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PROPOSED FED MEDICAL VARSITY, IYIN-EKITI : A MILESTONE ACHIEVEMENT OF MOB

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FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OF MEDICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES, IYIN-EKITI: A LANDMARK ACHIEVEMENT OF SEN. MICHAEL. OPEYEMI BAMIDELE
Sen, Michael Opeyemi Bamidele
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By Oluseyi Olubanjo

 

The hope of the good people of Ekiti State got rekindled for an anticipated facelift in the State’s health sector on Wednesday, 24th February, 2021 when, on the floor of the hallowed red chamber, Sen. Michael Opeyemi Bamidele representing Ekiti Central Senatorial District, presented a Bill for an Act to provide for the establishment of the Federal University of Medical and Environmental Sciences, first of its kind in the annals of medical education in Nigeria. The novel health institution is envisioned to be domiciled in Bamidele’s home town, Iyin-Ekiti in Ekiti State, Southwest Nigeria.

The announcement of the Bill during its First Reading at the Senate’s plenary was greeted with applause from well-meaning Nigerians given its timeous arrival, especially at a time when the parlous state of our nation’s health sector has just been exposed by the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic which bedeviled and ravaged the entire world since about twelve months now. Aside the pathetic dearth of modern health care facilities and lack of adequate funding, one perennial problem facing the Nigeria’s health sector is the paucity of adequately trained and well-motivated medical personnel.  Unfortunately, this puzzle has lingered over the years with little or no attention from the Federal Government.

Official Statistics on yearly basis shows Nigeria, Africa’s largest country is in dire need of medical doctors to meet the health needs of its citizens. It has been reported that only one doctor is available to cater for every 4, 845 Nigerians. According to the report of a research conducted by Premium Times in December, 2017, Nigeria had 42,845 registered doctors, dentists and alternative medicine practitioners working in the country. Of this number, 39, 912 were medical doctors while registered dental practitioners stood at 2, 901. Invariably, Nigeria’s ratio of doctors to population is about eight times below the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients. Worse still, the data supplied to Premium Times by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) did not include the number of doctors and dentists who have left Nigeria to work abroad since 2017.

Owing to non-adequate workforce, Nigeria’s health professionals are over-worked. A doctor is supposed to see a maximum of 20 patients a day but they are seeing about 150 on daily basis. Certainly, by the time such medical personnel gets to 50 years in age, he is already exhausted. Even a nurse that is supposed to see about four patients has to take care of 50 patients in a ward, certainly, he/she will get tired. Going by this disturbing trend, Nigeria might find it difficult achieving its Universal Healthcare Coverage goals. WHO identified critical shortage, inadequate skill mix and uneven geographical distribution of the health workforce as posing major barriers to achieving the health related Millennium Development Goals (now Sustainable Development Goals). Also, only five of the 49 countries categorized as low-income economies by the World Bank meet the minimum threshold of 23 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 populations that was established by WHO as necessary to deliver essential maternal and child health services. Nigeria though no longer termed low-income country drastically falls short of these recommendations.

The availability of medical manpower is also skewed as many health workers do not work in the rural areas where their attentions are needed. Nigeria has been struggling to provide skilled care at birth to many pregnant women as well as emergency and specialized services for newborns and young children. This has direct consequence on the number of deaths of women and children. Currently, Nigeria ranks one of the countries with the highest maternal and child mortality rate. Some pregnancy-related services can be delivered by mid-level health workers, but they do not count for an effective workforce. These should consist of a carefully planned balance of professionals, paraprofessionals and community workers. The shortage of these impedes access by women and children to lifesaving interventions and services.

Medical education in Nigeria faces numerous challenges and problems such as lack of a coherent admission policy, inadequate funding, poor planning and erosion of values have led to a general perception of low standards and quality. The Universities have been the mainstay of medical education in Nigeria. The government policies on medical education are translated into reality through the universities and regulatory bodies. The first official attempt at offering medical education in Nigeria began in 1927 when the government set up an institution for training medical personnel to diploma level. However, this program was abolished as the available facilities and teachers were inadequate to attain acceptable international standard. This failed attempt was followed by the establishment of the University College Hospital, Ibadan in 1948 as a college branch of the University of London, to offer standard medical education/training for medical personnel. Since then four generations of medical schools have evolved. The Medical and Dental council of Nigeria (MDCN) remains the main regulatory body for medical and dental practices in Nigeria. The MDCN was established by the Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Act of 28 June 1988 (M8 LFN 2004) to replace the Nigerian Medical Council established by the Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Act of 18 December 1963.

