A Plateau based legal practitioner Chief S.G Odey has described President Muhammadu Buhari the worst since 1999, but commended the contribution of the judiciary for some of its decisions that help in deepening our country democracy with Yakubu Busari in Jos .
Few weeks from today, Nigeria would be celebrating 18 years of uninterrupted democracy, what would be your general assessment?
So far so good, Nigeria has come of age because a lot of developments have taken place, though certain aspects of development started before independence beginning with the constitutional conferences, then the role played by different nationalists such as; Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Herbert Macaulay and the rest of them culminating to the independence. Between then and now, there have been a lot of other developments leading to nation building in the economic sphere, the political environment, legislative and judicial spheres respectively. However, the judiciary in particular has played significant role not only in the last 18 years of democracy but throughout the history of Nigeria as an entity.
In specific terms, how has the judiciary helped in deepening our democracy in the last 18 years?
I want to start by drawing your attention to the fact (which many people usually loose sight of) that the judiciary is an arm of government. When government is mentioned, people think more of the presidency but government is a combination of three arms namely: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary. So, the judiciary is a separate arm and our constitution is designed in such a manner that these separate arms operate in a way and manner that ensure checks and balances.
Also in our constitution, the judiciary is captured as the adjudicator; spelling out the structures, the functions, the discipline and appointment of officers to the judiciary. And most of the development we have had over the years in our democratic experience has been fashioned largely by the decisions in which the judiciary has chunked out at different levels; be it at the regular High Court, the Election Tribunals, the Appeal Tribunal or the Supreme Court. So, significant development has taken place in our democratic setting due to the role played by the judiciary. In addition, you findout that most of the decisions I am talking about eventually resulted in the amendment of our constitution. So, these decisions formed a large part of what the National Assembly had to consider in adjusting the electoral act and also, in amending or altering the constitution. That also is a pointer to the major role the judiciary has played in our democratic experience.
Sir, can you mention one or two decisions taken by the courts within the period under review which to the best of your knowledge and understanding can be described as landmark decisions?
Recall what happened when Atiku Abubakar won election as governor of Adamawa State in 1999. Before he was sworn in, the then presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olusegun Obasanjo picked him as his running mate. Atiku had a deputy who was to be sworn in as governor but the question was whether his deputy can be sworn in to replace Atiku without going to run for his election. The matter was taken to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court took a decision which was described at that time as” a child of necessity”. That scenario then was not captured either in our constitution or the electoral act but the Supreme Court decided that the deputy be sworn in and by that decision, the lacuna that existed was covered by the Supreme Court and of course you know that pronouncements of the Supreme Court also become law. And that position subsisted until the amendment of our constitution when that decision was finally embedded in it. A related incident occurred in Kogi State when the governorship candidate of one of the political parties was leading but suddenly, he slumped and died while the election was not concluded. A run off was ordered for a clear winner to emerge. But the question was, can the deputy complete the race? Or the party should bring a new candidate to replace the deceased? That was another issue that was not covered by the law but the judiciary had to intervene and now, that aspect is already taken care of in the constitution. Again there was the issue of absence of office for so long by Late President Umar Yar’Adua which created another constitutional crisis as to whether his vice president should even act not to talk of sworn in as substantive president. That gave rise to a lot of court cases and eventually, the Federal Executive Council, the court and the National Assembly had to rise up to the occasion, again as “a child of necessity”, and held that the vice president be sworn in as acting president pending the return of Yar’Adua. Now, these scenarios leading to constitutional crises have been captured in the amendment which is being proposed. So, these are some of the significant contributions of the judiciary which has helped in stabilizing our democracy.
Still on the issue of Kogi Governorship Election, a lot of people are still confused and would want some explanation as to the decision that saw the emergence of Bello the incumbent governor replacing Hon Falake was arrived at.
You know, usually there are lots of political considerations in every political setting from ward to Federal levels. The parties’ constitutions as well as the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have created room for rotation of power amongst different entities at the various levels of political configurations. So, in Kogi State, being a case study, the governorship slot then was zoned to another zone different from that of the deputy governor. At that time, the then deputy was not from the zone the governor ought to have emerged and that was the crux of the matter and also made it difficult for the deputy governor to carry on with the contest to its completion. If that had happened, it would have denied the other zone from benefiting from the political arrangement of zoning as a result of the death of their candidate. So the decision to bring Bello was arrived at in order to take care of that interest while the zone that ought to produce the deputy governorship would still keep their slot. Again, even within political parties, there still exists interest by different blocks probably for personal gains. We saw how similar blocks wielded their powers even after the demise of former president Yar’Adua. The fact is that when politicians are making the zoning arrangement, their primary consideration is their selfish interests. If they found out it is not working their way, they can easily betray in other to align with another block to achieve their aims. That’s the kind of politics that has been playing out since 1999.
There has been this view held by many that the judiciary is highly corrupt which has ultimately affected the growth of democracy in Nigeria, what is your take in this?
You would have noticed that I hesitated before answering this question on corruption because, the way we are, the way we live, behave and do things in this country make it difficult for one to say who is and who is not corrupt. In every facet of our lives, there are traces of corruption. And this include institutions such as religious where allegations of corrupt practices have emanated from within these institutions, that some of its members have engaged in legal tussles; the military institution and other armed forces where of recent, we have heard nauseating stories about the things being done in the military and how those who were in-charge or running that system amass so much wealth for themselves and some where even alleged to have been caught with so much money in cash both in foreign and local currencies in their homes and other places around their homes. In like manner, we have heard cases of alleged corrupt practices emanating from the legislature must especially in the installation of their leaders; in lobbying for approval of some bills and ministerial appointments and so on. It is still fresh in our minds the story of how “Ghana must go bags” were allegedly brought to the National Assembly to bribe some people. We have also heard of stories that a committee chairman in the National Assembly was said to have visited some people under probe by the National Assembly and allegedly collected money from them. Some of these cases are still pending in court. We still remember a video tape played by the DSS showing how a former member of the House of Reps who was a committee chairman allegedly went to collect bribe from an oil magnate, and so many others.
