Interim govt: Constitutionally forbidden fruit, still tempting…30 years after!
Former Military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, was the first Nigerian leader to introduce an interim national government on August 27, 1993, following annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, acclaimed to have been won by the presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (PDP), Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
Babangida appointed the late Chief Ernest Shonekan to head the infamous government. The arrangement was, however, widely rejected, especially by the international community. Many Nigerians described the government as anti-democratic, and on November 10, 1993, the late Justice Dolapo Akinsanya declared the political contraption illegal.
The following day, November 11, former Military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, seized power, through a palace coup, bringing the short-lived Third Republic to an end.
Since Akinsanya declared the interim government illegal, no court of law has reversed the decision. It is not mentioned either in any aspect of the 1999 Constitution.
The idea of an interim government did not resurface in the country until shortly before the 2015 general elections. In July 2014, Serving Overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly and Convener of Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Pastor Tunde Bakare, suggested Nigeria needed an interim government to solve looming political crisis.
According to the cleric and those who shared similar opinion with him, the dilemma of whether Jonathan should contest or not was a major issue the nation grappled with in 2015. Amid threats by persons who did not want him to contest, his kinsmen in the Niger Delta swore they would blow up oil installations in the region, if Jonathan did not return to power.
Bakare, consequently, posited that given the situation Nigeria found itself, it needed an interim government rather than another election. The cleric’s suggestion was, however, opposed on the ground that there was no constitutional provision for an interim government.
Shortly before the 2023 general elections, a legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola, also made the call for an interim government, instead of the country holding a general election. He expressed concern that conducting another election under the 1999 Constitution would only reproduce faulty leadership system being experienced in the country.
Again, the idea was widely rejected. A former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Justice Bello Adoke, – just as he responded to Bakare in 2015 – countered Babalola. He argued that call for suspension of the 2023 elections could not be justified, adding that it would create a gap in democratic transition, which is capable of truncating democracy.
More than a month after the February 25, 2023 presidential election and three weeks after the March 18 governorship polls, the Department of State Services (DSS) alerted the nation to activities of certain elements, which it said were calling for an interim government. The call came in reaction to outcome of the presidential election won by the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Following the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the presidential contest by the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), his two major rivals, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party’s (LP) Peter Obi, have since disagreed, claiming, separately, that they won. They have also gone to court, more or less, in a coordinated action meant to reverse the outcome.
Members and supporters of the PDP, led by Atiku, who finished second, protested and stormed INEC’s Abuja office to submit a petition denouncing electoral fraud. “The provisions of the current electoral law have been completely contravened,” Atiku said. Obi also laid claim to victory, despite emerging third.
Recall that a spokesman of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Femi Fani Kayode, had earlier raised the alarm that some politicians were trying to create a crisis to prepare ground for an interim government.
Confirming the alarm raised by the former aviation minister, the DSS warned against moves to scuttle democracy, when its spokesman, Peter Afunanya, in a statement, warned persons behind the plot to retrace their steps.
Afunanya said the DSS considered the conspiracy by entrenched interests as not only an aberration, but also a mischievous way to set aside the Constitution and undermine civil rule. The agency said the motive was to plunge the country into an avoidable crisis.
The statement reads: “The planners, in their many meetings, have weighed various options. These include, among others, sponsoring endless violent mass protests in major cities to warrant declaration of a state of emergency. Another is to obtain frivolous court injunctions to forestall the inauguration of new executive administrations and legislative houses at the federal and state levels.
“The DSS supports the President and Commander-in-Chief in his avowed commitment to a hitch-free handover and will assiduously work in this direction. It also supports the Presidential Transition Council and other related bodies in the states.
“It will collaborate with them and sister security and law enforcement agencies to ensure seamless inaugurations on May 29, 2023. Consequently, the Service strongly warns those organising to thwart democracy in the country to retract from their devious schemes and orchestrations.
“Stakeholders, notably judicial authorities, media and the civil society, are enjoined to be watchful and cautious to avoid being used as instruments to subvert peace and stability of the nation.
“While its monitoring continues, the DSS will not hesitate to take decisive and necessary legal steps against these misguided elements to frustrate their obnoxious intentions.”
CRITICAL stakeholders have continued to kick against the idea of an interim government. Others admitted that while such government is not the solution, the conduct of the last presidential election was faulty.
