The president needs neither the electoral law nor the constitution to enforce political equity, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
In an interview published by THISDAY yesterday, Olu Falae, former secretary to the federal military government and erstwhile presidential candidate of the defunct All Peoples Party, opined that governance was no longer going on in the country. In aid of his assertion, he called to witness the failure of the Muhammadu Buhari administration to protect the lives and property of Nigerians nationwide.
Falae said the obvious as he had himself been a victim of herdsmen’s kidnap and invasion of farms. As the former presidential candidate spoke, Nigerians were fighting to shrug off the horrific killing of Deborah Yakubu, a part two student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, who was stoned to death and burnt by her classmates. That this manner of killing could occur in any part of the country in 2022 was shameful. But more worrisome was the locus of the dastardly act: a citadel of learning whose products were being trained to mould the minds of future generations of Nigerians.
What was worse in the Sokoto incident was not only that an attempt by the state to bring to justice two of the many culprits attracted resistance from some youths who made the state capital ungovernable for a few days but also that the state government had castrated justice by filling a lenient charge against the apprehended perpetrators of the heinous crime.
Before Sokoto, two military personnel on their way home for their marriage in the South-east were apprehended by gunmen who murdered them in a pre-Stone Age fashion. No arrest has been reported to date even though it is obvious that there would be no consequence for that dastardly act. Meanwhile, the entire South-east was held to ransom by non-state actors-imposed sit-at-home for three days this week in protest of the continued trial of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra. Neither the states nor the federal government that has responsibility for security has been able to bail out the people whose means of livelihood have been persistently threatened for years by this disruption to economic activities in the region.
In the North-east and the North-west, terror gangs have held sway, practically unchallenged by the security forces which continue to insist that they are on top of the widespread insecurity that is ravaging the country.
Unfortunately, the advent of electioneering for the 2023 general election is providing a perfect distraction for both the government and the people. Interestingly the worsening economic stagnation, insecurity, unemployment, youth unrest, industrial relations crises in the tertiary institutions, and ethnic and religious strives have become electioneering talking points for the same politicians that created and exacerbated the problems.
Last week, 10 ministers of the underperforming Buhari administration who had indicated an interest in the political contest in 2023 were excused by the president at a brief ceremony in the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Following public pressure, the week before, the president had asked his appointees and public servants who had political ambitions to resign their positions by last Monday, promising to replace them promptly.
Buhari’s move, though a little late, was still a good one. Governance that many people had complained about was largely ineffective and had almost become grounded as many ministers and key functionaries of government abandoned their duty posts for politicking in pursuit of their 2023 ambitions.
However, the president’s action would seem to be half-hearted. Although four of the ministers were reported to have announced their resignation, only three, Emeka Nwajiuba, state for Education; Ogbonnaya Onu, Science, Technology and Innovations; and Godswill Akpabio, Niger Delta; actually resigned. The fourth one, Rotimi Amaechi, Transportation, who has gone on a full-blown campaign for the All Progressives Congress’ presidential ticket, said he would resign on Monday, one full week after the presidential deadline.
While four of the six others, Timipre Sylva, minister of state for Petroleum Resources; Chris Ngige, Labour; Pauline Tallen, Women Affairs; and Abubakar Malami, Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation; have since revoked their political bids and opted to remain in office after presidential send-forth; the other two, Uche Ogah, minister of state for Solid Minerals; and Tayo Alasoadura, minister of state for Niger Delta; have been mum.
Rather than promptly replace the ministers as promised, Buhari has kept mum, particularly about those who reneged on their resignation. Lai Mohammed, his loquacious minister of Information and Culture, told news correspondents in Abuja on Wednesday that the fate of the sit-tight ministers would be determined by the president. As Nigerians awaited his determination yesterday, Garba Shehu, his media aide, said he had travelled to the United Arab Emirates on a condolence visit to the new President, Sheikh Mohammed Al Nahyan, whose predecessor, Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan, died recently.
Anyone who was in doubt about the president’s half-heartedness should have had that cleared by his Supreme Court suit against the National Assembly over the controversial Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022 which forbids political appointees from being delegates or aspirants at party primaries. There were media reports on Monday that Buhari and Malami, the same minister whom he had sent off, had filed the suit asking the apex court to determine if the said section was not in conflict with several provisions of the 1999 Constitution as altered.
Clearly, the president’s persistent opposition to Section 84 (12) which in principle is similar to Section 66 (1) (f) of the Constitution that compels public servants to resign their positions 30 days before an election, betrays his sympathy for the ministers who are determined to eat their cake and still have it.
The mischief which Section 84 (12) of the electoral law intends to cure is similar to that of Section 66 (1) (f) of the Constitution as altered. It is that persons holding public office must not be allowed to use their office to influence the process and the outcome of a political contest. The argument of the president that the controversial section of the law disqualifies a class of people is, therefore, lame in the face of Section 66 (1) (f) which already lays down the reversed discrimination principle.
What is more important, however, is that the president needs neither the law nor the constitution to realise the need for a level playing field in a political contest, and to accordingly seek equity for all the contestants.
Adebiyi, the Managing Editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from email@example.com