Nigeria Senate eases rules for political aspirants


Nigeria’s Senate yesterday approved a constitutional amendment to allow politicians who are accused of fraud, but not convicted, to run for federal and state office.

The Senate also voted to require candidates to have a university degree, which civil rights advocates said unfairly favoured the OPEC member’s wealthy minority.

The changes were among a series of constitutional amendments passed by the Senate and now must be approved by the lower house of parliament, two-thirds of state legislatures and the presidency.

More than a dozen former governors and ministers have been accused of corruption in one of the world’s most tainted countries, but few have been convicted, with cases getting bogged down in legal wrangling.

The Senate voted by 82-8 to delete the constitutional provision disqualifying candidates indicted by a federal panel for fraud or embezzlement.

The Supreme Court ruled against the provision a few years ago.

Corruption is endemic in Africa’s most populous nation, from policemen at checkpoints demanding bribes to senior government officials accused of embezzling millions of dollars.

A federal election is due to take place before the current presidential term ends in May 2011.

The Senate approved changes making it more difficult to run for office by requiring candidates to be college educated. Currently, a politician only needs a high school-level certificate.

Nigeria’s higher educational system is highly competitive and expensive, with few families able to afford the cost of tuition. Most Nigerians live on less than $2 a day.
“These changes systematically disenfranchise a lot of Nigerians. Eligibility to contest elections will continue to be limited to the children of the rich,” said Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress.

The Senate also voted to require a vote to take place between 150 and 90 days before the end of a presidential term. If passed, that would mean a poll would need to take place between late December 2010 and early March.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has proposed voting to take place on January 22, 2011 if electoral reforms are passed or on April 23, 2011 if not.

Pic: Nigeria’s Acting President- Jonathan Goodluck