It appears Nigeria is the world’s seat of corruption, especially official corruption. The executive is corrupt and so also is the legislature. In fact, the judiciary is not spared of this national malaise. Officials of each arm of government collect so much either as salaries or allowances and ordinary people are impoverished. Nevertheless, the jumbo pay has not been able to eradicate other illegitimate means by which they make more money. Nothing appears to be working in order to lessen the suffering of the masses. Economy is in the doldrums; yet law-makers live large. Even the newly inaugurated national legislators (otherwise known as the 8th Assembly) are eagerly expecting the payment of their wardrobe allowance which is in the realm of N17m for each “honourable” member and a little more for a senator. No wonder, some are already agitating for the simplification of the seemingly cumbersome process of recalling these law-makers who do not appear to know that most of those who voted for them are living in abject poverty and as it seems clothing is no longer in the ordinary people’s list of basic necessities of life. All they want is FOOD. So, what is recall?
There are different ways by which elected representatives of the people may vacate their offices before the expiration of their terms of office. Impeachment, resignation, death, expulsion and recall are some of the major ways by which such vacation of elective offices (in some places it includes appointive ones) may take place. Recall is the only one which is vested in the electorate and which may be initiated by them. In Nigeria, recall does not apply to any other arm of government except the legislature. This means that only members of the legislature may be removed from office before the expiration of their tenure by the same people who elect them in the first place.
Under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, sections 69 and 110 provide for the manner by which recall may be effected in both federal and state legislative houses. For the purpose of clarity, it is important to reproduce verbatim this constitutional provision on recall. Section 69 states:
“A member of the Senate or of the House of representatives may be recalled as such a member if:
(a) there is presented to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission a petition in that behalf signed by more than one-half of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency alleging their loss of confidence in that member; and which signatures are duly verified by the Independent National Electoral Commission;
(b) the petition is thereafter, in a referendum conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission within ninety days of the date of receipt of the petition, approved by a simple majority of the votes of the persons registered to vote that in member’s constituency.”
For the sake of simplicity, the above provision is broken down into the following steps:
i. The electorate must come up with a petition alleging loss of confidence in a law-maker. It should be noted that what is “loss of confidence” is not defined in the Constitution and this means there is no need to accuse a law-maker of any wrong-doing or for a law-maker to be culpable of any misconduct before the electorate can say they have lost confidence in him;
ii. The petition must be signed by more than one-half of the registered voters in that member’s constituency. For example, if a member’s constituency has 1000 registered voters, not less than 501 registered voters must sign the petition;
iii. The petition must be submitted to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission;
iv. Upon submission, the Independent National Electoral Commission must do the following two things:
(a) It must verify the authenticity of the signatures;
(b) It must conduct a referendum within ninety days of the receipt of the petition in order to get it approved by a simple majority of the votes of registered persons in that constituency. For example, if only 500 out of 1000 registered voters turn out for the referendum, a simple majority of which may be anything from 251 votes upward will be enough to approve the petition.
Has Recall Ever Been Conclusively Used In Nigeria?
There is no information that it has ever been used successfully to remove a law-maker in Nigeria either at the federal or state level. This does not however mean that its retention in the Constitution is of no use. The mere fact that we have it in the Constitution promotes good governance and accountability because the law-makers know that there is a process which may be invoked to effect their removal, if they fail to satisfy their people. Although a process of recall was initiated against one Mrs. Hembadoon Amena representing Katsina-Ala West State Constituency in Benue State in 2013, it was later stalled in 2014. The civil unrest which resulted in the burning of some houses and destruction of property due to the move to recall this law-maker may not be unconnected to the truncation of the recall process.
Recall In Other Countries
Recall is recognized in such countries as Venezuela, Switzerland, Philippines, Canada and some others. However, in the US, there is no provision for recall in the country’s constitution. Senators and members of the House of Representatives in the American Congress cannot be recalled. Provisions for recall only exist under some states’ laws. Similarly, under the Indian Constitution, national and state law-makers cannot be recalled, though local government legislators may be recalled.
In California, for example, recall first gained recognition in the state’s laws in 1911 but even after more than three hundred attempts to effect recall of the successive governors, it was only successfully used in removing Governor Gray Davis in 2002 and the recall election that followed in 2003 brought in Arnold Schwarzenegger. Similarly, it was used to remove a governor in North Dakota in 1921.
It has also been used to remove some senators in the Californian senate. Unlike Nigeria, recall applies to the legislature, the judiciary as well as the executive in the state of California. Also in Venezuela, recall was introduced for the first time in 1999 and an attempt to use it to remove their late President, Hugo Chavez in 2004 was unsuccessful.
My Take On Recall
I am not in support of calls in some quarters for the amendment of sections 69 and 110 of the Nigerian Constitution in order to make it less cumbersome to remove our inactive and non-performing law-makers. I believe that those sections should be retained as we have them in the Constitution. For me, upon critical consideration, the process is not as cumbersome as it seems to appear when looked at casually. Even if individual voters find the process impracticable and unworkable, it is a question of time. With strong and vibrant civil society groups, the process may be successfully deployed to recall an errant law-maker. One obvious danger in simplifying the process is that it may also be used by mischief makers or defeated opponents to thwart the will of the people by invoking it to remove a performing, pro-people and anti-corruption law-maker. Leaving the section as it is will help to offer the law-makers some protection from unnecessary threats and distraction of recall. Law-makers need to be able to concentrate and perform their legislative duties without fear of being recalled through the whims and caprices of some powerful forces or power-brokers in their constituencies.
If any amendment is to be made at all, it must be to spell out in greater details how recall should be effected in practical terms. This is the case under the Californian law which requires a recall notice to be served on a law-maker who is to be recalled so that he may make a defence within a specified period of time. Disappointingly, the Nigerian constitutional provisions on recall lack such details and worse still, the Electoral Act is totally silent on the procedure to effect recall in practice. For example, nothing is said on when a recall election will hold or whether a recalled law-maker will have right to challenge his removal in court or not. As the law is presently in Nigeria on recall, it may be improperly employed to remove a law-maker, especially with the backing of a political godfather or any person who has what it takes.
Above all, it should be recognised that recall is a post-election measure and instead of dissipating energy and resources on such remedy, it will be in everybody’s interest if civil society groups and other non-governmental organisations intensify efforts to raise the political awareness and education of the electorate to the point that every voter understands the importance of electing quality and honest representatives. By electing persons of impeccable character and requisite intellect into our legislative houses, a lot of time, resources and energy, which would have otherwise been expended on recall, would therefore be saved for some other productive activities.
Kehinde Adegbite is an experienced lawyer and a writer. He is the author of HOW TO WRITE YOUR WILL WITH EASE and LEARNING THE LAW IN NIGERIA. He writes primarily for non-lawyers and may be reached via [email protected]