#ThereIsaBillinTheHouse that seeks to ensure the smooth transfer of executive power from one government to another. This issue-brief looks at key provisions in The Presidential (Transition) Bill, 2019.
Issue-Brief | Bolaji Ogalu x Rachel Ogidan
One of the hallmarks of a true democracy is the capacity to conduct free and fair elections. Free and fair elections are, nonetheless, only relevant where the electorates are guaranteed peaceful transitions from one administration to the next, irrespective of the political party, ideology or alliance. A change of administration following a general election tests both the quality and the effectiveness of governance.
The 2015 general election despite it inconsistencies has been described as a landmark feat, as for the first time in Nigeria's history, an opposition party unseated an incumbent in a Presidential election. Prior to the election, there was a prevalent concern regarding the transition of executive power, this concern was fuelled by the absence of a legislation prescribing transitions between administrations.
The impact of this missing legislation was also exemplified in 2019 where the President at a town hall meeting before the presidential election was asked whether he would concede defeat if he lost at the election, to which he responded that it was almost impossible for him to lose. Despite the fact that accepting defeat is key to ensuring a peaceful transition in any democracy.
It is important to note that even in jurisdictions with presidential transitions laws, transitions are not always straightforward and it is even more contentious when the transition is interparty. Incumbents more often than not, impede a smooth transfer of power. The current situation in the United States of America is a clear and timely example. The incumbent - Donald Trump refused to concede, which stalled the post-election transition process, until the recent declaration by the General Services Administration that Biden is the "apparent winner"
In spite of this, transition laws are essential in ensuring the preservation of democracy in any democratic society. Hence, the Presidential Transition Bill, 2019 by the House of Representatives is commendable, as one of the many means of securing a smooth and peaceful transfer of power from one government to another.
The Bill, if passed to law, will create a statutory duty on incumbent presidents to commence a transition process once a winner of an election has been declared, and if well executed, it will allay the fear of electorates and further strengthen faith in the electoral process.
What the Bill Says
Sponsored by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajamiala, the Bill seeks to provide for the smooth and orderly transfer of power from one government to another, at the federal level, including the President and Vice-president.
Section 1(1) of the Bill requires the incumbent President when not re-elected, to within two weeks of the declaration of the President-elect provide space for up to 10 persons designated by the President-elect to begin the review and analysis of budgeted expenditures during the tenure of the incumbent as well as, other documents required by the President-elect’s transition.
While the two weeks period stipulated at first glance seems laudable, in governance, the timeline for the performance of this duty is extended. This is because the business of governance is fast-paced. In other climes transition starts immediately after the election results are announced and the incumbent loses.
Section 1(3) of the Bill is noteworthy as it provides that the provisions of the law shall apply at all times after each general election, and it is immaterial that the power change is within the same party. This provision reinforces the purpose of the law as the smooth transition of power from one government to another and not merely one party to another.
Section 2 provides for the remuneration of members of the transition team and adds that where an employee of any government agency is a part of the transition team of either the incumbent President or President-elect, he shall in addition to allowances paid be entitled to compensation from his regular employment without interruption.
Additionally, the proviso to section 2 which requires the President-elect to consider key areas requiring professional or expert input in appointing members of his transition team is estimable as a tool for saving cost, which would have been otherwise deployed where such teams are poorly and sentimentally put together.
Section 3 provides for the appointment of an Administrator-General (ADG) to oversee the transition process, and the functions of the ADG are elaborately provided for in section 4. An important point to note is that the tenure of the ADG is not specifically stated. It can be inferred from section 3, where it is stated that the ADG shall be appointed after every general election, however, nothing suggests the period in which the tenure of the ADG will lapse.
Also, in Section 5 it is stated that the President shall only transmit a budget for carrying out the duties under the Act for the fiscal year in which the term of office expires. This also suggests that the tenure of the ADG will lapse at the end of the election year. There needs to be sufficient clarity regarding the tenure of the ADG.
The Bill puts a cap on cost at N100 million per presidential transition, to be appropriated to the Administrator-General. The provision also leaves no room for speculation by providing that where the incumbent President is re-elected, the funds appropriated should not be disbursed, as there will be no transition required.
In ensuring compliance, fine of N10, 000,000 or/ and a prison sentence of not less than six months is provided for non-compliance with the provisions of the law.
Succinctly, the Bill seeks to give the President-elect the opportunity to understudy the outgoing President ahead of the inauguration, as well as ensure a smooth transition from one government to the next. The Bill empowers the incoming President to review the financial records and activities of the incumbent. This provision is particularly noteworthy and applaudable for promoting accountability and transparency.
The sustainability of the Nigerian democracy, which is considered a model to other African nations given the prime place it holds as the most populous country and the largest economy on the continent, is imperative. Thus, the importance of a smooth transition of power cannot be over-emphasized as it would avoid a crisis that would potentially be felt across the continent.
The Bill is welcomed albeit with questions as to its enforceability and the need for independent institutions that would allow the Bill (if passed) to run its course. Asides passing the Bill, it is also important for the National Assembly to develop an independent framework to ensure that when the Bill is passed, its provisions are applied to the letter.
This is part of our series on #ThereIsABillinTheHouse.
This issue brief was provided by
Bolaji Ogalu | Lead Research Analyst, Governance & Political Institutions | email@example.com
Rachel Ogidan | Research Assistant, Governance & Political Institutions | firstname.lastname@example.org
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