Between electoral and power reforms

Casmir Igbokwe

Published Sunday, March 15, 09

 

I read Queen Okoye’s story with pity and amusement. A national newspaper reported yesterday that the lady went to Maryland roundabout in Lagos last week to protest against three policemen who, she claimed, raped her recently. Armed with such items as a dead white pigeon, dead pussy cat, black duck, broken eggs, palm oil and so on, she stripped herself and rained curses on the rapists. Okoye, who reportedly claimed to be a mermaid worshipper, swore that her police enemies would die by accident or incurable diseases and that their families would inherit the curses.

 

Okoye said she was of sound mind. But looking at her picture in the paper, I could not really determine whether her actions depicted insanity, or extreme anger, or both. Whatever, judging from what is going on with our electoral reforms, power reforms and other past and future reforms, Nigerians need to draw one or two lessons from the nude protester.

 

Let’s start with the electoral reforms. Every Nigerian knows that we have a dysfunctional electoral system. It has always been characterised by rigging, violence, long appeal process, electoral umpire’s partiality and so on. The party in power usually ensures that it wins at all costs – what we have termed do-or-die.

 

This is why many well-meaning Nigerians hailed President Umaru Yar’Adua when he came up with the idea of reforming our electoral system. He set up a 22-man committee and gave it enough time to submit its report. The committee, made up of such eminent Nigerians as the former national chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba; former external affairs minister, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi; and the former chief justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Uwais (the chairman), toured the six geo-political zones in the country. They listened to the concerns of the people, sieved through different memoranda and came up with a report, which they submitted in December last year.

 

The President handed over the report to a White Paper committee to take a second look at. The committee, headed by the Minister of Defence, Dr. Shetima Mustapha, again adopted most of the recommendations of the ERC. But those who are not happy with the radical reforms, perhaps, cajoled the President into setting up yet another committee to examine the White Paper. This three-man committee had Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, as the chairman.

 

Like a wicked hunter, the Aondoakaa committee shot down the key recommendations of the ERC. For instance, it reversed the recommendation that placed the power to appoint the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission on the National Judicial Council. It wants the President to continue to carry out that function. The Federal Executive Council adopted this report.

 

Besides, the FEC is not comfortable with a six-month time frame recommended for the conclusion of election disputes before swearing-in of elected officials. The ERC had made this recommendation in order to stop an impostor who may not have won any election from assuming power. The incumbent government wants the status quo to remain.

 

This means that an Adams Oshiomhole could fight to reclaim his stolen gubernatorial mandate for even two years for all that FEC cares. It means that a Chris Ngige could rig election and assume power as the governor of Anambra State for even four years if the judicial process dragged that long. If this was what the Federal Government had in mind, why did it bother to set up this electoral reform committee in the first place? Why did it waste the time of the committee members and the resources of the country?

 

We have become experts at organising circus shows in the name of panels, committees, commission or whatever name it goes by. It is either that the committee undertakes a jamboree and comes out with nothing or it comes out with something that ends up in the trash can.

 

This coming Wednesday, the House of Representatives will start deliberations on the report of the Ndudi Elumelu panel that probed the rot in the power sector. Like the ERC, the power probe panel toured the country, collected oral and written memoranda and produced a report, which has been mired in controversy. At a point, there were bribery allegations against some members of the panel. There were conflicting figures as to how much was actually released to the National Independent Power Project.

 

Even as we grapple with power related problems, a country like South Africa reportedly produces 50, 000 megawatts of electricity and it’s still not enough for the country. Ours hovers between 2, 000 and 3, 000 megawatts. So far, Yar’Adua’s promise of a sweeping reform in the sector has only seen the suspension of the chairman and commissioners of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission and the sack of the interim management board of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. The National Union of Electricity Employees feel the new interim board of the PHCN is not qualified for the position. Hence, they reportedly blocked the entrance to the PHCN headquarters in Abuja penultimate week.

 

All this notwithstanding, the Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, keeps assuring us that the ongoing power projects being funded by the federal and state governments would not fail like previous ones. Being the chairman of the NIPP steering committee, Jonathan assured that there would be a judicious use of the $5.3bn meant for the six power projects in the country.

 

The report and actions of the presidential steering committee tend to be at variance with the report of the Elumelu committee. This calls for eternal vigilance by Nigerians. As Reps begin debate on the power probe report on Wednesday, there should be no room for sentiment. They should examine the issues dispassionately and make recommendations that will stand the test of time.

 

Left for me, government should stop wasting taxpayers’ money on probes that usually yield no concrete result. What Nigerians should do is to follow the footsteps of Queen Okoye whenever any tier of government takes them for a ride. The protest must not be at the national level. It must not be at the level of invoking the mermaid; or going naked. A push at the community level may go a long way.       

 

 

               

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1 Comment »

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