The call for an interim government after the announcement of the results of validly held polls is unconstitutional and undemocratic, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
Last Tuesday, the Department of State Services issued an alert that some citizens with entrenched interests were plotting to foist an interim government on the country. “The plot being pursued by these entrenched interests is not only an aberration but [also] a mischievous way to set aside the constitution and undermine civil rule as well as plunge the country into crisis,” Peter Afunaya, the secret police’s spokesman said in a statement, stating firmly, “The illegality is totally unacceptable in a democracy and to the peace-loving Nigerians.”
Giving details of the plot, the DSS spokesman said the plan to achieve the objective includes organising massive protests in the country and procuring court orders to block the transition of power to the next government.
Expectedly, there have been mixed reactions to the alert by the secret police. On the one hand are its traditional critics who see in its every move an attempt to curb individual rights and freedom. They contend that its business is not to go about issuing statements but to gather intelligence on threats to state security and act on it. They suspect that the alert is a precursor for an intended clampdown on opposition politicians who just lost the general elections, and their supporters who are protesting the loss.
On the other hand, are the victorious politicians and their supporters who feel that the DSS alert is a confirmation of the activities of their colleagues on the other side, which they consider subversive and ought to be resisted by the state. For them, the secret police should go beyond issuing warnings and act promptly to forestall the breakdown of law and order.
Given the ethno-religious background of the 2023 general elections, sentiments have remained very high, and dispassionate analysis of the post-polls issues has become difficult. Otherwise, the facts are fairly straightforward and ought to be dealt with on their own merits. What are the facts?
The most contentious of the polls is the presidential contest won by Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress. Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, the Labour Party’s Peter Obi, and the New Nigerian Peoples Party’s Rabiu Kwankwaso, who trailed behind him complained about alleged irregularities. Subsequently, Atiku and Obi proceeded to submit their grievances to the election petition tribunal as required by the 1999 Constitution as altered, and the Electoral Act 2022.
This step taken by the complainants is within the law and has attracted the commendation of both domestic and foreign analysts who say it would augur well for a peaceful resolution of the dispute and the calm required for the polity to move on. But the problem has been the persistence of hostility both at the verbal and physical levels.
Atiku had not only led a demonstration to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s Headquarters but his official spokespersons, as well as supporters, have also continued to unleash verbal assaults on the president-elect, Tinubu. Though Obi has been more restrained, his supporters, particularly on the social media space have been quite unruly, and have threatened street demonstrations to protest the outcome of the poll. Some of their utterances actually cast serious aspersions on the integrity of the judiciary in ways that might erode public confidence in the judicial review process.
Of course, APC’s spokespersons have not shown the maturity required to deescalate the tension in the polity, giving it back to the opposition elements in equal measure. In fact, Bayo Onanuga, a celebrated media icon and a director in the APC Presidential Council, has now been reported to the International Criminal Court for alleged statements that profiled and could incite resentment against an ethnic group.
Without a doubt, these verbal assaults and public demonstrations have created a crisis situation, which some people are exploiting to renovate hitherto failed agitations for an interim national government. Afe Babalola, a senior advocate of Nigeria, had been the arrowhead of a pre-election clamour for this idea of a temporary government, claiming that the nation was in a deep crisis, which the 1999 Constitution as altered was incapable of solving.
With the general elections approaching then, he felt it was necessary to put the polls on hold until the constitution is overhauled and a new and workable document is put in place. But the proposal was not given any consideration because it had no legal foundation. In any case, an interim government only fits into a post-political crisis situation in which the formal institutions of state have become so weakened that a compromise legal order has to be instituted to sustain the polity. The pre-election political situation did not by any stretch of the imagination fall within this prescription.
The case for an interim administration is even worse now that peaceful elections have just been held and the winners are awaiting inauguration on 29 May 2023. President Muhammadu Buhari had set up a transition council to midwife a seamless transfer of power to the president-elect. That council led by Boss Mustapha, the secretary to the government of the federation, has made it clear that its work is going on smoothly and that everything is in place to transfer power on the appointed date.
Besides, the election petition tribunals have been set up and aggrieved candidates have engaged expensive attorneys to file their briefs, which they hope would restore their alleged stolen mandates. What is left, therefore, is for the judicial adjudication of the disputes to start and be concluded within the 180 days stipulated by the constitution and the electoral act.
In the circumstances, the idea of a temporary government is nothing but a back door to retain power and deprive the legitimate heir of their price of victory. The last time it was tried in Nigeria, 30 years ago, it failed spectacularly. After annulling the presidential election that Moshood Abiola, the Social Democratic Party’s candidate, was coasting home to win, Ibrahim Babangida, the military president, sought a way out of the massive and sustained opposition to his heist. He instituted an interim government headed by Earnest Shonekan, a business mogul. Civil opposition to the illicit act persisted. First, a court declared it illegal, then, Sani Abacha, a general and minister of Defence, rode on the crest of the protests on the streets to take power. The contraption lasted only 82 days.
If an arrested victory could be so vehemently defended, is it a declared one that would be scuttled without consequence? Certainly not. And this is where the DSS alert makes some sense. Yes, the secret police might have been flippant in the past but this latest note of caution should be taken seriously and with less suspicion of possible mischief to circumscribe the rights of citizens.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISADY Newspapers, writes from email@example.com