ACHARA: Legislature, Citizens Should Drive Process
CONSTITUTIONAL lawyer, Prof R.A.C.E Achara, has said the search for an acceptable electoral process that will strengthen the country’s democracy has not been achieved, because of lack of political will to implement set rules and greed among the political actors.
He said the system has always benefited the party in power at the detriment of the people. Sixteen years after the Fourth Republic, was ushered in, Achara said there is need to review the electoral process and make the electoral management body truly independent, so as to enable it perform and impact on democracy, especially, with the promise by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to do things differently.
Although, many see President Muhammadu Buhari’s first appointment of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as perhaps, not tending towards the needed change and transformation in the electoral body, Achara, however, said there was nothing wrong with it in based on the prevailing constitution of the country He said: “It is the duty of the President to appoint based on the provisions of the present constitution.
Our major problem should be on the appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners. In this one there is no safe guard at all. If you look at the first schedule to the constitution, you will see how some of the executive bodies are to be appointed. Shockingly the provision for the appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners, which you will find in item (x) paragraph 14(2), will show that the president can just simply appoint the resident electoral commissioners without reference to any other person. He doesn’t need to go to the senate for confirmation; he doesn’t need to consult anybody. Anybody he chooses he appoints and these Resident Electoral Commissioners are to be appointed in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Their promise of change did not suggest that they should start acting unconstitutionally, because it will be detrimental for them to start doing things not provided for by the constitution with regards to the appointment of the chairman of the INEC.
“Section 154 of the constitution shows how the chairman of INEC will be appointed and it is by the President with confirmation from the Senate and then consultation at the Council of States.
So, if he had done that, he would have complied with the constitution. But if we are asking that, perhaps, this current position of the constitution might not be totally adequate to guarantee independence of INEC, though, it produced a person of integrity such as, Prof Jega, we should not rely on chance again.
Anyhow you look at it, the current system favours the person and party in power. He determines who to appoint and how to control whoever is there and as long as that continues, we will always have problem with our democracy. That, equally, has been the practice all these years.
“We need a more transparent process and that was why we were talking about the proposal made by the Justice Uwais Committee, which provided for more comprehensive and transparent process that allowed for people, who are independent minded into such appointment, where people that are knowledgeable in electoral issues like the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the NJC should have a principal say in the appointment.
“The possibility of advertisement gives room for hiring of the right candidate for the job. It is a useful proposal and I think the new government should really look into it. To me, that is the new thing the APC need to do – to give our electoral system value so that the votes of our people become their power and through that our democracy will be strengthened.”
Achara, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Enugu State branch, added that reforming the electoral body would not be complete if it does not make provisions on how the Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) could be appointed.
He said: “I think they should concentrate of the Residential Electoral Commissioners that are appointed for the various states because under the current constitution, there is a little bit of a safeguard, in the sense that Senate will have to approve before the chairman of INEC is appointed.
This will still go through the consultation of the Council of states, even though their own is mere advisory opinion, which the President can also over ride.
Our major problem should be on the appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners. In this one there is no safe guard at all.
If you look at the first schedule to the constitution, you will see how some of the executive bodies are to be appointed. Shockingly the provision for the appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners, which you will find in item (x) paragraph 14(2), will show that the president can just simply appoint the resident electoral commissioners without reference to any other person.
He doesn’t need to go to the senate for confirmation; he doesn’t need to consult anybody. Anybody he chooses he appoints and these Resident Electoral Commissioners are to be appointed in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
“That is a dangerous power and advantage that is given to a political actor, who possibly will be a participant in the election for which he is appointing these people.
So, it is important that we should look into these things to ensure that the same process, that the same sort of proposal that was made by Justice Uwais for people of integrity to be given the job. There should be a process or laid down procedure for the people to go through to show their qualification, integrity, experience to ensure that when they come in, we won’t have to worry about their capability, so as to ensure that these people are not single-handedly appointed by the president.
If after they had gone through a process, you can now say that the president as the chief executive should appoint and there will be no problem with that.” Speaking on who should drive the change, the erudite scholar disagreed that it should be the political parties.
He said, “we tend always to push these things to actors in political power. We the citizens should realise that it is for our interest that these other actors benefit. It is not a question of leaving for PDP or APC or any of the political parties. We as the citizenry should be able to push and see some processes through.
We cried out during PDP domination, we should be able to cry out now and press the APC government to do what is right. We should not rely on them.
We should on our own do the same thing we did when the other party was in power. The citizens should be sensitised and the important thing, however, is that the media has a central role to play here. Education is central in any meaningful democracy.
You need to sensitise people to know the options and drawbacks in the options being adopted. As long as the people do not know the alternatives, as long as the people do not understand the errors and disadvantages to themselves and their interests, so long will the status quo remain.
So, it is important that the media, the civil society groups, individuals who are aware should keep on talking about these things and say things that will make our democracy better.
It is important that we begin now to demand for this change.” On the Justice Uwais recommendation on electoral reform, he has this to say whether it is still tenable: “Ideas don’t just go into oblivion just like that. As long as the thing is a mere recommendation, it is not a law, so, we should admit that it should also have influence on all of us.
The use that it will be put to is that it will help drive arguments in the present day, even if it was an idea that was talked about several years ago.
It is for us who are now dealing with current situations to say that this idea that was proposed several years ago is still relevant to our circumstances and that there are new things we need to add to it based on present realities. It is not for us to discard it totally.”
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