According to MDCN, there are thirty-one (31) fully accredited and six (6) partially accredited medical school in Nigeria. Nine (9) of the thirty-one (31) fully accredited Nigerian medical schools have dental schools of which seven (7) are fully accredited and two (2) have partial accreditation. Minimum requirements have been set out by the MDCN in terms of student intake, minimum physical facilities, learning resources, administrative facilities and teaching staff requirements. Though Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with four generations of medical schools, much has not changed in the blue print of her medical education curriculum since the inception of the first medical school in 1948. These have remained more-or-less the same over the years as can be seen from the handbooks of most medical schools. Of course, there have been modifications here and there, but the objectives have remained practically the same. The greatest modification followed the emphasis on primary health care as recommended at Alma Ata stressing the importance of primary health care as the cornerstone of training.

Of great concern is the debate that graduates from medical colleges in Nigeria trained under the present curriculum may lack necessary skill and aptitudes required for success in the changing practice environment of the 21st century. In response, the Federal ministry of health in conjunction with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) and the National University Commission (NUC) had on several occasions set up committees in an attempt to review the medical and dental education curriculum in the country. This however, has not yielded any favourable results. The failure of these committees/meetings therefore necessitate a new approach in improving the quality of medical education in Nigeria. This underscores the urgent critical need to establish specialized medical universities by Federal and State Governments across the country as it has become more imperative to create more access to higher health and medical studies.

According to Sen. Bamidele in his lead debate of the Bill for the establishment of the Federal University of Medical and Environmental Sciences, the proposed university is envisioned to preoccupy itself with the development and offering of academic and professional programs leading to the award of Diplomas, First Degrees, Postgraduate research and higher degrees with emphasis on planning, adaptive, technical, maintenance, developmental and productive skills in the field of Medicine, Biomedical engineering, scientific and allied professional disciplines relating to health resources with the aim of producing socially matured persons with capacity not only to understand, use and adapt existing technologies in the health industry, but also to improve on those disciplines and develop new ones, and to contribute to the scientific transformation of medical and other health practices in Nigeria.

Furthermore, the lead debate recognizes the fact that the nation’s health sector has a very high potential and requires high level medical, scientific and administrative skills to drive it. To this end, the Federal University of Medical and Health Sciences, when established, would be a modern institution that would develop world-class medical personnel that can sustainably manage our nation’s health sector by providing medical expertise at the highest level. The university is therefore aimed at further advancing knowledge through research and the nurturing of unique innovations, entrepreneurship and wealth management in its core area of interest. In the entire nation, only two universities are in this category:  the Ondo State University of Medical and Health Sciences, Ondo, Ondo State and Eko University of Medical Sciences, Ijanikin, Lagos State. However, while the former (as the name implies) was established by a State Government, the latter is a privately owned university. Both of them cannot compare with the infrastructural capacity and service delivery that is expected of a federally owned specialized university of medical sciences. The University College Hospital (UCH) is the largest health institution in the country with over 10 wards but its infrastructural capacity and professional manpower delivery is now far below the threshold of global standards. It is self-evident that Federal Medical Centers, State-owned General Hospitals and Medical Teaching Hospitals in the Southwest geo-political zone such as OAUTH, LUTH, OOUTH, LASUTH, LAUTH and EKSUTH are overstretched given the lack of adequate funding, scarcity of 21st century medical facilities as well as the paucity of well-motivated workforce.

Against this background, the establishment, by the Federal Government, of a specialized tertiary institution mainly for research, teaching and impartation of medical and environmental sciences in each of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria would be adjudged to be in the overall best interest of the Nigerian masses, whose precarious living conditions, make them not to be able to afford the luxury of medical tourism in foreign enclaves.

