The amendment of the Electoral Act that is in the works in the National Assembly has called into question again the orientation of this generation of politicians. When properly scrutinised, it is easy to see that it is a selfish exercise presented to the public as law-making.
It is a demonstration of how persons with a severely limited view of history could manipulate institutions for their own here and now purposes. And the lawmakers in Abuja are going about the issue in a manner that should rankle all democratic sensibilities. There are bills for laws for the good of the people that have been pending in the National Assembly, but this one that is essentially for the benefit of the legislators appears to be their priority item now.
The law being tabled at the House of Representatives seeks to amend the Electoral Act 2010 with some curious clauses. The purposes include making federal legislators automatic members of the National Executive Council (NEC) of their respective political parties. If the bill sails through, half of the members of the NEC would form a quorum and two-thirds would be required for decision making.
Meanwhile, among the crucial decisions that the body would take is the one on nomination of candidates for election. So it is all about intra-party politics. It is obvious that if the Abuja legislators have their way, the overwhelming majority of them who happen to be members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would dominate the NEC of that party.
Before now, moves to insert into the law a "right of first refusal" for lawmakers seeking re-election generated an outrage. The essence of such moves is to put the incumbent legislators above any legitimate challenge from their fellow party members who might also wish to seek the party tickets in the primaries that should be conducted by the party for the election.
It is clear that the sponsors of the bill are employing the weapons of lawmaking in what is otherwise a legitimate intra-party struggle for the control of the structures of influence and decision-making. In other words, as it has been the case in recent times what should ordinarily be an internal issue for a political party has now been elevated into a national issue.
It would, of course, be interesting to know the position of the legislators from other parties to this egregious manipulation of the law-making process. Hitherto, they have not been vehement in opposing moves by members of the National Assembly using the institutions for their own benefits at the expense of the public.
In other climes from where Nigeria is supposed to be borrowing the institutionalisation of liberal democracy, laws are made to promote the values that are beneficial to the society and to deepen democratic culture. There are constitutions that are centuries old. Amendments are made when national interest makes it imperative to do so and when the public need compels it.
Even where there is no written constitution, conventions and indeed the democratic practices inherited by the contemporary politicians serve as guides in even thorny situations. Not so here, laws are made with the contemporary office holders in mind. It is about those who make the laws and not overarching public interest.
Today, PDP has the majority of the federal legislators as its members. Nothing says that such a situation is decreed to be forever. Otherwise, why should the composition of the executive councils of political parties be the business of lawmakers at a time when pressing national issues are left unaddressed?
In a way, what the politicians in Abuja are attempting to do is reminiscent of the military days when a General decreed that party constitutions and even programmes should be written for them. The regime even crafted ideological nomenclatures for the parties. One was said to be "a little to the right" while the other had to be "a little to the left".
The regime claimed to be omniscient in matters of party formation, organisation and programming. But then it was understood that only a military dictatorship could embark on such a wild political experiment. It is inexplicable that those who claim to be products of a democratic process could contemplate making laws to put themselves at an advantage over their political rivals. It is distressing to observe that the military mentality lingers even after 11 years of civil rule.
Pray, why should the quorum of a political party's meeting written into the law of the federation? What if a party does not want its structures along the pattern of the PDP? A party may decide it wants slim structures to suit its organisational purpose. As an independent organisation, the party should have such rights.
A party may even decide it does not need a national executive council. Another party may decide that its national executive membership should all be open to internal party elections.
To make laws specifically for the benefit of contemporary lawmakers only is extremely selfish. It is antithetical to the spirit of institution building. The constitution empowers the National Assembly to make laws for the good of the federation. A concomitant to that enormous power is a grave responsibility that the lawmakers would perform their duties with the interest of the people being supreme in the process; it is assumed that the first consideration in the business of lawmaking would be national interest and not the political ambitions of those making the law.
Now, contrary to the popular perception, corruption is not only about looting the public treasury (which doubtless is a great issue of the moment); the current attempt to abuse legislative power in Abuja is a monumental act of corruption. Here we are talking of corruption of power and process. So it is not naira alone that is involved in corruption, values also can also be corrupted. To be sure, this is not the first time that the sacred process of law-making would be corrupted in Abuja.
The most remarkable one in recent history was the failed attempt by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to use the National Assembly to elongate his stay in power by amending the constitution to permit a third term for the president and governors. It is now little remembered that there were a lot of good items on the agenda of that constitution review process. But the whole exercise was rejected just to prevent the third term clause being smuggled into the package.
The National Assembly members should be wary of poisoning the process of the Electoral Act this time with some self-serving insertions.
For clarity, federal legislators and others have the right to struggle with other members in their respective parties be they president, governors or party apparatchiks. It is in their place to do so. However, they should not under the pretext of fighting for internal party democracy make laws that serve their selfish motives.
The National Assembly has no business making laws for the composition of party committees. Political parties should make their internal rules and build their structures as they deem fit provided they do so in conformity with the constitution and other relevant laws.