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Uncanny way of subverting the nation’s constitution — Okoko

By Jimitota Onoyume
EMINENT professor of Political Science, Kimse Okoko is a reporter’s delight any day.  He bared his mind on issues without minding whose ox is gored.  He is currently president, Conference of Ethnic Nationalities of Niger Delta (CENND), a platform at the forefront of agitation for political space for the region. He was also the immediate past president, Ijaw National Congress, (INC).

This frontline  Niger Delta leader in this interview with Vanguard described  the reluctance on the part of ailing President Musa Yar Adua to transfer power temporarily  to his Vice  as an uncanny way of subverting the nation’s constitution.

He also viewed attempt by the National Assembly to review the 1999 Constitution as an exercise in futility. According to him, the National Assembly lacks the power to carry out what he termed wholesale review of the constitution

For the federal government to effectively consolidate on the gains of its amnesty to repentant militants Prof Kimse called for immediate implementation of the recommendation of the Niger Delta Technical Committee, a committee  that was set up by the government to evolve ways for lasting peace in the region.   Excerpts:

President  Musa Yar Adua has been in the hospital for over fifty days now. And his absence  has been generating heated controversies, particularly on how to move the nation forward. What do you think should be done?

Anybody can be sick at anytime. I don’t think it is proper for any body to say because an individual is sick he should be divested of his functions and positions. Suppose the person gets well and comes back. I think the fair and just thing is for us to allow him have his treatment and come back.

Prof. OkokoNow if he comes back, it is found he can’t withstand the strain of office then at that point people can now say look, this individual is no longer capable of running the office therefore he should resign.

If I were the individual, I won’t wait for somebody to tell me that I am not capable of functioning. I will on my own resign because I know I am no longer capable of functioning the way I should. Now that should be after the person has been treated. I think it is not fair to call for his resignation while still in his sick bed. Because as I said supposing he fully recovers, would it be fair? I don’t think so.

But the other issue is that should he not,  at least,  temporarily hand over power to his next in command? There I will agree completely with those who have been saying he should hand over in line with the provisions of the constitution. That is where I find the present situation we have found ourselves as messy, he should have at least allowed his next in command take charge of the country until he returns.

And whenever he comes back, he takes* his job. I think it is wrong for him not to have done that. He should hand over to his next in command. And when he comes back he can take back his job. What is happening in the country now is very terrible. It is a country without any head.  There is no C in C.

Suppose we are attacked by another country who will give the orders? He is in a sick bed in a far away country. Is it the Chief Justice of Nigeria that will act on his behalf? Clearly this situation is unacceptable and it is an uncanny way of subverting the constitution of the country

The post amnesty climate in the Niger Delta is relatively peaceful to a large extent. How does the government consolidate the gains of the amnesty?

The swiftest way is for the federal government to implement the recommendations of its own technical committee. They are there gathering dust. The easiest way to consolidate this temporary peace is to move fast in bringing development to the region, this is in the immediate sense.  Then long term consolidation is to start the process of a national dialogue,( call it a sovereign national conference, constituent assembly) for Nigerians where they would agree on the type of association they want, what they want to give up to the centre and ultimately on the basis of that understanding draw a truly peoples’ constitution for the country to replace the 1999 Constitution.
It is one of the worst types of constitution that can ever be drawn. And it’s largely responsible for the unending crisis we have in the country.

So as a long term solution, we must address the critical issue of restructuring Nigeria along the lines of true federalism. And this requires a national dialogue and not this misguided attempt by the Nati
onal Assembly to review or amend the constitution. That won’t work.

Why  do you describe attempt to amend the constitution as misguided?

It is because the National Assembly is not expected to carry out series of constitutional amendment. It is not done that way. Amendment to constitution is usually one or two issues, not so many areas. Amendment is not done on this kind of document. And the National Assembly can’t do the job of correcting all the issues there.

They are not empowered to review comprehensively the constitution of the country. Second, we are aware most of them are there through the process of rigging. Really most of them do not represent any constituency. They are there thanks to rigging that is why they think they are not accountable to the electorate.

They believe that the electorate did not elect them. Now if many are there through the process of rigging it follows that they are not our true representatives. Why must they now review our constitution? We have no confidence in them as I said before; they are there through the process of rigging. So there is the issue of legitimacy of their positions in the House and second, National Assemblies are not designed to carry out comprehensive review of constitution. What they are trying to do is an exercise in futility and I can assure you that nothing good will come out of it

What will be the structure of the national dialogue you proposed? Should it be supervised by the federal government?

Not really. But the federal government can facilitate and even convene it. The critical point is that the representatives at the forum should be nominated by the nationalities in the country. And representation should be on equal basis and not on the basis of population. Every ethnic nationality should send one or two representatives as the case may be.

There are about two hundred and fifty ethnic nationalities in the country so if each nationality sends one delegate to the assembly it will not be cumbersome after all. At the end no nationality will say it did not participate in the dialogue. The document from it at the end will be the people’s constitution.

Don’t you foresee situation where a generation could rise to say those that represented them at the dialogue were too old, and so could not have canvassed their interests, that they took decisions that would not affect them since they were closer to their graves. This generation on the basis of this argument  could begin fresh  agitation  for another  national dialogue?

