- ...Advocates entrenched democratic values
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN has unfolded plans by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to embark on a comprehensive legal reform to address the challenges posed by some of the nation’s outdated electoral laws.
The AGF revealed this in a keynote address he delivered at the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room’s Stakeholders Forum on Elections organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and supported by the British Department for International Development (DFID) on Tuesday in Abuja.
Special Adviser to the Minister on Media and Publicity, Comrade Salihu Othman Isah in a statement quoted Malami saying that, “This administration intends to carry out a comprehensive legal reform to address the challenges posed by some of our outdated electoral laws. My top priority as Attorney General of the Federation is to lay a solid foundation for a sustainable reform of the judicial sector where rule of law takes pre-eminence over and above rule of man.
We have also identified as top priority, the amendment of the Electoral Act and other laws in order to empower INEC and other similar bodies to deal with perpetrators of serious offences. We cannot rule out the possibility of the imposition of sanctions to restrain those found guilty of electoral violence from participating in the electoral process.”
The Minister pointed out that the establishment of Electoral Mobile Court is equally a major electoral reform being considered by the President Buhari government, stressing that some of the gaps in the electoral laws have manifested in the recent decisions of the Supreme Court on some of the election petitions.
Malami further affirmed that, “Also of concern to this administration are the increasing levels of electoral violence as seen in some of the recent held elections. It is my expectation that this stakeholders’ forum will come up with suggestions and proffer solutions to several of the challenges posed to the achievement of credible elections in Nigeria.
I have begun consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the judiciary to identify key laws and priority areas for reform. Our priority areas will be clearly outlined in our justice sector reform that we will propose to the National Assembly and align it with their agenda in order to achieve reform within the tenure of this administration and in record time.
The AGF also opined that, “Taking from the gains of the 2015 general election, it will be important for us as a country to entrench a culture of democratic values that will strengthen our nation.”
He insisted that elections in the country must be conducted in a transparent and democratic manner as to be a source of inspiration to the African continent and show us as worthy example to be emulated by all.
In this regard, it is our plan to ensure that our elections are competitive, inclusive, free and fair, for all to see”, adding that; “a democracy thrives and endures when the laws guiding the conduct of elections are well known and the citizenry are well informed of it.”
Malami disclosed that the governing party as well as opposition parties must enjoy a level playing ground, so that competitive elections can be organised and all parties and candidates enjoy all of the democratic rights and freedoms contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) including the rights of freedom of speech, assembly, and movement.
He explained that the nation’s democracy can only work and deliver accountable government, where elected officials see themselves as servants of the people who must subject themselves to credible periodic elections.
In her opening remark, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, Hajiya Aisha Dukku recalled that even though Nigeria conducted one of the most successful and credible polls in 2015, which represented a milestone; there is still room for a lot of improvements in the nation’s electoral process.
She explained that this will ensure that the gains made in previous elections are consolidated, hinting that, “just before the elections, several amendments aimed at improving the legal framework were proposed, but the National Assembly could not complete the amendments process before the elections were conducted.”
“The bills seeking to amend the Constitution and the Electoral Act were passed and forwarded to the President for assent only few days before the elections. It was also unfortunate that the country waited until the last months of the 7th Assembly to pass these amendments” she regretted.
Also speaking, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmoud Yakubu revealed that as at the last count, his Commission has conducted about 50 elections after the 2015 general polls, saying that sixty more elections would be held this weekend.
He said sixty-eight of the elections will be held in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council polls, while one State House of Assembly seat will be contested for in Osun state due to the death of its former occupant.
The INEC boss commended the Situation Room for hosting over sixty civil society groups sharing ideas and experiences on election matters and proffering solutions.