2019 will provide a defining moment for Nigeria,says Osoba
Chief Segun Osoba is a former governor of Ogun State and a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks on 20 years of democracy in Nigeria and its challenges, NIYI BELLO (Political Editor) and SEYE OLUMIDE report.
Is Nigeria democracy on course?
It is not possible for us, or Nigeria, to of 100 percent successful in our expectations when the struggle for the restoration for democracy was being fought. When the struggle was on, we did not foresee a situation where the economy of the country would be under this terrible, clinical weather. As an optimist I have a firm hope that we have at least for once, fended off military incursion into the governance of this great nation.
We managed the transition from a civilian-to-civilian government in 2007. Another landmark in which I see as part of the success is that President Goodluck Jonathan conceded victory voluntarily in 2015. That singular act has helped to stabilise our civilian rule. It proved that in Africa, an incumbent in a big and great nation like Nigeria could be defeated. If you consider some of these landmarks, which someone may not quickly recognise, we can say that 20 yeas of civilian government in terms of transition has not been a failure.
But there is discontentment in the land
The major problem we have is our inability to create an enabling atmosphere for security. Our major setback under the civilian administration is the inability of government to protect lives and property. The natural consequence of this is a lack of attraction for investors to come into the country. It is also a discouragement for Nigerian investors to put their money in many parts of the country. It is also unfortunate that many Nigerians would not feel safe in some parts of their own country. For instance, a lot of southerners would not go to invest in major parts of Northeast due to the problem of insurgents, particularly the common one, Boko Haram. When situations arise where Nigerians are no longer confident in living within certain parts of the country, we have a situation where economic growth would be stunted.
Militarisation of democracy by ex-soldiers in government
That is a major failure that I will admit. In a democratic setting, there is separation of powers between institutions such as the executive, legislature and the judiciary. There has not been a successful separation of powers between the major arms of government in our case. The factor for this is because we have not been able to build institutions. In the United States for instance, a man like President Trump would have created more chaos and confusion had it been the American institutions that are holding him back are not there to perform their duties to the best of their conviction and ability. For example, the decision to ban or discourage certain people from entering America has been prevented by the courts under the fundamental rights principle. Congress itself has not succumbed to President Trump. We need to build such institutions where each arm of government would have respect for one another.
That area is still very dicey in Nigeria.
The judiciary itself is not living up to the high expectations of Nigerians. The Nigerian judiciary was one of the strongest in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s to the point that Nigeria was sending Nigerian judges to go and be Chief Justices in many parts of East and West Africa. This was because there was respect for the judicial institution in Nigeria. But unfortunately I must say that the image is no longer there. I would admit that there is institutional failure in respect of the relationship between the three arms of government.
Under which regime, military or civilian, were the institutions weaker?
The military did not respect those institutions. For example, the military ruled by decree and parliament was not in existence. What they had was Armed Forces Ruling Council, Supreme Military Council and in such a situation, the hierarchical system under the military does not make for total freedom of expression. I would therefore not compare what we had under the military to what is in operation now. They are not the same thing.
Can institutions be strengthened under this democracy?
With the mood of Nigerians now, particularly the eagerness of the younger people to get involved in governance, am hopeful that we will get there otherwise the failure of the country is also our failure. Most Nigerians do not bother to go and vote on an election day, most do not even know their representatives in the National or States Assemblies. They may know their senators because of the larger constituencies but until Nigerians are determined to be involved in who is their councilor, member of House of Representatives and who gets to be their House of Assembly, there will still be problems. Until you and I make it a point of duty to go and vote during elections for those that we know have the capacity and the ability to legislate, we will continue to fail. That is the problem and what I consider as the failure of every one of us.
Comparing the present crop of elected officials with the 1999 set
I wish I could get the heaviest adjective that is stronger than despondency, disappointment, disaster and others to qualify what I have in mind to say. I wish I could get a stronger word. When we went to government in 1999, and of course we were the first foundation set that took over from the military, the quality of those in governance cannot in anyway be compared to some of the successors that came later. I am proud to say that a majority of us who became governors in 1999 were highly exposed people. We have had wide ranging administrative experiences.
I can go on and on giving examples of people with wide-ranging experiences who became governors and who with minimal revenue, made impacts in their various states. Why would there not be corruption when you make people to work, spend their monies to come to office and put in their best and you are not paying them? By implications, they are the ones subsidising government because they pay for their transport to get to work of which at the end of the month no salary. They will maintain their families in anticipation for nothing. Just imagine the pains, the illogicality and the psychological trauma. It is criminal and an aberration.
Where did Nigeria get it wrong between that period and now?
It started getting bad in 2003 when the election was badly manipulated, mutilated, badly rigged and people emerged not on merit. And when a student gets graduated by cheating, when a student who didn’t study at all suddenly gets graduated, then you must have taught him to use the idea of cutting corners. Most of those who emerged in 2003 got there by rigging. The garrison politics introduced into the 2003 election was the beginning of our problems. From then, charlatans emerged as people’s representatives through rigging. They used the word capture; garrison commands and do-or die politics.
What then is the way out?
The fact is 2019 is going to be a defining year. My strong advice is that all the elite should re-enact the June 12 1993 scenario. There is a golden opportunity for that to happen because the amendment to the Electoral Act that is now in contention is the strongest weapon ever that is going to make for a clean, clear respected election. Nigerians are focusing on only one aspect of the amendment, which is the sequence of the elections. There are many fundamental aspects of the amendment to the Electoral Act, which would crate another June 12 that would make the outcome of the election indisputable. For instance, the use of Electronic Voting System (EVS) in the election process has now been put into the Electoral Act. Card Reader is now recognised and they even went beyond that by saying any modern technology should be used in conducting election in the country. The National Assembly went further to say that there must be accreditation before voting, which must be transmitted immediately to the headquarters of the electoral commission. The most interesting part of it is that failure by any electoral officer to do that would be five years jail. Another fundamental provision is that the election result must be transmitted immediately to the headquarters of the commission from each pooling booth and failure to do that is five-year jail term. In addition to that there are provisions that failure by any electoral officer to deny any agents access to any information about all electoral process carries jail term.
The possibility of a Macron, an independent candidate in the last French election who won, is not far-fetched in the coming 2019 election. Emmanuel Macron in France didn’t have a political party. He just had a movement, which he used to defeat established political parties. If the provision of the amended Electoral Act is effected, we will produce an Obama. The immediate past President of U.S. Barack Obama did not win just on Democratic Party’s platform but he won on appeal to the younger generations and he depended on the modern electronic system to run his campaign. The future is in our hands; let everybody takes advantage of that Electoral Act when it is eventually put in place and we should all go out to exercise our fundamental right to chose the best person that will run the country.
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