Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu is the National President of the Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). He speaks on Supreme Court’s judgement which occasioned the APC losing all elective positions in Zamfara State, community policing, performance of 8th National Assembly and sundry issues. AKEEM NAFIU met him
What is your take on the Supreme Court’s judgement which invalidated the victory of all the candidates of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Zamfara state at the last general election?
Democracy can only be dispensed and practiced by democrats. Participatory democracy can only be measured by the inclusiveness of the process through adult suffrage.
Thus, representative government through a multi-party system must be membership driven. Any outcome outside of a people-led process defeats clearly the very purpose of democracy which is people-centred.
It’s a profound judgement which must have been difficult to reach in view of its wide implications on both the parties and candidates. The lesson, however, is that any party that toys with its constitutional processes and procedures does that at its own peril.
What is the position of the law regarding when the president must write the National Assembly to transfer power to his deputy?
It is at all times when the president is unable to perform the functions of his office. It is immaterial whether it is for 10 days or less. This is because the amendment to Section 145 of the Constitution arose from the challenges that were created relating to the ailment of the late President Yar’adua. The controversy at that time was on whether or not the president could actually rule from anywhere in the world as claimed by the then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Kaase Aondoakaa. The controversy which led to the amendment of Section 145 is to forestall a situation where business of governance is abandoned leaving the country as a rudderless ship without a captain.
The main end of the amendment was to ensure that at anytime the president is unable to carry out the functions of his office either due to ill-health or any other reason, he must transmit power to his vice. The Constitution talks about the president communicating expressly to both the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. I don’t believe the president can rule from anywhere in the world. Governance cannot be done by proxy and I think that it was wrong for the president to merely characterize his visit to the United Kingdom as a private visit, consequently refusing to either write the National Assembly or transmit power.
What is your assessment of the 8th National Assembly and your expectations of the 9th Assembly?
As a country, we all harvested the indiscretion of the All Progressive Congress (APC) led government in putting its acts together to enthrone a cohesive, coherent and effective leadership that aligns with the programmes and philosophies of the party. The intra-party politics that played out and threw up persons who otherwise were not the choice of the ruling party cost us four years of acrimonious government experience. It was very clear during this period that the executive and legislature were working at cross-purposes. That largely defined the 8th Assembly and polarized both chambers in a way that members could not build consensus around very serious national issues. This makes it impossible for the lawmakers to collaborate their activities with the executive. At the end of the day, Nigerians are the victims and we suffered most. There were two big elephants who could not get their acts together and it was the grass, Nigerians, that suffers. I hope that moving forward this time around, without necessarily behaving in a manner of headmaster and pupils relationship, they must find a way of ensuring that they leverage on the victory they have secured and translate it to harmonious government activities for the benefit of Nigerians. This is part of what I expect of the 9th Assembly. Of course, my expectation goes beyond political harmony. I am more interested in pro-people legislation. Those laws that would advance the cause of the Nigerian people. We should have less of self-centered legislation across board. Only recently, thanks to the pressure that was also mounted by the public, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly would have succeeded in its quest for a life pension. This is however not the first time we are experiencing this kind of thing, it has happened before in this country. What I am also expecting from the 9th National Assembly is swift passage of Bills.
To what extent would the establishment of Electoral Offences Commission as being canvassed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) help in stemming the tide of violence associated with elections in this country?
Except there is a failure of leadership and people just shy away from taking responsibility and they get away with it. Otherwise, under Section 150 of the Electoral Act 2010, INEC is mandated to prosecute all forms of electoral offences. Rather than suggesting the establishment of Electoral Offences Commission, one would have expected INEC to come straight and explain its challenges to government since it is part of the executive. The Commission should have no excuse in discharging its functions under the law. The culture of impunity that has wrecked our electoral process will continue to reign until INEC obeys the law as enshrined in Section 150 of the Electoral Act. So, I expect INEC to put in more effort to do the needful. The creation of Electoral Offences Commission will result in over bloated bureaucracy that would have its own cost to the nation’s economy. That is the drawback of this request by INEC. We cannot continue to keep having agency upon agency each time we are in one crisis or the other. I would have argued that the best thing to do in this instance is to have designated judges that would be saddled with the function of adjudication on electoral offences rather than wasting tax payers money on the establishment of Electoral Offences Commission.
Now that President Muhammadu Buhari has given his nod to community policing, how far will it help in stemming the tide of insecurity in the country?
Community policing is long overdue in the country. It fully recognizes the full functional federal system of government. There is no federal system of government truly so called that can accommodate the unitary structure of police system that we have in the country today. It cannot work. This is because federalism as a type of government recognizes the juxtaposition of state powers which includes the coercive powers of the state which is shown by security agencies of the country. The only way this can be operative in a federal system of government is by allowing devolution of powers to different levels of government. We cannot have a Nigeria Police Force which is unitary in nature and begin to overlook the entire vast Nigeria society, according to Sections 214 and 215 of the Constitution. Section 214 makes it the Nigeria Police Force, saying police officers in any part of the country can only operate in line with the whims and caprices of the Inspector General of Police.
But we all know that policing is not magic but intelligence driven and each community has a lot of roles to play in this regard. If you come into my village today, in no distance time, you must have been profiled and people will be aware of your presence. They will know whether you are there for good or evil. That is the height of policing. So, community policing encourages and recognizes the need for each community to have a say in the security of their environment. This is a good step in the right direction. It is even long overdue.
Reports had it that over 523 minors are languishing in various prisons across Anambra state. This is an anomaly as underage are not expected to be remanded in regular prisons. Who is to blame for this? How do we address the anomaly?
I want to say that it is not just unfortunate, but also irregular to have minors in prison. When you refer to prisons, it presupposes that these minors were there at the instance of a court and for any prosecutor to bring a minor before any court and for such court to order the remand of the minor in prison is not just unfortunate but also regrettable. It is not for nothing that we have the juvenile courts. The attitude of the court and the criminal justice system is geared towards reforms and reformation.
Therefore, the mere fact that minors are in Nigeria prisons is in itself both an abuse of power and abdication of responsibility. From law enforcement agencies to the courts and then prison officials, it ought to be noticed that an individual less than 18 years should not be kept in any prison facility. The blame will therefore go to every actor in the criminal justice system. The interest of a prosecutor is not to secure conviction at all cost but to do justice and therefore nothing stops a prosecutor driven by firm conscience to point out to a trial court that the person on trial is a minor and ought to be taken to a juvenile court.
Section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) empowers the Chief Judge of a state to designate magistrates who will go periodically to detention facilities including prions and effect the release of persons who otherwise have no business being there. All of these are aimed at prison decongestion.
What can be done to address the anomaly is for rights groups to keep close tab on prisons across the country, working in collaboration with journalists. The attention of designated magistrates in each state of the federation will be drawn to the presence of some of these minors who are languishing in prison facilities.
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