Ahead of the 2023 general election, the House of Representatives is pushing for the widening of political space to accommodate independent candidates. Is Nigeria ripe for independent candidacy? Lawyers say yes, no. AKEEM NAFIU reports
pinions were sharply divided at the weekend among lawyers over the propriety of a Bill before the House of Representatives for an Act to alter the Constitution to allow for independent candidacy for any elective office in Nigeria.
Sections 65 (2) (b), 106 (d); 131(C), 177 (C) and 221 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) clearly stipulates that candidates for any election must be sponsored by political parties and only parties can canvass votes.
This was the reason behind the appearance of party logos on ballot papers as against names or photos of candidates.
In essence, the Constitution restricts and limits voter’s choices to candidates presented by parties.
However, the House of Representatives is set to alter the status quo with the introduction of a Bill to allow candidates not sponsored by any political party to participate in elections.
The Bill sponsored by the House Chief Whip, Mohammed Mongonu (APC, Borno), has already passed through the second reading at the Green Chambers.
Leading the debate on the Bill, Mongonu said the adoption of independent candidacy in elections will aside entrenching true federalism also deepen the nation’s democracy.
While lamenting the enormous challenges facing the nation’s electoral process, the lawmaker noted that there was a need to allow every citizen to vie for political offices. He further noted that rules of politics were not cast in stone and as such amendments should be carried out from time to time.
“The perception right now in the political arena is that political parties are often hijacked by a powerful few and the decided who becomes the candidate for the party in any given election.
“Some people who have genuine intention to contest elections and make meaningful contribution in office are often schemed out. It is against this background that I move this Bill to create space for independent candidacy in our political process”, Mongonu said.
In his contribution, Hon. Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo), also argued that the adoption of independent candidacy will go a long way in strengthening the nation’s democracy.
He further noted that Nigeria practiced the American Presidential System of government where independent candidacy was allowed. He added that it would be democratically expedient to allow well-meaning Nigerians to avail themselves the opportunity of an independent platform to contribute their patriotic quota.
Hon. Aminu Suleiman (APC, Kano) also spoke in favour of the Bill. He was of the view that it would expand the political and personal rights of people to function without imposition and interference of political godfathers.
Suleiman further noted that the Bill will help in no small measure at ensuring the emergence of popular choice made by the people without imposition by political party structures. He expressed optimism that the Bill would enjoy speedy passage and assent of the president.
However, in his opposition to the Bill, Hon. James Faleke (APC, Lagos) expressed doubt about the ability of the nation’s political space to accommodate everyone interested in political office. He said the resultant litigation might be too burdensome for the electoral umpire to bear.
House Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, later referred the Bill to the Special Ad-Hoc Committee on the Review of the Constitution after it was voted on and passed for second reading.
This is not the first time the issue of independent candidacy will be coming up in the country. It has been a subject of discourse since the First Republic (1960-1966).
During this period, independent candidature was an integral part of the Nigeria’s electoral process. A notable incident was the overwhelming defeat of Dr. Alvan Ikoku by his son, Samuel Goomsu Ikoku, who stood as an independent candidate in the Southeastern House of Assembly in 1961.
The 2005 National Political Conference and the 2014 National Conference also advocated independent candidacy.
Besides, the two most prominent executive committees on electoral reform, the Justice Uwais Committee of 2007 and Senator Nnamani Committee of 2016 also recommended independent candidacy.
Lately, Independent candidacy was also an item passed in 8th Assembly by both the National and the State Assemblies in the botched 4th Alteration to the Constitution.
Eighty-two senators voted in favour of independent candidacy while five rejected it. Also, during the House of Representatives People’s Public Session, 292 Federal Constituencies voted in support of independent candidacy.
Some senior lawyers have equally been speaking on the propriety of the Independent candidacy Bill. The lawyers while speaking on the issue at the weekend could however not speak with one voice on the readiness of the country to allow independent candidates participate in elections.
To some of them, indepen dent candidacy should be immediately incorporated into the electoral process because it is long overdue.
Others, however, argued that the adoption of independent candidacy was a misnomer and one capable of creating absurdity in the electoral process.
Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Niyi Akintola, said the adoption of independent candidacy will afford the electorate an opportunity to freely make their choice in an election without being bothered about the intrigues of political parties.
He said: “It’s long overdue. I am in support of it. The truth of the matter is that at the end of the day it is the masses who are the electorates that would have the last say, irrespective of any political party’s plans.