The host community for the proposed medical and environmental university is Iyin-Ekiti, a town in Ekiti State, Southwest Nigeria. It is very close to Ado-Ekiti, the State capital. The town was established between 1951 and 1954, when the Uyin people of the villages of Araromi, Okesale, Oketoro and Okelawe moved to the site, then sparsely occupied. Iyin presently has eight primary and three post primary Schools, a modern police station and barracks, a general post office, a local government maternity center and a general hospital. The town also has a commercial bank and one micro-finance bank. However, Iyin-Ekiti is in dire need of federal presence inspite of several illustrious patriots who hailed from the town and have contributed immensely to national growth and development such as the likes of Late General Adeyinka Adebayo (former Military Governor of the defunct Western Region), Late Oba John Ademola Ajakaiye (former Chief Judge of Ekiti State), His Excellency, Otunba Niyi Adebayo (first Executive Governor of Ekiti State and current Minister of Trade and Investment), Mr. Babatunde Omotoba (former Minister of Aviation), Major General Bamidele Olawunmi (former NYSC Director General), Dr. Eniola Ajayi (Nigerian Ambassador to Hungary) as well as Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele himself. Moreso, the centrality of the town within Ekiti State and its easy accessibility readily makes it a suitable location for the university project under consideration.

Fortunately, in demonstration of its preparedness to host the world-class health institution, Ekiti State Government with the support and understanding of the good people of Iyin-Ekiti and other critical stakeholders, had earmarked a vast land of about 1000 hectares for a befitting edifice that could compare with other cutting edge tertiary health institutions in its category. Equally, notwithstanding the fact that the facility is primarily aimed at leveraging a great improvement in the access to quality health care system by the people of Ekiti and neighbouring States, it harbours a huge potential for employment generation to Ekiti graduates and young school leavers, thereby leveraging the local economy and complementing the efforts of the State Government in the area of job creation, career advancement and youth development.

On Thursday, 24th June, 2021, the Senate Committee on Health held the public hearing on the bill, alongside other pressing bills of national importance. In the bid to further demonstrate their commitment to hosting the proposed ivory tower, the public hearing was attended by a powerful delegation from Iyin-Ekiti led by the Oluyin of Iyin-Ekiti, HRM, Oba Adeola Adeniyi Ajakaiye. Other members of the delegation were Pastor Akinjide Akinleye, the Permanent Secretary of Ekiti State Ministry of Health and fortunately, the Vice President of Iyin Progressives Federal Union, Prof. Adeyinka Adeyemi, first professor of architecture in Nigeria and former Vice Chancellor, Prof Owa Afolabi, a professor of Tourism and Hospitality Management, High Chief Simeon Ayodeji Esan, the Odofiyin of Iyin-Ekiti, other prominent chiefs as well as a host of women and youth leaders from the town. During his presentation at the hearing, the spokesperson for Iyin community, Pastor Akinjide Akinleye stressed that Iyin community is fully prepared to assist extensively in the take-off of the university through the provision and location of good accommodation for the staff and students, the existence of a conducive learning environment capable of stimulating learning, the presence of a divisional police headquarter and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) post to adequate security and safety for the personnel, suitable physical assets such as a good road network, constant electricity supply which was linked to the national grid since 1967, the presence of banking facilities, a sprawling hotel and hospilaty business environment and a good public library to promote reading culture aside the proximity of the town to Ado-Ekiti, the state capital and Igede-Ekiti  where the headquarters of Irepodun/Ifelodun local Government council is located.

To further press home their eminent and laudable request for the citing of the university in Iyin-Ekiti community, His Excellency, Otunba Niyi Adebayo in company of the Oluyin of Iyin-Ekiti and Sen. Michael Opeyemi Bamkidele, paid a courtesy visit to the office of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo at the presidential villa in Abuja on Wednesday, 23rd June, 2021, with a view to courting his understanding and support towards ensuring that the proposed university becomes a reality.

In conclusion, the Nigerian health care system, like in some other developing countries, is bedeviled with poor health indices and poor service delivery to majority of the population. The Nigerian public health system is characterized by grossly ill-equipped facilities ‘as well as inadequate and poorly-motivated personnel. These problems are linked to poor management of resources across levels of health care in the country. Over the years, medical practice in Nigeria has evolved in scope and practice, as there is now a changing perception of the role of doctors from being solely a healthcare provider to that of an all-round professional with administrative and managerial responsibilities. Contemporary doctors may have to take up responsibilities that include but are not limited to clinical, teaching, research, leadership, and managerial roles in the line of duty. The ability to perfectly blend these roles is the foremost attribute of a first-rate doctor, and this is a crucial asset when viewed against the backdrop of scarce human resource for health required for quality healthcare delivery. It is believed that the establishment, proper funding and adequate equipment of specialized universities of medical and health sciences would help tremendously in filling these yawning gaps in the medical profession and invariably translate to a drastic transformation of our nation’s health sector. Thanks to the critical thinking of Sen. Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, a pro-active, development-oriented and visionary Federal lawmaker who saw the urgent critical need for a health institution of that nature and went ahead to initiate a bill for such novel citadel of learning. Even though he is a seasoned lawyer and not a medical practitioner, his timeous intervention in this regard speaks volume of the quality of his representation and leadership capacity. One can only encourage lawmakers like him to keep the flag flying in the overriding interest of Nigerian people.

