Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nigeria's last 'dance' with democratic elections resulted in many a stubbed toe and clear declarations by observers that the electoral process was flawed. In the aftermath of the elections, President Yar'Adua conceded that the process needed reform and created a 22-member committee to "review the electoral process" and "consider possible changes to the Constitution." Unfortunately, recent actions on Yar'Adua's part put his commitment to free democracy under question.

Led by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Mohammed Uwais, the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) submitted its final report in December 2008. Among its many recommendations were that independent candidates be allowed to seek office, there be limits on campaign contributions from individuals and the creation of 108 more seats in the House of Representatives.

Speaking about the report at the time, Uwais noted that, "the Independent National Electoral Commission ... lack[ed] the requisite independence" which he also said is a "key deficiency of our electoral process.” Consequently, the Committee recommended that the judiciary, and not the President, pick the chairman and board of commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). 

Yar'Adua's response to the recommendations was to promise that he would focus on the report because "election[s] [are] at the heart of democracy, hence they must not only be fair but must also be seen to be so by our people and the rest of the world." Contrary to his promise, Yar'Adua decided that he would ignore the very logical recommendation to foster true independence for the election regulator, INEC, by retaining control over the Commission. According to the new Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili, "the "separation of powers" prevented the executive from relinquishing the power to appoint" the INEC Chairperson.

Given the fact that the Courts have proven capable of non-partiality by reversing the elections of some of the wealthiest and more popular politicians,it is understandable why the ERC suggested that the Judiciary select INEC's Chairperson. Consequently, one wonders if that reality - non-partiality - is a key reason why Yar'Adua chose instead to retain the power to control INEC and, as a consequence, elections. Whatever the reason for the decision, the fact that the President will choose who runs Nigeria's elections is a collosal problem. There is a clear conflict of interest when a President running as an incumbent, or working as the head of his political party, has the power to effectively prevent true elections by controling election results with his pick as the Chairperson of INEC.

Yar'Adua's INEC decision is simply one of many contradictions from the self proclaimed "servant leader". He has always publicly committed himself to a 'Rule of Law' mantra and claimed that he is focused on providing,

"a purposeful and result-oriented administration that will yield tangible and visible benefits for all Nigerians"
And yet, when presented the opportunity to make a choice in favor of the Nigerian people and the possibility of enrenching a verifiable election process, Yar'Adua opted to preserve his power and that of his political party.

Effectively, Yar'Adua's decision means that once again, Nigeria's 2011 Presidential elections and every election run by the President's hand picked person, will not be credible. Thus, the right of a people to peacefully and democratically pick who will lead them will again be taken away from the Nigerian people.  It is hard to have confidence in a President whose election was not only declared rigged by observers, but was also run by an individual who, according to the constitution, should not have been Chairman in the first place. And now, the people are supposed to trust that this same President will pick the right person to manage their democratic process. The Iwu-problem is yet to be solved and little, if any, comment has been made by the President on that matter. Yar'Adua's commitment to democracy is questionable, and in the run up to Nigeria's next Presidential election, the Nigerian people are being taken for a ride they never signed up for.

Related Articles of Interest:
- Is Iwu The INEC Chairman?
- Yardy To Get A Third Term?
- Nigeria's New Kingmakers
- Nigerian Curiosity of 2008 (Fashola and the 2011 Election)

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snazzy said...

The right to appoint the Chairman of INEC is not necessarily a problem. After all the executive branches in foreign countries apoint chairmen of organisations that are supposed to be independent. See, central banks in Europe and America, and supreme court judges in the US. If you will not argue that these people will automatically be beholden to the president that appointed them, you should not automatically assume that the Nigerian appointee will be. A certain Okonjo-Iweala comes to mind, with regards to her post as Finance Minister. As a further check (which doesn't mean much in our country I'll admit), the appointee has to be confirmed by the senate (or house of reps, I forget)

Also there were many recommendations that Yar'Adua's government accepted, and the question I have now is this: why does this one rejection overshadow all the acceptances?

STAN said...

Yaradua's actions shouldn't suprise you.after all its just one other panel and one other recommendation not to be taken seriously.and with this government,we can list a hundred.

