As the National Assembly begins amendment of sections of the 1999 constitution, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is: can people run for political offices without being members of political parties? FRANCIS AGBO takes a look at independent candidacy.
From all indications, the National Assembly is preparing to further amend the contents of the 1999 Constitution. This is coming after the sixth legislature had tinkered with a few sections of the constitution and the Electoral Act 2006.
Many Nigerians who spoke with LEADERSHIP contend that the National Assembly and the 36 Houses of Assembly in the federation should provide for independent candidacy in the constitution. The thinking is that the inclusion of independent candidacy clause in the constitution would not only democratise the suffocating political space in the country, but open another vista in the strengthening of human rights.
Analysts insist that inserting this clause may not pose any problem to the two arms of the National Assembly because according to them, the foundation for the alteration has been laid. In 2009, then President Umar Yar’Adua signed a letter and addressed to then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole. Attached to the letter was the amendment bill seeking the inclusion of “independent candidates” in the constitution, immediately after “candidates of political parties.”
The Bill which was dumped by the 6th Assembly was titled: A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2009 and for other matters connected therewith”. I forward herewith, for your kind consideration and passage into law, the attached draft Bill for an Act to Alter the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Amendment III).’’ YarAdua stated further that “Pursuant to the above, therefore, and in line with the powers vested in the National Assembly, I hereby present the said Bill for the kind consideration of the Honourable Members...’’
While urging the legislature to pass the bill into law, President made a subtle reference to the Muhammed Uwais’ report on electoral reforms which had also recommended independent candidacy as the inspiration for the proposal.
Aside the Uwais report, the politics of pre-independence and post-independence Nigeria in which independent candidates slugged it out with candidates sponsored by the various political parties may have provided foundation for the insertion of the clause. That era threw up independent candidates in the present day Oyo State, who represented their various constituencies in the parliament. Prominent among them were Chief Richard Akinjide (Ibadan South-West); Hon. A. Abbas (Ibadan South); Hon. R.A. Afolabi (Ibadan Central); Hon. K.S. Are (Ibadan North-West); Hon. S. A. Oyewole(Ibadan South-East) and Hon. D.M. Gbolagunte (Ibarapa). The late Yoruba leader, Chief Abraham Adesanya stood for election to represent Ijebu as independent candidate though he lost to the domineering Action Group (AG).
In 1951, Mr. Reuben Uzoma won as an independent candidate for the Orlu Federal Constituency of Imo State in the then Eastern Region, while Late Sir. Louis Mbanefo won as an independent in Onitsha.
In the four-stage elections conducted in the same year in the North, about 64 candidates won elections into the Northern House. In the 1961 elections, independent candidates across the country, secured a 22.2 percent of the votes cast and secured 20 seats in the Western House of Assembly.
Different accounts have noted that the politics of 1956 were also shaped by independent candidates who gave the NCNC victory over the AG.
The politics of independent candidacy was introduced by the British colonial office in Nigeria in 1951 first in the North where candidates working for the Native Authority and British police were fielded against the NEPU-NCNC candidates.
The idea however died in 1963, when the Country became a Republic, with most of the independents joining political parties.
The absence of independent candidacy has encouraged the stifling of internal democracy in the country. It has also frozen politicians from contesting positions of their choices. In rare cases, politicians who lost the blessing of their parties’ apparatchiks end up pitching their tents with any available political parties just to send a signal that they are not politically finished.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is an eloquent example. Starting from 2005, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, had deployed all his arsenal to crush Atiku who was his VP.
The sin of the former VP was that he joined other well meaning Nigerians to stop his principal from perpetuating himself in office as life president. Many Nigerians hailed the Turaki Adamawa for the courage more so that the Ota chicken farmer had two spent eight solid years in Aso Rock. Though Atiku’s opposition to Obasanjo’s tenure elongation plot did not breach any law in the land, a litany of factors led to his expulsion from the PDP. Then chairman of the party, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, would remind the embattled VP that he could no longer be vice president because, according to him, the constitution of the country and the PDP did not recognize an independent candidate.
Instead of running for the Presidency as an independent candidate, the VP was forced to dismantle his initial plan and defect to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), losing formidable allies. He was handed the presidential ticket of the party, but INEC, then headed by Prof. Maurice Iwu did not put his name on the ballot.
Despite the several successes he recorded in his legal battles against Obasanjo, the PDP and the presidential panel headed by then Solicitor-General of the Federation, Prof. Ignatius Ayua, he realised that the legal fireworks had taken too much of the time that would have gone into electioneering campaigns.
In addition to this, some anti- third term politicians in the PDP like Dr. Usman Bugaje, Temi Harriman and Dr. Francis Amadiegwu were shown the way out of the arguably populous nation on earth. Over half of these crops of politicians did not win their party’s re-nominations.
Examples of independent candidacies abound in many democracies. Central African Republic (CAR) and Algeria are two important examples. Recently, the Supreme Court of Algeria cleared 6 presidential candidates for the April 9, 2009 elections, with one of them Mohammed said to be an Independent candidate.
The Presidential elections of CAR were staggered between March 13, and May 1, 2005 with four independent presidential candidates. Francois Bozize, the president of the country at the time was an independent candidate!
Other independent candidates in the CAR elections were Henri Pouzere, Josue Binona, and Jean Jacques Demofouth. Despite its troubled political history, the Central African Republic was described by The Ecologist Magazine as “the world’s leading country in sustainable development”.
Even the United States of America which Nigeria modeled its presidential system after allows independent candidacy. Eugene McCarthy, a United States Senator from 1959 to 1971, ran as an independent candidate in the 1976 elections and appeared on the ballot in 30 states. McCarthy scored 740,460 votes, coming 3rd in the closely contested elections. McCarthy’s record shattering race for the Presidency did not attract the “wrath” of the Yankees’ electoral umpire. Pundits poured encomium on him describing McCarthy’s outing as the triumph of freedom, the victory of human rights against party ‘supremacy’. One analyst puts it more succinctly noting that for a man who did not even believe in “canvassing or mobilizing for funds”, it was amazing that he could go that far.
If the National Assembly includes independent candidacy clause in the 1999 Constitution, Nigeria will join the very few democracies in Africa which have legitimized independent candidacy in elections. The general consensus is that the desperation and violent clamour to clinch parties’ tickets at all costs would mellow for the better of the Country. And purposeful and credible individuals who are usually frozen out of contention in their parties by money bags can throw their hats into the rings as independent candidates! Won’t this offer the electorate more credible alternatives and deepen our democracy?