By, Uchechukwu Ugboaja
A renowned Civil Society Activist and Crusader for electoral reform in Nigeria has stated that President Buhari’s over 100 days away from office has completely diminished Nigeria which clearly tells the story of our ‘thirdworldness’.
He made this statement while addressing members of the press ahead of IPAC elections into executive offices in Abuja.
According to the Chairman of the Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Partners For Electoral Reform, the 103 days absence of President Buhari clearly diminished the country as several national issues arose that required the President’s leadership such as the Arewa Youths Quit Notice to South-easterners residing in the North, increase in the onslaught of Boko-haram suicide bombers and terrorists in the North-East, just to mention a few. He also claimed that the President’s continous medical treatment abroad only goes to shows the failure of our health care system as it is unable to guarantee proper medical services for its citizens.
In his words, “Nigeria is completely diminished by the absence of the President for medical reasons as it tells the story of our ‘thirdworldness’ which is that we are still unable to provide basic medical services for our citizens.”
He further stated that our constitution requires a proper review to take into consideration situations such as this where a president could be absent indefinitely from office at the detriment of the people.
According to him, “It also tells us the frustrations of our constitutional ammendment process which has always been on the need basis. Recall that the last time we had a situation which we introduced the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ but this time around our constitution did not contemplate that when you fulfil the law of transmitting power to your deputy of how long you need to stay. So we need to cover that constitutional lacuna and we must cover it in terms of ammending the constitution to say if you stay away from the country for certain number of days it should be deemed that you have resigned from office or a panel of medical inquiry should be set up.
“The truth is that it is not really all about the man there today, because it is President Buhari today while tomorrow it could be another President who would proclaim the national assembly and go on medical vacation and may not come back until his tenure will be almost over and it will be fine because as a people we need to begin to think less emotionally.
“We are happy he is back and his health is improving but there are constitutional lacuna that his absence has introduced which we need to fill up immediately, and then think in terms of law making for 500 years down the the line and not just for the challenges of the now.“
Speaking about the role of civil society in promoting electoral reform he said that as a member of a civil society group, it is important to foster a good relationship with political parties in a mutually beneficial manner.
“Basically we are here to observe IPAC elections and also witness the integrity of the elections as a precursor to the internal elections to be conducted by the various parties represented here.
“Remember that the political parties are the only vehicles through which you can access and ascend to leadership in the country. So we want to be sure that our political parties live up to the creed that they want society itself to embrace. So in fostering that relationship we are also supporting the political parties to be able to achieve some of these things that we have talked about.
When asked about his view on the debate of restructuring, he didn’t waste time to state that it will be an effort in futility even though he sees restructuring agitations as a bye-product of failure of good governance. For him, he rather prefers economic restructuring as espoused in section 2 of the Nigerian constitution be enforced.
“As regards restructuring, I sincerely appreciate the layers of dissatisfaction that exists with first the failure of governance. I see the failure of governance as a promoter of the agitations for restructuring. I also think that the country is not divided along ethnic or religious lines, I think that the country is divided economically and I mean that it is divided between the rich and the poor.
What it means is that the poor Igbo man is the brother of the poor Idoma man, just as the rich Hausa man is the brother of the rich Yoruba man, so if there should be any form of restructuring it must be along economic lines. We need to redistribute wealth in a manner that reduces the gap between the rich and the poor and I predicate my argument for restructuring on chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution.
“I think that if chapter 2 is fully implemented so many of these agitations will be reduced but may not dissappear. If you have a national assembly as presently constituted in Nigeria it is just a waste of time talking about restructuring. The truth is that for there to be restructuring the way Nigerians want, the National assembly must be sacked, but that will be a call to insurrection. So it means that the lopsidedness has already been factored into the 1999 constitution in a manner that except the constitution is suspended as currently been operated we are just going to be engaging in an academic debate.
“In the 2014 national conference people came with entrenched interests thinking that majority of people may want to go back to 1963 regionalism, but the shock and surprise for many people was that people came to the National conference asking for more states to be created. Recall that the national conference had 52 demands for states to be created to add to the 36 that already exists. So what that tells you is that people are already dissatisfied with governance and their understanding of marginalisation and dominance is not the way the elites are interpreting it, so many Nigerians need to go back and read chapter 2 of the constitution.
“Do you want to waste your time debating what you know cannot be achieved under the present condition. Remember that for you to amend the constitution you have to get two-third of the states and majority of the house of Representatives for one item in the constitution for it to be amended, which will continue to fail because Nigerians are not interrogating the political economy of constitution ammendment. How much are we spending to amend our constitution every legislative period.
“There is no magic about implementing chapter 2 of the constitution, it is the easiest to implement especially that one that says that the government has responsibility to provide for education, health, housing for its citizen and it also states that the state shall provide for education from primary to tertiary level and the argument for which that has not been implemented is because they say we don’t have the money until it is practicable, but with the resources that is been stolen out of the country we have known now that government can provide free and compulsory education up to university level.
“Don’t waste too much time agitating for something that is nearly impossible because there is a low hanging fruit which is chapter 2 of the constitution, make it justitiable because it would reduce reasonably the dissatisfaction that is all over the place. I am saying this because I know that the route to restructuring is a fruitless route because those who gave you the constitution put in the constitution almost near impossible way to ammend it and in a democracy the only way you can restructure is through the constitution.
Dr. Ezenwa further lamented why the Nigerian electorate have allowed politicians for too long to pose the narrative as regards elections in the country.
“How can a governorship aspirant be saying he wants to give the people a voice when they already have a representative in the national assembly. If there is anything politicians should be telling the people is making measurable promises that the people can hold on to at the end of the term. Instead we are allowing people to discuss restructuring and marginalisation for us, when there are thousands of kilometers of roads to be constructed, schools and health centres to be built.
“Power is already in the hands of a state government which gets resources but we as the people are not interested in interrogating the resources that it gets if it matches the promises made. Of course in elections promises are not made because what we see is carnival all over the place, with APC you’ll have brooms all over the place and with the PDP what you also get is umbrella all over the place and they will bring people from Nollywood and musicians so in the end the electorate will have no opportunity to know what was actually promised.
“So the media and civil society attention should be focused on empowering the people to ask the right kind of questions because it is important for the electorate to have the correct mental attitude to engage in elections else we will not get the right results from any election conducted by INEC.