Making A Case For A Transition Act


Never mind fears of over legislation, law-making fatigue or that we have more laws than we care to implement – Nigeria needs a transition act. The ongoing discussions about the true state of the country’s finances, as well as worry about the delay in the staffing of key positions are connected to the transition process. As strategic as it may or may not turn out to be to delay the appointment of principal officers, a lawsuit to compel the appointment of ministers would not be necessary if we had in place the legal framework to govern and implement transitions with the knowledge that government is a continuum.

A decent transition act would cover certain fundamentals and then pay attention to the unique circumstances of the operating environment. The terms of reference of the transition committee are key – what should it cover and what should it cost? Section 2 of the US Transition Act acknowledges that the provisions are designed to be ‘mindful of the problems occasioned by transitions in the office of the president’ and to ‘take appropriate lawful steps to avoid or minimize disruptions in the transfer of executive power’.

In Ghana, there are four overarching functions of the transition committee: to make comprehensive practical arrangements to regulate transfer of political power, to ensure daily national security briefings for the President elect, to ensure salaries allowances, privileges, or awards are paid (this could arguably deal with the rash of questionable last minute promotions, pardons and removals which outgoing presidents succumb to) and any other functions which will enable the objective of the Act. Terms of reference captured in a transition act would minimize the potential for the type of friction which warranted a warning from the Jonathan administration that the incoming government must not create a ‘parallel government’.

Timing, they say, is everything. In this climate where calls for patience have become a daily headline, it is important to remind ourselves of the proverb ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. With our inability to stick to election time tables yet bound with an immovable hand over date of May 29, we might want to borrow from the Ghanaian Transition Act of 2012 which provides that within 24 hours after the declaration of the presidential election results, the President must activate the constitution of the transition committee with the appointment of designated officials of his administration. The president elect can have an equal number of members and the first meeting of both teams – which now form the transition committee – must meet within 48 hours of announcement of the results. This means, regardless of how short the time between the announcement of results and the hand over date, there is a legally binding requirement to get the transition process started. In our case, the FG’s transition committee was announced on April 10 and the President elect inaugurated his nineteen days later.

The Ghanaian Transition Act ensures that there is no alternative to hitting the ground running. Every serious contender for the presidency must already have a list of the persons who would be on the transition committee ready for the first meeting which must be no longer than 48 hours after the declaration of the winner.

The FG transition committee included a few officials that should be part of a presidential transition e.g., the finance and defense ministers and the secretary to the FG but for some reason it also had the heads of AMCON, NAFDAC and TETFUND. In Kenya and Ghana their transition committees include the ministers of finance, foreign affairs, interior and defense, the attorney general, and our equivalent of the secretary to the FG. Kenya incorporates more members with the IG of Police, head of intelligence, the Clerk of the National Assembly, and the Chief Registrar to the Judiciary etc. and takes care to provide that two-thirds of the members of the committee form a quorum. Under the Kenyan Transition Act of 2012, the president elect can have only 3 nominees to the transition committee, presumably envisaging one transition team working for both sides. This was not the case here and despite the statesmanlike insistence of Joda that the Buhari transition team had the cooperation of the FG’s team, the APC and then President elect made it clear to the media that this was not entirely true.

Learning that the Buhari transition committee received handover notes on May 25 should be troubling. In Ghana, the handover notes are expected to be ready and transmitted to the Administrator General 30 days before the presidential elections. The notes must include the notes received by the outgoing president upon resumption of office, along with notes covering the current administration’s tenure (president, ministers, director generals) and ‘projections of developments’ expected by the end of the tenure. Others entitled to copies of the hand over notes, once the president-elect has received a copy, include parliament, chief justice, council of state and public records and archives.

It is a shame that despite our behemoth civil service, we cannot effect a seamless, efficient transition that would result in handover notes ready for the president elect from declaration day +1.

With our history for government fiscal irresponsibility, it is important to peg the cost of a transition (no more than $900,000 in the US) and provide the range of activities covered (some Acts require inventory of the assets in presidential residents and provide for sub-committees responsible for inauguration) by the Act and the budget.

As Nigerians struggle to balance their expectations of a president who many presumed ready because of a 12-year desire to lead the country, let us place a smidgen of the blame for the lethargic start on a shaky transition. Our deepening democracy means that there will be more transitions between major parties and we should avoid a situation where something this important is left to ‘good will’. We need a transition act before 2019 – that way we can ensure future presidents can no longer blame an inefficient transition process for a slow start.

Culled from


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