Bernard Barida Mikko, a former member of the House of Representatives (Rivers State: Khana/Gokana), said those agitating for an interim government are the ones that lost out in the elections.
He said since the judiciary declared the last interim government illegal and no court has reversed the decision, Nigeria cannot put a similar administration in place.
“Check the source(s) of the current call for an interim government, then you will know where they are coming from. We cannot conduct an election, which results have been declared by INEC, and some people would then say those who won should be denied victory and an interim government put in place.
“We are operating a constitutional government, and so, we should follow those laws. The proponents of an interim government lack knowledge of the rule of law and they don’t mean well for this nation,” Mikko said.
Positing that Nigeria has gone beyond the stage of adopting an interim government, Ken Robinson, the national publicity secretary of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), said: “Individuals have touted the idea and, obviously, because they didn’t want some persons to take over power from President Buhari. But now that the elections have been conducted and a winner has been declared, and we have a president-elect, there is no need for an interim government.
“Those bringing up the idea have been widely condemned by a lot of Nigerians. And I think that the idea is dead and buried. Those who lost in the last elections should pursue their case in the court, which is what is expected in democracy. Nigeria is not under a military rule or undemocratic or unconstitutional governance.
This is a constitutional democracy. Elections were conducted and they participated. It is important that somebody will win and some person will lose. So, if you lost and you are not satisfied with the process and outcome, the appropriate step is to head to court. Anything otherwise is undemocratic and unpatriotic.
“It is condemnable that any person or group of persons would contemplate that Nigeria, after 24 years of democratic rule, and with all the sacrifices, is now calling for an interim government. Remember that some persons paid the supreme price for this democracy. And after all these years, because the outcome of the elections didn’t go the way of some person, they wanted to pull down Nigeria and democracy. The call is reckless and highly condemnable.”
Taking a different position, National President, Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Bitrus Pogu, said Nigerians should not waste energy discussing about an interim government because the 1999 Constitution is very clear. He added that it is up to judges to sort things out.
“A legal practitioner, recently, pointed to the judgment of the Supreme Court, which said, in spite of getting 25 per cent in two-third of the states in Nigeria, you must also get 25 per cent in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, which the president-elect didn’t get, which means he cannot be sworn in as President,” he explained.
Pogu noted that the only thing that could bring an interim government is the Doctrine of Necessity, where all constitutional provisions fail and the country is in a state of confusion, “then the Doctrine of Necessity may be required.”
The President, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Bishop Wale Oke, said since the 2023 general elections have been successfully concluded and winners declared by INEC, calling for an interim government is an invitation to anarchy.
“PFN, as a body, says no, categorically, to the interim government. It is not needed. We are not in a situation where that is required. So, let’s give peace a chance,” he submitted.
Apex socio-political organisation in the Southwest, Afenifere, also distanced itself from the call. National Publicity Secretary, Jare Ajayi, told The Guardian that the only constitutionally allowed change of government is election.
“Fortunately for us, elections have been held and successfully, too, and winners have emerged, and May 29 is the handover date. Therefore, the issue of an interim government does not come up,” he said.
National Chairman, African Democratic Congress (ADC), Ralph Nwosu, said it sounds awkward for Nigerians to be talking of the idea, 24 years after uninterrupted democratic government.
He said: “Though, there is room for many improvements in our democracy, honestly, we shouldn’t be talking of a transitional government now. This is where I say, whatever the judiciary comes up with, in their decision regarding the last presidential election, should be accepted by all, for the safety of our nation.
“As we are, today, nobody can predict the consequences of an interim government to the country. The government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo brought some improvements to our democracy, and his successor, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, improved on it. Former President Goodluck Jonathan brought a lot of dignity and respect to Nigeria, when he voluntarily accepted defeat in 2015, without going to court to challenge the outcome of the poll. It is expected that President Buhari, who had approached the election tribunal several times, would do the right thing. But things seem not to be going in that direction.”
He added: “As much as I will agree that the last presidential election fell short of expectations, despite the assurance INEC gave us before the polls, I do not think an interim government is the solution. Instead of opting for this, I think we need to pray for the judiciary to stand upright in the judgment. Nigerians must also be ready to accept the verdict of the courts, from the lowest to the apex.”
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