 

*Oluseyi Olubanjo is the Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Research and Documentation to Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, National Assembly, Abuja.

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Was Lawan a stranger to Nigerians before his emergence as Senate President?

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Senate President Ahmad Lawan
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By Ola Awoniyi

I might have titled this piece: “Re: Once again, most legislators will not return to National Assembly,” because it was prompted by an article under that title written by the highly respected academic, rights activist and columnist, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, and published by some media outfits on Friday, 17th June, 2022. However, I decided otherwise because Prof. Ibrahim’s commentary, as usual, made many points that I consider valid and thus have no issue with.

But an aspect of the article is capable of leaving the reader with a wrong impression, and that is what I have set out here to correct.

Which means this piece is actually not a rejoinder, in the full sense of that word, to the  article by the good Professor.

Just an amendment to it, as they would have described this effort of mine in Parliament.

The focus of Prof. Ibrahim’s article was the stranglehold of state governors on their political parties in their states and how this continues to reflect in the high turnover of lawmakers, especially in the National Assembly.

The writer mentioned the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, as one of a few lawmakers who have had long tenures in the National Assembly, despite the harsh political atmosphere he observed.

His misstep was in how he explained Lawan’s survival.

Prof. Ibrahim wrote: “The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, is the most spectacular exception that breaks the rule.

He has been in the National Assembly since 1999, first in the House of Representatives and subsequently in the Senate.

For some reason, successive governors of Yobe State have always given him the green light to stay on.

I wonder why? Could it be linked to his style and record of being unobtrusive and inconspicuous as a legislator  who did nothing and was therefore perceived as non-threatening?

What is clear is that until he became the Senate president, hardly anyone noticed him.

He was discovered when he became Senate president three years ago and then broke the Richter scale of political ‘arrivism’ when the APC chairman announced him to be the ‘presidential’ choice of President Buhari.”

I would have ignored it if those assertions were made by an undistinguished writer.

But they are hard to overlook in the well-read column of a Professor of Political Science who is universally respected for the fairness and profundity of his opinions.

It is a typical of the columnist to claim that Lawan was unknown prior to his emergence as the 14th President of the Senate in 2019, because that claim is not true.

And it is not fair to say Lawan was “an unobtrusive and inconspicuous legislator” as of 2019.

Those claims left me curious because, more than most people, Prof. Ibrahim is in a position to know better.

He knew Lawan was the choice of his party,

the APC, for election as Senate President in 2015, based on his reputation as one of the most effective and better known opposition lawmakers in the Fourth Republic by then.

Of course, Prof. Ibrahim would remember that Lawan was the Senate Leader before his emergence as Senate President.

So, how can the Senate Leader be “unobtrusive and inconspicuous”? Even if a person was randomly appointed to the position, the role would haul him out of obscurity.

Aside from the presiding officer, the next most visible in parliament is the Majority Leader, who leads in championing the cause of their party’s government.

The Majority Leader harnesses support for executive bills and government policies in parliament.

Parties hardly assign such a critical role to a greenhorn, talkless of an “unobtrusive and inconspicuous” member of parliament.

And Lawan did not step into that position from darkness. Before his election to the Senate, he had spent two terms of eight years in the House of Representatives, where at different times he was privileged to chair critical committees like Agriculture (2003-2005) and Education (2005-2007), despite the fact that he was in the opposition at those times.

Such committees are usually chaired by members of the majority party in Parliament, so it is a reflection of what his colleagues thought of him to have accorded him those privileges.

At the Senate, to which he was first elected in 2007, Lawan held the very important chair of the Public Accounts Committee for eight years(2007-2015) and the Defence Committee for two years (2015-2017).

All those were before he became the Senate Leader. Does that profile fit the description of the “unorbtrusive and inconspicuous”?

I cannot understand why Prof. Ibrahim tried to serve his readers the impression that a man with such resume and history in Parliament was unknown before his emergence as the President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly. Did he forget Lawan’s political journey out of
familiarity?

Lawan spent 10 years in the academic and acquired a doctorate in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System before he ventured into politics in 1998.