Now, the judiciary is just a part of the society. So it is erroneous to single out the judiciary as the only corrupt system. I still remember how my neighbor’s kid who was well dressed and set for school yesterday but suddenly changed his mind saying he wasn’t willing to go school until one of his elder siblings promised to take him to one of the fast food joints in town when he returned from school to which he obliged. Now, the point I want to make here is; that child is already being corrupted and may likely grow up with that kind of orientation which is bad. And this kind of attitude has been in existence in our society for quite some time.
So you would agree with me that corruption is everywhere; in our homes, in our business places, in our political terrain, in our religion, judiciary and security environments. Everywhere you turn to, there are corrupt practices going on. So, whatever that may be happening in the judiciary is a reflection of what is happening in the larger society. I am not saying that the judiciary is not corrupt but it is erroneous to say that the judiciary is the only corrupt institution in Nigeria as widely perceived by many. Where ever you go to, there are good and bad people and this spread across all spheres of our lives including your profession – Journalism …….. laughter …. Sorry I am dragging you into this but you know more than I do that there are certain things that are done by some of your members which ought not to have been done.
Of course the judiciary has its own share of the blame. Some cases have been proven and appropriate sanction applied, so it won’t be right for one to just make a blanket statement that the judiciary is corrupt.
May 29th is our democracy day, what would be your assessment of the APC government in the last two years?
You see, there was a lot of expectation from the general populace. The Expectation was very high based on the promises made by the APC during the electioneering campaigns. As a matter of fact, the way the promises were being made was such that made people think they were coming with a magic wane to solve all of Nigeria’s problems. But from May 29th, 2015 up till to this moment we are speaking, you cannot say any of these promises have been fulfilled. Well some gains might have been made on the issue of security but security challenges are still there. They told us Sambissa has been combed and that terrorists have been defeated but we are still witnessing acts of terrorism going on in the North-East and other parts of the country. Our military personnel are still being ambushed and in some cases, in face to face confrontation with terrorists. Even yesterday, we heard of how officers and men of the armed forces were attacked and some lost their lives. So, it’s been two years on and some of these security challenges are still being experienced but the promise we had was that within six months of their administration, security challenges and most importantly, terrorism would be taken care of through a permanent solution. It’s been two years and the security challenge hasn’t been tackled as promised, it means there has been a failure in that direction. So, government should know where they have failed and re-strategize and also improves upon whatever they have achieved if there is any. On Education, there is chaos at all levels. Still, there are strikes embarked upon by staff of learning institutions. We have also witnessed increment in school fees and other charges being imposed at every level of education sector and that also indicates failure because they promised us free education at all levels. Not only that, but that our children will be fed in schools, however children in Nigeria as of today are worse hit by hunger while many are out of school for their inability to meet up with exorbitant fees being charged.
On the Economy….Laughter…….. I learnt that some government official were jubilating the other day because the naira has stabilized at about three hundred and ninety to a dollar and this baffles me as I am wondering what really called for the celebration. When this government took over two years ago, the dollar was bought for one hundred and ninety naira but now, it is almost four hundred naira yet this administration is celebrating. To me, government should only celebrate when it is below 190 and we will all join in the celebration and encourage government to do more. So, the promise that the economy would be better has also not been fulfilled as our economy is now worse than it was in 2015. We even got to a point of recession for the first time in the history of this nation. From recession, we got to a point of depression and we are still in it because the indices are clear as you can easily measure it on the faces of the people on the streets. We measure an economy by the improvement in the lives of the people and not the level of their suffering. In the face of severe hardship, the government keeps telling the people that things will get better, and they want to use that to measure their success.
On the power sector,… laughter…my generator here is not allowing you a better recording and this is GRA. In those days, it was said that government reservation areas enjoyed better advantage of power supply because it is believed that “big men and ogas” in power generating and power distribution companies live in the GRA’s, so they make sure power distribution in those areas is regular. But here we are today, we run generator every day from morning till night we close in the night. In some cases the supply is brief, and usually in the night when offices have closed while residents are asleep. It is the time there is a little blow of power supply.
Recently, I read an article by Simon Kolawale in respect of power in Nigeria. Simon picked old copies of News Watch and News Week magazines and went through some of the promises made concerning power in 1999. At that time Nigeria had 3,000 megawatts of Electricity generation. Before then, Shehu Shagari had promised us 7,000 megawatts but couldn’t achieve that. When Obasanjo took over in 1999, it was 3,000 megawatts. When Yaradua came, he said he was going to ensure that we got up to 12,000 megawatts but that was not possible too. When Goodluck Jonathan came, we were struggling to get 4,000 megawatts. So that has been the sad story in the power sector in Nigeria. The APC during their campaigns assured Nigeria they had the magic to power problem and assured us that they will tackle the problem in the power sector within six months in government and thereafter we will continue to enjoy steady power supply. However, our condition today as far as the issue of power is concerned is worst. We have never had it this bad. So I will be right to say that the APC government has also failed in this area. In all, my final take on the APC government is that it is a complete failure. Consequently, the change mantra is nothing but deceit. They just used that to deceive the people and take over power, but thank God Nigerians have since realized that and now ever ready to take their destiny in their hands.