By Henry Okonkwo
Ahead of the 2019 election, the nation is once again embroiled in high-wired political maneuvering and gerrymandering that have beclouded the political scene. The worrisome trend has caused the Second-Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, to express concern over the situation in the nation.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, Ubani, former chairman of the Ikeja chapter of the NBA is canvassing for the judiciary to borrow a leaf from nations like India that sanitized their political space by creating stricter conditions for cross carpeting. He averred that electoral malpractices like ‘vote buying’ constitute the biggest threat to Nigeria’s democracy.
Our senators have gone on recess till September. With less than one year to the expiration of their tenure, how would you rate the performance of the Eighth National Assembly?
I’m not too happy with their rate of performance. There are some bills that have been hanging around the Senate chambers and the House of Reps. Those bills that have to do with the anti-corruption fight, such as the Whistleblower Bill is yet to undergo the normal readings that are supposed to take place. It is still an executive policy.
It has not been enacted into law. And that again impinges on the fight against corruption. There’s also another one that has to do with money laundering, and so many other bills that would enhance the fight against corruption, which have been left hanging. And I have not seen this House take those bills like serious pieces of legislation that demand their attention. But we’ve seen their speed in passing bills that have to do with their personal interests. For example, when they dealt with electoral issues, we all saw how fast they deliberated on it and pass it, and even got all the state assemblies to concur swiftly. But the bills that pertain to the people and their welfare are not passed with alacrity. I’m also worried about their bogus salary. And on that I have gone to court.
I have a pending matter before the Federal High Court in Lagos. They’ve not impressed me at all. There are things we expect them to do that have to assist in reducing the economic hardship Nigerians are passing through, particularly the fuel and power issues. In the light of all these and taking into cognizance how much they are earning, you will now begin to wonder what they’ve really contributed to the welfare of the people in terms of quality legislative enactment. Nothing! It is saddening because members of our political elite are terribly selfish.
The people do not come into their consideration. And we’re seeing it manifest in their behaviour and manners. Why are they defecting now? It is because most of them are likely to lose in their primaries. They’ve seen the congresses and most of them lost out in having their friend and cronies made state executive chairmen or leaders. So they feel it would be like that in the primaries. Hence they’re looking for a platform that would be conducive for them to come back to power. That is why you see the mass defections. It is not about us, or about giving good governance.
Cross carpeting has become a norm in our politics especially whenever general elections are imminent. Should Nigerians worry at the spate of defections?
Yes! We should be worried. We should clamour for an enlightened populace. People should avoid sentiments and look at the issues critically. They should put these political elite under the radar, and gauge them properly whether there are performing what they are supposed to. If they are not performing well, the people should exert their influence and demand good governance either by voting them out or by criticizing them and bringing these issues to public glare. An enlightened populace is a populace that has standard and basic requirement that they’ve imposed on leadership. And if the leadership is falling in that standard, they should cry out aloud and ask: ‘why are you defecting?’ ‘Why will you be elected on a platform and when you get to office, jump ship, yet be enjoying the benefit of the position?’‘It is not!’. That is what they should be asking. Not jubilating at that the news of the defections.
But can anything be done about the defections, since politicians believe they exercise their freedom of association when they defect from party to party?
Yes, of course something can be done! India did it. It used to be like that in India till they changed their constitution and said that there’s no room for defection. So immediately you win an election with a political party, you remain there, or if you defect then you lose your position. They didn’t give room like Nigeria’s constitution that created condition for defection by saying ‘if there’s crisis.’ Because what these politicians now do is to engineer crisis within their party, and then use that as an excuse to defect. So we need to be firm, and enact our laws insisting that there would not be any room for defection. So the moment you win on political platform, and you have issues with the platform, you can resign and go and contest on the platform you prefer. You cannot retain political position when you have moved to a different platform. That should be how the law should be framed. The law should not leave room for that definition of crisis because they can engineer the crisis. Such a law would actually discourage these defections because these defections are not healthy for our political system.
What can you say to be the exact problem of Nigeria’s political system?
Everything about us has foundational issues. The idea of political party means that there’s an ideology. You cannot run party democracy without ideology. This means that there must be a shared belief of a political party that would make members to be attracted to that party. But here what are clearly the ideas of these political parties is a platform to be hijacked by the bourgeoisie. So you find out that it is not really on ideological basis that people join political party. Whereas in other developed countries people join political parties based purely on ideology. So ours is just being used as a platform to become a political office holder. And that again is fundamentally flawed. Everything about Nigeria is opposite.
And when you do opposite things every of your results would be opposite. Same with our federation, we’re running a unitary system. Yet we keep calling it federalism. In a unitary system, everything comes from above – our police, economy are centralized, the FG comes and collects from the states, and then shares the revenue to others. That is not federalism. Federalism means the federating units must have the power to generate revenue and then pay tax to the federal. In federalism, power flows from down to up, but in Nigeria’s federalism, power flows from up to down.
The over centralized bureaucracy does not happen in a segmented country like Nigeria where you have differences in religion, culture language and tribe. The best mode of governance for such a country is Federal system, where there’s federating units and devolution of powers. Then you build a federal government from the federating units. But here we centralize everything. So we’re running a unitary system in content and context. And that is why we have everything wrong about our system, and that’s why people keep insisting that we must restructure Nigeria, because as long as the country remains without a properly structured state, we would still run into problem because over centralized bureaucracy cannot work in a country like Nigeria.
The President himself said those calling for restructuring have parochial interest. Also, most critics of restructuring say it’s a tricky way to secede. How do you address these fears?
That fear is clearly unfounded. The secession threat itself is even more when you’re running a unitary system, because you create very contagious agitations, caused by denials, and suffocations. And what these suffocations do is to bring agitations that threaten the unity of the country. But when everyone runs at his own pace and is free, everyone would begin to fall in line and there won’t be much agitation, suspicion and hatred. The system we are running doesn’t allow strategic growth; it doesn’t allow room for innovation it doesn’t allow states to think. Instead of states to think of avenues to generate revenue, they sit and wait on the money that comes from the federal government every month. That’s what you get in an over-centralized system. But Lagos State was denied their allocation, and they started thinking outside the box. That’s how the expansion of their economy came and today they now generate billions in IGR. The system makes our state to be like zombies, they cannot think outside the box, because they are waiting for money to be shared every month. Any month states are denied the statutory allocation they will start thinking of how to tap the mineral resources in their lands. So whoever is saying ‘No’ to restructuring doesn’t deserve our votes. If President Buhari maintains that we cannot restructure Nigeria, I’ll advice Nigerians not to vote for him. Nigerians must never vote for anyone that is opposed to restructuring the country because the person does not mean well for Nigeria.
What would be your word of caution as we approach the 2019 polls?
We need education and aggressive sensitization to exorcise ‘vote buying’ from the system. Vote buying is one thing that would destroy Nigeria. It is even more dangerous than the random defections. The vote-buying mechanism means that no poor man with good intention can ever win the election. Because the man with cash would buy the votes, win the election, and continue stealing from the system. We all saw what happened in the Ekiti State elections. If vote buying becomes mastered and a strategy in Nigeria’s electoral system then our democracy is doomed.