That year, he was elected the pioneer vice chairman of the defunct All People’s Party (APP) in Yobe State and in 1999, was the Secretary of the Electoral Committee of the APP National Convention which held in Abuja.

As I was quick to say at the start, I have no quarrel whatsoever with the focus of Prof. Ibrahim’s said article of June 17, which addressed two phenomena that have become a malaise that needs to be checked for the growth of democracy in Nigeria.

One is the system that allows state governors to unilaterally determine who become party officials and candidates for elections. The other is the high

turnover of lawmakers in our legislative assemblies, especially in the National Assembly, as captured by the current situation whereby about half of senators did not get their parties’ tickets for the elections.

On those points and for his usual well-grounded interventions, I salute the good Professor.

Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to Senate President

 

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APC presidential ticket: Memo to SW leadership

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APC Meeting
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By Ismail Omipidan

This advice may be unsolicited, but it will help the All Progressives Congress (APC) leadership in the South West to avoid the pitfall of the past. Although our leaders claim they have learnt from their past mistakes, nothing so far shows they have learnt any lesson.

About a month ago, the South West leadership met with presidential aspirants in Lagos. The governors from the region were also in attendance. But from the events that followed subsequently, there was nothing to suggest that they reached any compromise other than mouthing that they all resolved that the slot must come to the region.

Until now there is nothing to suggest that the meeting said anything on the region’s preferred choice for the ticket.

But this evening, they must not leave the meeting without deciding on who they will be recommending for the ticket from the region. This, for me, is the only way to show unanimity of purpose and serious commitment to ensuring that the region is not shortchanged.

Only recently, one of the aspirants and Ekiti Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, affirmed that the leaders would ensure the region produces the candidate.

Addressing party faithful in Osun, Fayemi urged the delegates in Osun to exercise unity of purpose in supporting “South-West agenda”, saying that victory for one was victory for all.

He continued: “For me, the victory of South-West means that we are all victorious, because there is no aspirant from the zone who is not eminently qualified. Our values have remained constant and we are leaders in the progressive movement.

“We are driven by the same beliefs; we are driven by the same passion; we are driven by the same commitment to improve the condition of our people. That is what is driving whatever we are doing.”

On his relationship with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he said: “It is important to dispel any insinuation that there is one big battle going on among us. This is not true. As a matter of fact, I told Asiwaju that I am coming here (to Osun) today. So, people should be careful not to inherit non-existent enemies. What is important is the progress of our people and the success of the South-West.

“If there is going to be any risk to the success of the South-West, I want to assure you that there will be a collective resolve. We are specially endowed to help our people and make a difference in Nigeria”, he added.

Today, is the day to make that collective resolve. In taking that decision, you must be frank among yourselves. Be brutally frank to one another on who best fits the bill, taking into cognisance alliances across the country, acceptability, capacity and ability to deliver.

Speak like brothers, and in the end forgive one another and move on. Above all, the progressives have an age-old tradition of resolving knotty issues that way. It was effectively deployed in deciding who should have the governorship ticket of the defunct Alliance for Democracy , AD, in Osun in 1999.

If, as leaders, you allow political actors outside of the region to take this decision for you, history will never be kind to you all. It is the hour of decision, and you must take that decision and prevail on all others to step down for that preferred choice.

Unless you resolve this knotty issue as leaders, you will be making the race a little bit difficult for the aspirants from the South West.

But if you zero in on one person, using the criteria listed above, I bet you, the region’s preferred choice will have the buy-in of other stakeholders from the rest of the South West States . And from the region, everyone will market him. It will reduce bickering and friction.

US is usually our standard measurements for electioneering and politics. If a Joe Biden and Donald Trump can run for the presidency at about age 70, then, age should not be a factor in deciding the preferred choice. At any rate, the PDP’s candidate is also in his 70’s.

Finally, if South West is desirous of producing first the Presidential candidate of the ruling APC, and subsequently the President of Nigeria, it must perish the idea of wanting all the aspirants from the region to go into the race at the same time.

For once, we must make a statement that we are politically strong and cohesive to shame those who have always held the erroneous impression that we are political crumps hunters.

I make these submissions in good faith as a reporter who has covered politics from the North for over two decades, a participant observer in the emergence of at least four presidential candidates and one desirous of a united South West. Where I have erred, may Allah forgive me, for perfection belongs to HIM alone. I rest my case for now.

Omipidan is a former Assistant Editor (Politics) with The Sun Newspapers.

