‘Disregard for rule of law aggravating Nigeria’s security challenges, others’
Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, Chairman, House of Representatives’ Commission on Public Petitions, in this interview with GEORGE OPARA, decries the prevailing disquiet in the legislative arm as well as implications of breaching the rule of law for Nigeria’s democracy
Ahead of 2019 general elections, rival political parties are neck deep in the struggle to take over the legislature. What does this portend for Nigeria’s democracy?
Every state governor, for instance, would like to be in control of the state assembly, because it is the legislative arm of government.Therefore, for them to think that they have stability, they will like to control the state assembly, likewise the opposition parties in the state. They want to penetrate the state legislature in the hope of checking the activities of the governor and his excesses. So, the soul of the state assembly is now necessary for the survival of the governor or the opposition party to make an inroad towards wrestling the state from the government, because the various state assemblies could destabilise a governor. A strong opposition state assembly could increase the fortunes of the opposition party by pointing out the ills of the ruling party.
I should think it is healthy for democracy so long as it is done in a democratic manner. And, so long as it is done within the confines and means provided by the framework of the constitution. That is, to also say, so long as constitutionality is maintained, it is healthy. But if it is done with impunity and in the spirit of victimisation, it is unhealthy.
Also, you can see that some governors will make the state house of assembly members to help them do what they want to do. That leads to the issue of divide and rule in the legislature, where the governor will prefer to do things for those he believes in. That is why you see the madness of the minority in a bid to impeach the majority with less than one-third members, which is a shortfall of the required number approved by the constitution.
This situation happens because there is an apparent crack between the speaker and governor. So, any number can attempt to carry out impeachment and to that extent, our democracy is being endangered for selfish interest.
The constitution has provided a window for the National Assembly to have a say in such a situation, but regrettably it has not been able to exercise full control of the situation even though it was stipulated that certain conditions must apply if it is impossible to govern. And where you see seven members trying to impeach a group of twenty-one members and the latter try to exercise their rights, it becomes ungovernable. So, we should watch it and refrain from doing things likely to hurt our democracy.
With what is going on in the polity, would you say various levels of government are complying with the principles of constitutional democracy?
First of all, we say we are running a federal system of government. But in practice, what we see is a unitary system. The government we have in place, by its operations, portends a unitary system. Federalism in its entirety is not being practised as stipulated by the constitution. And the constitutionality as enshrined by our extant law and grand norms is also not adhered to. The government told us upon coming to power that it would stand by the rule of law. The extent the rule of law is being used is what we have seen. We are far from complying with the rule of law.
If you use the statistics of human rights to compare, you will now notice that it is far from compliance. In our human rights records, as provided by Amnesty International and other human rights agencies, we can see a downward trend of abuses.In effect, the international community and particularly the United States of America, based on our human rights records, will deny us purchase of arms through the official means. And by this denial, it will give rise to all sorts of criminalities.
We may be unable to fight it because we don’t have enough sophisticated arms and we can’t buy clearly from the black market, because it is very difficult. So, we are compounding the issue by not adhering to the principles of fundamental human rights as provided by the constitution.
I, therefore, advise that the present government should try as much as it could to obey all laws, particularly when a High Court and other relevant courts make an order. The order should be obeyed to the letter otherwise, it will lead to anarchy. Failure to obey orders from a court of competent jurisdiction spells doom.
We have three arms of government, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. They ought to function independently. And for the judiciary to say one thing and the executive practices another thing and the legislature will not be able to assert its independence is dangerous.
No country practising presidential system of government and democracy can develop the democratic values without a strong presence of the rule of law. So, I want to advocate that rule of law should be practiced seriously. All political parties should abide by the rule of law in its entirety in our democratic setting.
It will not augur well when courts give an order and political parties or the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will disobey it. Often, they hide under the pretext of appeal to do a lot of things. It doesn’t portend well for us as a country. What we should do is to first obey the court order and after challenge it. Often times, the excuse of insecurity is given. But I want to ask, security issues and rule of law, which is superior?
Some people tend to believe that security issue ranks over and above the rule of law. But I want us to balance it. Rule of law will bring about good security while disobedience to rule of law will aggravate the security problems. So, I don’t think security issue ranks over and above the rule of law. However, by abiding by the rule of law where it conflicts with security issue, you can develop a template that will help to check and monitor it.
I want to advise the political party in power to take necessary steps towards ensuring that the rule of law is being obeyed. The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, is an intelligent lawyer. So, he understands what the rule of law is all about. So, the world, not just Nigeria, is expecting him to advise accordingly.
The rule of law should be practised and maintained. Without the rule of law, in vain we labour and, the act of nation building will remain in vain. You should not only practice the rule of law, but should let the common man in the street know that we are being guided by certain grand norms. That is the way out, otherwise our democracy is being jeopardized.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said Igbo 2023 Presidency would be achieved if the people support the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 general elections. How tenable is that promise?
Is Boss Mustapha the custodian of the presidency? Can he decide where it goes, no? What he said is mere campaign promise. He is campaigning for his boss. This is expected of him. So, I don’t think that he is in a position to offer what he cannot give. He is merely campaigning. Promises are allowed in campaign but don’t make promises you can’t keep.
However, that promise also is alluding to the fact that the Presidency of Igbo extraction is overdue. That we can see. It is now being used as a trap to draw the Igbo. But he knows that Igbo are wise. They will, therefore, decide where they will go in 2019 general elections.For Mustapha to even make the promise, it is not new. Was such a promise not made in 2011 and 2015? So, why will it not be made in 2019 and even beyond? It is for the Igbo to know through history, because if you study history, you can predict the future.
It is for them to sit down and analyse their situation and know where they can key in.I don’t think Mustapha spoke the truth. If you go to the depth of his mind, he will tell you, I just made a political statement. So, people should place a second thought to it and not put weight to it. It is mere campaign talk.