By Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Chief Oba Maduabuchi is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview, 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?
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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 then, they truncated that massive support and approval given to Abiola and canceled 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 Yoruba land, PDP said okay, let us zone the presidency to the South West, which made both the PDP and the then APP the two prominent party then, produce their presidential candidates from 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 available. If you ask an average Nigerian now, who will be the president of the country, they will name two people. One is Peter Obi from the South East, the other is the current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo from the South West. These are people who should make good presidents. I will not overlook Governors Aminu Tambuwal, Dave Umahi, and Bala Mohammed. These are people who should be available to run for president of this country.
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What do you say about Governor Babagana Zulum? What he has done in Borno State shows that he could a good president.
Now, if you say you are zoning to the South, in the APC, you will exclude Zulum, you will exclude Governor Nasir El-Rufai. In the PDP, you will exclude Bala Mohammed who has done very well in terms of security. Since he assumed office, you don’t hear about Boko Haram again in the state. He has taken the security situation by the horns. Governor Tambuwal is an enigma, how he beat Wamako and Shagari and everybody and remains governor is unimaginable.
These are people who should aspire to become president of this country. Is it democratic to exclude them 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.
Another example is, from Enugu State now, one of the best candidates we have for the governorship position is Senator Ike Ekweremadu. But they want to deny him because they say it is not the turn of his zone. 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.
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?
Everybody who is thinking rationally knows that the biggest problem the world has had 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 word “ 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 lockdown. 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 beginning 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.
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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 sit 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 bluffs 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 liters, and you begin to sell at less than N300 per liter.
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 will 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.
What is your take on the controversy trailing the judgment of the Umuahia division of the Federal High Court striking down section 84(12) of the Amendment Electoral Act?
Section 84(12) of the new Electoral Act vis-a-vis the 1999 constitution of Nigeria is unconstitutional, because the constitution has said you have to resign 30 days. Any other person that brings another qualification to it, needs to amend the constitution. So far as the constitution remains what it is, if you make another law, say, don’t resign earlier, it is wrong.
That section is very important. Why should you be a minister in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with all the ambiance of office at your disposal and you are contesting election with someone and you are still sitting in office? There is no level playing ground. In fact, what the National Assembly should do is to amend constitution and increase it to 60 days.
Another aspect of the constitution that should be amended is the one that pertains to state governors. The Senate is now old people’s home for former governors. Once you finish your tenure as a state governor, your next destination is the Senate. And because the governors want to go to the Senate, they don’t allow the political system in their states to operate freely. They hold it by the neck and install a governor that will do their bidding while they supervised him at the Senate.
The National Assembly should amend the constitution so that former governors cannot contest election until two terms after their tenure as governors. This will prevent a situation whereby they just stroll into the Senate. What we have in the Senate now is the old people’s home for ex- governors. Before you know it, every sitting senator will be a former governor. How will this help us as a country.
As an experienced legal practitioner versed in election petition cases, will 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 allowed 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 practice 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 adhoc 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? Ordinary, 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, ordinarily, 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 adhoc 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 adhoc 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 wont 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 attitude for our laws to work.