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Opinion

The Ninth National Assembly and Electoral Act 2022

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National Assembly Complex
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By Ola Awoniyi

The happy ending of Electoral Act No.6  2010 (amendment) Bill 2022, which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on February 25 after much apprehensions, reminds one of the Petroleum Industry Bill, aka PIB.

For almost two decades, the PIB was at the National Assembly, during which time it changed in shape and contents, and became an enigma too difficult for the parliament to handle. It took Ahmad Lawan’s Ninth National Assembly to deliver the bill from its “demons” and get the President to sign it into law, ending decades of frustration. Today, we now have the Petroleum Industry Act 2021.

Like the PIB, the electoral reform bill had been languishing at the National Assembly since 2017. It was eventually passed in November 2021, amid noise on the mode of transmission of election results.

But President Buhari declined assent to the bill and instead sent it back to the National Assembly in December 2021, precisely on the eve of the commencement of the lawmakers’ Christmas and New Year recess.

That was not the first,  second or even the third time of its forth and back movement within the Three Arms Zone of Abuja.

The same bill was denied presidential assent thrice during the Eighth Assembly, a casualty of the frosty relationship between the Executive and that Assembly.

It is therefore good news for Nigerians and lovers of democracy that the President finally signed the bill into law on Friday, 25th February, 2022, marking the fourth time the electoral law was repealed and re-enacted since the return to democracy in 1999.

However, the back and forth movement of the bill this time around, before the eventual presidential assent on Friday, is significant for how it underscores the beauty of democracy and the health of that system in Nigeria.

While appending his signature, President Buhari said “the current bill comes with a great deal of improvement on the previous Electoral Bill 2021…From the review, my perspective is that the substance of the bill is both reformative and progressive.”

The successful birth of Electoral Act 2022 thus provides another opportunity to appraise the Ninth National Assembly and its responsiveness to the yearnings of the Nigerian people.

It has been exciting watching and listening to even the most critical civil society groups in the country applauding the National Assembly for a job well done and President Muhammadu Buhari for finally assenting to the bill.

There have always been very interesting comments about the Ninth National Assembly under Ahmad Lawan. Some of them have been complimentary, taking into account the many jinxes it has broken to improve the Nigerian legislative environment.  Some try to put things in perspective, noting the high and the low points.

But some others have been deliberately venomous. To this category of public commentators, the Ninth Assembly is a rubber-stamp and has done no good. Some of them go as far as calling for it to be scrapped, forgetting that parliament is the fulcrum of democracy. In fairness to them, their dark view of parliament is not a recent or sudden affliction. They also had nothing complementary to say about the previous Assemblies.

However, this piece is not a specific response to the views of any of the stated tendencies. Rather, it is to record the extent this Ninth Assembly under Ahmad Lawan has gone to deliver an electoral law that for the first time in our recent history arrived to almost universal applause.

To start with, the Ninth Assembly made the electoral reform bill a top priority in its Legislative Agenda, which was launched at its inception in 2019. This decision was not just informed by the importance of the bill to the integrity of our electoral process and democratic governance. The lawmakers were also determined to avert a repeat of what happened to the bill in the previous dispensation.

The bill, which essentially was an amendment to the law made in 2010, suffered a monumental setback on about the eve of the 2019 polls, largely due to the cat and mouse relationship between the Executive and the Eighth Assembly. That era was characterised by distrust between the two arms of government. The rest is now history.

This time around, everything was done by the National Assembly to ensure the bill passed and assented to. But nobody anticipated that its passage would be this dramatic and exciting.

The drama notwithstanding, the entire process projected the Ninth Assembly as an institution that rose above the ego and political, sectional and other sentiments of its members to do the will of the people they represent.

Some observers may probably find it difficult to agree with this view. That is expected. But I stand to be corrected.

From the moment the Executive sent the bill to the National Assembly, work began in earnest. At a point, members of the public became uneasy at the length of time it took the relevant parliamentary committees to report back to plenary for the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill by each of the two Chambers.

It was during that clause-by-clause consideration that the first hurdle showed up. This had to do with the mode of transmission of result.

The drama was gripping in both Chambers. At some point, the House of Representatives had to adjourn sitting to invite experts to elucidate on the subject matter.

The Senate too was not spared of drama. Calling for a division to determine issue is provided for in the standing rules but this is rarely invoked. This time, in the midst of tension, it was invoked by the Senate Minority Leader, as his last card. But it failed to achieve the intended result.

