For the Executive Director and Chairman of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), Dr. Wunmi Bewaji, restructuring of the country is the only way forward for Nigeria. The former member of the House of Representatives in this interview speaks on various national issues.
Part of the challenges confronting the country have made people call for zoning of key offices in the land, how far has such worked for the country given the clamour by some people ahead 2023 that the North would still retain the presidency?
On the issue of zoning of the presidency, we have a very chequered history of long years of military rule and as a result, in the near 40 years of the existence of Nigeria, the North ruled Nigeria for nearly 95 per cent of that period and that was what led to the emergence of Obasanjo but upon the emergence of General Obasanjo, there was an unwritten agreement that power would rotate between the North and the South. Despite the fact that our democracy is 20 years, we must recognize the fact that the Nigerian federation is a very fragile federation. So, that gentleman agreement must be respected; any attempt whatsoever to bring back the era of the so-called Northern hegemony would collapse the federation. My advice to columnists within the major political parties is that we should tread softly. The situation in the country does not allow for these reckless statements. Whoever is trying to fight should know that he is playing with fire. We have IPOB in the South East, we have Boko Haram in the North, we have ISIS in the West African province. Our security agencies are stretched thin, I do not think that this is the right time to make reckless statements about the issue of rotation. Rotation has come to stay, Buhari is from the North and by 2023, he would have spent eight years and then it would be the turn of the South; any attempt to make anybody from the North succeed Buhari would be interpreted as a Third Term Agenda by the Buhari administration. I served in the Constitution Review Committee between 1999 and 2003 and between 2003 and 2007. The idea of putting it in the constitution was muted at a particular point and I would say that the advocate of that were Northerners because at that time, somebody from Western Nigeria was in office. We debated the idea but in the end, it was suggested that it should remain a gentleman agreement. This is what is sustaining the federation itself and people should not exercise fear. You can imagine if Obasanjo had wanted someone from the South to succeed him and you know most of the problems that Goodluck Jonathan had was due to President Yar’Adua, a Northerner, who had not been able to complete the eight year tenure. As a result of that, even the constitution has been amended to say that if you succeed someone, you are completing the term of that person; therefore, you would not be able to run for that office again. In recognition of the fact that this federation is a very fragile one, we have to manage it in a way that it is in the interest of the diversity that we have in the country. I represented Lagos in that committee and that was the reason why we did not put it in the constitution.
In your own opinion, is the state of Nigeria working truly as a federation?
We are truly a federation and I can also tell you that the state of our democracy is also fine even though it is not perfect; we have problems here and there. For example, almost six months after election, we are still in court over it, no other country in Africa, I am not even talking of developed nations, does that. At the end of the day, I think being in court is better than being on the war front fighting for the so’ called mandate. There is also need for us to move away from ‘judicialisation’ of the electoral process. The court should have very limited role to play in the entire electoral system. Election petition can be decided within two months if only we review the law and they streamline the groups upon which the election result can be challenged. For example, INEC conducted an election and it should be expected that INEC certificate should enjoy the highest presumption of regularity. Once INEC issued its Certificate of Returns to an individual, then it will require a huge rock to fall down that individual to lose the certificate. If you are a Ph.D holder and someone who has only primary school certificate holders has defeated you, that means there is something unique that the electorate found to ensure that the primary school certificate holders defeat you. After the election, that should not be a ground for you to approach a court of the land that he does not qualify to contest. Also, I will advocate that as a nation, we must move away from certificated qualification for elections. Nothing should stop anyone who has not seen the four walls of a school, so called for running for political office in the country. If I did not have a Secondary School Certificate and under the law, and my vote is good enough to elect me, that should be good under the law, coupled with my votes by the electorate. I should be able to enjoy the votes of others even if they were professors. Also, if I can vote for those who went to school, those who have also gone to school should also be allowed to vote for me. That is the liberty for us to say those who do not have a particular certificate can’t be voted for, that’s anti democracy and we must shift emphasis from that. Those who put that in the constitution were only focusing on power and not on democracy which, is about choice which can be limited.
What your view about agitations for restructuring of the country?
Of course, we must restructure, that’s the only way to go.
Why do you think we need to restructure this country?
We need to restructure in the sense that you know we talk about unity in diversity. Nigeria is a federation and you know at Independence, we were familiar with the Lancaster Conference, the Independence Conference in London. The founding fathers of Nigeria, made it known that their solution to the diversity was to be able to use that diversity as raw material for unity. You can’t deny the fact that Nigeria is diverse; there are many ethnic nationalities in the country and all over the world, you have such diversity. The solution has always been a federal structure. Now at Independence, what we had if you look at the 1960 Constitution, was a federal constitution. The 1963 Constitution was purely a federal constitution in which the component units of the federation were allowed to develop at their pace. Look at the 1960 Constitution, we had 22 items in the Exclusive List. So, the areas where the Federal Government had exclusive jurisdiction were limited. But under the 1979 Constitution, they grew to 68 and that trend started since 1966 when (General) Aguiyi Ironsi came in and he thought that the solution to Nigeria’s problems was to have a Unitary System and that consumed Aguiyi Ironsi. Aguiyi Ironsi was consumed by that and then we reverted to Decree 1 which was federal in structure. Now from that 1966 to 1979, we had that federal structure in place but there was a problem. I had the opportunity of meeting the late Dr. Ajayi, he was one of the drafters of Decree 1 and he said the problem they had was that in the Army, the structure they have there is command and obey structure. And that when they were drafting Decree 1, that they had a problem about what to do with a situation whereby if you now have a Head of State at the federal level, then in those regions, the military governors were presiding. Of course, there were very senior military governors then. The military governors at the regions or states would be junior to the Head of State and so the Supreme Military Council (SMC) headed by the Head of State is now the highest organ, it’s now the parliament. So, the idea was that there is no way the Head of State would sign into a law, and then a junior officer in his region or state would alter it and that was how the inconsistency clause was introduced.
Security challenges have been aggravated and it is likely the president will spend eight years without addressing it, do you also see it that way?
Well, there is poverty in the land. A lot of people taking part in banditry are unemployed. This same thing has accounted for existence of Boko Haram in the West African province. You will not be able to employ someone who has something doing. It is this idle minds that you have in groups such as Boko Haram and the rest of them; therefore, we should monitor the problem of poverty. We must all work towards the success of any president, governor or local government chairman irrespective of whether we voted them or not. When they succeed, the country will succeed. We will wait till another four years to put your own man there.