Dr. Wunmi Bewaji, the Executive Director of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER), spoke with select journalists in Lagos on state of the nation, restructuring and other issues. Excerpts:
How can Nigeria work as a true federation?
We are truly a federation and I can also tell you that the state of our democracy is also fine, even though it is not perfect. We have problems here and there. For example, almost six months after election, we are still in court over it. No other country in Africa past through it. At the end of the day, I think being in court is better than being on the war front fighting for the so called mandate. There is also need for us to move away from judicialisation of the electoral process. The court should have very limited role to play in the entire electoral system. Election petition can be decided within two months. If only we review the law and they streamline the groups upon which the election result can be challenged.
For example, INEC conducted an election and it should be expected that INEC certificate should enjoy the highest presumption of regularity. Once INEC issued its Certificate of Returns to an individual, then it will require a huge rock to fall down that individual to lose the certificate. If you are a Ph.D holder and someone who has only primary school certificate holders has defeated you, that means there is something unique that the electorate found to ensure that the primary school certificate holders to defeat you. After the election, that should not be a ground for you to approach a court of the land that he does not qualify to contest. Also I will advocate that as a nation, we must move away from certificated qualification for elections. Nothing should stop anyone who has not seen the four walls of a school, so called for running for political office in the country. If I did not have a Secondary School Certificate and under the law, and my vote is good enough to elect me, that should be good under the law, couple with my votes by the electorate, I should be able tho enjoy the votes of others even if they were professors.
Also, if I can vote for those who went to school, those wo have also gone to school should also be allowed to vote for me. That is the liberty for us to say those who had not have a particularly certificate can’t be voted for, that’s anti democracy and we must shift emphasis from that. Those who put that in the constitution were only focusing on power and not on democracy which is about choice which can be limited.
Why do you think we need to restructure this country?
We need to restructure in the sense that you know we talk about unity in diversity. Nigeria is a federation and you know at Independence, we were familiar with the Lancaster Conference, the Independence Conference in London. The founding fathers of Nigeria, made it known that their solution to the diversity was to be able to use that diversity as raw material for unity. You can’t deny the fact that Nigeria is diversed, there are many ethnic nationalities in the country and all over the world, you have such diversity. The solution has always been a federal structure.
Now, at Independence, what we had if you look at the 1960 Constitution, was a federal constitution. The 1963 Constitution was purely a federal constitution in which the component units of the federation were allowed to develop at their pace. Look at the 1960 Constitution, we had 22 items in the Exclusive List. So the areas where the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction were limited.
But under the 1979 Constitution, they grew to 68 and that trend started since 1966 when (General) Aguiyi Ironsi came in and he thought that the solution to Nigeria’s problems was to have a Unitary System and that consumed Aguiyi Ironsi. Aguiyi-Ironsi was consumed by that and then we reverted back to Decree 1 which was federal in structure.
Now, from that 1966 to 1979, we had that federal structure in place, but there was a problem. I had the opportunity of meeting the late Dr. Ajayi. He was one of the drafters of Decree 1 and he said the problem they had was that because in the Army, the structure they have there is command and obey structure. And that when they were drafting Decree 1, that they had a problem about what to do with a situation whereby if you now have a Head of State at the federal level, then in those regions, the military governors were presiding.
Of course, there were very senior military governors then. The military governors at the regions or states would be junior to the Head of State and so, the Supreme Military Council (SMC) headed by the Head of State is now the highest organ. It is now the parliament. So the idea was that there is no way the Head of State would sign onto a law, and then a junior officer in his region or state would alter it and that was how the inconsistency clause was introduced.
Niger Delta people believe the restructuring should be about fiscal federalism and that each region should be made to take possession of mineral resources…
Yes, that is the Resource Control argument. The Resource Control argument of course also derives from the idea of having True Federalism. Of course, at Independence, what we had was each region controlling its resources, every region was controlling its own resources and you are then going to be paying tax to the federal government, that was what we had. It was only under the military the arrangement was changed to a situation whereby the federal government now controls everything. And was how the idea to placate the people who were arguing for True Federalism came, that was how the idea of the 13per cent Derivation was introduced but surely it is like scratching the problem on the surface because continually, people are going to continue to agitate for restructuring.
So, this restructuring we are talking about, you know Keyamo appeared before the National Assembly, he said something about restructuring the Supreme Court and letting each state have its own Supreme Court. This is something that would not go away until we address it, the problem will not go away, we must restructure. The diversity is enormous and then, unity in diversity does not mean that we are not a country. Yes, we are Nigerians. Recall that Chief Obafemi Awolowo said: “I am first and foremost a Yoruba man before am a Nigerian’ and that is the thinking of everybody and that is what sustains this idea of rotation, of one region waiting for its own turn. So we cannot pretend that our Nigeria is one, yes. We are working towards attaining unity but unity must not be blind to diversity. It must be unity in diversity and not otherwise.