Opposition gears up for a fight
From Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja , Thisday Newspaper 11.17.2010
Former Vice-President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, has asked the leading political parties to stop the move by federal lawmakers to become members of their parties’ National Executive Committee (NEC).
The 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which has already passed second reading in both chambers within days of introduction, seeks to make federal lawmakers automatic members of parties’ NECs – the highest decision-making organ.
The sheer number of National Assembly members is expected to overwhelm other members of NEC, effectively placing the control of parties under the legislators.
Ekwueme joined the widespread condemnation yesterday, urging the parties with members in the National Assembly to employ “internal mechanism” to stop the move which he described as “self-serving”.
He said it is not only self-serving but against the spirit and letters of presidential system of government.
Speaking with journalists in Enugu shortly after declaring open the second Coal City Book Convention organized by Delta Book Club, Ekwueme said the move also totally negates “the spirit and letters of true democracy”.
He said the bill, if allowed to scale through, would also put pressure on the nomination process of the various parties for the 2011 general election.
He urged the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and other parties to immediately checkmate the move by using the parties’ internal mechanisms.
Ekwueme said: “I think it’s perhaps a mixture of ideas from the parliamentary system and the presidential system. In the parliamentary system, the legislature decides the running of the parties, but it’s not so in a presidential system which we are practising today.
“The parties should be allowed to decide how candidates for elections are selected; if you allow every member of the legislature to become automatic members of the NEC of parties, what that means is that they would become the de facto leaders of the parties considering their numbers.
“What that means is that the legislators would become judges in their own cases because they will not decide how the NEC selects candidates for elections which they are equally contesting. What now becomes the fate of the people who are equally contesting for party tickets in the same election they are contesting?”
The Second Republic vice-president said there was nothing wrong in allowing the situation to remain as it is at present where some members of the National Assembly are still members of NEC and cautioned the people behind the bill to have a rethink.
THISDAY reported yesterday that PDP was already trying to persuade the lawmakers from going ahead with the controversial amendment next week.
PDP has the highest number of senators and members of the House of Representatives in the National Assembly, with 93 out of 109 senators and 258 out of 360 House members.
The National Legal Adviser of the PDP, Chief Olusola Oke, told THISDAY that the National Working Committee (NWC) would as soon as the Sallah break is over commence discussions with its members in the National Assembly through the use of “internal mechanism” of the party to see that the controversial bill is dropped.
A gale of condemnation has trailed the move since THISDAY broke the story last week, as the ACN has vowed to go to court to stop the law, describing it as “selfish”.
It also asked the civil society to organise mass protests against the National Assembly, just as former National Chairman of ANPP, Senator Saidu Kumo, said the legislation is “tyrannical”.
Elder statesman and former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, described the proposal as an assault on democracy.
House member, Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon, described the move by his colleagues as “legislative rascality”.
In the meantime, some opposition parties have begun moves to block any attempt by the National Assembly to introduce the controversial clause.
The parties under the umbrella of the Patriotic Alliance yesterday met to marshal an action plan aimed at frustrating the passage into law of the offensive electoral bill.
THISDAY gathered that the meeting which was convened in Abuja saw opposition leaders consulting on a wide range of other issues relating to the conduct of the 2011 general election.
It was also learnt that the group was planning to liaise with the various state Houses of Assembly, labour and civil society organisations to mobilise opposition against the proposed amendment in case the National Assembly goes ahead with it.
In a statement signed by the Acting Chairman of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Rev. Okechukwu Obiorah, the party strongly condemned the attempt by members of the National Assembly to foist themselves as NEC members of their respective political parties.
He said the exercise would amount to legislative recklessness, adding that it should be condemned by all lovers of democracy, good governance and rule of law.
“It is sad that members of the Senate and House of Representatives will start tinkering with the Electoral Act to boost their ego and acquire undue power and advantage over fellow compatriots.
“AD calls on Nigerians to strongly oppose this tyranny by our supposed representatives in the National Assembly. It is the exclusive right of a political party to determine members of its National Executive Committee. No organ of government can impose its members on any political party. It is illegal, unconstitutional and an abuse of power,” he said.
Also, the National Movement of Progressive Party (NMPP) NEC met at the party national secretariat Abuja yesterday to condemn the move.
In the communiqué signed by the National Chairman of NMPP, Dr. Lawrence Atuanya, the party enjoined eligible Nigerians to participate in the January 2011 voter registration as power resides in the people.
It expressed the hope that the outcome of the elections would reflect the wish of the electorate.
It also urged the National Assembly to expedite action on the minimum wage bill to avert further national strike by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).
“NEC notes with dismay that the National Assembly members have applied delay tactic in handling crucial national issues and bills, contrary to the lightening speed in which they pass bills affecting them including their jumbo pay that made them the highest paid legislators in the world,” it said.