STAN said... doesn't necessarily overshadow all the others.however, for a government that is doing all its best to rebrand,they must be conversant with the word called least for the foreseeable future, an inec that is appointed by the executive will face low approval from the populace and further contribute to their apathy.if he was serious about this whole reform,he should have acceded to this one.

Anonymous said...

This nonsense coupled with the fact that the PDP just announced that Yar'Adua will run in 2011 (which is two years away), is probably some of the most depressing stuff I've heard today.

This isn't a democracy, its a joke, and a thinly veiled dictatorship by a group of people. It's all part of the master plan to keep the same set of useless people in power for as long is really possible.

Honestly, this topic makes me too tired inside to actively reply.

webround said...

According to the government it makes no sense for NJC to appoint the INEC boss since the NJC chairman is also appointed by the president. Also the government said it was mindful of the doctrine of separation of powers which would be violated if the judiciary is asked to perform executive functions.

The above sounds logical and seems legal. The onus should be on the senate who are meant to confirm the INEC chairman to do a thorough job and also on the media and the public to follow through on the activities of the INEC chairman.
The media and the public are really neccessary/important here. We all know Watergate was exposed because of some journalists and the 'hard' evidence they produced.

Anonymous said...

Your conclusion "the Nigerian people are being taken for a ride they never signed up for does sound unfair to Yardie (I do not wish history to judge me for defending poor Yar'Adua, please hear me out). Perhaps before we could talk about the form of democratic processes that is practised today in Nigeria, we should conclude the discussion on General OBJ who later became President and watered down all forms of government in place. On his return, OBJ left the country poorer and that legacy became Yardy's (ps, note the spelling).

Is Yar'Adua committed to democracy? Yes, he is. He is committed to the form practised in Nigeria with a hint of serious challenges. At least that is how the UN explains away all those forms of government and political systems practised in Africa. That is as far as my defence of Yardy goes. The run up to the next elections will present more challenges regardless of who chairs INEC, just watch all those in the opposition agree to unite to compete against PDP.

Dojaa said...

It will take time before we can have true democracy in igeria and the people will need to keep asking questions or else.....

Anonymous said...

this isn't a democracy, its a joke, and a thinly veiled dictatorship by a group of people. It's all part of the master plan to keep the same set of useless people in power for as long is really possible

Spot on Onyeka... Maybe the question really should be IF democracy is the way forward for Nigeria in its current state. My limited political knowledge would seem to suggest that for democracy to work,there have to be checks and balances enshrined in laws which WILL be enforced. Unfortunately, I do not see any drive to enforce these laws - the Iwu debacle is a case in point - this sham only serves to give some form of legitimacy to a government that at best is a rag-tag collection of henchmen protecting personal interests, rather than attempting to deliver on electioneering promises..

Anonymous said...

Are we sure the president is not being tele-guided by some power-brokers who are hell-bent on remaining in control. He doesn't seem to be keeping to his words.

Once the executive continue to keep INEC on a leash, it becomes difficult to have a free and fear election.

The power of incumbency will continually affect election result.

Spesh said...

I was begining to wonder if I was just being perssimistic about naija politics these days...
Thx 4 vindicating ma stand.

Anonymous said...

While I fully understand where the writer and some of the commentator are coming from, I have to pitch my tent with Snazzy above.

If we would take a holistic view of governance - at least as practiced currently in Nigeria - the presidency is still supreme. The top elements in the judiciary are selected by the President after all, so having the judiciary select the INEC head as proposed does not rid the process of interference from the presidency. A determined president can still have its way regardless.

I think the discussion ought not be on the "person", but on the "how". Can the electoral system be strengthened regardless of who is in charge?

As recent experience in Ondo state (Mimiko vs Agagu) suggests, justice can be rendered if the relevant parties are well prepared to do what it takes to fight their cases -- logically, systematically and with common sense.

For example, in present day Nigeria, if you are running for office you better be ready to keep track of events as they unfold at the polling booth, collation centers etc; you never know which evidence would be relevant in court. This is one way to strength democracy, in my opinion. You fight smart, leaving no room for lapses, because every won battle is a step toward better and stronger democracy!


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