by Jideofor Adibe
Early this month, the Buhari government, through the Attorney General of the Federal and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, inaugurated a 24-member committee on Constitution and Electoral Reform, which it called “Constitutional and Electoral Reforms Committee”. The Committee is headed by former Senate President Ken Nnamani.
The AGF said he was “directed by President Muhammadu Buhari” to set up the Committee, which he claimed was part of the Buhari government’s desire to “deepen the country’s democracy and entrench the culture of an enduring electoral system.” The Committee was given just 16 weeks to work.
Its terms of reference include to:
* Review and make recommendations on conflicting court judgments on legal disputes on past elections.
* Review the laws impacting elections in Nigeria, in relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), and to assess their impact and adequacy for the administration of elections in Nigeria.
* Review the lessons learnt from the 2015 general elections and make recommendations for improvement as they relate to the judicial decisions and experience from field operations.
* Review the extent of the implementation of the recommendations of the 2008 Electoral Reform Commission headed by Justice Muhammad Uwais (Uwais Report) and advice on outstanding issues for implementation.
There are a number of observations on the ‘Constitutional and Electoral Reforms Committee’, which is now popularly known as the Ken Nnamani Committee:
One, every government in the country since the inception of the current democratic dispensation (The Fourth Republic) in 1999 has promised to reform the electoral processes or the Constitution as a way of deepening the country’s democracy. Obasanjo for instance tried to use the National Assembly to amend certain provisions of the constitution. This backfired when he was suspected of using such amendments to elongate his tenure. The late Umaru Yaradua set up the Justice Uwais Committee on electoral reforms but unfortunately did not live long enough for people to see if he would have wholeheartedly implemented the far reaching recommendations of the Committee. Former President Jonathan organised a political confab in 2014. No one can say for sure if he would have implemented the recommendations of the Confab if he had won the 2015 election.
Is there any parallel between the 2014 Confab and the Ken Nnamani Committee?
This will remain a matter of conjecture. Suffice it to add that President Buhari in justifying why he had not bothered to read the 2014 Confab Report was quoted as saying: “I advised against the issue of National Conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months. The teachers in the tertiary [institutions] were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9 billion to organize that meeting [National Conference]….” (Vanguard, October 8, 2016).
Some critics are asking whether in this period of lean resources, when many government workers have not been paid for months, the President is not doing exactly with the Ken Nnamani Committee what he criticised the Jonathan government of doing with the National Conference? True, the Jonathan Confab was in response to demands for restructuring, not elections per se. But at the heart of both the demand for restructuring and electoral reform is the issue of power – the access to it and how it should be shared among the different ethnic, regional and religious factions of the elite. It could be argued that Nigerian politics is anarchic because of the pervasive fear by factions of the elite that whichever faction wins power at the centre will use it to privilege its in-group or disadvantage others.
Two, related to the above is that people are questioning the government’s undeclared motive for setting up the committee. The Nnamani Committee is generating several contending beer parlour political theories and motor park speculations. Popular ‘theories’ and speculations include that the government set up the Nnamani Committee to deflect mounting criticisms over its relatively poor performance especially with the economy. Others argue that it is meant to keep the political class busy – as Babangida did with his political transition programme and Jonathan was suspected of doing with his 2014 political conference. Some say it was simply a way of creating job for the ‘boys’. Yet others see it as part of Buhari’s rapprochement with the Igbo political elite following the suspected souring of relations between his government and a fraction of the Yoruba political elite led by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. According to this view, appointing an Igbo to head a Committee that by its nature will attract a lot of media attention will send a powerful message to the Igbo political elite that Buhari is now ready to do business with them.
Three, reservations about the Nnamani Committee is amplified by the fact that while for instance the Justice Uwais Committee was made of credible, non-partisan individuals, Ken Nnamani, who heads the Committee, is an APC man who has been variously accused of being just too eager to return to the political limelight.
Four, the mandate of the Nnamani Committee has been criticized for being so broad that it seems was really deliberately set up to fail. For instance part of the terms of reference includes reviewing “the laws impacting elections in Nigeria, including relevant provision of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2012(as amended)”. The truth is that most of the provisions of our Constitution impact directly or indirectly on elections or the sharing of power and other critical resources – citizenship, indigene/settler dichotomy, population and census, creation of states and local government etc.. For instance the number of states in a political zone has implications for the revenues it gets from Federation Account and therefore impacts indirectly on elections. The same is also true of population or census which is not just one of the bases for revenue sharing but also for allocating seats in the Federal House of Representatives. Is the Ken Nnamani Committee really expected to dabble into all these highly controversial issues in just 4 months and succeed?
Five, critics have also questioned whether the Buhari government is truly committed to deepening democracy in the country. If it is, critics ask why the government has failed to realize that a culture of a loser conceding defeat which Jonathan dramatized by conceding to him after the 2015 elections ought to have been nurtured by showing the former President more respect, not constantly demonizing him and his government. Respecting the former President in deeds for that singular act is of course not incompatible with the government asking him to account for his actions while in power. Critics also question the discrepancy between the government’s rhetoric and practice especially as the government routinely disobeys court orders and just recently used the DSS to harass judges. Since the rule of law is the foundation of democracy, critics argue that it is pointless for the government trying to reform our laws or make new ones if it cannot lead the way in respecting our existing laws.
Petroleum Industry Bill: Motion without Movement?
The idea of reviewing and streamlining the country’s extant petroleum laws started on April 24 2000 when President Obasanjo set up a committee made up of both local and international experts to establish a regulatory framework for the sector. The outcome was the National Oil and Gas Policy (NOGP), which came four years later, and which subsequent governments tried to tinker with to accommodate varying interests and allay lingering suspicions. A draft PIB was eventually presented to the 6th National Assembly in September 2008 but it got stalled over disagreements among stakeholders on the sharing of oil profit. Just like organising a National Conference, each government in the country since the current democratic dispensation has played around with a PIB process but somehow manages to get it stalled or fails to show the necessary political will that will resolve lingering suspicions and disagreements among stakeholders.
But the cost of playing this Russian roulette is huge. According to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) – an agency set up to, among other things, develop a framework for transparency and accountability in Nigeria’s extractive industries – Nigeria is losing heavily by not having a clear cut regulatory framework for the country’s oil industry. As NEITI noted in its recent policy brief:
“More than the size of the return, the rational investor prizes regulatory certainty above practically all else: clear, unambiguous rules, predictable policymaking and efficient regulation.
“These clarity and predictability have been lacking, especially in the past sixteen years since the process commenced. In the eight years that the PIB was first presented for legislation, experts estimate that over $120 billion (at over $15 billion yearly) has been lost to investment withheld or diverted by investors to other (more predictable) jurisdictions.”
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.
Jideofor tweets @JideoforAdibe