Former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, tells our MANAGING EDITOR, NORTHERN OPERATIONS, JUDE OWUAMANAM, that the new Electoral Act that would come from the ongoing public hearing on the review of the Electoral Act and the Constitution would reduce the frictions and anomalies in the country’s electoral system.
He also speaks of the issues leading to his dumping the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Attempts at amending Nigeria’s electoral laws in the past aimed have been problematic. Why do you think this has been so?
Well, problematic in the sense that excellent recommendations made by various committees in the past have not been implemented. I think that is the problematic area that you are referring to, but this time around Mr. President is determined to bequeath to Nigerians a credible electoral system. He has been through the electoral process all the time and it is said that he who wears the shoes knows where it pinches. He has gone through this process more than three times and his body language and expressions shows that this time around, he is determined to do something differently.
What are those areas your committee thinks that the electoral laws need some serious tinkering?
It is true that when you were drafting a bill you cannot anticipate everything. Look at what happened in Kogi state the last when a candidate was at the threshold of victory and being sworn, then he dropped dead. Nobody could have imagined that such a scenario in possible in our electoral process. The problem then arose whether the party now could go through a fresh primary to choose another candidate or to let his running ,mate conclude the process. Remember the running mate did not go through the primaries. The candidate that dropped dead went through the primary election and chose him as his running mate. As I said it is impossible for people who are drafting the bills to have anticipated this kind of scenario. This was quite significant. You can remember the Justice Uwais committee, did not anticipate this kind of scenario. So, there is every need to revisit the report of that committee and adjust it where necessary. Again some of the good recommendations made by that committee did not find the light of the day. For example, the issue of the electoral body being truly independent by way getting its funds directly from the national accounts, that is first line charge. It has been implemented. It was part of the Justice Uwais Report. There are still so many other reports that have not been implemented. But most national that have transited into full blown democracy require to amend their electoral acts from time to time. It is not static. It is something that evolves. It is dynamic depending on the changing nature of the country itself. Even the report we will make may eventually require some panel beating after some years. So, it’s not going to be final in the sense that our country will eventually gain from the recommendations that are going to be made.
I believe this is not the first zonal hearing your committee had had or is having. From the feelers from your previous outings, are Nigerians ready for such reforms?
Well you see, public hearing is not a political rally. It is not a place where you judge the success by the number of people in audience. You judge the success of public hearing by the quality of presentations made, the calibre of individuals. If my mum were to be around, she is late, if she were to attend a public hearing on constitutional amendment, certainly she will have no contributions to make because she is not knowledgeable even to the extent of asking valid questions, not to talk of participation. Many Nigerians may sit in a public hearing, but they must have to understand the question before they start answering. That is why I said public hearing although not required by the Constitution; no section of the Constitution said that before you embark on amending any Act or law, you must hold a public hearing. Certainly not, but it has become conventional. People that would come to a public hearing and make it successful are those, who might have had the privilege or the opportunity to have the Electoral Act, or some aspects of the Constitution that relates to elections. Or those that understand what the electoral process is all about So, the teeming number of Nigerians – men, women, boys and girls – do not need to attend public hearing because they don’t seem to know exactly or have the opportunity of reading what the topic is all about. So, to answer your questions directly, we have had tremendous contributions from the three zones we have so far covered. We have done South-East, South-South and North-West. We were in Kaduna yesterday (March 8). In all those we attended, we had plenty of judges, attorneys, civil societies, other bodies and groups and citizens advocates with different names. And you know how prepared they are. They articulated and documented their thoughts, telling you that they are prepared on what to say. And the reason for soliciting for contributions from the members of the public is because, yes we have a very strong committee comprising of professionals, lawyers, practising and no practising politicians, and many of them; we figured that our committee does not have the monopoly of ideas on how to make the electoral system to commendable both at home and abroad. Many of us in the committee believe strongly that development – political and economical – start first of all from the ballot box. What I mean by this is, if we believe in the sanctity of the ballot box, if people’s mandate can count and elections are won and lost at the polling stations, and not at odd premises, Nigerians would be better off, not only in terms of money spent, but in terms of the legitimacy of the process. The happiness and acceptability it will bring on the people that their votes do not only count but can be counted not waiting for three or man to sit and declare one person as elected. The sooner we get the process right such that winner are declared at the polling unit which now would reflect the mandate then people have given, they will feel happy that their candidates won. Not after they have finished voting one technical ambush, another candidate is declared by a court. This erodes confidence and legitimacy of election. So, the fewer court problems we have, the better we will be. And again most of the court cases we have today, starting from the Supreme Court. I have not done actual analysis; I know that half of them are electoral matters. Not too long ago, some judges were in difficulty. Some of them were apprehended in wee hours of the night and so on. If you look closely, most of the cases that put them into problem have to do with election. People contesting land issues, commercial cases and so cannot afford hugh sums of money. So, if we can reduce the number of election petitions, both pre and post, courts will be free to face other matters and w save so much money. It has now become fashionable for people to reserve greater amount of their money for election petitions rather than campaigns. They do whatever is necessary to get through primaries, win election and then go to court knowing that knowing that the actual winning could be in the courts. That is not good enough for our electoral laws and democracy. So, constant review of our electoral laws and the constitutional aspect that pertains to the electoral system is necessary because we are still an emerging nation. Emerging in the sense that we are transiting from autocratic rule to full blown democracy. Remember I said that development starts with the ballot box. If we get it right, the money we waste in courts, the bitterness and anger and all the ambush will be reduced and we move on.
