The call for the adoption of independent candidacy by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) began to gather momentum again when Senator Ken Nnammani-led Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee recommended the inclusion of independent candidacy. KINGSLEY OPURUM examines its implication and workability, ahead of 2019 general elections.
As the 2019 general elections are fast approaching, a lot of Nigerians have started taking their cue from Senator Ken Nnammani-led Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee report to clamour for the creation of independent candidacy with a view to improving standard of elections in the country.
In adducing their reason, they are of the opinion that such provision will go a long way to address the bureaucratic processes involved in political parties, where an aspirant will register to be a staunch and financial member of a particular political party; go through the party primary elections before becoming the party’s standard bearer.
Some political commentators pointed out that one of the prominent reasons why corruption is deep-rooted in the country is political parties in as much as elected governments usually become conduit pipes and hostages to fortune, as these ruling parties will continue to strain every sinew to prevail upon their members in power to release governments’ funds in order to bankroll the activities of their parties.
Recall that the former Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, declined an offer to join United Russia Party because he believed that the President should be an independent candidate so that he serves the interest of the country, rather than that of a political party.
Senator Stella Oduah, who has been championing the independent candidacy bill since the beginning of the 8th Assembly, said that independent candidacy remained the best option for best representation in 2019.
Oduah, representing Anambra North Senatorial District said that unlike it was being misunderstood; independence candidacy would help the politics in Nigeria.
According to her, independent candidacy would end the impunity of imposition by political parties and ensure the right candidates are elected either through a political party or as an independent contestant.
Stressing how independent candidacy has worked in other developed countries, she said, “It has worked in the US. Indeed, it is a global best practice. If you bring it back home it will give the electorate the opportunity to choose who they want.
“We may not like political party B or political party C, but we like this individual. So, people will have direct access to choose their leaders.
“It will also remove the issue of imposition. It will not be a free-for-all. The best will emerge,” she said.
In allying himself with Sen. Oduah’s standpoint, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Henry Ofa stressed the urgent need for INEC to make all necessary adjustments that will allow the voting of independent candidates in future elections.
Ofa, a former commissioner on the board of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), explained that “we are in a time when electoral candidates should be supported not mainly on the basis of their political party or ethnic affiliations, but because of their verifiable credibility, leadership wit and the confidence of the masses that such candidate will deliver when voted into power”.
An Independent or non-partisan politician is an Individual politician not affiliated to any political party and stand as an independent candidate in an election, which is alien to Nigeria’s electoral practice.
A look at how independent candidacy has fared in some advanced democracies of the world
In United States, Bernie Sanders won a senatorial seat as an independent candidate and assumed office on January 3, 2007. He is the longest serving independent candidate in US congressional history. Though in 2016 US Presidential Election, Sanders joined the Democrat and jostled for the party’s presidential nomination but failed to clinch the ticket.
Also, President George Washington was an independent and has been the only president elected as an independent.
In Australia, Andrew Wilkie from Denison in Tasmania and Cathy McGowan from Indi in Victoria won seats as independent candidates in the Australian House of Representatives.
Also, DLP Senator John Madigan became an independent Senator in September 2014, while PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus became Independent Senators in November 2014 and March 2015 respectively.
In Canada, Chuck Cadman was elected to the Federal Parliament as an independent Member of Parliament (MP) representing the British Columbia of Surrey North in 2004.
In Germany, Joachim Gauck, incumbent President since 2012 and the first Federal President without party affiliation is currently the most prominent independent politician.
In Hong Kong, more than half of Hong Kong’s legislative council is made up of independents or members whose political groups are represented by one sole member in the legislature.
In Iceland, the current President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson is independent; the 9th Prime Minister of Iceland Bjorn Poroarson was also independent.
In Ireland, it is on record that after the 2011 Elections there were 16 independents TDs Members Parliament in the Dail (the lower house of the Irish Parliament) representing 10 per cent of the total, excluding the three members of the United Left Alliance who are also members of the Dail Technical Group of Independent TDs. There were 12 Independent Senators in the 24th Seanad (Upper House of Irish Parliament) representing 20 per cent of the total. Three of these were elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland and two from Dublin University.
In Italy, the Prime Ministers, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (1993-1994), Lamberto Dini (1995-1996), Giuliano Amato (2000 -2001) and Mario Monti (2011-2013) were independent when they were in office.
In Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga was elected the first female and independent President not just for Kosovo but the entire Balkans.
In Malaysia, though rare, but over four independent Senators are currently sitting in the parliament.
In Mexico, Jaime Heliodoro Rodriguez Calderon nickname “EL Bronco”, was elected governor for Nuevo Leon making history as the first independent candidate to win election in the country.
In Poland, the situation in the Senate allows independent to run as single candidate and some are elected in their own right. However, only Wlodzimierz Cimosezewicz is independent.
In the Philippines, Noli de Castro, former Vice President, ran as Senator in 2001 with no political affiliation, he won the Senate race with the highest vote (then) in Philippine history as an independent candidate.
In Russia, it is interesting to note that all of Russia’s Presidents have been independents. Former President Dimitry Medvedev who, was an independent, rose above every pressure to join United Russia Party. Vladimir Putin, the current President of Russia, is the Head of the United Russia Party but he is not its member. Thus formally, he is an independent.
In United Kingdom, prior to the 20th century, it was fairly common for independent candidates to be elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom though very few since 1945 when the journalist, Marthin Bell was elected at Tatton in 1997, having stood on an anti-corruption platform. He was the first independent to be elected to the Commons since 1951.
However, some analysts have refused to espouse the notion of independent candidacy in Nigeria, with the presentiment that such practice may not augur well for the country’s nascent democracy.
These analysts believe that the practice of independent candidacy has the proclivity to entrench executive and legislative recklessness and irresponsibility in default of guidance by the political party or its rules and regulations.
They also noted that independent lawmakers are susceptible to marginalization in the National Assembly in terms of allocation of positions like minority and majority leaders, and other juicy positions, which are sometimes, decided by the political parties.
The Democratic People’s Congress (DPC) has expressed its opposition to the inclusion of independent candidates in the Electoral Act insisting that Nigeria’s fragile democracy is not yet ripe for it.
The DPC in its Democracy Day statement, signed by the national chairman, Rev. Olusegun Peters, said it strongly opposed the call for inclusion of independent candidates for elections in Nigeria. The party advised its proponents including Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu and the Deputy.
As the 2019 general elections draw closer, Nigerians are anxiously waiting to see whether the practice of independent candidacy will be in place in 2019 or not.