2023: Will Independent Candidacy Bill deepen Nigeria’s democracy?

ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU, in this report, examines the issues and concerns raised on the Independent Candidacy Bill that just scaled second reading at the National Assembly, as well as its chances of deepening the country’s democracy.

The House of Representatives at a plenary, after several debates, recently passed for second reading the a Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to allow for Independent Candidacy to any Elective Office in Nigeria, and for Related Matters (HB. 754); the bill is in preparation for the 2023 general elections.

The bill was voted on, passed for second reading and referred to the Special Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the Constitution to accommodate all concerns and contributions.

Leading the debate, Mohammed Tahir Monguno said the bill seeks to deepen the Nigerian democracy and give a level playing field for all Nigerians who want to contribute their quota to national and local developments.

According to him, it is common knowledge that a country’s constitution should not be static, but should be a document that takes care of needs that may arise from time to time.

The lawmaker said views abound that a few people who hijack political parties hinder those that have contrary views from theirs from expressing themselves politically on the platform of a political party, adding that the views necessitated the need to sponsor the bill.

Support, opposition

Contributing, Sergius Ogun said as Nigeria practises a presidential system government; hence it would be democratically expedient to allow well-meaning Nigerians to avail themselves of the system where they can have an independent platform to contribute their patriotic quota.

On his part, Aminu Suleiman said the bill seeks to expand the political and personal rights of the people to function, which is devoid of imposition and interference of political godfathers.

He said the bill would also ensure the emergence of the popular choice made by the people without imposition by political party structures.

Suleiman expressed optimism that the bill would enjoy speedy passage and assent of the president.

However, opposing the bill, James Faleke doubted the capacity of the nation’s political system to accommodate everyone that may just wish to run for office, as it would be enormous for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to handle as well as the resulting litigations that are bound to occur.

He called for a way where the guidelines of who qualifies as an independent candidate can be determined.

Northern agenda?

An Ibadan-based politician, Chief Ismaila Ashipa, in his view thinks the bill is only set out to promote northern interest in the 2023 general elections.

He told Blueprint Weekend that, “The bill is strongly supported by the North. Do you want to know why? The likelihood of any northerner for 2023 Presidency within the two major political parties, the APC & PDP, is debatable, controversial and slim.

“And for the North political potentates to suddenly move enmasse to populate another party portends danger to our democracy. But the North wants to perpetuate itself at the centre come 2023.

“Therefore, the plan is on for the North to rally round and embrace, irrespective of political affiliations, northern independent candidate in 2023 and beyond. And with her highly stuffed population of INEC voter register, a simple majority count after the second ballot would do.”

On the chances of other zones if the bill sails through, he said, “The South-east might be prepared to play second fiddle behind the North in 2023. Presently, the South-east, of the six geopolitical zones, is a bed rock of political disunity. The eight-year antagonistic and discriminatory five per cent rule of Buhari and APC in the South-east has whipped the Igbo to submit to grabbing at whatever political straw being dangled at her. Beautiful bride so it was tagged in 1979 by Chief Mbadiwe.

“Also, the South-south could as well settle with the North for Senate Presidency/SSG carrot which the South-west, if offered, might consider a disservice and an under-compensation for all her support for Buhari and APC’s eight-year rule.

In his remarks, a public affairs analyst, Aminu Muhammed, said many countries have recorded huge success with independent candidacy and, therefore, urged the lawmakers to ensure easy passage of the bill.

In a phone chat with this reporter, he said, “I support the emergence of individuals who want to stand for election independently. Many countries have recorded success in this; we should move away from recycling same politicians, especially those with a track record of corruption.

“There are many greater values that we stand to gain as a democratic nation if this bill leaves to see the light of the day. As it is today, within most of these political parties, the few wealthy ones have for years dominated and even polluted Nigeria political space, this is because they in most cases finance the parties and he who pays the Piper, dictates the tune.

“This has denied many people for many years, some of these platforms. However, in order to deepen democracy and its values, we need to provide a platform for all to participate. There are credible candidates who do not wish to be part of any political party.

“These people should be considered and given an opportunity to run for office. This independent candidate bill when passed will give such candidates that opportunity to contest and be voted for.

“Let us take an example from France. President Emmanuel Macron came out of the blues, formed a party within a year and emerged as president. He couldn’t have stood a chance if he ran for primaries in any of the existing parties. So, it will enable some of our best brains to contest most of these elective positions.”

NYCN’s take

In its contribution, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) expressed optimism that if the bill is passed into law, it will give the most qualified and competent youth more opportunities.