“Most of the time, we place too much emphasis on politicians and their intrigues. So much energy and resources have even be wasted on both inter and intra-party conflicts.
“However, if there’s a provision for independent candidacy, so many people who are sure of themselves and have what it takes will be able to stake their names and reputation on the line.
“The electorates will equally be free to make their choice, instead of boggling down everybody to a political party”.
Akintola was echoed by another silk, Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, who also believed people should be allowed to stand for election independently without being attached to any political party
“I think it’s a welcome development. It’s a good initiative. This is because we may have people who really cannot identify with of the two major political parties in the country.
“There may be other political parties outside the two major ones, but they are not strong. Thus, anyone who associate with these minor parties may be at a disadvantage.
“In a situation like that, people should be allowed to stand for election independently without being attached to any political party. This will give the electorates a broader range of choices. This will be a good arrangement.
“If a person found out that he is more popular on his own than associating with any political party, he should be allowed to try his luck as an independent candidate in elections”, the silk said.
Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN) also threw his weight behind the Bill saying people without any attachment to any political party should be allowed to vie for elective positions.
He said: “This is long overdue. my concern is what are the conditions to be attached for eligibility? You can bet that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be overwhelmed as a large number of individuals will run on that basis.
“You can compare the situation with political parties until INEC’s latest efforts to regulate the number which is still being tested in the courts. Subject to reasonable and fair conditions it’s a good development”.
Chief Fassy Yusuf also opined that adoption of independent candidacy will allow capable individuals of no party affiliation participate in elections.
He said: “I align my humble self with the Bill. The Nigerian political class frustrates eminently qualified candidates who cannot dance to their whims and caprices. Candidates should therefore, be at liberty to test their popularity without tying their fortunes to a political party”.
Mr. Wale Ogunade also believed that the Bill was timely. He however, expressed concern that the Bill may not scale through at the end of the day.
“To me, the move for independent candidacy, though very ripe and timely, may not scale through. This is because politicians in Nigeria know that with the issue of independent candidacy, they will not be able to do anything untoward.
“Some of them have no political structure and they depend on existing political parties being funded by powerful individuals. This is why the country is retarding politically. Rather than being answerable to the people, the political office holders at all levels are accountable to their political lords who ensured their victory.
“For you to know what I am saying, I will give you an instance. Somebody who is well known to be popular and a grass root person came up for an election under a political party and he will not get the ticket. Even, if he gets the ticket, he will not win the election because he belongs to a wrong political party but somebody, who is not popular, inexperienced and without financial capability to pull through in any election, will succeed because he has the backing of both his political party and a money bag.
“So, I want to believe that the issue of independent candidacy is something about advocacy which has to start now. But, just like I said earlier, I don’t see it coming up in 2023. It may however be the other of the day for 2027.
“Those who are interested in it should begin to promote it now. But, I believe the Bill at the moment can never see the light of the day”, he said.
However, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) was not disposed to having independent candidates in elections. He said independent candidacy will further dent the electoral process.
He said: “In the first place, I want to emphasize that the National Assembly has no competence to amend the Constitution. The lawmakers only have competence to alter a provision of the Constitution.
“If we really want to amend the Constitution, the lawmakers should sit down and draft a Bill that would enable the establishment of a constitutional conference or a constituent assembly. There is no country in this world that its parliament is allowed to amend the Constitution.
“Now, I want to say that I am not in support of this Bill to allow for independent candidates in elections. This can only be accommodated when we are writing a new constitution and that should be by a constituent assembly.
“Earlier in time, I was for independent candidature, but I had to withdraw my support owing to the bastardization of election process in the country. This is coupled with the fact that those who participate in the electoral process have no morality at all.
“Independent candidature will destroy this nation because all that people will do is to pay for ten candidates in the constituency of their rival. Hence, the manifestation of the political class in elections at the moment does not favour independent candidacy”.
Ahamba was echoed by another member of the inner Bar, Mr. Hakeem Afolabi, who also expressed his opposition to having independent candidates in elections. Afolabi said the nation is not ripe for a system of independent candidates.
“Independent candidacy for an election in Nigeria is a misnomer and will certainly lead to absurdity. Ours is a country that parades almost 90 political parties. Why then opening another floodgates for contestants on the platform of independent candidates?
“Our main concern and effort should be to reduce the number of candidates at an election and not create a system that will lead to increment in the number. We are certainly not ripe for a system of independent candidates”, he said.