Chief Oba Maduabuchi is a seasoned legal practitioner and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview, with GODWIN TSA, he bared his mind on some national issues including the vexed issue of zoning, the presidency and electoral matters.
What is your take on zoning of political offices especially the presidency? Do you think this will bring unity to the country?
Zoning came into Nigeria’s political lexicon through the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and it was a child of necessity given that in 1993, MKO Abiola was on course to winning the presidential election adjudged by all and sundry as the fairest and freest election ever conducted in the history of this country.
Now, because it did not please the military powers that were then, they truncated that massive support and approval given to Abiola and cancelled the election. That led to Gen. Babangida stepping aside and handing over to an Interim Government headed by the late Ernest Shonekan, who was subsequently removed by the late Gen. Sani Abacha, who died in office.
So, in other to please or kind of assuage the anger in Yorubaland, PDP said okay, let us zone the presidency to the South West, which made both the PDP and the then APP, the two prominent parties then, produce their presidential candidates to the West, leading to the emergence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Then, after that, zoning has never worked again in Nigeria. There has never been any time any party said we zoned the presidency to the North and you don’t see Southerners contesting. Examples abound. In 2015, they said it was for the North, President Muhammadu Buhari contested from the North with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, while Senator Rochas Okorocha contested from the South East.
So, the point I am making is that this idea of zoning has never worked and I don’t see how it can work. This is because it is undemocratic, and being undemocratic, it sidelines the best for the available. Is it democratic to exclude people from the political dynamics of Nigeria? Does it make sense? Zoning breeds laziness. When you say you zoned something to a particular place, you will now take the available, whatever they offer you, you will take. So, because of zoning, we should lose the services of our best candidates. This is bad for the country.
So, zoning in my mind does not throw up a proper president for the country, particularly at this time we are passing through this kind of situation in this country.
But others see it differently. They see the zoning of political offices as a tool of unity among the major geographical zones
Nigeria is not the patrimony of anybody’s father, which is being shared. The protagonists of zoning are those who are bringing this country to doom. Do you know why? When people assumed public office in Nigeria, everybody from their place is shouting, ‘it’s our turn to eat.’ It is not that they want to come and work, it is simply because they believe this is our turn to come and steal.
So, because public life in Nigeria is public stealing, that is why people come out to say, you have had your turn, you have stolen your own. Nobody is saying, thank you, you have done so much for us, let me come, I can do better than you. What people who are propagating zoning are saying is, the man has stolen his own now, let another person come. Is that what will move this country forward? Is it not better for all of us that you will throw the contest wide open so that anybody who feels he has something to offer will present what he has on the table for the electorate to decide?
Given the present situation in the country, what kind of President do you think Nigeria needs in 2023?
The position of the country today is not different from any other country today. Everybody who is thinking rationally knows that the biggest problem the world had has in the past 200 years is not the first and second world wars, but COVID-19.
COVID brought the whole world to its feet. So, it will take time for us to leave off the effect of COVID so that we can remain normal. That is why they invented one phrase: ‘This is the new normal.’ This is how we live now, a new normal. There was a time people were not importing or selling things. The whole world became locked down. You could not fly.
The president we need in Nigeria today and in any part of the world is the president that knows how to begin again.
What do you mean by begin again?
This is because the whole world is prostrate on the ground economically, in terms of security and whatever. We are on our knees, so we have to start afresh. So this is a new beginning. You have to start afresh as anything you had before will not work. The only thing that will work now is to start afresh. Do you have food? Do you have security etc? So, we need to have a president that thinks out of the box to start afresh. If we don’t have a president that thinks, then, we are doomed.
A president that we need today is not the type that will seat down in the National Assembly making budgets. We need a president that will sit down and plan so that we will have the basic things of life.
Coming down to Nigeria specifically, the problem in Nigeria is security. How do we tackle a situation where farmers in Borno, Yobe, Zamfara, Katsina, and Jigawa can no longer enter their farms?
How do you rationalise that in the Food Basket of the Nation (Benue State), farmers cannot go to the farm? And if farmers cannot go to the farm, what is the ripple effect? The ripple effect is prices of food items must go up. We also need a president that would be able to call the bluff of oil marketers. What is the price of oil today? About $15 to $20 per barrel. If you convert it to naira, how much does it give you when a dollar is about N600? Then if the barrels arrived here at 180 dollars per barrel, how do you now break it down to litres, and you begin to sell at less than N300 per litre.
So if you use all the money the country has to satisfy 10 or 20 people who import fuel, how can the country move forward? The difference between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), before was that Buhari was not afraid of losing the election. That is why in 2014, he said he would remove the fuel subsidy. But when he got into office and saw the trappings of power, the exact dynamics of governance, he backpedalled.
Even this year, when he tried to remove the fuel subsidy, his party told him that if you do it, another party will rule the country in 2023. Now, the president says we are going to do it in August 2023. That tells you the force of fuel subsidy.
Fuel subsidy is the biggest albatross we are having on our necks. If Buhari, as strong as he is, or is taunted to be, as strictly as he is, could not build one working refinery in eight years, then, something is wrong. But one man, Aliko Dangote, has built one and built a fertilizer plant in three years and what the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is spending to buy shares in the Dangote refinery is more than building one.
So, any president that does not have the guts to call the bluff of oil marketers, Nigeria should not vote for him. In addition, the president that is coming should also be able to end insecurity and banditry and then we can start the reconstruction of the country.
As an experienced legal practitioner versed in election petition cases, can the amended Electoral Act address the issue of rigging and other electoral malpractices?
Nigeria has never had a bad electoral law. I don’t know of any electoral law, even that of the 1963, which allows ballot snatching. All our electoral laws have been based on the basic election principles of ‘One man one vote’. So, the simple question is, do we practise one man one vote?
There is no electoral law that allows anybody to vote five times at an election. What we have is one man one vote. So, the problem is not with the law, the problem is with those operating the law. So far as an ad hoc staff of INEC is ready to collect N5,000 from a candidate to give him the remaining votes at a polling unit, after people have cast their votes, make all the laws in the world, you are wasting your time.
How do they rig? Ordinarily, there are 500 votes in a polling booth. If 200 people come to vote and another candidate scores 50 votes, and another pulled 150 votes, ordinary the man with 150 votes won. But you have 300 votes remaining right? So, if the candidate with 50 votes gives N50, 000 to the ad hoc staff at the polling booth and he gives him 200 votes out of the 300 remaining votes, it will become 250 votes and he is declared the winner. That is how rigging is done.
Is it allowed by the Electoral Act? Is it the fault of the Electoral Act? How will the Act cure the possibility that a NYSC ad hoc staff will mortgage his future and change results? It’s not possible. How do you see hope? How many chapters does an American Constitution have? What about Britain with no written constitution? So the problem is not the law, but those who operate the law. Make all the laws in the world, it won’t work. People say electoral transfer of votes, but they forgot that we have people who can hack into INEC server. So my short answer is that the new Act will not stop electoral malpractices, we need a change of altitude for our laws to work