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend on phone, Council’s public relations officer, Comrade Olugbode Damola, said, “If you recall, in 2019 many youth took advantage of the Not too Youth to Run Act to seek all elective positions at both national and state levels. But many never made it to fly major political parties’ flags and this was largely because of money and other bottlenecks.”

“If the bill flies and becomes an Act, it will give the youth more opportunities. The bill, if it becomes law, will even reduce the monopoly of most of these major political parties; in fact they will be forced to reduce some of their charges.

“Additionally, Nigerians will have many alternatives and more credible people will be willing to seek elections banking on their credibility and popularity.”

‘It’s a double-edge sword’

A public affairs analyst, Jide Ojo, said the impact the independent candidate bill will have on Nigeria democracy in 2023 election is like double edged sword.

He told this reporter that, “It’s been long desired to have independent candidates as part of our electoral jurisprudence. That will have brought us in conformity with international best practices. Though it is believed that political party system is one of the cardinal principles of democracy, but even from where we copy our electoral system, there are provisions for none conformist who want to run as independent candidates.

“We run a presidential system of government in Nigeria and in United States of America, if you recal, there was a billionaire who for a long time always ran as an independent Presidential candidate, he never won, but he kept making his statements about the desire he have to rule America. Even Ghana and several Africa countries have provisions for independent candidates.”

Continuing, he said, “So, it is not something that is strange to Africa continent, the point is it is believed to be part of the plural political system to have multi party system co-existing with independent candidacy.

“My fear is that, it may lead to a situation where there will be conjecture on the ballot papers, like we had with over 90 political parties that contested the 2019 general elections. They may end up with 500 political parties or names on the ballot papers and that my actually confuse the electorate.”

Ojo sad further that, “But in other climes there is a way you do it in order to make it stringent for anyone that wants to run as an independent candidate. So, it is not going to be a tea party.

“For instance, there are provisions on the number of accredited parties that must approve of your candidacy across the constituency where the independent candidate wants to run. There could also be some financial deposits. There are different criteria for the person to meet so as to qualify to run as an independent candidate.

“So, independent candidacy is a double-edge sword given the fact that in Nigeria there so many candidates that usually want to run in an election, some to massage their egos and some for material benefits, so that they can negotiate for largesse. But that is the beauty of democracy; it allows both minority and majority to contest together.”

On whether the bill will see the light of the day Ojo said, “It may or it may not happen. But the bottom line is that we cannot perpetually run away from it. I think it is something that Nigeria can also toy with and once those criteria are met you are legible to contest.

“After all, the so-called multi-party system we claimed to practice is a defactor two-party system. You recall that in the last presidential election, we had 74 candidates, but in actual fact there were only two candidates. Those who ran viable campaigns in 2019 were just candidates of the APC and PDP.

“So, let’s give it a trial, let’s allow it because in that actual sense political parties have not behaved themselves, they have not discharged their roles creditably. They are just there for personal interests and that is why some people are advocating for independent candidacy.”

“So, in order not to snuff the life out of the ambition of some credible candidates, it will be good if the political system will allow some of them to run as independent candidates so that we will know whether they are as popular as they claim to be or not.

“Also, to save them from the tyranny of the political gate-keepers who in many instances shut out credible candidates while making way for corrupt, but unpopular candidates. So, let’s try something new and see whether it will serve our politics better than what we are used to.”

On the likely impact of independent candidature on the 2023 general elections, he said, “It may or may not impact on the 2023 general elections. The truth of the matter is that it is too early to say it will or will not make impact. Whatsoever it is, if we have our electoral reforms early enough it will get to the Commission and other electoral management in good time to prepare for future elections.

“So, if we are able to finalise all our electoral reforms before the end of this year or by mid-2021 that will give the electoral body the ample time to input that new way of doing things. If we now have provision for independent candidates, individuals will be able to test their popularity.

“The impact of independent candidates has always been minimal; in real sense they split votes. They may not win, but they reduce the chances of some popular candidates. Be that as it may, even if they don’t make the desired impact in the 2023 general elections they may in future elections.

“It will be difficult for an independent candidate to win the presidential election in Nigeria because no matter how popular you are, you need the party structure to help you galvanise presidential campaign. It is just like the Not Too Young To Run, you may ask what was its additional value in the 2019 elections? But you can see the significant increase in the number of youth who are today in the nation’s parliament. So, the impact will be gradual. It may not be revolutionary. But they will start to shake the table by 2023, but by 2027 you may start to see many people running and winning as independent candidates.”

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