- Want Egypt, Kenya to concede WTO job for Okonjo-Iweala
By Christiana Ekpa
The House of Representatives yesterday passed through second reading a bill to bar former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) staff from being in partisan politics for at least five years.
This is as the House resolved to support the Former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to clinch the post of Director General of World Trade Organisation, WTO.
The Bill when pass through reading, seeks to amend the Electoral Act to Prohibit Electoral Officers from engaging in Partisan Politics within five (5) years of Retirement, Resignation and Official Relief of Duties and Other Related Matters”.
The Bill titled: “ A Bill For An Act To Amend the Electoral Act To Prohibit Electoral Officers from Engaging in Partisan Politics within Five Years of Retirement, Resignation and Official Relief of Duties”, is sponsored by Hon. Tasir Olawale Raji(Lagos-APC).
Part of the Bill reads:”(2)Notwithstanding (1) above, and anything to the contrary in any enactment or law, a person who holds or has held office as a member of the Commission appointed by the President by virtue of the 3rd Schedule, Part 1 (F) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Resident Electoral Commissioner appointed under the Act shall not, until after a period of five years immediately after retirement, resignation or official relief of duties, be qualified for any elective office in Nigeria”.
Presenting the lead debate on the Bill, Rep. Raji said “The Electoral Act is hereby presented for amendment by the creation of new sub-section 2 of section 146 of the Principal legislation as follows:
“(2) Notwithstanding (1) above, and anything to the contrary in any enactment or law, a person who holds or has held office as a member of the Commission appointed by the President by virtue of the 3rd Schedule, Part 1 (F) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Resident Electoral Commissioner appointed under the Act shall not, until after a period of five years immediately after retirement, resignation or official relief of duties, be qualified for any elective office in Nigeria”
According to him, “Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended, provides that every Nigerian is free to belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his/her interest. The import of the above provision is to the effect that every Nigerian adult has the inherent/Constitutional right to participate freely during an election and cannot be disenfranchise unduly.
“However, by virtue of Section 45 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, it provides that nothing in Section 40 of the Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society, with respect to the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health, or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons. The import of the above is to the effect that the provisions of section 40 of the Constitution will not invalidate any law of the National Assembly that is tailored towards the protection of public order and morality”.
He explained that, “In the light of the above, I submit that the level of information available to a National Electoral Commissioner and the Resident Electoral Commissioner respectively, during their period of service as electoral staff, of which the general public is not privy to especially the methods and the procedures on how elections are conducted, it has become imperative to restrict them from taking part in aspiring for elective positions in government for a period of at least five (5) years of their disengagement from the commission. This is to ensure that such officer has lost touch with recent happening in the Electoral commission.
In addition, this act is tailored towards the protection of the integrity of the electoral body and elections at large. It is also a way to build the confidence of the electorate towards the activities and affairs of the commission. By isolating these officers from engaging in active politics, this amendment will prevent any possible abuse of office or using a position once occupied to gain undue advantage during an election”.
He explained further that “An argument that such an officer has or is being disenfranchised should be counter with the clear provisions of Section 45(1) of the 1999 Constitution which limits the strength of such a person’s right to be voted for or field for an elective position in protection of public order and morality. For instance, sometime in August, 2019 the Resident Electoral Commissioner in charge of Cross River State, Dr. Frankland Briyal, resigned his appointment in the state headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Calabar, to enable him contest in the governorship race in Bayelsa State. This action did not escape criticism but also caused discomfort within the political party the aspirate intended to seek its ticket thereby creating a national embarrassment for our electoral system”.
According to him, “Another practical instance can be seen in the case of judicial officers (Judges) in Nigeria who are barred from appearing in court as legal practitioners before any court or tribunal in Nigeria upon retirement or official disengagement. Section 292 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides thus:
“Any person who has held office as a judicial officer shall not on ceasing to be a judicial officer for any reason whatsoever thereafter appear to act as a legal practitioner before any court of law or tribunal in Nigeria.
“In view of the above, one cannot argue that such judicial officers have been barred from joining an association of lawyers in the literal sense but because of the kind of information already privy to them as judges it will be against public policy and morality to permit them to continue practicing as legal practitioners even at retirement. This same proposition is applicable to the National Electoral Commissioner and the Resident Electoral Commissioner respectively, in order to ensure transparency in our electoral system”, he said.
Meanwhile, the House also resolved to support the Former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to clinch the post of Director General of World Trade Organisation, WTO.
The resolution of the House followed a motion to back the ex-Managing Director of the World Bank, sponsored by Minority Leader of the House, Rep. Ndudi Godwin ELumelu (PDP-Delta).
Moving the motion of Matter of Urgenf National Importance”, entitled: “In Support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO)”, ELumelu stated that a distinguished Nigerian, two term minister of finance, one time minister of foreign affairs and former managing director of the world bank Dr Ngozi Okonjo-lweala has been formally nominated by the federal republic of Nigeria to vie for the exalted position of the Director General of the WTO for the period of 2021-2025
According to the Lawmaker, “ if successful will be the first female and first African to have occupied the office”.
He said “that President Buhari having put into consideration her outstanding academic and professional background, as well as, her long years of managerial experience at the top eche|ons of multilateral institutions, her reputation as a fearless reformer and excellent negotiator graciously endorsed her as the nations candidate for the WTO job”.
According to him, “with the COViD-i9 pandemic at hand and many countries faced with difficult choices and critical moments, the WTO has a vitai role to play in hunting for trade solutions and building trust amongst member states, hence the need for a capable hand that can make the WTO fit to thrive tor the 2ist century, there is no gainsay that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-lweolo has the requisite capacity and experience to handle the challenges of WTO at this critical moment”.
He said it was “ the perfect time for Africa to assume leadership at the WTO and all concerned stakeholders, must unanimously commit to achieving this”.
He expressed concern that but”Aside Ngozt Okonjo-lweala, Africa has two other candidates from Egypt and Kenya and entering the race with three candidates from Africa will split Africa’s votes, which crippies the prospect of an African assuming the WTO position”, as he called on the House, to “urgently reach out to the governments of Egypt and Kenya on the need to rally round a single candidate for the continent in the person of Dr. Okonjo-lweala”.
He recalled that “in the past, Nigeria has staunchly supported the candidatures of other Africans to leadership position at multilaterals, including the candidacy of Late Boutros Boutros Ghali an Egyptian national to become the Secretary-General of the United Nations, adding that “A good turn deserves another and we must now unite the African continent and ensure cooperation amongst our countries to put the continent first”.
According to him, “having a Nigerian as the Director General of the World Trade Organization, will further enhance the image of the country amongst the comity of Nations, hence the need to massively support this bid”.
His position was overwhelming supported by the House, with Speaker Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila presiding.
The House also resolved to “unanimously endorse the candidature of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-tweata for the position of the Director General of the World Trade Organization for the period of 2021-2025, commend ECOWAS Authority of heads of states and governments for their strong endorsement and urge Mr. President to further rally other African leaders to support her bid as the Director General of WTO”.
The House also urged the Pan African parliament to follow suit, as it also urged the FGN to interface with the governments of Egypt and Kenya to step down their candidates in the spirit of African oneness and reciprocity.