Public hearing on constitution, electoral reforms holds in Enugu

Osita Okechukwu & Chukwumerije Aja, Enugu

Senator Ken Nnamani, Speaking at the public hearing in Enugu

The Presidential Committee on Constitutional and Electoral Reforms, led by Senator Ken Nnamani, is holding a public hearing at the Nike Lake Resort Hotel in Enugu State, South eastern Nigeria.

According to Senator Nnamani, “reformation of electoral system is aimed at candidates winning elections only from the people’s vote at the polling booths not at the Court”.

He explained: “this is the main reason why President Muhammadu Buhari, who is a guinea-pig of electoral malpractice, convoked this constitutional and electoral reform committee.”

Senator Nnamani decried the lack of free, fair and transparent elections, which he says have “caused a lot of harm in our polity.”

He called for the overhauling of “all the unnecessary laws to provide for 1st line charge of funding for the Independent National Electoral Cmmission-INEC; an unbundling of INEC, resting of the burden of proof on INEC, among other recommendations.”

Also speaking during the event, the Enugu State Chief Judge in eastern Nigeria, Justice Ngozi Emehelu called for an extension of the 180 days statutory period within which election petition cases are adjudicated.

Emehelu said the stipulated time was inadequate for petitioners to prove their cases.

She said that petitioners appeared to have an uphill task proving their cases because of limited time. She noted that some sections of the electoral act needed to be updated to create more time for adjudication.

“The electoral act gives 180 statutory days within which to conclude petitions but there are certain things that need to be put in place even before adjudication starts.

“It does appear petitioners have uphill tasks because time is not on their side, so there is need to tinker with some aspects of that law,” she said.

Emehelu stated that the constitution and the electoral act needed to empower tribunals to make consequential orders in the course of adjudication, to accommodate reliefs not sought by petitioners.

“There have been cases where petitions are well fought but lost because the proper reliefs are not sought by parties.

“We recommend that the tribunal be given legal teeth to make consequential orders to grant such reliefs not sought,” she said.

The Justice said that the electoral act had been constantly criticised due to inherent flaws, notwithstanding several alterations.

“The problem with the system is not with our procedural laws but the unwillingness to enforce the electoral laws.

“We recommended that the report of the Justice Uwais committee should be called into play when your committee is doing its work,” she said.

Emehelu called for the employment of more judges across the country to make up for lost time by the courts, especially because several judges are enrolled to adjudicate on election matters.

“It is better to use high court judges to sit on election petitions but it has become necessary to employ more judges to check the depletion of our courts during election petitions hearing,” Emehelu said.

Law Amendment

In her remarks, a representative of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Mrs Miriam Menkiti said that amendments of relevant laws needed to be made to provide for an electoral offences commission.

Menkiti called also for the amendment of Section 221 of the Constitution to provide for independent candidacy in the electoral process.

She said that all sections of the constitution or electoral act that used one gender needed to be amended in order to check gender discrimination.

Women’s Leader of the governing All Progressives Party-APC, Lolo Queen Nwankwo for her part, called for affirmative action for women especially in the current economic recession facing the country.

“Women need key government positions”, she advocated.

This is the first public hearing since the constitution of the committee in October 2016 by Attorney General and Minster of Justice, Abubakar Malami.

Committee Mandate

It would be recalled that the Attorney- General of the Federal and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had constituted a 24-member committee on Constitution and Electoral Reform.

The minister, who inaugurated the committee, said he was directed by President Muhammadu Buhari to set up the committee.

He said that President Buhari had in his inauguration speech stated his desire to deepen the country’s democracy and entrench the culture of an enduring electoral system.

“It is important to evaluate our democratic journey thus far with a view to fashioning out a more enduring system that will serve present and future generations,” President Buhari had said in his inaugural speech.

According to the President, “recent judicial decisions have shown that the urgent need to scale up confidence in the electoral system in Nigeria.”

Mr. Malami also joined the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Mahmoud in decrying what he termed the “widespread distortion of binding judicial precedent with conflicting judgements.”