Such will never come up. Representatives in Congress are supposed to be  elderly . The issue is that the representation must be in the interest of his nationality. He will be in touch with both the young and old. He will represent the views of old and young. Once you have a people’s constitution the periodic review will be on very light issues. For instance, things that were not considered at the time of making the constitution are the things that would inform constitutional amendment. Review this time will not be wholesale. Items will only be reviewed. There has been very little amendment in the American constitution in all these years.

What is faulty in what the National Assembly is doing now is that they are dealing with ephemeral things, leaving the things that really matter, like the type of federation we want, should the state remain as federating units etc. They are talking of land use acts. They cannot touch serious issues. We have argued that the constitution is hopelessly over centralized in favour of the centre. The amendment being proposed by the National Assembly did not address the issue of over centralization. The amendment being proposed by the National Assembly are amendments that are scratching the surface of the country’s problem

You were a conferee at the national political conference. Do you think the recommendations you came up with are still valid for use by the country so that we don’t go back to organizing a fresh national dialogue?

Some are. At that conference some of these fundamental issues were not discussed. Even the issue of North/ South or zones was not properly looked at. There was no agreement on many issues. I was of the executive committee. Education was not included in the basket of issues discussed. Some of the critical issues with respect to the nature and character of a federal structure were not discussed.

The 2005 political conference representation was decided by the President so it was skewed in favour of the powers that be. Many nationalities were not invited. So long as we deceive ourselves that we are running a federal structure   we will continue to dance round a circle

Anambra election is around the corner, do you have any fear?

More than likely it will go the same way, it will be rigged. There will be chaos. They must attempt to rig and in the bid to do this the other forces will react. The structures for the election are faulty. There are fears that some resident electoral officers in the country are card carrying members of parties. That is what happened in 2007 election. Obviously, they will be biased.

Security agencies cannot differentiate between loyalty to a party and the nation. For them the ruling  party is the nation and the nation is the ruling  party . So they will do everything to favour the ruling party.

How do we resolve these challenges?

Even if we are unable to come up with a new constitution and we want to just work with the 1999 Constitution, we can still run elections to sustain the fraudulent document. Most of the reforms proposed by the Justice Uwais Committee will go a long way in  ensuring free and fair  elections. Even before we get to the local, state and national elections there must be internal democracy in the parties which is missing at the moment.

A system like this is heading for the rocks. Because the people will have no confidence in any representative from their parties. We see it playing out in Anambra again. If there is no internal democracy how do we expect democracy at the national level because the whole thing starts from the party?

What are we seeing all over is crisis of legitimacy that started from the party and then to the state and the national level, that is what we have been contending with in the country. Until we appreciate need for internal democracy within the party in the first place and then let it spread to the nation we will continue to have problem with elections

What is your comment on the planned deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry?

It is sad that they have given in to this bogey of deregulation and has generated untold hardship on Nigerians. Deregulation in this country is fraud. They can’t give us assurance  that there will be cheap fuel with deregulation. Deregulation is a bogey

What do you say about the Petroleum Industry Bill?

This suffers from the same thing. After I read it I gave up.  It reaffirmed the colonial position which was reaffirmed by the post colonial independence Nigeria. All the mineral resources on top, under, belong to the federal government. This is completely unacceptable. So long as you arrogate ownership of resources of any group to the federal government then it is meaningless.

We have identified about sixteen or nineteen offensive laws regulating oil and gas in the country. They are not touched in the bill. Then of what use is it? PIB does not address these unfair issues so what use is it? It is a waste of our time. The same thing goes to the information bill. How can the type of National Assembly we have approve Freedom of Information Bill? The crooked things they do will now be public knowledge. So long as they seat on the Freedom of Information bill so long will the rot continue.

What do you say about the proposed ten per cent equity to oil communities by the federal government?

Well as a temporary measure one can say it is not a bad idea. I own a property you don’t own it but you are telling me I will get ten  percent share, which is not proper. It is against natural justice. We say ok, for now, because we don’t get anything now. What we are saying is that federating units should own and control resources in their area and pay taxes to the centre. Even if they say they want to tax ninety percent so be it; but it is still owned by the person who owns it. But if you say ninety percent must be taxed then it must be ninety percent for all sections and owners.

Do you have any comment on Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta?

JTF has become a problem in the region. It is going to be extremely difficult for it to leave. I have no doubt in my mind that the JTF is an occupation force. And so long as we have this cabal ruling this country whose interest is to control the oil wells, so long will JTF remain. JTF itself has become beneficiaries of the oil industry and the crisis of the Niger Delta, so why will they want to leave? We in the area are helpless. We cannot force them out. They have become a real sad albatross on the neck of the region.

What is your reaction on America’s inclusion of Nigeria on terror watch list?

(cuts in )  It is a big shame. But I think it is wrong to classify Nigeria the way they did. Especially given the fact that it  is now obvious that this guy was manufactured outside Nigeria. The radicalization process took place outside Nigeria. So why punish Nigeria. You should have punished Britain that radicalized him. We produced an innocent Mutallab; an innocent Mutallab went through a process of radicalization outside the country and became a terrorist. They should allow Nigerians go through the same screening process they go through at the airport and not to direct us to a room where we will be dehumanized.

Mutallab was an innocent Nigerian with robust British architecture. So why punish Nigerians.

Meanwhile, I jokingly said sometime that only those with charms around their waste will worry more at airports  with the new development (general laughter)


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