Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN) and former President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), recently hosted journalists to an interactive session, where he spoke on the forthcoming general election and the weak campaign strategies adopted by the political parties. Besides, he spoke on the delay in dispensing justice and other salient issues. PETER FOWOYO was there.
Some Nigerian youths were captured on video demonstrating when the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari was making his presentation on the state of Nigeria at the Chatham House, London last week, but many of them did not know why they were there. What is your view on this?
Everybody knows that both parties (APC and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) are organising thugs, we all know it. All those people you saw in London were hired groups. If you go to the APC stand, PDP would come and pretend they are part of APC and be booing whoever, we know it and that is because political parties are not focusing on issues, they have nothing to say, so, they raise crowds. In fact, I will not be fair to the political candidate, in whom I had the greatest disappointment watching on television, at the end of a campaign rally which was so monotonous; you build a platform, come, talk and go; that is not a campaign. These youths, who have been hungry, over the last five years, are being given money, so, they take your N1,000, N2,000, N500. Imagine those young ones in the UK, no jobs for them, so there’s enough men and materials to be used by the political parties to pretend that they are the popular ones. Our political parties’ experience is a burden, there should be issues that will make the parties to be focused, and tell Nigerians about how they intend to solve them. I challenge any of the parties on whether they have told us ‘here is how we intend to go about these issues’, they have not and it’s less than 18 days to the election.
Does it mean that people with ideas don’t get to power or when they do they don’t have good advisers? The political elite are motivated by their greed and not by the desire to do well, which is the problem, so, immediately, they get elected, whether at the local government or House of Assembly level, they are thinking about the resources they can acquire personally. I can tell you that this law firm had submitted over 50 legislations to the National Assembly, apart from the Cabotage Act, I don’t think any one of them had been passed, because that is not their interest. They are interested in how to line their pockets while they are in office, they don’t do anything for you. Those are the issues we should be putting to the PDP and APC, especially.
It is a shame that, rather than for Buhari to take part in a debate here, he ran to the Chatham House, London, to talk, I find that, absolutely, incredible, when he ought to be here. The UK is not the venue to canvass for votes, you canvass for votes in Nigeria, so, it’s a big shame that neither the PDP nor APC had presented us with a platform to ask, precisely, the question you have asked. Why do you assume office and do nothing? Because there has to be something driving you to become a legislator or a governor or the president, so, if you get there, you do, absolutely, nothing, then, when the circle is about to end, you now come back, rather than hold on to the good works you’ve done, you now hold money to bribe, because anyone who has done well keeps returning and I can name a good example in Abike Dabiri. She’s very active. 90 per cent of the people in the National Assembly have never said a word, they didn’t say a word, they don’t even come, but, what are we doing about it? We don’t call them to account, so, at least, we have the APC to thank for making the PDP sit up, because, before, it was terrible, it was, absolutely, terrible, when you’ve only one party clapping with one hand, but, now we have two, so, the first building block of a successful democratic experiment is in place. The second one is vision and leadership, which neither party has shown. Are you not worried that most of these political parties do not have internal democracy. What can be done to address this issue?
It leads to the issue that I’ve been talking about. The reason many people are in politics is to make money, so, Amaechi lined up to be governor of Rivers State on the PDP platform, Celestine Omehia, who didn’t take part, but, because the internal democracy of the party reversed itself, the man who took part and won was removed and the man who did not take part was pushed in. This is happening across the parties, because of our greed. I don’t think you understand the tremendous impact that winning an election in Nigeria makes to your life, you underestimate it. Here’s a man who can go from zero naira to become a billionaire. These people are prepared to kill; they are prepared to do anything. I think the blame goes to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), because they ought to be a strong referee that controls the match; a strong umpire controls the elections. INEC has been a great part of the blame to bear because it is the body with the power to accept. In every primary election, INEC must be there to make observations. What I noticed is that INEC does not play that regulatory role, which is why at the Uwais panel committee, we recommended that INEC ought to be unbundled, I think that should happen, INEC is doing too many things. INEC is the biggest printer in Nigeria, I hope you know that, it registers political parties, it prosecutes electoral offences, and it does the most crucial, which is conducting the election and declaring the winner. Everything around INEC that is not central to that function should be removed. If INEC can actually use the whip, the issue of internal democracy will be over. Are soldiers supposed to take part in the conduct of elections?
Soldiers, generally, are not supposed to take part in any civil service that the police can do. The first thing will be, if soldiers are required, because the police are overwhelmed, the Geneva Convention Act, authorises the roles for the armed forces, in the face of a civil war. Like it or not, Nigeria has been a low grade civil war in the past years, Nigeria has suffered the greatest casualties, in terms of civil war, even more than Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. A large part of our country is inaccessible.
So, in a country that can be said to be in a low grade civil war, it will be foolhardy to expect that soldiers will not be involved in an election. I will not say that soldiers should be deployed, but, if there’s an insurrection that is beyond the containment of the police force, of course, the Geneva Convention Act authorises the President to deploy such a force. Let us hope there is none, but, if there is, even the police have two kinds of forces, unarmed one, that are around the ballot papers, then the armed one, that is behind the scenes. Let’s hope that everything go well and that the deployment of soldiers would not be unnecessary.