You have agreed there are gaps in our electoral laws. What happened in Kogi and Ondo states readily comes to mind. Be that as it may, but will the ruling party be willing to accept your recommendations?
Now, you are talking of party politics…
Yes because now you are in APC…
Yes, I am. A lot of people have asked me why I left PDP. I left politics February 6, 2016. I called a press conference to address that. I put in writing, and published it in some national dailies as advertorials. I gave my explanations, and said I was stepping aside in the interim, and then, on January 22, this year, I said I have pitched my tent with APC. If you are to contest for a position, rather than being an arm chair critic, is to belong to a political party, you have to belong to a political party. The easiest thing one can do is to criticise because you don’t belong to a platform. The Constitution does not allow for independent candidate. Maybe it will change, but as I am talking to you now, there is no room for that. But the work we are doing now has nothing to do with party politics because one of the qualities of a legislator is the ability to think independently. The recommendations that the Committee will make us similar to what is going on now at the National Assembly. The report will be going to the executive, accompanied with a bill. The President belongs to a political party, the members of the National Assembly that will now enact new electoral laws, harmonise all the laws – many of us did not know that there was an electoral act that was passed in 2015. it was not popular, but the Bill was signed into Act. It was called the 2015 Electoral Act. One our terms of reference is to harmonise all those electoral acts from 2006, 2010 and so on. Even the judges used to make mistakes. They don’t know which one to use. We will try to present a bill that will now necessitate repealing all other electoral acts. We are working closely with the National Assembly. In our recent retreat in Uyo (Akwa Ibom State), one of the participants, Ike Ekweremadu, is the Chairman of the Constitutional Review Committee. He made a copious presentation at Uyo. Now, coming back to your question: will the ruling party be willing to accept the changes? Laws are not made for a person or a particular political party. Laws are made for everybody. If you draft a bill with one person in mind, if that person is no longer available, you have to go back and draft another bill. Laws are not made for the PDP, not for APC, but for everybody. So, and as I told you, members of my committee are drawn from all works of life in Nigeria. There are those that don’t belong to a political party, and politicians, legislators, academics, SANs etc. Party politics; my personal analysis of all the cases we have had, then malpractices and the malfeasance we have is as a result of problems emanating from the party primary. In many of the cases, and particularly, those that have been overturned by the court arose from party primaries. The Ondo example you cited is one of them. You are saying how can a person emerge as a candidate few days before election, and still wins. Remember the voting in Nigeria here is not particularly for an individual. When you cast your vote, you are voting for a political party. Remember the case in Rivers State between Amaechi and Omehia. That is why you don’t have a person running as an independent (candidate). You run on the platform of a political party. So, the fact that the party brought a candidate, and as a long as it satisfies the provision of the Electoral Act, it is not how long an individual had been in the race, the Party has been in the race. Individual names are not on the ballot boxes, but logos of political parties. The time he joined is not necessary. As long he meets the requirements of the law, there is nothing wrong with that. That shows you the importance of belonging to a political party. If I am running, you won’t see the picture of Ken Nnamani on the ballot box, but you will see the broom because I now carry broom. You want me to emphasis it, I have done so.
