Tuesday, January 15, 2019 4:47 pm
Mr Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist, speaks on the 2019 elections, the candidates, the electoral law and others
Last year, during your response to Professor Niyi Osundare’s lecture on Donald Trump at Freedom Park, Lagos, you predicted that if care was not taken, Nigeria might end up with two candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari. Why did you make the prediction?
Both General Mohammadu Buhari of APC and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of PDP have been in the business of ruling Nigeria for decades. General Mohammadu Buhari ruled Nigeria with an iron fist as a military Head of State from January 1984 to August 1985. Since he was removed via a palace coup led by General Ibrahim Babangida he had been plotting to return to that office. He eventually succeeded in 2015. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has been in the presidential race since 1992 or thereabout. Even though he became the Vice President under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 he has never hidden his desire to rule the country. So, I was only saying the obvious when I said that the duo would run for the presidency this year. My prediction was anchored on concrete facts like the predictions of the majority of Nigerian pastors who claim to be futurologists.
The word, “might” in your statement then presupposes probability in that you were, perhaps thinking of alternatives to the duo. What are the alternatives and why do you think they will work?
With respect to both candidates I honestly believe that Nigeria ought to have thrown out men of expired ideas. Even though both General Buhari and Alhaji Abubakar are septuagenarians the leadership of a country has nothing to do with age. A nation that has missed all opportunities to be in the forefront of development by mobilizing her enormous potentials ought to be led by men and women of radical ideas, determination and vision. Nigeria needs leaders who can inspire and mobilize her disenchanted population to take her rightful place in the comity of developed nations. So I was thinking of many options. Unfortunately, the young men and women of alternative perspectives are coming into the presidential race rather too late in the day. In other words, politicians of alternative views ought to have been in the race long before now by joining issues with the retired generals and their protégés who have hijacked the politics of the country.
Given the limited time between now and the election time, why do you believe that the alternatives will work?
Given the limited time between now and February next year the status quo may not change in any significant way. But those who believe that they have captured Nigeria may be rejected at the polls. Unlike previous elections the forthcoming general election will not be business as usual. Candidates who lack the economic wherewithal to convene big rallies may spring surprises because they are reaching out through unusual means like social media and personal contacts. The only inhibition is that people of alternative ideological worldview have not come out to draw a line of dichotomy between sustaining the status quo through private sector-led economy and a state control of the means of production, distribution and exchange. For example, during the last presidential primary of the Democratic Party in the United States of America, Senator Bennie Sanders based his campaign on the socialist ideology. He promised to free the economy from men and women of Wall Street and provide free education, free medical care and other social amenities for the American people.
Of course, Mrs. Hilary Clinton, promised to maintain the status quo by sustaining the limited welfare programmes of the Democratic Party. But American voters who could not spot any difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party elected a demagogue, a supra nationalist and a seasoned defender of capitalism.
In the Nigerian case, the voters have not been given ideological options as all the candidates are promising to refine and sustain the system by reducing corruption, ameliorating poverty, running an inclusive government, complete the privatization of the economy. Others are promising to increase megawatts of electricity and improve on the security situation. Nigerian voters would have wanted to vote for candidates that are prepared to abolish poverty and underdevelopment by harnessing our abundant natural and human resources.
Appraise all the candidates.
Frankly speaking, since I do not know the majority of the candidates I am not in a position to analyze them. For me, it is safe to analyze them on the basis of the campaign materials being circulated by the political parties.
Looking at the campaign documents presented by the candidates, do they address the needs of the common man?
A lot of sloganeering is going on. Whereas section 224 of the Constitution provides that the aims and objectives of every registered political party shall conform to the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. Has any candidate shown any commitment to ensure that the welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government? Has any candidate promised to ensure that the national economy is controlled by the government and not by a few individuals? The country realized $104 billion from the sale of oil and gas last year. Out of that sum only $38 billion was paid into the federation account while the multinational oil companies smiled to the bank with $62 billion. Has anyone promised to alter the unjust economic order in favour of Nigeria? Section 16 of the Constitution has decreed that the major sectors of the economy shall be controlled by the government. Has any candidate promised to end the allocation of oil blocks to individuals who lease them and become instant multi billionaires? Why are candidates not questioning why state governments are not allocated the oil blocks? Is anyone undertaking to build a functional hospital in every local government, embark on mass housing to accommodate the 16 million people who lack decent accommodation, provide sufficient fund for education, end the illiteracy of 60 million people, remove 13.2 million out-of-school children from the streets and enroll them in public schools?
