Nigeria Senate Chambers

New electoral order in Nigeria (1)

The Nigeria Senate has amended the Electoral Act and there are many points there to be happy about. It is called: Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2017.

Think what you may about this present National Assembly, they seem the most exciting in the recent history of our democracy. There seems to be one drama per week, but who cares as long as the recent amendment to the Electoral Act becomes an example of the kind of laws they will pass.

What is the National Assembly for if not to make life better for the people of the country and strengthen our democracy? And there is nothing more at the core of our democracy than the electioneering process represented by the Electoral Act and its enforcement.

The new Law shows an appreciation that for any democracy, the internal working of the different political parties is foundational. We cannot ignore what happens there and say we have true democracy.

According to the new law, there are now limits to the nomination fee payable by any aspirant: N150,000 (1$=N350) for a Ward Councillorship aspirant in the FCT; N250,000 for an Area Council Chairmanship aspirant in the FCT; N500,000 for a House of Assembly aspirant; N1,000,000 for a House of Representatives aspirant; N2,000,000 for a Senatorial aspirant; N5,000,000 for a Governorship aspirant; and N10,000,000 for a Presidential aspirant.

Although all these are still on the high side, it is a good thing that the fee payable by the aspirants has been elevated beyond just a hot topic for discussion on the social media, now the Senate has, feeling the pulse of the people, has responded accordingly.

It should not be that political positions are to the highest bidders. Maybe this is also a call to look into the delegates system, because the delegates determine those who will carry the flag of the party. Lets us scrap that system to avoid unnecessary rancour.

Time and again we have aspirants expressing displeasure at the way the primary went and there is perpetual movement of people among parties.

This does not augur well for political stability in the nation.

And without stability we cannot make much progress. People can sit on their high horses and lampoon the crop of politicians we have who have the penchant for changing their political hues, and comparing it with what happens in some well developed climes where ideology is the determinant factor.

But ideology cannot develop if we are confronted everywhere we look with injustice. When delegates have to be bribed to the high heavens, and when you become a delegate you can ask your architect to begin designing your dream house, it is time to scrap that system and let the members of a party, everyone of them have a say. If we have copied the presidential system from the United States, lets us copy it very well.

What we largely have is either arbitrary imposition or the primary is to the highest bidder. Even if it is not to the highest bidder, some bidding might have taken place along the way.

It is time to tell ourselves the truth. The electoral reform, represented by the recent amendment to the electoral act needs to go even deeper. It is a good start, but we should see it as part of a process along the journey to the entrenchment of democracy.

Anything that impinges on internal democracy is against the fundamental human right of the people.

Truth be told, the delegate system in the nation has been over-monetised, therefore we need to move away from it.

With the direct voting system, where every member of the party gets to choose, even if you lose it will not be because you did not know the right people, did not have the right money, or are of the right gender, but because that is the choice of the people. And you can go home and rest because of that realisation. Maybe that will stem the tide of people jumping ship and we can start preaching ideology.

If the possibility of injustice is removed or reduced to the barest minimum, then we can make progress. The toxicity of the political system that makes many people run away from it, will be reduced.

A stronger searchlight needs to be beamed into the internal democratic workings of the parties and what better arm of government to do this than the legislature!

Another way the amendment to the Electoral Act affects the internal workings of the democratic parties is based on the new provision that: No political party can impose qualification/disqualification criteria, measures or conditions on any Nigerian for the purpose of nomination for elective offices, except as provided in the 1999 Constitution. Now that is a thunder of a movement forward.

If you read between the lines, you will find out that it addresses the penchant for people to put roadblocks before those interested in certain political positions.

It means people can no longer be debarred from seeking an elective position based on the tribe, or senatorial district. This is really a big deal if you look at it. Both the monetary issue and this particular item will serve to remove the hindrances to meritocracy.

What happens before is that to just favour certain people, to make their path smooth, criteria are put in place to disenfranchise others. This is what I call working from the answer, not for the answer.

The point being made here is that if the constitutional condition to vie for a political position is that the person should be of a certain age, have certain minimum educational qualification and not have been convicted, then nothing else would be added by the political party for its aspirants for that position. That means nobody can be pre-screened out, and the door is open to anybody. You cannot even say that the intending aspirant must have spent certain number of years in the party. What a beautiful plain political field we now have.

As was the manner in time past, the incumbents who are favoured by the party establishment are more or less given a free pass and others are told not to even dream of contesting.

It is high time we stopped paying lip service to democracy in this nation. We need those who are singing the song for a benevolent dictatorship to please stop. Democracy is not without its faults but it has internal checks and balances to serve the people and not just a few with the influence, the power, the connection or the history.

What we want is that the son of a nobody can mount the saddle everywhere and if you are the son of somebody it is because we want you there not because you must be there as determined by certain powers that be.

With this second provision I am highlighting, the excesses of the political parties are going to be curbed to a large extent. But what is needed now is some massive enlightenment by INEC on an ongoing basis to sensitise the politicians on the new deal.

We need to support the National Assembly on every stride it makes. You know there are vested interests seeking to prevent these amendments from going through. For the Senate to refuse to move away from its resolve to do something good for the people, they need to be appreciated.

This is so ground breaking and we should look forward for more. We are not there yet but we have left. Ours is democracy in making and if we get it right, the light gets brighter in Africa.