From Collins Olayinka, Lawrence Njoku and Tunji Omofoye:

*  Protest holds Wednesday
* Wake up, AC tells Nigerians
* NCP threatens polls boycott

THE clamour for re-engineering of the nation’s electoral reform before the 2011 general elections will take a new dimension on Wednesday when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties will lead a protest march in Abuja to demand the passage into law of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais-led panel’s report on electoral matters.

According to the NLC, unless the fundamentals of the electoral process in the country are rejigged towards conducting credible election come 2011, the current instalmental amendments of the country’s Constitution by the National Assembly may not achieve the needed result.

Speaking in Abuja yesterday at an interactive session with journalists on the protest march, Assistant Secretary of the NLC, Mr. Yakub Denja, accused the National Assembly of being too hesitant to effect a radical change in the electoral process because most of them benefited from the malfunctioned system.

He said: “We are not too surprised that the National Assembly may not want to pass the Justice Muhammadu Uwais-panel’s report the way it is because if they do, most of them may likely not come back. So, we will go to any length legitimate to ensure that the report is implemented. We call on the Nigerian people to come out and join in this struggle.”

He also argued that it is not true to say that the aim of the protest is to seek the removal of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu, but to call for re-engineering of the electoral process as a whole. He contended that the call for the removal of Iwu is also justified, saying since 2005 when Iwu assumed the headship of the electoral body, no credible voters’ register has been put together.

Denja submitted that Iwu should be tried for denying most Nigerians of their rights to cast their ballots during elections.

His words: “We are not out for the removal of Iwu but also calling for the reconstitution of the electoral system to allow us have free and fair elections. But on Iwu, we are insisting that he should go because he has not delivered on the mandate of conducting credible elections in Nigeria. Look at the issue of voters’ register since 2005, Iwu is yet to give the nation a voters’ register that can ensure that people vote where they registered. The recently conducted election in Anambra State is a case in point where about 80 per cent of the people could not vote. Iwu has shown that he is not competent and he has continually said that if given the opportunity, he will conduct the 2011 general elections the same way he did them before. So, he has told every Nigerian that he is not willing to change or learn from his mistakes.”

In his remarks, the General Secretary of Alliance for Credible Election in Nigeria, Mr. Emmanuel Izunacho, accused elected public officers of not responding adequately to the yearnings and demands of the electorate.

The inability of elected officers to be responsive to the electorate, Izunacho submitted, stem from the resources spent on elections which do not include the people. He, therefore, declared that for the Nigerian people to be able to demand for good service from elected public officers, they must insist that their votes count.

He said: “The elected officers are no longer responding to the yearnings of the people because they did not rely on the votes of the people to get into office but got help from other quarters. Therefore, for us to get quality representation, we must stand up and insist that our vote counts and must also protect it to ensure it counts indeed.”

Though he welcomed the financial autonomy that the National Assembly is contemplating granting INEC, he expressed the belief that financial autonomy without political autonomy will not achieve the desired result and in fact, it will be more chaotic than the present situation.

Izunacho also said the selection process of nominating the chairman of INEC is crucial and his or her continued nomination by the President may not augur well for the political development of Nigeria.

On his part, the Abuja Chairman of National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) said all 37 affiliates of the NLC have been mobilised to storm Abuja on Wednesday for the rally with each state contributing 500 participants each.

Already, the CNPP has resolved to give total backing to the planned protest being put together by the organised Labour and civil society organisations to push for the full implementation of the Uwais report on electoral reform.

The NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) are championing the planned protest.

The CNPP stated that it was supporting the rally because of the seeming dumping of the electoral reform, with the way the National Assembly has embarked on constitutional review.

Rising from the CNPP’s meeting in Enugu yesterday, the National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, told journalists that the conference decided to back the action because members of the National Assembly are just cosmetic and self-serving, stressing that both the Senate and House of Representatives have killed the Uwais report by deleting the three core recommendations.

Okechukwu, who is also a member of Save Nigeria Group (SNG), expressed regret that the senators rejected the recommendations by the Uwais report for the National Judicial Council (NJC) to publicly advertise for those Nigerians who are interested in the post of chairman as well as other key offices of INEC.

Stating that genuine reform of electoral process is key infrastructure for democracy, the CNPP spokesman said that all Nigerians want genuine electoral reform in accordance with the Uwais report but unfortunately, both houses of the National Assembly are killing the report.

The CNPP scribe said: “From what the Senate did the other day, they have refused the cogent reason that it is better as recommended by Uwais report for the National Judicial Council (NJC) to publicly advertise for those Nigerians who are interested to be chairman and to sit in key offices of the electoral commission. We of the CNPP support that proposal because it will allow Nigerians to even publicly petition those who will indicate interest. Even those three that will be nominated by the NJC will also be petitioned.

“It will be more transparent to nominate, to adopt that procedure recommended by the Uwais report in getting the chairman, national electoral commissioners, resident electoral commissioners and key officials down to the ward level. This is unlike what is happening today where the president and governors will put hand in their kitty and nominate their cronies and friends, which makes the electoral commission not to be independent.”

