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Ojo: NASS’ power to amend Electoral Act sacrosanct

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Ojo: NASS’ power to amend Electoral Act sacrosanct

Adekunle Ojo is a former vice-president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, he speaks on Federal Government’s $1 billion request to fight insurgency, abduction of Dapchi schoolgirls, incessant killings in Benue and Plateau states, amended Electoral Act and sundry issues

 

 

No positive news yet on the abducted 110 students of Government Girls Technical College, Dapchi in Yobe State by the Boko Haram insurgents. What is the implication of this on President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration’s terrorism war?
Well, except we are going to deceive ourselves, this incident has signified that Nigeria is as unsecured as ever. It also indicated that if there is anything government thinks it has put in place, it is not working. This kind of incident has happened before and it has happened now.

It means that the vulnerable, young children and women are now at the mercy of these terrorists. It is even more worrisome and unfortunate that prior to this attack, there were warnings and despite all these, the terrorists were still able to carry out their nefarious activities.

We all cried and shouted when the Chibok incident happened, blaming the government. The same thing has now repeated itself and without mincing words, the fault still lies with the government. It is even more worrisome that security agencies in the country were not united in their approach to these issues. As it is now, we are yet to embrace the advance ways of combating crimes in the country. Our intelligent gathering mechanism is not effective and we should do something urgent about it.

We need to deploy technologies in dealing with this issue. So, I think this time around, the buck still stops at the Federal Government’s table. As far as I am concerned, government has not done enough on this issue. As we are talking now, God forbid if this type of incident happened again, government will have no answer to it.

In view of the frequent abduction of schoolgirls, prowling killer herdsmen and the federal government’s inability to tackle them head on, don’t you think terrorism has come to stay in Nigeria?
I would not say that terrorism has come to stay in Nigeria but the terrorists have found Nigeria to be a very fertile ground for their operations, that’s the truth. It is much easier because of our dichotomy, ethnic mistrusts, religious differences as well as the belief that certain people are above the law.

This particular crisis has been emanating from a particular region of the country and the perpetrators have remained a particular set of people. It is a different scenario in other parts of the country, so we cannot say terrorism has come to stay in the country.

Would you say that the federal government has now found justification in Dapchi schoolgirls’ abduction to withdraw $1billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight insurgency?
I think people are opposed to the move because of government’s plan to spend the money on a particular section of the country when there are crisis in several other places. There are concerns about government’s decision to focus squarely on insurgency in the North East when other parts of the country are also burning.

As far as I am concerned, every malaise including terrorism must be fought to a standstill. Also, every resources needed to do so must not be withheld. In essence, I am not against government spending money but I am averse to such arrangement when priority is given to some areas at the detriment of others.

I think government should find a way of spreading the money across every nook and cranny of the country. Beyond that, I have come to an understanding that our borders appear to be the most porous in the whole world. Every Tom, Dick and Harry comes to Nigeria. For as long as you can say you are a Hausa or Fulani man, nobody cares about your intentions.

I think these are part of the problems that we have especially in the North. People come in and move out at will from other African countries to Nigeria without any form of hindrance. I think we need to do something urgent about the porosity of our borders or else we will continue to have these problems.

What are your fears for the 2019 general election in view of a case of underage voting allegedly recorded during the local government’s election in Kano state?
It’s about people and impunity. The culture of impunity has been with us for so long. That is why up till this moment, we don’t have an acceptable census. This is because some people somewhere feel that they should lodge their numerical force over every other person.

This underage voting practice is not new in our system. It has always happen. Though the one that happened in Kano which gone viral is ridiculously alarming. That’s the truth. It is getting to a level where a child in the embryo is now being called to vote. I also think it is good enough that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come to tell us they are investigating it.

However, certain questions must be asked. One of such is; who issued the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC)? Are people’s ages not being requested for before the PVCs were issued? Why I am saying this is because basically registration ought to be done by INEC and not the state electoral body. The voters’ list used in the election was also compiled by INEC.

So, I have my reservations when the electoral body said it was investigating the allegation. What are they investigating? INEC is not in the best position to do so. It could better be done by either the National Assembly or an independent body. This will give some credibility to the exercise.

This is because at the end of the day, INEC will want to protect itself. Besides, In Nigeria, we all know that politics could be a bit complicated owing to the way it is being done. In this part of the world, rigging is not done on the day of election; it is something being planned ahead of election. So, what I am saying is that INEC is culpable in the whole thing and cannot really extricate itself.

INEC has insisted on its time table for 2019 general election despite an amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 by the National Assembly which reordered the election sequence. What is your take on this?
That is still part of the colossal crisis that we have in the country. Meanings were read into every step taken, even when you are objective. This is because of the high level of mistrusts. The executive does not trust the legislature and vice versa. Even in the National Assembly, there seems to be some form of hatred.

But can we for once have an enduring institution in Nigeria? If we cannot have it and everything is being done with some undertone, then, we are not likely to achieve the desired results. For me, although the power to conduct elections is constitutionally vested on INEC, but if the National Assembly is empowered to amend the Electoral Act, then, they are at liberty to do so. If an amendment can be carried out by the National Assembly and there is no limit to how far it can be done, it means the lawmakers have not acted ultra-vires.

The same Constitution that says INEC should conduct elections also empowers the National Assembly to legislate on the Electoral Act. So, what I am saying is that if there is an amendment to the Electoral Act, there is nothing wrong in following it up.

This is not the first time we are having an amendment. Don’t forget, it was an amendment carried out on the Electoral Act which specified the period within which petitions must be heard by Election Tribunals and we all accepted it like that. Now that the same National Assembly is saying it want to alter the sequence of elections, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.

Why do you think the amendment of the Electoral Act is coming a few months to the 2019 general election?
For me, the timing might not be the most auspicious, but I think institutions should be allowed to evolve. If the National Assembly has the right to do it, let them do it and I think the lawmakers have the right to do it. As far as I am concerned, they have not acted ultra vires of any law by their action. I think we should learn to play by the rules and anyone that feels aggrieved with the amendment can challenge it in court.

The upsurge in drug trafficking has reached an alarming level. What do you think is responsible for this trend and how do we curb this menace?
Well, I think it has to do more with the high poverty rate in the country. If you check the cases of people caught, they are not the real drug baron but just like the courier. In fact, a good number of them are first timers. A check into how they get involved may also reveal that it may be because somebody said I will pay your school fees or I will give you a thousand dollars and so on. I think the upsurge is due to the fact that things are not working the way they should. Poverty has actually eaten deep into so many homes in Nigeria and I think that was the core reason why people are engaged in some of these nefarious activities. To curb the menace, government must attend to growing the economy in order to better the lives of the citizens. I believe that when actions are taking in this regard, there will be changes.

 

How much of independence can you say the judiciary has enjoyed since Buhari’s administration began?
The independence of the judiciary is governed by the Constitution which to an extent also entails checks and balances. Many people see checks and balances as factors eroding the independence of the judiciary but I don’t agree with such believe.

This is because if a judge has to be appointed and there must be an approval from certain quarters, this is what checks and balances are all about and it must be allowed. So, I am satisfied with the current arrangement in the judiciary. It also boils down to a judge knowing his onions and performing his duties as expected without minding whose ox is gored. So, I think so far, I am satisfied with the level of independence being enjoyed by the judiciary under the Buhari’s administration.

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