The 2011 Electoral Act prohibits electronic voting, but, the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) for accreditation, which is the foundation for all elections, will be used for the 2015 general election. Is this not a contradiction of the Act? No, the PVC is not an electronic voting. There’s a major misconception, if you want to access your money on-line, you use your card, but, in order for you to be authenticated by the remote banking, you put it into a card reader, to say ‘yes, this is the same person’. The fact that you are using that card doesn’t mean it is used electronically. I can go to my bank and use the card to withdraw cash, I can stay in my home and use my card to withdraw cash so, it is not electronic, it is, absolutely, manual, because you’re going to go to the polling booth, so, that is not electronic we are not doing remote voting, but, manual voting, through the PVC. Speculations are rife that the Jonathan administration may send Prof. Attahiru Jega on terminal leave in order to bring in another INEC boss that will do the ruling party’s bidding. Do you share this view?
I can’t answer it, because I am not in PDP nor am I in government, but, it will be unfortunate, I don’t think that will be right. I think everything possible should be done to ensure that the elections are seen, not only seen, but, must, manifestly, be seen that the elections are free and fair. One thing that will happen and not make them free and fair is another postponement, which cannot be taken, Nigeria will go down the precipice. Removing Jega now is sowing the seeds for a major crisis, the best thing is to allow Jega stay, and his tenure is ending, anyway, so, that is why these rumours are coming, but, allow Jega to conduct these elections, within the framework of the constitution. Let both political parties stop all these twisting, let them face the people and account for their good and bad deeds. We are the ones who will determine whether they will get in or not. So, what I hope will happen is a smooth sail, INEC rolls out all its materials and gets ready on that day, barring the political challenges which I mentioned, people will stay on the line, feel angry, insult each other, but, eventually, cast their votes, INEC will be late in announcing the results, but, eventually, it will be announced, one person would lose and be angry, pour venom and say it was rigged, then that man will go to court, make lawyers rich, but, eventually, we will settle down. That is not my problem. My problem is that whether, you, now at 40 or 45, want the same question to be asked, because I am 61 years old and I’ve seen it since 1960, nothing has changed, so, that is the seriousness of this issue. For you that are younger than me, do you want the same question being asked, are you not tired? That is the issue. Is the country practising federalism?
I have said it; it is not and that is why I told you not to be disappointed if all I described occur. You will see the time for election will be 8am, they will not come until 11am, don’t worry about that, worry about casting your vote, whether it will end at 4pm or it will not end, people will still be on the line, whether the results will be announced or not, so, all that is going to happen, but, let us hope that this is the last, let us hope that we can now elect a statesman that can practise true federalism. Anybody who wants to be president, who doesn’t have a clear idea of what he is going to do on June 1, should better step back. Federalism means we must distribute power. Look at the structure you have in Daily Times, the mission that binds most journalists is to the paper to go to sleep, isn’t it? Do you know the energy it takes to get the paper published and distributed every day? I wish these politicians will think of that, because it means that the Editor is already thinking even before he reached the office, of how he’s going to contact all his correspondents, that is the distribution of power. He can’t be here conducting this interview. He distributes power. Why do we have only one president, whereas, you can have, at least, seven presidents? One in Abuja, six in the various geopolitical areas, it will make the work that I described, the 98 items of power easier and simpler.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria has raised the alarm that over 5,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court. How do you think this issue can be handled, can there be speedy justice? It is their fault. What do they do? The CJN comes in, makes a nice speech about the problems, does nothing until he’s leaving and then in his valedictory, he tells the incoming CJN ‘this is what you should do’, that is the problem. What has he done? I was on the NJC myself, what has he done? It is talk, talk, talk, too much talk, we don’t do anything, but, just talk. Let our political leaders work the talk.
But a few days ago, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court said that lawyers are the biggest problem causing the delay. How true is this? That is not true. Please, it’s not true. Now tell me, Even when John Mikel Obi accused Catton of racial discrimination, what happened? The judge is the master of his court. One of my good friends, who has some challenges with his appointment as a judge exhibited, for me, the true colour of a good judge, he can finish a case in one day. The judicial function is equivalent to a man going to see a medical doctor and no one wants to take nine years going to see the doctor. So, lawyers are not the problem. Lawyers file an objection, what does the judge do? But lawyers are known to file appeals even in the issue of preliminary objection just to frustrate a case… Who is the judge in charge? Does a lawyer make a decision? But lawyers are known to be petition writers against these judges…
When I was on the NJC, I never encouraged frivolous petitions. You’re talking about effective judiciary, not so? Yes, the judiciary must work in tandem. We must know those lawyers who cause trouble. There was one application that was brought before a judge, through this friend of mine, in respect of a newspaper that owed. He said: “You want to wind up this newspaper, but, I read it every day, maybe, the man owes you, it’s not a winding up matter, it’s a debt recovery and I will not be used in this way, then, he struck it out. In the old days, when we used to practise law at the Bourdillon Court of Appeal, the experienced Appeal Court judges would have looked at the case, you, as the appellant, means that you should talk first, not so? Yes. They will say, ‘we don’t feel we should call you to say anything.
Respondent, tell us why we should not grant his request’, then you would start shaking. The whole thing has gone down, in the old days of strong judges and before they come out they already know so, they give you judgment on the spot. Our problem is the weakening of institutions across the field. So when the CJN said there were 5, 000 cases pending at the apex court, I asked him: what is he going to do about it?
In England now, the Supreme Court does not robe; they discuss cases with lawyers in a room, it is very informal. Our judiciary needs to have the international best jurists to do their work. Most of these cases you see, there is nothing in them, they are a few bad cases, but, lawyers cloak out the cases and ineffective judges, who don’t know what to do, make them sound as if they are very big. Across the board, we have less than competent people, whether political, judicial or legislative, and this ought to stop for Nigeria to be a good country.