You may ask where are the schools? Did the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, not once canvass that mosques be converted to schools as it is the practice in some Muslim countries? Churches can also be converted to temporary schools since bible classes are conducted in all of them. It is a question of commitment and determination on the part of the government to provide access to cheap and affordable education for all.
Has any candidate promised to merge the Senate and the House of Representatives and turn law making into a part time business where legislators are paid only sitting allowances? Has any candidate promised horizontal and vertical restructuring? Does any candidate have an agenda to end police brutality, extra judicial killing, disobedience of court orders and other acts of impunity? If Kebbi state which is battling desert encroachment could make N120 billion from rice production last year is there any candidate who is ready to revive agriculture and repeat that feat in every other state? Is there any candidate who is ready to police the society so that every state will have at least 30,000 well equipped police personnel instead of 3,000? After all, 30,000 police personnel were recently posted to that Ekiti state during the last governorship election in June this year. Not surprisingly, these problems plaguing our people are not being addressed by candidates.
What will you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the electoral laws?
In 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo declared that the general election was a do-or-die affair for the PDP. Indeed, it was. It is on record that the exercise was characterized by official rigging, manipulation and violence. Even the late President Umoru Yar’Adua who was produced by the do-or-die election admitted that the exercise was highly flawed. He therefore instituted a commission of inquiry headed by retired Chief Justice Mohammade Uwais to recommend measures to curb fraud and ensure credible elections in the country. The Panel came up with profound and far reaching recommendations. But the recommendations were treated with disdain by the federal government. Again, following the post election violence of April 2011 the Goodluck Jonathan administration set up the Ahmed Lemu Panel. Similarly, the recommendations were ignored by the PDP-led government.
Two of the key recommendations of both panels pertain to the establishment of an electoral offences tribunal to prosecute electoral offenders and the appointment of the Chairman and other members of the Independent Electoral Commission by public advertisement. Candidates who applied were to be screened and interviewed by the National Judicial Council which would recommend suitable candidates to the President for appointment. Even the Buhari administration set up the Ken Nnamani electoral Reform Committee whose report has never seen the light of day. All the amendments of the Electoral Act since 2007 including the much touted 2018 Electoral Bill have ignored such vital recommendations.
The point that I am struggling to make is that the members of the political class are not prepared to conduct transparent and credible elections. Hence, the basic recommendations of the three presidential panels on electoral panel have not been implemented. In fact, the local government elections conducted by state electoral bodies are by far worse than the national election conducted by the INEC. It is so bad that opposition parties are usually compelled to boycott them in all the states of the federation. The situation is the same in the APC, APGA and PDP controlled states. The constitution of our electoral bodies should be based on nomination by credible civil society organizations.
It has been said that the refusal of President Buahri to sign the Electoral Bill 2018 has made it impossible to use card readers. What is your position on the matter?
As I said earlier, the political class is not ready for credible elections. Hence there is no consensus ad idem on the amendments of the electoral law. However, it is grossly misleading to say that you need a new law to legitimize the use of card readers. Both Dr. Bukola Saraki and Honourable Yakubu Dogara were in the seventh session of the National Assembly which passed an amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 to the effect that voting at an election shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the INEC. That particular amendment bill was signed by President Jonathan on March 20, 2015. Unfortunately, the attention of the Supreme Court was not drawn to the crucial amendment when it heard the appeals over the legal validity of elections conducted without the use of card readers. After the decisions of the apex court were handed down I wrote an article titled “The legal validity of card readers” wherein I blamed the counsel to INEC for not drawing the attention of their lordships to the amendment. The article was well publicized in the print media. Pursuant to that amendment INEC has used the card reader for all elections conducted in the country since 2015. Being part of the procedure legally determined by INEC the use of card reader to accredit voters card reader has not been questioned or impugned in all the election petitions that have been decided by all election petition tribunals and the courts.
Is it possible for money politics to be eliminated in Nigeria?
