Senators yesterday began debate of the electoral reform bills sent to the National Assembly by President Umaru Yar’adua and expressed strong reservations on the enormous powers the bill on the establishment of Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission vests on the President.
Guardian newspaper reports that Senate Majority Leader Teslim Folarin, who led the debate said: “This bill is a fall out of the report of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, which recommended the extraction of this role from INEC. The Federal Government released a White Paper in line with this recommendation and has forwarded this to the National Assembly for promulgation into law. The bill is a bold attempt at strengthening and deepening our democracy by reforming our electoral system.”
But his colleagues, who took over from him, disagreed that the bill was well intended by the Presidency.
Senator Joy Emodi (Anambra State) in her contribution, expressed displeasure with the provisions in the bill, which she described as “very destructive to the tenets of democracy.”
Drawing the attention of the Upper House to sections five and 14 of the bill, Emordi said: “Section 5 permits the President to dismiss a member of the board of the commission at any time without any reason. It is final. Look at section 14: If I may read, this is a complete paradox. It says that the President may give to the board a directive of general notice, and such a directive is mandatory on the board to comply with. Just imagine, and we are talking about democracy in Nigeria.
“Honestly, I am worried about the quality of legal advice or the legal institution in the Presidency for them to have brought this thing here. As far as I am concerned, this is fit for the trash! Yes, let us not waste our time on this. Do we actually need a political party commission? As far as I am concerned, this is an era of cutting cost. Given the global meltdown and every other thing, the economic recess, having a commission to deal with registration of political parties is not good enough. We have to cut expenses. There is no need for that.
“What we need in this country today is to strengthen the INEC, make it independent and impartial by removing it hundred per cent from the Executive arm of government. And another one, giving it financial autonomy through first line charge provision. That is what we need, not proliferation of political parties because this is making a caricature of this very important chamber. It is necessary to advise those who are responsible for bringing this bill here to bring high quality bills that will agitate our minds and exercise our brains not what is before us. I therefore urge all of us to throw out this bill,” Emodi added.
Senator Wilson Ake (Rivers State) aligned with Emordi when he said “all that we need is to strengthen INEC by appointing credible persons into it. This bill should be removed from this chamber so that we can focus on the true problem of INEC. This one is going by the side. We are taking the issue by the side, let the real issue concerning INEC be brought to this chamber so that we can do a good job on it.”
Senator George Sekibo (Rivers State) drew the attention of the Senate President, David Mark, that since the bill sought to tamper with some of the functions of INEC, which had already been recognised in the constitution, it was imperative to adopt the procedures for amending the constitution in processing the bill.
Senator Ayogu Eze (Enugu State) also noted that the Senate would be running itself into avoidable controversy if it created the commission by passing the bill, adding that the procedures that had been adopted so far were in conflict with the dictates of the constitution on the amendment of any issue in the constitution.
Senator Victor Udoma-Egba (SAN) advised the Senate to ask the Executive arm to bring the report of the Uwais’ committee from where the bill was evolved.
According to him, the Senate would do better by studying the report and other details before processing the bill.
The Deputy Minority Whip Kabiru Gaya, urged the Senate to stand down further debate on the bill pending when the Uwais’ report was brought to it.
Mark tried severally to convince his colleagues to continue with the debate, insisting that there was nothing wrong with the procedure adopted by the Presidency.
He said: “We have not yet reached the stage where the procedure for amending the constitution should be adopted. When we finish this debate, the bill will be referred to the Committee on Constitution Review. It is that committee that will tell us the next steps to take.”
Mark said getting the Uwais’ report would not be a problem, adding that the debate could go ahead and the full report awaited.
The bill seeks to empower the proposed commission to register political parties in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2006:
- monitor the organisation and operation of political parties including their finances;
- monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations governing the activities of political parties;
- arrange for the examination and auditing of the funds and accounts of political parties;
- accredit domestic civil society groups and organisations working in the area of elections and provide rules and regulations governing their observations of elections;
- accredit international election observers and make rules and regulations governing their conduct and observation of election;
- set guidelines for fund raising by political parties from time to time, and
- accredit national and international media organizations observing elections.