There are those, who believe that there are people with independent minds, who don’t believe in party ideology, and who will like to run, not under any platform, but they are being denied because there is no law for independent candidacy. Have you received recommendations or memoranda for independent candidacy?
Plenty. There is a wide opinion and agitation for it.
And how is your committee accepting?
It is not for us to say. We are still studying it. As I said, the Committee is made up of people from diverse disciplines, and I can’t tell you what we have decided because we have not taken a decision. We are at the threshold of taking a decision, and this is why we are holding public hearing. We want to hear from Nigerians. What do they think about it? We take it into consideration when we are preparing our final report. That question is a recurring decimal. Somebody asked us in Calabar (Cross River State), are we not encroaching on people’s fundamental rights by denying them the right to be voted for as an independent. This is the same question you are asking. When I started, I said that as at this night, the Constitution does not allow independent candidacy, and our assignment required electoral and constitution reform. That is the aspect of the Constitution that affects the Electoral Act. If we now get a platform, if we must create the room for independent candidacy, it requires amending the Constitution. Though the Constitution is the grand norm, it cannot be changed just like that. You can change the Electoral Law. You cannot change the Constitution just by mere pronouncement like your family minute book. That is why our mandate is to identify those areas of the Constitution that impinge on the Electoral Act, this is one of them. If a candidate is poplar in his locality, and does not belong to a political party, he may contest. If we make such recommendations, we should also recommend that section so so and so of the Constitution should be amended to accommodate it. Not the entire Constitution, but the aspect of the Constitution that affects the Electoral Act.
There is this ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill’ now before the National Assembly. It prescribes that the age to contest should be lowered to enable the younger ones, who are eager to participate in politics, contest for public offices. My concern here is that there are those, who were presidents or heads of state in their late 30s and 40, and are still presidents in their 70s…
Where they elected?
They were not elected, I am just citing an instance. That would not be a good analogy. The ascension to power, through the barrel of the gun, is a different thing. I am talking about the ballot box now.
Okay, that is not the point, Sir. What I am asking is, has your committee received memoranda on this in the light that younger people, including gender issues were given a deliberate platform to encourage young people, who are in therecommendations and who are intelligent to participate in the electoral process. Look at The Netherlands and Canada; they are becoming presidents at their 40s. Is it what your committee would consider as part of your recommendations, and have you gotten memos on that?
Even as early, even though it was yesterday, but even as early as yesterday, about four or three very strong presentations were made at the North-West hearing talking exactly what you are saying now. We received such also in Calabar and Enugu in the South-East. Younger guys, even younger that yourself, made such request that the age should be lowered to 25. Ten years below the present 35. The Bill you are referring to in the House of Reps, I have not seen it. In fact, yesterday in Kaduna (State), somebody came with a banner, asked me to hold it; as she is holding it so that it doesn’t appear as if she were imposing it on me. I held, and camera people were everywhere taking snapshots of me, the girl and the banner. What I don’t know, because I have not seen the bill, is whether, after prescribing lower limit, it also prescribed upper limit. Something would be missing, if it is not there because I cannot see any balancing, if there is no upper limit in that bill. If you say lower the age limit to 20, 25 or 30, as you people would want, but if you are above 70, you don’t have business running for elective office. Such memo cannot come from me because I am chairing a committee. As an individual, I have my view. The point you have raised is making currency. Maybe tomorrow, here in the North-Central, it will be raised. We will take it into consideration. But I have not heard people talk about upper limit. It is necessary that, if there is lower limit, there should also be upper limit. That’s the idea I am suggesting. At a certain age, there is what we call diminishing returns, no matter how clever you are. At that age, you are supposed to be an elder statesman. Sit back and advise others, be a mentor to the younger ones. But you cannot see the committee coming to talk about it. It must come from you. But we will ensure that there is a participatory kind of politics.
Your Excellency, many people were of the view that you are the least person they had expected to dump the PDP and pit your tent with APC having being a prominent member of PDP through whose platform you achieved the greatest height in your career. But you took the bull by the horn and left. What necessitated your decision?
So you did not read my paper in January?
