Opinion: National Assembly Amendment of schedule of elections is self serving, unconstitutional and an exercise in futility
By Nelson Ekujumi
London, Feb. 13, 2018 (AltAfrika)-It’s an indisputable fact that the art of governance, be it law making, implementation and interpretation of the law, is a serious business in sane climes because of its desired effect on the generality of the people whose safety and welfare is the sole purpose of government, but unfortunately and sadly, the opposite is the case in our clime and it is quite disturbing and traumatising.
Following the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announcement of the timetable and schedule of activities preparatory to the 2019 general elections proper only recently, which was expected to gear up the relevant stakeholders to the task ahead and the need to put measures in place individually towards ensuring a free, fair and credible elections by playing according to the rules, it is not unexpected and unnatural that such a commendable action from the electoral umpire will generate clandestine, illegal, short cut and backdoor tactics from anti democratic elements whose agenda is self centered and inimical to the smooth conduct of the elections and deepening of democratic tenets.
Unfortunately, this anti democratic, illegal, unconstitutional, sinister and evil plot has come from the least expected quarters, which is the National Assembly via its illegal and unconstitutional tampering with the schedule of elections in it’s self serving and afterthought amendment of the Electoral Act only recently.
It is a well known fact that Nigeria operates a constitutional democracy in which the powers and responsibilities of governments and it’s agencies are clearly spelt out with the aim of promoting good governance, engendering harmony and prevention of avoidable conflicts between institutions of governments in the discharge of their statutory functions.
Sadly, this 8th National Assembly has repeatedly on several occasion tried to lord itself over other institutions of governments by violating the constitution in usurping powers not conferred on it constitutionally and thus desecrating the hallowed chambers of the legislature as the bastion of democracy by its illegality and unconstitutional actions.
According to the third schedule, part 1, item 15 of the 1999 constitution as amended, it states among others on the functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), inter alia:
The Commission shall have power to –
(A) organize, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation.
Please take notice of the word Shall. Thus, by these provisions of the third schedule of the 1999 constitution, the only body recognized and empowered by the constitution to announce and fix the timetable and schedule of national elections in Nigeria is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), no more, no less.
It’s an established fact, that the 1999 constitution is the Grundnorm to which all actions of governments and individuals must comply for legitimacy and legality. Thus, any law made or action embarked upon or committed to by an individual or government institutions within the geographical territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which runs contrary to the provisions of the 1999 constitution is null, void and of no effect.
The National Assembly by its action of rushing to amend the Electoral Act to feather it’s political interest at the detriment of the collective interest of the people of Nigeria with the tampering with the schedule of elections from the INEC approved and announced two rounds to three with the National Assembly elections coming first, followed by the Governorship and States houses of assembly elections and lastly by the Presidential election with the intent to confer legitimacy on its illegal and unconstitutional action, is irresponsible, irresponsive, insensitive, callous, self centered, self serving, demeaning, assault on the collective democratic rights of Nigerians and an usurpation of the constitutional functions of INEC which must be rejected in its entirety.
Knowing fully well that it’s action requires an amendment of the 1999 constitution to confer legitimacy on it and appreciating the fact that it would not be able to pass through the legitimate and rigorous mechanism of a constitutional amendment before the conduct of the 2019 general elections, the joint committee of the National Assembly thus chose the short, illegal and unconstitutional route just to hoodwink the people to achieve their sinister and selfish aim, but notwithstanding, this amendment is an exercise in futility because it runs contrary to the provisions of the 1999 constitution.
If these legislators were patriotic, selfless and concerned about the collective interest of the Nigerian people, they would have appreciated the economic loss to the country and citizenry on days of election when all economic activities is grounded, by not compounding the situation with the addition of an extra day for personal interest, much less the extra cost and stress of organizing 3 rounds of elections instead of 2.
Also, we need to be worried about this illegal amendment of the schedule of elections because it has the tendency to wear out the voters and result in low turn out, when all efforts and actions are supposed to be geared towards engendering high voters turnout for elections because history has documented it that our elections with high voters turnout are usually the Governorship and Presidential elections only.
What about the security implications of a third round of elections? Have our law makers in embarking on this illegal amendment taken into consideration the capacity and capabilities of the security agencies to provide top class security with an extra day of election? Definitely, this is one area that is crucial to the smooth conduct of elections in view of the security challenges confronting the country.
To underscore the fact that the joint committee of the National Assembly is aware that it’s amendment of the schedule of elections is an exercise in futility, it even laced the amendment with threats against the executive if it fails to assent which calls to question the sincerity and responsibility of this Greek gift of an amendment.
Whichever way we look at the short cut amendment of the Electoral Act by the National Assembly whether from the legal or beneficial angle which are both lacking, one can see clearly that it is not motivated by concern for the collective interest of Nigerians but self serving, hence the haste to wrap it around the Electoral Act, when the proper channel for its legitimacy can only come through a constitutional amendment since the Electoral Act owes it’s origin to the constitution and not the other way round.
Therefore, it’s unfortunate and sad that our esteemed lawmakers in the 8th National Assembly as always, have refused to put national interest far and above personal interest, otherwise the Nigerian people and her democracy would have been saved the embarrassment of this exercise in futility.