From Onwuka Nzeshi:

• As Obasanjo seeks to influence choice of Iwu’s successor, should President or NJC recommend candidate?

As the tenure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu, expires in June, fresh posers are being raised over the key pillar of electoral reform: the need to appoint a truly independent electoral umpire in line with the recommendations of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee (ERC).

The committee had recommended that the INEC chairman should not be appointed by the president but should be recruited by the National Judicial Council (NJC) which shall in turn make recommendations to the Council of State. The council will then screen and send the name of the nominee to the Senate for confirmation.
But the committees on  electoral law review and constitution amendment set up by the National Assembly favour the status quo. The committees of the upper and lower chambers have recommended that the president should still be saddled with the responsibility of appointing the INEC chairman.

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan had reportedly re-sent the entire Uwais Report to the National Assembly recently in what was seen as a wholesale endorsement of the recommendations, including the one on the appointment of the INEC chairman.
A senior government official who spoke to THISDAY yesterday said it was being expected that Jonathan would send a bill to the National Assembly to back up his belief that the INEC chairman should not be appointed by the President.
“The Acting President wants free and fair elections so it should be expected that he would push for the independence of the chairman of the electoral body,” he said.

Since Iwu’s tenure expires in June, Jonathan is expected to make a move now for the adoption of the Uwais recommendation by the National Assembly.
Already, some names have been bandied around as Iwu’s successor, including maritime lawyer and rights activist, Chief Olisa Agbakoba; chairman of Transparency International (Nigeria), Gen. Ishola Williams; for President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Attahiru Jega; and former military governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Umar (rtd).
THISDAY however learnt last night that barring any constitution amendment which means the president will still appoint INEC boss, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, is being tipped as Iwu’s successor.

Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a major backer of Jonathan, is said to be pushing for the position to be zoned to the South-west and is rooting for the appointment of Ayoola, whom he appointed as ICPC chairman in 2005.
Meanwhile, barring any last minute changes, the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on Electoral and Constitutional Reforms will today submit its report on the Review of   the Electoral Act 2006 and the 1999 Constitution.
The report, sources revealed, recommends that the status quo be maintained in the appointment of the INEC chairman – the same position taken by its Senate counterpart which recommended that the president should appoint the electoral umpire.
The report is expected to dwell mainly on its recommendations on the six bills sent to both chambers of the National Assembly by the Executive, preparatory to the 2011 polls.

These bills were: to amend specific sections of the 1999 Constitution and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act 2004; establish the Electoral Offences Commission; establish the Centre for Democratic Studies; amend the Police Act 1967 and Establish the Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission (PPRRC).
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had in May 2009 sent the bills to the House and the Senate in line with his administration’s pledge to reform the electoral system and ensure the sanctity of the ballot box in future elections.

The pledge followed the burden of credibility and legitimacy thrust upon the administration when it emerged from the 2007 general election adjudged by Nigerians and the international observers to have been the worst in the country’s history.
Although details of the report were still hazy as at yesterday and may remain largely so until the report is unveiled for deliberations on the floor of the House, there are strong indications that the committee made some significant recommendations when it concluded its assignment at a three-day retreat in Makurdi, Benue State.
One of the highlights of the report is the acceptance of the recommendations of the Justice Uwais Report on the need to introduce independent candidacy into the country’s electoral process.
In endorsing this recommendation, however, the committee has prescribed a number of tough conditions for the would-be independent candidates in future elections beginning from 2011.

According to the report, any candidate who wishes to contest an election as an independent candidate is expected to pay a refundable cash deposit of 10 per cent of his total electoral expenses to the INEC. The deposit will be refunded to the candidate if he or she makes one third of the total vote cast during the election.
For instance, a maximum of N1 billion is recommended as electoral expenses for the presidential election, a hundred per cent rise above the current expenditure level of N500 million.  Under the new dispensation therefore, the independent candidate will have to cough out a whooping N100 million before he can contest the election.

Similarly, the deposits for the Governorship, House of Representatives, Senate, State House of Assembly as well as Local Government Chairm-anship and Councillorship elections have been raised to new heights. The scary deposits imposed on this class of candidates, THISDAY learnt, is to guard against a situation where people will jump into the political arena indiscriminately. In the reasoning of the committee, the fees will   entrench some sanity and prevent a possible abuse of the independent candidacy window.

“The committee believed that as much as the independent candidacy will create a level playing field for all contestants, the tough conditions specified is meant to curtail and control those who may want to take undue advantage of the provision to cause confusion in the electoral process,” a member of the committee said.
In addition to the financial hurdle placed on the path of the independent candidate, the  committee has  also recommended  that for a candidate in a presidential election to qualify for election on the independent platform, he must be nominated by at least 50 registered voters in two-thirds of all the electoral wards in Nigeria.

In the case of governorship election, an independent candidate must be nominated by at least 100 registered voters, and 150 registered voters for senatorial election. Others are 200 registered voters for House of Representatives election, 250 for state Assembly, 300 for local government chairmanship election, and 400 for councillorship election.
Although, the report rejects the proposal made by the ERC on the appointment of the INEC chairman by the NJC but recommends that the president of the NJC be empowered to initiate practice directions that will facilitate quick dispensation of electoral cases at the tribunals.

It also recommends the establishment of multiple election tribunals across the states to hasten and simplify dispensation of electoral disputes.
The report also prescribes   sanctions against failure of INEC or its officials to produce relevant election materials upon request by a tribunal, just as it tasked the electoral body to ensure that all materials required in the conduct of any election were supplied timely and verified by the representatives of the parties in contest.

In principle, the committee resolved that there is need for the entrenchment of internal democracy within political parties to allow for credible primaries, but ironically said that internal democracy may also include the controversial consensus candidacy option which has often thrown up unpopular candidates anointed by godfathers.
The committee in its report recognises the need to protect the sanctity of the ballot box and the need for votes to count in future elections, and recommended that “the agents of political parties and independent candidates are entitled to be present at the distribution and collation centres to witness the process   and guard against ballot stuffing, multiple counting and other acts of electoral fraud”.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Dimeji Bankole, had last Friday announced the conclusion of the assignment and hinted that the report will be laid this week.
Bankole said members could proceed on the Easter break with the report to consult their constituents and other stakeholders ahead of the debates and voting on the amendments.
In its own report, the Senate Committee on Review of the Constitution (SCRC) recommended that the power to appoint the Chair and members of the Board of INEC should reside with the President.

The report of the 44-member committee, which was laid on the table of the Senate last Thursday, reasoned that due to the flawed process of occasioned by the conduct of judges on Election Petition Tribunal Panels, it was better to err on the side of skepticism by retaining the appointive powers in the president.
The Uwais Committee had recommended that the NJC would advertise the positions, shortlist interested applicants, select three candidates for each position and then forward the nominations to the Council of State which would select one candidate for each category.  The Council of State would then present same to the Senate for confirmation

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