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‘Blame governors for recession of Nigeria’s democracy’

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Osita Okechukwu

Osita Okechukwu, the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), is a chieftain of governing All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he said making chapter two of Nigeria’s constitution justiciable is a better answer to restructuring or return to the 1963 Republican constitution.

You advocated for dual restructuring to address some of the challenges confronting the nation, what inspired that political thought?
My projections emanated from deep concern over the democratic recession in Nigeria, which is consequent upon the emperorship of our governors. It is a known fact that the governors have locked up democratic institutions, which is gradually eroding gains made in the last decade.

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For me, dual restructuring is the answer and it involves constitutional amendment, where local, state and federal governments are strengthened at the same time. That is to say, where some items relevant to be devolved from the Exclusive to Concurrent Legislative List, while at the same time governors are made to unlock democratic institutions like local governments, state legislatures and judiciary. Is it of any value to the citizenry when more powers and resources are devolved to the states, where governors operate like emperors? One has in certain fora done a comparison between Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC). While INEC has to a large extent enhanced the frontiers of democracy, SIECs have to a larger extent undermined democracy.

As an APC chieftain, what would you say informed the party’s ambivalent posture over restructuring?
In the true sense of the word, Mr President has already commenced real restructuring by granting financial autonomy to state legislatures and the judiciary. This was actualised through the amendment exercise of the 8th National Assembly and state Assemblies, which Mr President assented to in 2018.
 
That amendment or alteration gave birth to Section 121(3). It was only when all the governors conspired and refused to implement that Mr President signed Executive Order 10 in 2020 to give life to it. This is the beginning of the real restructuring, which the phobia of governors to accountability and transparency blocked. Up to date, I am amazed that a lot of pundits do not count this major landmark as real restructuring, even the governors of our great party, the APC.

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Some floor functionaries of the National Assembly have declared it impossible to have a brand new constitution, which is a military endorsed grundnorm. As a political scientist, would you say it is impossible for politicians to craft a brand new constitution for the country?
Methinks they are just being pragmatic and surreal. They seem to be saying, hold tight to what you have and modernise or improve on it. The truth is that it seems most people have lost confidence in the 1999 Constitution, which they point out, was written by the military and is skewed in favour of the north.    
  
Guess what, some even advocate the return of the 1963 Constitution. And when you ask why did the first republic fail when the constitution is perfect? They won’t answer you.
   
But the question is, is it not better for us to go for the low-hanging fruit, since democracy is not a revolution? Secondly, my submission and indeed appeal to those who call for total consignment of the 1999 Constitution to the dustbin of history for all manner of reasons is to be cautious. Yes, they want a freshly minted constitution, it’s their inalienable rights under democracy. Without debating the merits or otherwise of the agitation against the constitution, it must be borne in mind that as the grundnorm, the whole structure of governance of today – Councillors, State and Federal legislators, governors and president are predicated on this much-vilified document.

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Should we dissolve all of them? What happens to the vacuum that will be created? Who will conduct the election to the new government? Or who will conduct the election to the so-called Constituent Assembly? Is it the same INEC or SIEC, that will elect the representatives of the more than one hundred ethnic nationalities being canvassed? Caution and pragmatism is the answer. Let us not commit class suicide because of hunger.

Some Southeast leaders feel that there is a national conspiracy to deny their zone the opportunity to have a shot at the Presidency. Do you see a nexus between that allegation and the bourgeoning insecurity in the region?
Far from it, the quest for Nigeria president of Igbo extraction and insecurity are two different poles. Don’t mix them, for no ethnic nationality is united or peaceful as being speculated. In all the years with President Buhari, even now in power, one can truly posit that not all northerners or southerners support him. There are divergent and scatter-diagram viewpoints, which is not peculiar to Ndigbo.
 
Yet, other political actors allege that it was Zik that blocked the north against the inclusion of referendum and secession clauses in the nation’s constitution…?
On that, may I ask, was Zik a northern adviser or consultant? I don’t talk of hearsay or gossip, otherwise didn’t Zik before the civil war call on all sides to cultivate peace instead of hate, who listened? All I know is that the growth in democracy throughout history had been incremental, therefore if we continue to amend the constitution as the need arises, we shall get there.
 

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Let us this time make Chapter Two justiciable and implement it. Implementation of Chapter Two would have resolved the missing gap between the led and the leaders – Social Contract Deficit.

Based on the back and forth arguments over restructuring and amendment of the Electoral Act some public intellectuals have called for a postponement of the 2023 general election to resolve the fundamental issues confronting the country. Do you buy that argument?
Far, far foul. Apologies to Zebrudaya, the comedian. No sane or rational person will call for the postponement of the 2023 general elections, because periodic elections are one of the foremost tenets of democracy. Election is a safety net that calm nerves and make some people not demonstrate or protest publicly.

How do you react to suggestions that the recent clampdown on the micro-blogging site, Twitter, is an attempt to smuggle back Decree No 4 into the polity?
There is no truth whatsoever in such falsehood. As Thomas Paine said, whatever reason cannot resolve, time will resolve it, so the issue will soon be resolved.

Yet, some commentators have pointed to the Twitter ban as evidence that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration does not want to be held to account…?
Even President Buhari’s most ardent traducers know that he abhors corruption and sincerely believes in accountability and transparency. Therefore, perish the idea, for he cannot shy away or run away from inspection or interrogation of his books.

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