & excellently undertaken in 2007 and competently so concluded in 2008 by the 22-man Electoral Reform Committee instituted by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua which was headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Uwais.

The financial autonomy granted INEC in the first amendment to the 1999 Constitution and the electoral reforms embedded in the Electoral Act 2010 as amended as well as the little known Electoral Act 2015 accented to by President Jonathan on the eve of the general elections were all based on the committee’s report. Therefore, it was expected that government ought to have conducted a review of the outstanding recommendations of the Uwais Committee report and forwarded them to the National Assembly for legislation, to fully harvest the fruit of intellectual labours of the gallant reformers who drafted such beautifully and well thought out reforms.

Conclusion

Stakeholders have seriously decried the impunity and killings; political desperation to win at all cost that characterized the 2019 general elections. It behoves on the current administration to re-visit the recommendations made by the Uwais led Committee and for the National Assembly to re-consider the report of the committee in full and as a matter of morality and urgency inject the revolutionary aspects of the report to the Electoral Act (Amendment) bill 2018 before it is passed.

Chigozirim Okoro & Esther Mabadeje

CLEEN Foundation


[1]The Uwaise Electoral reform Committee report  December (2008)

[2]Leadership Nigeria Newspaper on Electoral Reforms: Between Amendment Bill and Reforms Committee Report Published 6 months ago on September 23, 2018 By ADEBIYI ADEDAPO.

[3]Opined by the Attorney-General of the Federation at the Inauguration of the 25-man Electoral reforms committee set up by President Buhari in October 2016.

[4]ADEBIYI ADEDAPO in Leadership Nigeria Newspaper on Electoral Reforms: Between Amendment Bill and Reforms Committee Report Published on September 23, 2018.

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