The Bukola Saraki-led National Assembly is on a mission to tinker with the order and schedule of elections. The National Assembly members are certainly window-shopping for favourable electoral schedule and order that will enhance their continued membership of the National assembly. They are bent on twisting and twirling the electoral system to not only give them exclusive advantage but help them exert some control over the fates of other offices in the land. For this wild permutation, they have passed in the two chambers of the National Assembly, a bill that alters the existing election schedule to insert their own election as the first election in our election schedule. The bill may be on its way to President Buhari for assent and from all possible indices, this may not happen at the end of the day. It is probable that the National Assembly is hoping to override the presidential veto on this bill, which has severally been described as obnoxious and self-serving.
Yes, it is within the powers of the National Assembly to make constitutional amendments. It is within their frame as law makers, to propose and pass any law that enhances the good and wellbeing of the country. But does this bill, presently being prosecuted with indecent haste, by Saraki’s National Assembly tailored for the good and wellbeing of the country? I doubt it and many Nigerians doubt it and their doubts are confirmed by the provision in the bill that the National Assembly elections should come before every other election. You may ask, what is the motive in this obnoxious proposal other than the belief among those pushing this bill that with their own election secured or frustrated in the first election, they stand in a pole position to either negatively or positively decide the outcome of the other elections?
The proposed bill itself has sharply divided the members of the National Assembly some of whom never minced words to describe it as not only self-serving but aimed at negatively influencing the presidential election. This deep fissure in the National Assembly will become more pronounced in the days to come as the Saraki National Assembly tries to assert its authority with this bill and the President seeing through the dubiety in this bill, withholds his assent.
However, the critical question remains whether the National Assembly has not intruded into the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission by seeking to dictate when elections should hold. The question has been raised on what remains of the independence of INEC where members of the National Assembly who are participants in the electoral system now dictate the schedule of elections to give themselves priority and preeminence. Many ask what if the National Assembly wields its much-vaunted power to make laws to pass a bill that requires INEC to return the NASS members unopposed in the forthcoming election? How can INEC conduct its affairs equitably where members of the National Assembly now comfortably pick election dates and sequence that favour them? Nigerians, who are galled by this undue meddlesomeness are asking where the National Assembly derives the power to manipulate the schedule of elections when INEC’s independence is guaranteed by the constitution. Nigerians are asking how a player now decides how the rules should be applied in a match he is an active player. Nigerians are asking what indices the National Assembly members relied on in passing a bill to place their own election over and above every other election in the country. They are even asking who takes the bills for the additional day the National Assembly provided for in their ulterior point-and-kill effort to secure an advantage over the laws of the country. The joke grows wild that the National Assembly can now fix the dates for NECO and WAEC exams if it believes it can fix election schedule and date.
The notion of the independence of the electoral body from the kind of influence the National Assembly is seeking to lord over it derives from insulating the umpire from the whims and caprices of the players. It is natural that a body that should superintend over the selection of the right and proper leadership must be protected from the capricious dictation of those that emerge or hope to emerge through the process it superintends. That was why INEC was granted an independence to conduct its activities in the best possible way that is shorn of the influences of politicians across board. This independent status gives it the liberty to conduct its affairs in any way that guarantees it fair and unbiased result. This is for the good of all political players from all partisan shades. To now go to the extent of hiding under the canopy of law-making to seek to lord and dictate election time-tables and schedules on the independent electoral body makes it a helpless vassal of political actors who want to take advantage of the system for ulterior ends. The National Assembly members feel that by forcing their narrow preference in election schedule, they will be in a pole position to control other elections in the system which makes theirs suspicious and selfish. They are merely trying to arrive at the question from the answer and this will meet with such stiff resistance that they would wish they didn’t embark on such legislative wild goose chase.
Any one still reserving any sympathy for the National Assembly members in this their window-shopping venture gave up when the National Assembly members, against every natural sequence, specifically put the National Assembly election as the first election in their fancied election schedule. They made no effort to make a bottom-top order, in their effort to replace the existing top-bottom election order. This just laid the National Assembly members bare as self-serving schemers that are masking their narrow selfish interests in the guise of law making. This makes whatever contrary claim they advance to force down this legislative interference a hollow after thought. This makes their so-called alteration of the election schedule a wild shot in unmitigated selfish adventure and counts heavily against their fancy bill ever becoming law. Why should the National Assembly make an awkward provision for start off of election from the middle and neither from the bottom nor from the top, if not the basest of selfish interests?
However, I have a strong faith that this reckless and ulterior tinkering with the independence of the nation’s electoral body to churn out narrow results will end in grief. Apart from the likely possibility that the President will not append his assent to such reckless selfishness, I know that a long legal contention is underway to abort this notorious piece of legislation. I also know that the bill was practically stolen through the National Assembly by few members who are fearing their prospects to continue in the National Assembly. This much was alleged by the aggrieved senators who are as riled as Nigerians, on the audacity and mendacity of this bill. In the long run, it will be impossible to muster the needed two-third National Assembly members to override presidential refusal of assent on this notorious bill. Again, most of the members of the National Assembly pushing this nefarious bill will lose out in their parties’ primaries and not even secure the nomination they need to return to the National Assembly. I believe that this vitiation with the independence of the electoral body will end a dismal failure.
Let Saraki and his National Assembly climb down from their selfish high horse and know that they cannot dictate the activities of the electoral body and how it works with the hope of exclusively benefiting from this intrusion. Let the NASS note its constitutional limitations and not continue operating as a band of kidnappers that wants to force its way through at all costs. The NASS members must face their party members and the electorate based solely on their records and not on such sleight of hands as manipulating the electoral system to give them undue electoral advantage. That amounts to combining the roles of referee and player and it will fail at the end of the day.
Peter Claver Oparah