Ninth Assembly will be rigorous on state of the nation, electoral reforms --Nnamani

By AdvocateNews on 13/05/2019

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Senator Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani
Senator Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani

Former governor of Enugu State, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani is the senator-elect for Enugu East senatorial zone. He spoke on how the country’s electoral reforms will be carried out to enhance the integrity of the electoral process and the nation’s overall wellbeing in this interview with The Guardian. 

Why are you going to the Senate again?

For me, going to the Senate this time will be an opportunity to participate in the debate focused clearly on the Nigerian project. How do we live together amicably? How do we share our resources? How do we police ourselves and relate to other nations?

How do we refine the democratic process? How do we acculturate it within our values, so that it can grow and nurture? These are basically the challenges the country is faced with. If we address the burden of poverty, insecurity, social abuse in terms of human rights and electoral reforms, then we have put the country on the path of progress and development.

What do you have in store for your constituents?

Firstly, I hope to ensure that my people get their own share of the ‘national wealth,’ in term of infrastructure, water, electricity, roads, employment, adequate health facilities and education. All these are basic. But more importantly is to participate in the national debate in the Nigerian project. This is because if we get the Nigerian project right, things will fall into place.

What are your views on electoral reform?

Talking about electoral reforms, two things that come to my mind are the issues of inconclusive elections and certificate of return. I believe the issue of certificate of return is undue distraction, clear bureaucratic interference.

I believe there is no need for certificate of return. I believe beyond the declaration form, signed by the returning officer and witnessed by agents, there is no other certification necessary in that election. We do not want a situation where somebody will win an election and then, another establishment will deny the person that opportunity because of the so-called certificate of return.

In the area of inconclusive elections, I believe the issue of cancelled votes is a nullity. This is because, if you cancel votes, they don’t count. It is as if they were not cast in the first place. So, there is no way cancelled votes will now play a role that will lead to positive outcome. Cancelled votes are like fake naira notes. So, there is no need to count cancelled votes.

For instance, let’s take the case of an egg supplier. If out of the number of eggs he wants to supply, some got broken, he won’t make any charge on the broken eggs.

So, the votes that should be reckoned with are those correctly cast. Therefore, cancelled votes should not play a role in electoral outcome. We will keep these two issues simple in line with what is stated in the Constitution, which says in simple majority or elections where geographical spread is needed, we look at 25 percent or two-thirds. When you do not have 25 percent, the option is to go for another election with simple majority.

How do you intend going about this, given that our democracy is yet to mature?

I want to move the Senate into reviewing the issues through debate, and then see how it goes.

Some situations were exploited. These include issues of cancelled votes and non-registration of card reader. If you have card reader as part of the law and you remove the issue of cancelled votes, there won’t be issues of cancelled elections and complaints of over voting. There should be no interfacing agent between the voter, the votes and the results.

From the time you vote and when the vote comes out, there is no third party. All of us will hear the result of the vote at the same time.

It is like going to the ATM with your card. The card is like your voter card, which when you put it into the ATM to withdraw, there is no interfacing party.

The next thing is to get an alert on your phone and the same information gets to all the bank’s branches. There is no middleman to facilitate the money. That is the way it is. The review will help us minimise unnecessary bureaucracy in the electoral process, which has made people lose faith in the system. It will help restore the integrity of the electoral umpire by ensuring that votes count.

If you have the voter card and it is slotted into the card reader, which agrees that you are a qualified voter, you then vote. The ballot paper can be slotted into a machine that will identify which party you voted for.

The result will enter the system and the party you voted for will become plus one. It comes as an alert to all the servers at the headquarters of that polling area, at the RAC and all collation centres from local to national. So, all of us will see plus one at the same time, no matter where we are. 

You can also slot the voter card into the card reader and it qualifies you as a voter and you go to the electronic machine and thumb print. It will record that vote and show up everywhere as an alert and all of us will see it. There are two scenarios: One is where the card reader clears you as a qualified voter and you know on the ballot paper.

As soon as you vote, you slot it into the machine, which will recognise it as a vote for the particular party you voted. It shows up at the server as plus one vote and everybody at the centres, including political parties and media will have opportunity to see it.

The ballot paper will be kept. At the close of polling, you don’t need to announce result, as all of us had already got alerts. It is automatic.

If banks can do it using ATM machines, why can’t we do it in a more important issue as an election? I said we should keep the ballot papers in a situation where the margin is slim between two candidates. We can use the ballot papers to do manual count. And even if they want to go to court, the judges will say, let’s do manual count. So, the same day you get a court judgment, you can do the manual count and this will make the result to stay or not.

So, we would like to ensure that the card reader is there by law and that the electronic voting is there by law. It removes things like inconclusive voting with cancelled votes and certificate of return, which is bourgeoisie manipulation by dysfunctional elites who put these laws hoping to exploit them. That is why in most cases, when you have inconclusive elections due to cancelled votes; it is usually in opposition areas. You don’t have inconclusive and cancelled votes in dominant party areas, except may be in Imo State, where members of the dominant party were no longer pleased with it.

