EGAL FRAMEWORK FOR RECALL OF ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES
IGWE CHIDI INNOCENT
Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights
From the days of early man, societies have craved for a system of organizing themselves that ensures peaceful coexistence for their social wellbeing. The evolution of democracy, often referred to as the best system of government, seems to have answered these quests and has offered the citizens the process of electing Representatives as trustees to the people.
The theme of the talk shop ‘DEMOCRACY CLINIC’ designed to offer participants awareness on how to enthroning good governance came at the nick of time. The citizens must be vigilant and to hold their elected officials accountable particularly those nearest to them at the local government levels. It is often said that power belongs to the people but that power can only belong to those who know how to use them. One of the power the Nigeria Constitution and electoral law vested on the people is the power to recall elected persons who the people are dissatisfied with his or her performance and other actions in office. Recall instrument is one of the four major instruments by which an elected officer can be removed out of office. Others are the natural instrument of death, resignation and impeachment. Among these instruments, the only one that is fully in the control of electorates is recall.
The powers of the people reside in their Voter’s Card and are exercised;
- a) During voting to elect candidates of their choice to the office,
- b) To vote against a representative who did not meet their aspiration in his first term in office and
- c) To recall Elected Representative before the expiration of his term in office.
Our main objective here will be to examine the legal framework for recalling Elected Representative before the expiration of his term and the procedure for the Recall process.
- RECALL OF ELECTED EPRESENTATIVES
Recall as a democratic process is the instrument by which voters can remove Elected Representatives before the expiration of their term of office. It is a fundamental part of a democratic process by which voters can express their dissatisfaction with Elected Representatives.
The process allows citizens to remove and replace an elected official who in their opinion does not meet their aspiration by his representation before his term of office expires. It remains a veritable tool of control mechanism in the hands of the electorates.
Recall is different from another system of removing an Elected Representative by impeachment. Recall is a political tool in the hands of the electorates while impeachment is a legal mechanism through which the legislators can remove their leaders and the heads of the executive arm of government.
On impeachment, specific charges are brought against the Elected Representatives by the legislature who sits as the judge.
- NEED FOR RECALL
The argument for the Recall mechanism centers on the fact that Recall remains the only instrument by which voters can exercise control over Elected Representatives who may on ascending to power abandons the electoral promises made to the electorates contrary to the expectations of the people that elected them to office.
Therefore, the Representatives should be trustees and servant t and not masters to their constituents.
In Nigeria, there is the Executive/Legislative arrangement that allows the Executives to budget for at least one project in the constituency of each Elected Representatives called ‘constituency project’ upon which constituency allowances are provided. The essence of this is to ensure that a Representative is able to attract development project to his area each fiscal year. Even as laudable as this extra legislative arrangement is, many Elected Representatives would have nothing to show for four years they were in office.
There are many reasons that can be given for the Recall of Elected Representatives; some of which could be lack of fitness, incompetence, corruption, violation of oath of office and neglect of duties,
- GROUNDS FOR RECALL
It is the country’s law that provides the grounds for the Recall of Elected Representatives. In Nigeria, the appropriate laws can be found under S. 69, S. 110 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) and S.119 of Electoral laws (2006). The grounds may be summarized as follows;
- a) There must be a petition to the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),
- b) The petition must be signed by not less than one half of the registered voters in the constituency of the Elected Representative sought to be removed, and
- c) The reason for the request for the removal is loss confidence.
It is worthy of note that the reason for recall is provided in an omnibus clause of ‘loss of confidence. The implication of this is that a petition can be grounded on a single or more reasons, so long as it connotes loss of confidence. Such reasons could be lack of fitness, corruption etc.
Another unique feature of S.69 and S.110 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) and S.119 of Electoral laws (2006) is that the procedure for a Recall of Elected Representatives is simple and not clogged by legal and administrative bottlenecks.
- WHO CAN BE RECALLED
There are two procedures by which Elected Representatives can be removed from office before the expiration of their term of office namely, Recall and Impeachment. Removal from office by impeachment is a legal device through which the legislature seating in judge can remove their own leaders and the heads the executives ie; President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor.
Recall as a political tool is used to remove Elected Representatives in the legislature (Senate, House of Representatives, State House of Assembly members and Counselors at the Local Government Councils) before their term of office expires. It is only members of the legislative arm of government that can be removed from office before their term expires through Recall process.
- ELIGIBILITY FOR SIGNATORY TO A RECALL PETITION
Possession of a valid Voter’s card is a pre condition for a person to participate as a signatory to a Recall petition. The implication of this is that a petitioner must be a Nigerian of 18 years and above and must have registered his name in the National Voter’s Register during registration of Voters and obtained a Voter’s Card from Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is with the Voter’s card that an electorate can choose a candidate of his choice in an election, recall an ineffective Elected Representative or vote out a non performing official who may want a return to power. There is so much power in a Voters Card.
- PROCEDURE FOR RECALL OF ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES
A Recall process starts by a petition signed by not less than one half of registered Voters in the constituency of an elected official sought to be recalled, to the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), (or Chairman , State Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), for local Council Elections)requesting for a recall of a Representative on ground of loss of confidence.
On receipt of the petition, the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will seek to verify the petitioners’ signatures with that in the National Voter’s Register, and thereafter, conduct a referendum within 90 days of receipt of the petition, approved by simple majority of registered voters in the constituency.
Where an Elected representative is successfully removed before the expiration of his term of office, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will conduct fresh election to replace the recalled Representative.
- MOBILIZING SIGNATORIES FOR A RECALL PROCESS
There is no one specific way of mobilizing signatories for the Recall of an Elected Representative. Citizens can be mobilized through town unions meetings, civil society sensitization programs and other formidable pressure groups like traditional councils, age grade associations and women groups.
It surprising that, despite the very simple Recall process in the extant electoral laws in Nigeria, no successful Recall has ever been concluded in Nigeria’s long history of democratic rule. This is so because no meaningful Recall process has been undertaken by the electorates, the few unconcluded attempts we saw in the past were stage managed by politicians to settle scores. It is important that the society should be bold, take the bull by the horn as their future is in their hands and hold the Elected Representatives and politicians accountable for the period they were in office. When we stand complacently and watch the officials mismanage our resources, we cannot be heard to complain.
Our Voter’s Card should be our weapon with which we can beat the elected officials into line. The events that happened in Imo State during the 2011 general elections are instructive. The electorates in that elections rejected the sitting Governor through their votes.
There is no doubt that this Democracy Clinic exercise is new in our society and quit enriching. It is recommended that such programs should be extended to other communities for it to realize its full impact in the Nigeria.
For an important political device like Recall process, the operating laws governing its process should be strengthened to avoid its misuse. The laws as it is presently constituted cannot guarantee a successful Recall process. There are no provisions in the extant laws both in the Constitution and the Electoral laws that compel the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) where he chooses to disobey the legal provisions to conduct the referendum.
The all important signature verification exercise before the holding of a referendum is not provided anywhere in operative laws, but rather an administrative process by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
From the above highlights, we can now determine what will work for us to enable our resources to work for us.