By Cosmas Omegoh
A Lagos-based lawyer, Libros Oshoma, has added his voice to the strident calls for urgent restructuring of the country, maintaining that the North, said to be averse to the idea, stands to be the biggest beneficiary.
While hailing the National Assembly for the amended Electoral Law, he lamented that greedy politicians, because of the immediate low-hanging fruits they want to pluck, don’t want the country to be restructured for greatness. Excerpts:
Aside Section 84, are there other sections/clauses that need to be amended in the Electoral Law?
I don’t think that our Electoral Act needs any other amendment before the elections. Because usually, it is the challenges experienced during an election that throw up subsequent amendment to the Electoral Law. Already, the National Assembly has amended the Electoral Act to address the challenges we saw in the 2019 election. But from what we have seen so far, the delegate system so far created subject to the amendment to the Electoral Act has been highly monetised. Even subsequent elections have also been highly monetised. So, the areas that the National Assembly needs to really look at now are electoral processes, electoral participation and punishment of offenders who compromise electoral practices. We know that vote buying is an offence. Therefore, we need to address it so that we don’t compromise the delegate system. We saw the direct primaries in Lagos and how it was also compromised. We saw direct primaries in 2018 that produced President Muhammadu Buhari for the second term in office and how it was high compromised. We saw direct primaries in Anambra ahead of the elections and how it was highly compromised. Therefore, I do not see how any amendment to the Electoral Act before the election will do us any good.
What are your thoughts on the statutory delegates system used in picking party candidates?
That has been a clause for controversy in the Electoral Act. But the question is: shouldn’t there be a level playing field indeed? How can you go into an election with someone who already has 2,000 votes in the bank? Every state governor has more than 2,000 aides who have become statutory delegates by virtue of their appointment. How do you now contest an election with a governor who already has such number of votes in his kitty? So, that is why l think that the eradication of statutory delegates is the best thing for us. It creates a level playing field even though some people have complained that the process is highly monetised. That is a call on all of us to go and join political parties of our choice so that we can have credible people emerging from the ward to the local government and then the state level. Therefore, there is no need to amend that section of the law, even though the governors are kicking against it. Section 84:12 of it says there will no longer be automatic delegates. That is why when you look at the primaries unlike before when you had plenty of delegates, very few people participated in the exercise. You recall that the All Progressives Congress (APC) had three delegates each from the local governments. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had one each from the local governments. But previously, when we had statutory delegates, a governor had over a 100 special advisers, aside from other aides. All of them were delegates. But right now, all of that has been eradicated. That is why anyone that is contesting an election now already knows the number of delegates that coming from the local governments – the party chairman, the secretary and the women leader. These delegates are voted for, or nominated from the ward level. So with that, we know that there are just three delegates from one local government, and that makes things easier. It was against the background of that amendment that court cases were instituted. Some people kept insisting that some persons were excluded, that the amendment infringed on such persons’ fundamental human right to vote and be voted for. That is why we saw that some candidates who were delegates could not vote, despite the fact that they were candidates. Now, the Senate is proposing an amendment because the president kicked against that part of the Electoral Law. The Senate wanted to amend it to suit the president’s whims and caprices. The Presidency that wanted it amended had approached the Supreme Court for a ruling. But the apex court said no. You cannot ascend to a bill and then turn around and say expunge it for me.
Looking at the 1999 constitution as amended, what is your take on the clamour for a new constitution?
I totally share the view that we need to amend the 1999 constitution. We cannot jettison it completely and then in its place erect a new one. There are clauses of that constitution that are retainable because we have come a long way. Looking at the structure of fiscal federalism and the defective structure of our governance for instance, some people have argued that we should go back to the regional government and make the centre less attractive. That is what I believe should help our case. The regions should be responsible financially to themselves, and then contribute to the centre. This idea of multiplicity of states also is not helping us. So need to urgently have a situation where people no longer go to sit down permanently in Abuja in the name of law making. They must have a job. Law making should be part time to them. When we have regions, that will make the local governments vibrant and autonomous. So that is what people are now beginning to believe in, and I subscribed to the idea of a constitutionally-restructured Nigeria along the sides of regions and parliamentary system of government where we don’t have multiplicity of offices where we have parliamentarians who become ministers if their party wins at the centre unlike our present system where we have a multiplicity of offices. In our present system, the parliamentarian is different from the minister; the parliamentarian has plenty aides; the minster also has plenty aides. Functions are clashing. Those of them on oversight are not doing anything. And there is over concentration of powers in the hands one man called the president. All of this needs to be checked for us to truly move forward.
What sort of fresh breath can this breathe into the polity?
This will create ownership for Nigerians. People will own Nigeria, and also be responsible to the space they own. Take for example, Nigerian currently belongs to no body. Nigerian currently belongs to body in the sense that we have resources we cannot control. When you have control over your property, you protect it. Someone will not be coming from the centre to say this belongs to us. Note that what belongs to everybody belongs to no body. You say because the resources belong to all of us, I can take it the way I want, whereas the resources are domiciled in someone’s space. That does not create an ownership structure that is effective. When everybody owns their own, they are responsible to it; they use it and pay tax on it. People will become more responsible and be ready to defend such resources. Now, look at a situation where you bring someone from Arugungu to police Ijebu-Igbo. On getting there, he will have police himself first. He doesn’t have a stake in the area. But if you bring a policeman from Agege to police Agege, he will have a stake in the area. He will see the area as his own. These are some of the benefits we stand to gain if we restructure Nigeria.
Do you see any willingness to restructure Nigeria?
None at all! The politicians that would do that are the same crop of politicians that has been there since 1999. They include those who were in opposition then, but later got into office and jettisoned the idea. I have not seen anything on their part to do things differently.
What obstacles, therefore, do you see in the way of restructuring Nigeria?
The body language of some politicians especially from the North shows that they have maintained this mentality of when you have a glutton in the family and you want to eat together with him, they want to eat more. If you listen to Rabiu Kwankwaso recently, he said something to the effect that politicians from the East are those that want to divide Nigeria. That ordinarily they should not be voted for. That was wrong.
At the moment, Southwest is not averse to restructuring. But the North does not want that, even though it is the one that stands to benefit the most. Because instead of this unnecessary over reliance on oil, the region will concentrate on its strength and make a lot of money from that, develop knowledge, and even sell it and make the area habitable instead of this idea of impoverishing the people. Then, the South will now know that it needs to develop it resources since it cannot drink its oil. Then, the Southwest in particular will try to develop a knowledge-based economy. Who says Onitsha will not become another Silicon Valley? But unfortunately, the biggest challenge in realising this is that our everyday politicians do not see things that way. They only see the immediate low-hanging fruits they want to pluck. They will reject anything that will stop them from plucking those low-hanging fruits which the current structure presents.