Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is proposing a legislation banning elected government official from contesting off-season polls.
However, lawyers and some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have expressed divergent views over the issue.
INEC, it was gathered, is considering a legislation barring people holding a four-year elective office from contesting in off-season elections.
Presently, a serving senator is contesting in the November 16, 2019 Bayelsa State governorship election and if he wins, another election will have to be organised by INEC in the constituency to replace him in the National Assembly.
It would also be recalled that Governor Seriake Dickson’s seat in the House of Representatives became vacant after he emerged governor of Bayelsa State about eight years ago.
LEADERSHIP Weekend reports that prior to the 2019 general election, a senator from Katsina State died and the then serving House of Representatives member, Ahmad Babba Kaita emerged the Senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and won. Another space for a by-election was created 90 days to the general election. INEC declined to conduct another off season election for the constituency because of the cost and time.
But to avoid further occurrence, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has approached the Senate Committee on INEC for a possible amendment of the Election Act to bar elected government officials from contesting in off-season elections while still serving another tenure.
“We are talking about starting primary election early. But there is a decision that this nation has to take – where one election leads to another election, and I am very happy that we have Senator Babba Kaita here and Senator Diri Doye from Bayelsa.
“In the case of Senator Babba Kaita, at a point INEC went and conducted election. We were told to go and field the vacancy in the House of Representatives. We did and after that, we were told a member of the state assembly contested for the House of Representatives, that we would go back and conduct another election for the state House of Assembly. Fortunately it was 90 days to the general election so we could not conduct the election.
“Going forward it is possible that, as a senator is elected, he or she is tied to that tenure for the next four years, so that one by-election should not give rise to another election because we have so many by-elections.”
He argued that barring such elected persons from contesting other positions would save cost.
But the chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Sen Kabiru Gaya, told the INEC chairman that since they are going to amend the Electoral Act, it should be part of the INEC proposal.
“Chairman, we are going to amend the act. We can’t discuss it now and resolve. This could be a discussion for a whole day. We have noted that and it is a vital issue. Sen Baba Kaita moved from one level to another and a member from the House of Representatives can move to the Senate. A member of the state House of Assembly can also move to the House of Representatives. But we will discuss that in the committee of the review of the Electoral Act,” Gaya said.
Both lawyers and some CSOs have been expressing divergent views over the issue.
National publicity secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr Anthony Sani, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that even though he does not know the basis for such a move, to disallow elected people from contesting for other offices would be counter-productive.
“Such a policy will undermine performance that comes with motivation, incentives and reward for performance in governance. This is because the practice would amount to legalization of single tenure in our body polity. This kind of situation will have no place for performance and motivation as instrument for leadership,” Sani said, recalling that there used to be clamour for single tenure.
“I do not believe we should temper with principles of democracy just because of by-elections. Democracy may differ in forms, but when it comes to its premise of triple foundation of justice, liberty and common decency, democracy is the same and universal. So, instead of redefining our democratic elements because of challenges posed by by-elections, it is better to address the underlying causes of by-elections.We should not use our surmountable challenges as basis for national policies. Let us work hard and overcome the challenges,” Sani added.
A former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Kaduna State, Barr Kish Adamu said people holding political offices should not be stopped from contesting for other offices.
“It is a constitutional right which they mustn’t be denied. We must stop this constant knee jerk approach to problems. If what we fear is abuse of office to gain advantage, then we should apply a sustainable solution. Strengthening our institutions for me is a better approach and ensuring that abuse of power or office is sanctioned,” he said.
Adamu, who said by-elections will always take place, added that once an election is nullified, an unavoidable part of the democratic process – or someone dies, or an election is declared inclusive, by-elections must take place.
“Unless his thesis has to do with off-season elections like the case of Kogi and Bayelsa, it will be interesting to see his proposal. Nothing stops INEC from proposing an amendment to that effect.
“But my view is that it deprives people of their constitutional right and prevents the electorate from rewarding an effective representative by promotion to a higher office of responsibility because of an inconvenience to INEC. These cases are exceptions rather than the rule. So I do not think I am in agreement with him. He needs to come up with a more creative solution,” Adamu said of the INEC chairman’s proposal.
A Lagos-based legal practitioner and Public Affairs analyst, Agwu David Nwaze, backed INEC’s move, saying there should be a law to guide, control or limit elected officers in their quest to contest for another elective office while their mandate in the former subsists.
David who said it will help in Nigeria democracy, and the electoral system, added that the law shouldn’t really ‘tie’ them, but that it should exist to control, guide or limit how these elected officers move in and out of electable offices.
“So, i support the chairman’s ideas. For example, that law could stipulate that the elected officer, to be eligible to contest for another electable position, that law could stipulate a maximum time within which he would have resigned from the former post held.
“The law could also stipulate that where he loses, he could not be returned to the former electable post he had resigned from until after a number of years.
“It will help to reduce the issue of by-elections. Supposing Mr. A contested an election for a position B and he won, and has been given a mandate/tenure of five years; it is presumed that he will serve for years before another election will be conducted to see the next person to take over that position B.
“However, where after two years of serving meritoriously, he decides to contest for another elective post, say C. If he wins and is given a certificate of return to the elective post C, it will mean his post in B, based on the former mandate, remains three years to go, and INEC will have to conduct a by-election to fill the vacancy created by his subsequent ambition in contesting for another election C, while still holding an elected office B, “ he added.
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