The independent candidacy bill and challenges of implementation

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By Bakare Majeed

 The passage of a bill to allow for independent candidates to run for elections at the recent voting on constitution amendments by the National Assembly has opened a whole new vista for electoral reforms in Nigeria.

The fact that the bill was passed with 275 ‘yes’ votes in the House of Representatives, makes the development even more resounding with respect to democratic development in the country.

Desirable as independent candidacy may seem in some quarters, a relevant question of implementation vis-à-vis reality of the Nigerian situation remains hanging. Perhaps, a recollection of history is imperative. The 1979 constitution adopted the American presidential system of government with all its promise of better governance. But with almost four decades gone and several amendments, Nigeria is still struggling under a very expensive system of government with a bi-cameral legislature which though ought to guarantee thoroughness but seems to have become a constant cog in the wheel of progress. The present system has encouraged bickering instead of debates, show of strength and cry of abuse of privilege are now everyday lexicon.

Nigeria should not sacrifice the idea of independent candidacy on the alter of ignorance. The socio-economic reality in Nigeria must be put in context. It may be working in other parts of the world, especially the recent success of Emmanuel Macron of France who won the election with a movement (Enmarch) rather than a political party. But if certain steps are not taken early in Nigeria to sanitize the political environment, even if eventually passed, the bill may end up being an exercise in futility.

Berne Sanders, the American Senator from Vermont, who prior to the 2016 election, had been an independent politician, gave Hilary a run for her money when he eventually ran under the Democratic Party.

According to Henry Kelechukwu, a legal practitioner who spoke on the bill “the National Assembly had good intentions, but the timing is ill conceived.” According to him, the level of Nigeria’s political development where elections are characterized by financial inducement which makes election contest to be expensive, does not support independent candidacy.

He said: “The bill is capable of denying the electorate the chance to vet candidates that are worthy through primary election. No doubt it’s working in some countries, the same way dictatorship is working in other countries. Nigeria has its own peculiarity and socio-political development, no situation currently warrants this bill.” Our level of political development already set a faulty foundation that is going to make the bill if passed to law to be susceptible to abuse by politicians.

The democratic process in Nigeria from 1999 to 2015 has shown that the financing of election is bigger than any other thing to politicians. As it stands Nigeria is yet to see a candidate who complained of desiring the opportunity to contest but found no political party to accommodate him or her.  Olushola Oke, the candidate of AD at the last Ondo governorship election, was alleged to be in 3 different political parties within one election circle (PDP, APC and AD) with about 50 other political parties to cross to. Without clarity on election financing, the independent candidacy provision will be another Achilles’ heel that may torment Nigerians for a long time.

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