Both Chambers eventually scaled through the hurdle after rowdy sessions. The contending parties and interested members of the larger society heaved a sigh of relief, thinking the matter had been resolved before the parliament adjourned on Sallah recess. But the feedback from the Nigerian people would not allow the lawmakers to rest until there was a recomittal of the bill immediately after they returned from recess.

The Senate had to adjust its earlier position on some clauses and also concur with the House, especially on the modes of transmission of election results and primaries by political parties.

The Senate had initially voted Direct or Indirect mode of primaries but was persuaded by the House to limit it to only one option by deleting the indirect option. They had thought that would deepen democracy but some Nigerians saw it as self-serving.

President Buhari too felt it was unfair to deny political parties options for their primaries. For this reason in particular, Buhari withheld his assent and sent the bill back to sender with explanations. That was the first time Buhari would send back a bill passed by the Ninth Assembly.

This development undoubtedly provoked fears that, with electoral reforms, history was about to repeat itself. Political pundits were sure that the bill was destined for a second death. The insinuation was that the APC-led Federal government was afraid of electoral reforms that feature electronic transmission of results.

But this Assembly had a promise to keep. All that was needed was further consultations with the Nigerian people. This they did during the Christmas and New Year recess.

On their return from the recess, the lawmakers amended the bill to provide three options by which the political parties can conduct their primaries.They went a step further by prescribing how to conduct each mode of the nomination process to forestall possible abuse.

For the Senate, that was about the third time of shifting position to get the bill passed. This was a clear demonstration that the Ninth Senate and indeed the Ninth Assembly are people-centred in their primary responsibility which is law-making.

They have demonstrated flexibility, sensibility and sensitivity to the yearnings of the people they represent. It is this approach to their national assignments that has now given the country a new Electoral Act ahead of the 2023 polls. For the Ninth Assembly, this is a promise made and promise kept.

President Buhari too has demonstrated good faith by appending his signature to the bill despite his reservations about a particular clause that affects political appointees. Buhari did not hide his discomfort about an aspect of clause 84 of the new Electoral Act which bars political appointees from voting as delegates or being voted for at a convention or congress of political parties for the purpose of nominating candidates for any election.

Buhari’s observation that the provision, in his opinion, contradicts the provisions of the Constitution, would have been enough reason for him to withhold assent again. But he opted against that, due to the cordial relationship between the National Assembly and the Executive.

It is however very doubtful that the avowed critics of the present dispensation will see it this way. It is on record that Buhari acted in the same manner on the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 and the 2022 Budget.

Here is precisely what the new Electoral Act 2022 says on interesting issues like voting devices, mode of transmission of election results, mode of selection of nomination of candidates by political parties and the fate of serving political appointees:

Ballot boxes and voting devices:

Clause 41:

(1) The Commission shall provide suitable boxes, electronic voting machine or any other voting device for the conduct of elections.

(2) The forms to be used for the conduct of elections to the offices mentioned in this Act shall be determined by the Commission.

(3) The Polling agents shall be entitled to be present at the distribution of the election materials, electronic voting machine and voting devices from the office to the polling booth.

(4) Polling agents who are in attendance at a polling unit, may be entitled, before the commencement of the election, to have originals of electoral materials to be used by the Commission for the election inspected, and this process may be recorded as evidence in writing, on video or by other means by any Polling Agent, accredited observer or official of the Commission.

(5) A Polling Agent who is in attendance at a polling unit, may observe originals of the electoral materials and this may be recorded as evidence.

(6) The Commission shall, before the commencement of voting in each election, provide all election materials for the conduct of such election at the polling unit.

Clause 50(2): Subject to section 63 of this Act, voting at an election and transmission of results under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission.

Nomination of candidates by parties:

Clause 84(2): The procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct, indirect primaries or consensus.

Consensus Candidate:

Clause 84(9):

(a) A Political Party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate.

(b) Where a political party is unable to secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the purpose of a consensus candidate, it shall revert to the choice of direct or indirect primaries for the nomination of candidates for the aforesaid elective positions.

(c) A Special Convention or nomination Congress shall be held to ratify the choice of consensus candidates at designated.centres at the National, State, Senatorial, Federal and State Constituencies, as the case may be.

Political Appointee not Eligible as a Voting Delegate or Aspirant

Clause 84(10): No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.

 

Ola Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to the Senate President

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