We really need to reform the electoral process because, even though there are lots of problems in the country, the solution is to get it right, which will make other things fall into place. 

You cannot talk of the Nigerian project without talking about restructuring. The many nations making up Nigeria were forced into this union. They were independent African states with their sovereignty intact.

But the electoral amendment by NASS didn’t receive presidential assent.

There is no problem; we are going to start it early. If there is no assent, there will be enough time to do a veto override. Once we go in, we should be able to start the electoral reform. So, if the President doesn’t sign it, we can pass it by two-thirds.

The clamour for Presidency should not be an issue, once we reform the polity. If you look back, you begin to ask what those that have had it (Presidency) have been able to achieve. It is not where the President comes from that is the issue.

As an Igbo man, my interest is restructuring. My interest is a Nigerian structure that will give my people opportunity to compete fairly for the nation’s resources, and not just Presidency.

We want a structure that recognises how we started. When we started, we were one in three. We want a structure that recognises each ethnic nationality as equal partners.

A structure that will make those with resources control their resources and those without resources look for other opportunities to grow. A structure that will help us police ourselves and relate with our neighbours, among others. It is not about Presidency and power rotation. It is about what we can contribute that should elicit competition.

How would you want the issue of principal positions resolved in NASS?

Generally, it is the responsibility of the winning party in most democracies to select principal officers.

In America, the minority leader of the House of Reps becomes the Speaker if the party wins. The minority leader in the Senate becomes the majority leader, depending on the winning party.

So, it is an issue the winning party should sort out. Let them give us the officers and we will play opposition. The public accounts committee is the only area left for the opposition.

I would appreciate also, if the offices are evenly spread to accommodate every zone. In that regard, though I am not a member of the winning party, Orji Kalu, who is coming with us to the Senate should be allowed to occupy the Deputy Senate President’s position. There is nothing wrong with the winning party producing NASS leadership. It does nothing wrong with our democracy. The leadership the winning party selects will work with the executive, while we play opposition.

When we were in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and we won elections, we selected National Assembly leadership. One day, we will return to government and we will select our own leaders.

Where did your party (PDP) miss it?

It is part of democratic evolution. Democracy evolves and parties also evolve in any environment. Interests misalign and then align. This is because political parties in developing democracies are not ideologically based. There is no ideological difference between PDP and APC. It is the same people that are moving from APC to PDP. I believe the interests that aligned within APC will one day misalign and some will find their way back to PDP.

You don’t believe PDP lost focus at some point?

PDP is a highly successful party. What PDP did for democracy does not have any comparison. It is because PDP did Well that you now have an APC government. The emergence of an APC government attests to PDP’s democratic potentials.

PDP actually cemented democracy in Nigeria. It was PDP’s consent that led to the emergence of an APC government. If they didn’t want it, it would not have happened, not in an emerging African democracy.

So, whatever has happened in the political space – whether the expansion of the political space with the coming on board of more political parties, freedom to vie for offices and what have you, they are processes put in place by PDP to grow our democracy.

So, why did you abandon the party at some point?

My exit from PDP was personal. We had problem in my state and you know politics is local. So, I had to look for another vehicle to express myself democratically. We formed our own party, the People for Democratic Change (PDC). We did not go to ANPP or APC. When the issue settled, when the political forces aligned, we returned to PDP and here we are today.

Was this realignment responsible for your reconciliation with former Governor Jim Nwobodo?

I never quarreled with Jim Nwobodo, who is our political father. Jim Nwobodo’s house has many mansions. As a father, his sons are bound to have different tendencies. So, you express your tendency, but ultimately, you will return to the father.

So, Jim Nwobodo is our political father, but specifically, my political leader is the state governor. He is my leader. So, the issue of reconciliation does not arise. All those things were just minor issues.

We had issues. We sorted them out. Maybe we were not seen together in public. We have related well and there is nothing for anybody to begin to judge.

But recently, there was rumour that you were taking a cue from the state governor, who carried everybody along…

Remember that from PDC, we returned to PDP. Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi gave me an opportunity and helped facilitate my emergence as PDP Senatorial flag bearer. It happened because of the governor’s benevolence, and I remain grateful for that. It would have been difficult doing it successfully, if the governor were opposed to that idea.

Why was it difficult for you to become what you are now, when you operated from the opposition?

I would not say it was too difficult for me. But remember we were on ground, even when we were in opposition. I cannot say I have tasted opposition practically.

I was in a small political party, which we can say controlled the people’s will. But due to electoral malpractices, the people’s will was never asserted. That could be the main reason. But that was not to say one has tasted opposition. But now that APC government is about emerging, when we go to the ninth National Assembly, I will be in opposition and I look forward to it. It is going to be vibrant, and the people’s will shall be put to test. So, as democracy progresses, and based on performance, we will either become the winning party or the opposition.

Posted 13/05/2019 01:09:09 AM

 

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