He observed that the National Assembly also neglected the six months interval recommended by Uwais report, so that post-electoral disputes could be discharged before the swearing in of the candidate elected, noting that until recently when her election was nullified, Joy Emordi has stayed in the Senate for almost three years with a stolen mandate while election of Governor Ikedi Ohakim and other governors, including Wamako of Sokoto State, are still being challenged in court.

According to Okechukwu, the Uwais report recommended that the burden on proof should shift from petitioner to the electoral commission that conducted the election so that the issue of telling petitioner to go and get documents from the electoral commission would cease, but this was also rejected by the senators.

He stated that the position of CNPP is that the National Assembly has killed the core recommendations of Uwais report, adding that “the fact that they handpicked independent candidates is not useful because if there is no critical infrastructure, a legal frame-work that can be dependable for future Nigerian elections, there is no business what the independent candidate can do where you have 57 registered political parties with an awkward electoral commission under Prof. Maurice Iwu.”

He expressed fears that the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, seems to be into an unholy alliance with the National Assembly, saying: “We have not seen him step down his feet to warn the National Assembly not to kill the Uwais report because if you kill Uwais report, you have killed democracy in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, the Action Congress (AC) has called on all Nigerians to join the push for the reform of the country’s electoral system ahead of the 2011 general elections, saying it is the sole means to ensure the survival of the nation’s democracy.

In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party also called on the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) to prevail on Acting President Jonathan to make electoral reform the major plank of his administration.

It said that in the very short time left for the administration, it could leave a worthy legacy for Nigerians by ensuring that the country can organise free, fair, transparent and credible polls.

“We make bold to say that despite the yearnings of our long-suffering people for better infrastructure and other social benefits, there can be no better legacy from any government than erecting a structure that guarantees credible elections,” the party said.

AC noted, with concern, that besides a few opposition political parties and some civil society organisations, the clamour for electoral reform has not received the attention it deserves from the populace, who will be the ultimate beneficiary.

The party said it would be a great mistake to leave the whole issue to the whims and caprices of lawmakers who, though constitutionally empowered to effect necessary constitutional changes to ensure the reform, have shown they lack the capacity to rise above personal interests.

“The constitutional amendments by the Senate have shown we still have a long way to go in pushing through a comprehensive electoral reform. While we are baffled by some of the amendments, we are not too surprised because many of those in the National Assembly today did not win any election,” it said.

AC said, however, that the reality of the situation is that whether or not the lawmakers won any election, they are the ones empowered to push through the electoral reform.

“This is why we are calling on all Nigerians to do all in their power, within the ambit of the law, to put pressure on the legislators to act in the interest of the nation,” it said, adding: “We will not relent in making this call.”

The party also said since the PAC was obviously set up to help fast-track the achievement of certain goals set by the Acting President without the usual bureaucratic hindrances, the council – working with the Acting President – has a major role to play in ensuring a comprehensive electoral reform within the shortest possible time.

“We must all be involved in making sure that our country joins the league of nations that can organise hitch-free and credible elections. The time to act is now!” AC said.

The National Conscience Party (NCP) has threatened to seek the support of other political parties to boycott the 2011 general elections if the authorities failed to fully implement the Justice Uwais report on electoral reforms.

The party insists that elections must hold some months ahead the swearing in of elected officers to create room for completion of litigation and remove undue bottlenecks in the transition process.

Speaking at the weekend during its congress, the Deputy National Vice Chairman of the party (South-West), Amitolu Shittu, noted that the continued use of the 2006 Electoral Act is undemocratic and a deliberate move to perpetrate rigging and manipulation of election in the country.

He said what the nation requires at this material time is a transparent polls that would enjoy the support of all, adding that the National Assembly should not tamper with the Uwais report.

At the congress where a new set of executive was elected, Mr. Waheed Lawal was returned as the state chairman of the party. The party said nothing short of the implementation of the report would quicken the growth of democracy and democratic structures in the country.

His words: The Justice Uwais report is the only way to safeguard the nation’s democratic system. It is the only way that the two timetables released by INEC can work. If the report is not implemented, there is no way the timetable would be possible because the Uwais panel recommended that election must be conducted six months before the expiration of the present administration.”

He observed that if election is conducted in January next year, it would allow the tribunal to wind up by April while the time might not be sufficient enough to clear litigations that might arise from the outcome of the election.

The NCP chief, who stated that the death of the founder of the party, Chief Gani Fawehinmi would add as a tonic to strengthen the party in participation in the democratic process, declared that if the Justice Uwais report is not implemented, it means election would hold in April which would made it almost impossible to conclude litigation before wearing in.

He said: “If the 2006 Electoral Act is used, NCP will collaborate with other political parties to boycott the 2011 general elections.

“This is because if the National Assembly fails to implement the Uwais report, there can not be any reasonable election by 2011 and we will never be part of it,” he said.

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