For a smooth and orderly transfer of power to happen from a democratically elected president to another, a legal framework that guides transition in any given country needs to be formulated and enacted into law. TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes on the need for the passage of the Presidential Transition Bill ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Political transition is a very crucial aspect of democratic governance and yet it is one of the least considered areas. It is that period of time between the end of an incumbent government and the election and the inauguration of a new one. It is a period of change in administration, personnel, style of governance and political party ideologies. The Transition laws are those laws, rules and regulations that principally facilitate and guide the smooth and orderly transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another.
Presidential transition eras are generally difficult periods. Until 1963 when the US Presidential Transition Law was enacted, the United States democratic practice witnessed many difficult transitions. These include the transition from the administration of James Buchanan to that of Abraham Lincoln in 1860/61 and that of Herbert Hoover to Franklin Roosevelt between 1932/1933. In Africa, Presidential Transitions from one democratically elected government to another democratically elected government was until recently non-existent. What was known in Africa was “takeovers”. After the independence era, African continent was soon to be dominated by strong dictators who did not handover reigns of powers until many were either toppled, overthrown by military coups, insurgences or the country got transmuted to one form of party dictatorship.
The latest waves of democratic experiments among states in Africa are rather unplanned and characterised by the absence of concrete legislative and administrative procedures as well as the absence of theoretical studies and framework. The greatest challenge with the new political model is the undetermined mechanism for delivering the alternation or political transfer of government machinery from one democratically elected President to another after elections.
As long as a number of African nations are practicing multiparty system, there would always be opportunity for alternation of power as determined by the electorates from time to time.
This would therefore, require set down laws, agreed rules and regulations and administrative structures for ensuring peaceful and orderly transfer of power in the event of such alternation of power. These laws, rules and regulations are to come into action principally to facilitate and guide the transition process. A number of African countries are queuing into this arrangement and this is very encouraging.
Nigeria is currently Africa’s largest democracy. However, for 16 years (1999-2015), one political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won all Presidential elections, till its dominance was broken by the All Progressive Congress (APC) in March, 2015 general elections. This election saw the first transfer of political power from one democratically elected government to another in Nigeria. Within the PDP years, there was no real political transfer of government machinery from one democratically elected President to another democratically elected President of the opposition party and therefore there was actually no pressing need for an agreed rules, regulations and administrative structures for ensuring peaceful and orderly transfer of power in Nigeria.
With Buhari’s emergence in 2015, there was an inescapable need for transition and having no existing laws in place, confusion, mistrust and mutual suspicion reigned supreme In view of the situation, though the National Democratic Institute (NDI) facilitated in 2015, through a Stakeholders’ Dialogue on Presidential Transition in Abuja. It later entered into partnership with Save Democracy Africa for an advocacy for the passage of the bill in Nigeria, with funding from USAID and UKAID. Following from the success of the above dialogue, there arose five different bills on Presidential Transition in the two Chambers of the National Assembly in 2015. Three of these bills were in the Senate and two in the Federal House of Representatives
These bills include: a Bill for an act to provide for the smooth and orderly transfer of power from one government to another and other related matters, by Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, House of Representatives; Presidential Transition Bill, 2015 by Hon Omoregie Ogbeide House of Representatives; a bill for an Act to establish a framework, formulate guidelines for political transfer of administration from one democratically elected President to another, provide for the regulation of transfer of political power and for other related matters, 2015 (SB19) sponsored by Sen. Mao Ohuabunwa, Senate; a bill for an Act to establish arrangements for the political transfer of administration from one democratically elected President to another democratically elected President, to provide for the regulation of the political transfer of power and for related matters, 2015 (S8 90) by Sen. Robert Ajayi Boroffice, Senate; and a bill for an Act to establish arrangements in practice for the political transfer of administration from one democratically elected President to another democratically elected President, to provide for the regulation of the political transfer of power and for related matters, 2016 (SB 274) by Sen. Umaru Ibrahim Kurfi (Senate).
Today, the Nigerian Senate has consolidated the three bills before her and subsequently passed it into law as Presidential Inauguration bill 2017. In the House of Representatives, the two bills before her were also consolidated, passed through the second reading and a public hearing conducted by the Justice Committee of the House.
The report and amended draft bill have been awaiting to be laid before the plenary of the House for final passage into law.
As it stands now, the following processes need to be completed before the end of this 8th National Assembly, for the bills to become laws. These include: Passage of the Presidential Transition Bill in the House of Representatives; Setting up of the joint conference committee by the two chambers to harmonize the bills as respectively passed by the two houses; meetings of the Joint Conference Committee to harmonize the passed bills; conveying the bill to the Presidency for presidential assent and assent to the bill by the President of Nigeria.
Basically, the 8th National Assembly winds down on or before 10 June, 2019 and if these processes are not completed, the bills can only be resurrected afresh in the 9th National Assembly. However, this law is pertinent for a smooth and orderly transfer of power and for reduction in the bickerings and mudslinging associated with transition when situation arises.
The chairman, National Democratic Institute (NDI) Gen. Yakubu Usman (rtd) has called for the passage and assent of the Presidential Transition Bill, an Act which provide for the smooth and orderly transfer of administration from one democratically elected president to another before the end of the 8th National Assembly.
He made this appeal in Abuja during a consultative forum for political parties organised to share experiences on global best practices, seeking cooperation to ensuring a smooth and orderly political transition in Nigeria on executive transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another.
Gen. Usman described political transition as “a very crucial aspect of democratic governance and yet one of the least considered area”. He decried the wave of democratic experiments among countries in Africa where the process are rather “unplanned and characterised by the absence of concrete legislative and administrative procedures.” He, however, allayed fears of the absence of theoretical studies and legal frame work.
The project director, Advocacy for Passage of Presidential Transition Bill in Nigeria, Save Democracy Africa (SDI) Dr Ifedi Okwenna, said with President Muhammadu Buhari’s emergence in 2015, there was an inescapable need for transition and having no laws in place, mistrust and mutual suspicion reigned supreme.
Dr Okwenna said the Passage Of Presidential Transition Bill will create a legal framework for transition process which will in turn strengthen the nation’s democracy. He added that the law will reduce bickering and mudslinging which are associated with transition.
The greatest challenge to this bill is time. Activities in the Nigerian Legislature operate on a four year cycle. Bills introduced at the National Assembly must be passed and assented to within the life of the same Assembly. Any bill not passed and assented within the four year cycle dies. It can only be resurrected as a fresh bill in the next Assembly.
As Nigerians, we owe this nation a duty to protect our democracy. This can be done in strengthening our institutions and putting in place laws, rules, guidelines and frameworks that protect and make our democracy sustainable. A Presidential Transition Law is such an important law that will make for a smooth transfer of power and for reduction in the bickering and mudslinging associated with transition when situation arises.
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