Elections may be held in January

Senate and the House of Representatives have adopted a
harmonized report which recommended that elections hold not earlier than
150 days – or later than 120 days to the date of swearing.


Nigeria’s
general elections may now hold in December or early January 2011
following the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill by the
National Assembly last week. All that remains is for two-thirds of the
36 states Houses of Assembly to endorse the recommendations contained
in the report.

Ordinarily, the
elections should be held in April 2011, leaving enough room for the
parties to hold their primaries by the end of this year to select
candidates for the various offices.

Both the Senate
and the House of Representatives have however adopted a harmonized
report which recommended that elections hold not earlier than 150 days
– or later than 120 days to the date of swearing. This, according to
the lawmakers, will ensure that election petitions are disposed of
before the winners are sworn in.

The ad-hoc
committees of both chambers, which reviewed the 1999 Constitution
separately had made this recommendation and amended Sections 76, 132
and 178 of the document. It was eventually adopted by the 14-member
Harmonization Committee.

For instance, the
report adopted by the lawmakers, which will be sent to the state
legislatures this week, says elections to the National Assembly shall
be held “one hundred and fifty days and not later than one hundred and
twenty days” before the legislature is dissolved.

This is a
departure from what obtains currently. Sections 76 (2) of the
Constitution says that elections into the House “shall not be earlier
than sixty days before and not later than the date on which the House
stands dissolved….” Since 1999, general elections have held in April.

Moreover, with the
alteration of Section 65, 131 and 177 of the constitution, only those
with Diploma or its equivalent, or who have served as members of the
National Assembly, will contest elections to the federal legislature.
The relevant certificates include Ordinary National Diploma, Nigerian
Certificate in Education, Higher School Certificate, Advanced Diploma
and Higher National Diploma.

The constitution
currently provides that a person shall qualify to stand for elections
if he/she has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or
its equivalent.

Another
recommendation is that Nigerians who are not card carrying members of
any political party can contest elections as independent candidates.

One of the most
controversial recommendations is that persons who have been indicted
for embezzlement or fraud by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or
Administrative Panel of Inquiry or a Tribunal set up under the
Tribunals of Inquiry Act, can run in any election. In amending Section
66 (1) (h), 137 (1) (i),182 (1) (i) of the constitution, the lawmakers
recommended that only those indicted by competent law courts can be
barred from contesting elections in the country.

The report also
recommended that whenever the president or any state governor is
proceeding on vacation or is unable to discharge the functions of his
office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the Senate President
or Speaker of the House of Representatives in the case of the
president, and the Speaker of the state assembly in the case of a
governor, to allow their deputies perform the function of the president
as acting president or acting governor, respectively.

It added that in a
situation where they fail to transmit the written declarations within
21 days, the vice President and the deputy governor shall by resolution
of the simple majority of the vote of the Senate and the House of
Representatives or the state assembly as the case may be, perform the
functions of the office of the president or governor until the
President or governor is available. This recommendation followed the
insertion of some clauses in Sections 145 and 190 of the Constitution.

The lawmakers also
adopted a recommendation which put the Independent National Electoral
Commission and National Assembly on first line charge just like the
Judiciary. This means they can draw their funds directly from the
Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) without going through the executive
arm. This followed the alteration of Section 81 of the constitution.

Give
us Uwais report

However, some
non-governmental organisations have kicked against the recommendations,
saying most of them did not tally with those contained in the report of
the Electoral Reform Committee chaired by Justice Muhammadu Uwais.

Emma Ezeazu,
chairman of the Alliance for Credible Elections, a non-governmental
organisation, condemned the recommendations, saying the group disagreed
with the outcome of the National Assembly exercise.

“We are not
satisfied with what they have passed and are sending to the state
legislatures. Their recommendations are a far cry from the strategic
recommendation of the Uwais Report,” Mr Ezeazu told NEXT over the
weekend.

Mr Ezeazu, a
former president of the National Association of Nigerian Students,
however, said certain recommendations, such as the independent funding
of INEC and the 150 days period within which elections should be held
before swearing in, came to the group, “as a victory news.” Similarly,
the Chairman of Egalitarian Mission, Kayode Ajulo said “They have their
own constitutional power to act on Uwais report without the government
even prompting them. It can come as a private member bill.

“What the federal
legislators are working on is just what the executives sent to them as
regards Uwais report. What we are saying, is that we need the holistic
implementation of the Uwais report. This is not enough!” According to
him, such recommendations like the “all inclusive” method of selection
recommended by the Uwais report; the shifting of the burden of proof to
INEC, and the adjudication of election cases before swearing-in were
left out in both the constitutional amendments and electoral act
amendment, and this can undermine the entire effort.

Spokesperson of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP),
Osita Okechukwu also criticized the amendment, saying “it is
self-serving and it lacks substance.

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