Whoever emerges must embrace loser and make restructuring a priority, insists Babalola
For Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), though the sudden postponement of last Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections to today by INEC was a shock to many Nigerians, he urged whoever emerges President to consider restructuring as a major solution to the myriads of problems confronting the country.
How did you receive the news of the postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections last Saturday and what was your immediate reaction?
I was disturbed and shocked when I heard the news about 7am on Saturday morning. I had left my reading room about 1:30am and in obedience to INEC directives, I was prepared to stay at home.
My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh God, what type of country is this? How can INEC announce the cancellation of election only a few hours before the commencement of election?
Many of my students and teachers had gone home at the instance of their parents to cast their votes. I was concerned about the fate of these students and teachers who had spent their time and money for the purpose of exercising their franchise.
What are the legal and moral implications of the postponement?
Legally, the decision of INEC was not only final, but also binding and cannot be challenged in the court of law.
Going by your question, there is no moral implication following the cancellation. In law, what is legal may not necessarily be moral and what is moral may not necessarily be legal. It is immoral not to respect one’s parents, but it is not illegal to disrespect them.
In this case, what INEC did was legal, but it was to me a clear case of improper use of the discretion. The explanation of INEC does not impress me, as it had enough time to organise and distribute materials.
Do you think voters would be encouraged to come out again to vote on Saturday (today)?
My view is that many voters who had to travel a long distance at their own expense in order to vote will no doubt be discouraged, and I believe many voters will not want to travel back to vote again.
Would you say INEC could still conduct free, fair and credible election?
To me, fairness of an election includes the provision of a level ground for all those who qualify to vote. In this case, where the election was postponed belatedly, many people may not wish to go long distances to travel to their home to vote.
To that extent, it will be reasonable to suggest that elections may not be absolutely fair, particularly to those concerned.
What is your reaction to President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment that whoever tampers with ballot boxes does so at the expense of his or her life?
The snatching of ballot boxes is a phenomenon known to Nigeria at elections. It is barbaric, primitive and criminal. I appreciate the concern of the President.
However, two wrongs don’t make a right. Under Section 33(1) of our Constitution,”Every person has a right to life and no one shall be deprive intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria”.
Apart from our constitution, Article 10 of International Bill of Human Rights provides as follows: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his right and obligation and of any criminal charge again him”
Even in the absence of a constitutional provision, there is the immutable concept of justice, which is called natural justice.
The twin pillars of the rule of natural justice are (1) The nemo judex in causa sua (No man is to be a judge in his own case) and (2) The audi alteram patem principle (No man is to be condemned unheard).
In the 1923 reported case of R.V. Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, ex-parte Dr. Brently, the English court in adopting the audi alteram partem principle, quoted book of Genesis, Chapter 3 verses 9 to 12 with relish and held that even God did not pass sentence unto Adam until he had been heard.
This doctrine is as much part of laws as those of other enlightened nations.
The implication of the above is that many voters who cherish their lives and do not want to be victims of strain bullets or gunshots by soldiers who are hunting for ballot box snatchers may shun the elections, more so, in that the Army has no legal right to be present at polling booths, as their presence at polling booths will certainly scare away potential voters.
What is your opinion about the campaigns of major political parties, will you say they were issue-based?
First, there are too many political parties, some of which to me are jokers. I have listened to the campaign of most of them.
Most of them had not address the critical issues, particularly how Nigeria can emerge as a nation, having regard to the fact that Nigeria is still a geographical expression, consisting of many nations and seriously troubled by poverty, unemployment and insecurity.
They have not addressed the critical issues of restructuring of the constitution and electoral process, which can pave way for election of ideal leaders and not rulers, as well as rapid regional development.
How can we have a philosopher king in Nigeria?
The only way to achieve that is to restructure the country. Go back to 1960 and 1963 constitutions and do necessary modifications to it.
We must restructure the electoral process, de-emphasise the lucrativeness of politics, revive agriculture as a major employer of labour and direct that members of National Assembly shall not earn salary, but sitting allowances, as was done in the First Republic.
We must also restructure the electoral process, limit the number of political parties and redefine the qualification of those who can contest election, which must include, among others, that the candidates must have gainful employment and must provide evidence of their contributions to national development as a pre-condition.
What is your advice to whoever wins the presidential election?
He must embrace the loser and undertake to make restructuring a priority. He must address the issues of agriculture seriously, the important position of local government, education, health, transportation, electricity and airport for Ekiti State.