Let's Talk About It

CONSTITUTION REVIEW: LOUD SILENCE ON ELECTION TRIBUNAL DURATION By Mazi Nnamdi Nwigwe

Our national legislators have lately been crisis crossing the country to sound out their constituents on their views on the issues the Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution has identified for possible amendments. Members of the House of Representatives called their own town hall meetings on the basis of the Federal Constituencies while the Senators convoked their own briefings based on the senatorial districts.

The geo-political zones also met to harmonize and aggregate the various positions of the constituent states. Going by the strategy the law makers adopted, they would now return to National Assembly well equipped with what  they consider the views of the grassroots on the contentious areas of the 1999 constitution.

The Joint Committee of both the House of Representatives and the Senate on the Review of the Constitution identified 17 specific issues which were laid before the people that bothered to contribute to the discussions.

Infact the specific topics are actually 16 with number 17 being “Any other matter that will promote good governance and will improve the Nigeria State, but which requires amendment to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.”

But very unbelievably, the issue of Elections and post-election cases were not included among the 16 major worries of our Constitution that require some amendment.

Elections are predictable flash points of the troubles and political instability Nigeria has had right from the pre-Independence poll of December 12, 1959.

In recent times, especially since our adoption of the U.S type Presidential System from October 1, 1979, post-election tribunals and court cases have threatened the very foundations of this country.

And yet, our law makes left the subject out of their critical list of issues that deserve a good look over during the course of a thorough going Constitutional Review.

Well, let’s not blame them so much. After all the whole idea of going to seek opinions from the people is to be reminded of important areas they probably had overlooked.

As experienced politicians, they conveniently included the escape valve, the caveat that says “any other matter that… requires amendment to the provisions of 1999 Constitution.”

It is in that spirit that this proposal on “Elections and Election petitions” is hereby forwarded to whom it may concern.

The date for Presidential election, like that of the U.S., should be fixed and provided for in our Constitution and ipso facto, the Election Law.

A fixed date will give the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, a real independence and ample time to plan an election that will not always suffer bumps and hiccups.

INEC’s personnel will then have no excuses to perform poorly.

Pari passu with a fixed election date should be a known date for the inauguration of the President.

Implicit to the formal installation into office of both the President and the State Governors is that all election petitions are disposed of before then.

This naturally calls for a drastic reduction of areas of post-election complaints.

For instance, why should fellow Nigerians waste every body’s time, challenging the academic or paper qualification of a man who has won a popular vote? What has that got to do with the choice of the electorate?

If an opponent cannot stop an unqualified person from contesting in the first place, an electoral victory certainly transcends such a disability.

Our Colonial masters demonstrated to us the supremacy of the masses when they opened the Prison Gates for politicians who they had imprisoned prior to an election.

Great Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, is a typical example of a popular leader whose acceptability by his people could not be adversely affected by the fact that the authorities threw him into jail before a National Election.

Nkrumah walked out of prison to be made Prime Minister of Ghana in 1957!

We should enshrine in our Constitution that only violence at an election or a proven case of ballot doctoring should form the basis of any post poll litigation.

Proof for such and the assemblage of witnesses cannot last beyond 90 days, including a possible recourse to the Supreme Court!

Thereafter, a winner can be sworn into office and allowed to implement the manifesto he canvassed during campaigns.

We should do away with every vestige of intolerance and lack of sportsmanship in our polity.

To let post election litigation to go on interminably increases the flow of bad blood, hatred, frustration and ultimately leads to crimes like arranged armed robbery or even kidnapping.

Secondly, it is unfair and immoral for, say a Governor to fight election litigation against a fellow citizen at the expense of the State while his challenger spends his own money.

The suggestion here is that election complaints be done with before a winner takes office.

Indeed, the issue of conducting an election and concluding post-election quarrels should form the number one topic during the debates and deliberations on Constitutional amendments.

 

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