A government which has the political will can eliminate money politics and reduce the monetization of politics. Up to the second republic politics was based on programmes, manifestoes and ideology. The influence of contractors was minimized as roads were constructed and maintained by the Public Works Department while the ministries of housing built and sold affordable houses to the people. The government, communities, and religious institutions built and maintained schools. Education was generally affordable. But the military regime destroyed such politic of ideas when it deliberately encouraged the politics of money by the so called newbreed politicians without ideas to form all manners of political parties. I am sure that you are aware that the regime destroyed the politics of the country when he cancelled the results of the June 12 1993 presidential election, the most credible election so far as it defied religious and ethnic considerations. Since then politics has been based on your religion, ethnicity and other primordial sentiments.
But the politics of money can be eliminated if the government can muster the political will to do so. The government is not unaware that delegates who participate in primaries are bribed with Naira and American Dollars while voters are paid to exercise their franchise. Since the candidate of political parties have security personnel guiding them and the conventions of political parties are attended and monitored by security personnel and the INEC it is so easy to stop the bribing of delegates. Elections are supervised by security personnel- police officers, prison officials, civil defence personnel, state security operatives and even armed soldiers. The security people witness vote buying during elections. But since the ruling party and majority of the opposition parties are involved in the shameful exercise of bribing delegates and voters it is going to be difficult to stop it. For the integrity of elections and the image of the country the dangerous practice cannot be allowed to continue as it is the worst from of corruption. The foreign observers invited to monitor our elections are bound to report and inform the whole world that votes are bought in Nigeria. Apart from exposing us to ridicule the bribing of voters has continued to question the legitimacy of the democratic process.
What is your reaction to the propaganda war going on among the candidates?
What do you expect? A political class that is bereft of ideas and vision cannot but engage in empty and diversionary propaganda. It is deliberately designed to divert attention from issues of unemployment, poverty, insecurity, infrastructural decay etc. But then the media has a duty to insist that issues of the moment be addressed. Thousands of our young people are dying while crossing to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. Not a few are enslaved or killed in Libya. Many young women are sold to prostitution gangs in Italy. Others are looking for asylum in Canada and European countries. President Buhari has said that the millions who are looking for greener pastures through such risky and dangerous routes are on their own. Has any candidate addressed how to discourage young people from trooping out of the country by engaging them productively at home? Has anyone promised to arrest brain drain? Are our politicians aware that ours is a nation that spends so much money on the training of professionals only to allow them to serve other nations. Why has our government completely alienated young people at home and abroad? Last year the country recorded foreign remittances of about $22 billion. That is much higher than the so called Direct Foreign Investment from Western countries and China. But Diaspora citizens are not allowed to vote as it is the case in many countries in the world including African countries. And there is no plan to encourage them to invest locally. It is agreed on all hands that no modern state can develop without electricity. Is there any candidate who has promised to provide electricity by having clusters of power plants all over the country instead of asking every state to feed the national grid?
These questions should be seriously and urgently addressed by the media. Whereas Section 100 of the Electoral Act provides that all the candidates shall be given equal time and conspicuity only two out of over 70 political parties are being promoted by the electronic and print media. Which of the political parties has a programme on human rights? Has any candidate promised to end impunity by operating under the rule of law? Do the candidates appreciate that no serious investors will go to a country where the judgments and orders of courts on breach of contracts are likely to be disobeyed? If you look at the programmes of the APC and PDP candidates there is no substantial difference.
What is your view on the fight against corruption?
Section 15 (5) of the Constitution has imposed a duty on the State to fight corruption and abuse of power. While the federal government has set up institutions to fight corruption no state apart from Kano state has an anti graft agency. No doubt, the Buhari administration has recovered some money from Nigerians. But it has treated the foreign banks and other financial institutions keeping our looted wealth with kid gloves. On a more serious note, corruption is a manifestation of the socioeconomic system operated by any country. No nation seriously fights corruption by dramatizing the arrest and prosecution of a few suspects. Official corruption cannot be meaningfully attacked without the payment of salaries of workers and pension for retired people as and when due, without the provision of effective mortgage institutions, without a functional health insurance scheme, without access to quality education and other amenities. With respect to corruption in the private sector, the rules of professional ethics of all professional bodies have to be vigorously enforced. The code of governance for all NGOS including churches and mosques has to be zealously enforced by the government. Those who violate the minimum standards of behaviour have to be sanctioned without fear or favour. Once it is realized it is no longer business as usual everyone would be committed to building this nation on the platform of integrity. Since government is the most corrupt institution in Nigeria the people have to be organized and mobilized to take control of the fight against corruption.
Related cover story: https://www.thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2019/01/buhari-atiku-its-battle-royale/