I want to hear it from you…
You want to hear it from me. I wrote it, though I may not use the same words now.
Let me also add that they said your timing of leaving was not right. That you left the party at the time they needed you most.
Okay. That is true. I thought that, after the questions on electoral review, I am done with the interview, but the important thing there is I wrote a very passionate narrative when I was leaving. I showed gratitude to PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) for giving me a platform because under that platform, I reached the height of my career so far. The Party encouraged me to do what I did. I also tried to blow the whistle most of the time I saw things going wrong in PDP. If you recall, there was something we called PDP Reform Forum (PRF). I was the Chairman. My deputy then was then Speaker Aminu Masari. The governor of Kaduna today, (Nasir) El Rufai, was in charge of e-registration. (Aminu) Tambuwal was also a member. Many of them are now governors. We were suspended from the Party because we said let the Party practice internal democracy. We popularised the term. When we were suspended, we went to court Kanu Agabi, SAN, and many other senior lawyers were our lawyers. They did not charge us a kobo. We were able to get Ahmadu Ali and co to stop holding a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the PDP. Memories are very short. I did not lead that alone. I have other people. At a point, that party became a flag bearer of impunity. I hate to use the word cabal, but a group of people hijacked the people. Even it said it is the largest party in Africa, nobody knows the number, how many people are in the Party. The PDP Reform Forum wanted to ensure that every member of the party counts by e-registration. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was the first person to register on the television. So, Ahmadu Ali and others felt that we had created a division and we got suspended. I still have the suspension letter signed by (Kawu) Baraje, who was then the National Secretary. I have the one he wrote, inviting us back, after we won in the court. Nothing changed after that. Remember that somebody said PDP will rule for 60 years. That was a statement of impunity. That means that would be no need for election, nor any other party coming on board. All these are signs of failure. Now they started dissolving state chapters of the Party randomly just by mere pronouncement, whereas our Constitution made it clear how a state chapter could be dissolved. I wrote a personal letter to (Vincent) Ogbulafor, the National Chairman, on this matter. I have a copy. I have a file on PDP. I did not just jump. I am taking you through all these sequence to show you that my leaving the Party was not a spontaneous reaction or decision. Not too long ago, November 11, 2015, I led a delegation of PDP stalwarts to Wadata Plaza telling that yes, we did not do well in the election, we should have as new face for the Party. I told them that, if there is a vacancy for any position in the Party, we should fill the vacancy with somebody from the same zone until there is a convention, and then we will fill that position. Let us obey our constitution. (Adamu) Muazu resigned, after the election and (Uche) Secondus took over. Secondus is not from the North-East. I said let us obey our constitution once again, and it was not done. (Ahmed) Gulak went to court, and won, making Secondus’ position null and void. He (Secondus) did not leave. So, the manipulation continued with Olisa Metuh and others. I am telling you the story now. I led a delegation that asked these questions. There are many issues I raised that at Wadata, and they said they would get back to us later. The same night of November 11, I addressed the PDP caucus at the National Assembly in the Deputy Senate President’s house (Ike Ekweremadu). I spoke there for 15 minutes, and what I was told was the same answer I got in the day time at Wadata. They will get back to us. Many people were with me. I waited until that February 2016 when I was invited by the former President, this is the first time I am saying this publicly. There was to be a BoT (Board of Trustees) meeting on Monday, that should be the 8th or thereabout. They encouraged me that I should go and become the BoT Chairman. That I will nominated. Remember that I had already showed interest in BoT chair before (Tony) Anenih. They said Anenih should go ahead, and his age is no problem…he is an elder statesman. I came back to my office that day, and addressed the press. I told them that I was leaving PDP, and they said ‘whaaaat?!’ Now, I could not wait until that Monday to attend that meeting where the chances were that I could become the BoT chairman. Chairman of a non-existent party! That meant that the people, who came to the market, had all gone home, and now, I was going to buy and sell with vultures and mad people. It is the time I will become the BoT chairman. That was why I resigned, and that night, coincidentally, I left for US. Remember, I resigned (on) February 6, 2016, and the other delegation was November 11, 2015. I memorised the dates because they were important in my life because I know that one day, people like you will ask me. I put it in writing. It was more organised than what I am telling you. These were the reasons in a nutshell why I reasoned. I did not decamp.