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National Assembly out to protect own interests

By Simon Ebegbulem
Chief Solo Eghobamien, is an Edo State, based legal practitioner and was called to the Bar, some 40 years ago. In this interview, he reviewed the political situations in the country and regretted that the National Assembly had passed laws that would only protect their interests, abandoning the ordinary masses they were elected to serve.  He also spoke on the on-going voters registration and other national issues.

Excerpts:

How will you assess the on going voters registration?

In my Idah Model Primary School, Edo State, where I had gone to register, there were some impediments to the exercise. The problems include running down of batteries of the computers and according to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, officers, the generators given to them were not powerful enough to recharge the batteries. I had gone there to register but the place was too crowded.

Many of us went for the registration very early, but the place was  rowdy. The INEC officials informed us that some thugs came to disrupt the exercise in the area. What was conspicuously absent was the presence of armed policemen. The INEC officials are doing well but I think the thugs are making the job very frustrating for them.

Solo Eghobamien

There were reports that some politicians are trying to rig the forthcoming elections through the registration exercise by importing foreigners to register in their areas. What does this portend for elections?

It is very bad. But you will see that these are the same people who have been accused of rigging elections in the past. I read it in the papers that such a thing happened somewhere in Edo North. I heard the authorities promising to prosecute the people concerned. Those involved are people who have ears in Abuja and when things like this happens, they become untouchable. We should allow the police to do their job.

Like the INEC issue, somebody was caught from another state coming to register in Edo State, they should use such people as scapegoat, unfortunately, they may escape probe due to the intervention of some big men.

The major political parties have concluded their primaries, do you think they are  actually ready for the elections?

Every political party has its own in house rules. In law, we say domestic issues. They should allow them to solve their problems, government should not interfere on how they do these things. I read what Bisi Akande,  chairman of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN said on the newspapers and I sympathise with him. He said when they started the ACN, there were few people who spent time and resources, to make the party what it is today, now there are people trying to hijack the party, therefore, he does not see why the party should not have the final say.

There is a sense in that argument. Although, Edo State Governor,  Mr Oshiomhole has said that everybody is a member of his party, whether old or new. But I am happy he said they are going to look into complaints and that is a good move.

Do you think the Prof.Attahiru Jega led INEC has utilized the funds given to him judiciously?

Jega is trying his best. One of the main problems he had was the short time, within which he is expected to carry out his duty. I think they are doing their best and I believe that if they follow up to address the lapses, Jega will do better than other INEC Chairmen we had in the past.

Looking at the just concluded PDP presidential primaries,  can Alhaji Atiku Abubakar go to court over the zoning issue?
Zoning in the PDP is a domestic issue to the party. That is my opinion and that should not influence what is happening in the party.

The constitution of the PDP cannot be equated with the country’s constitution where there is freedom of movement. Whatever they decide to do is their domestic affairs. But I still believe that all the other parties have the same problem.

Those against zoning, are  they saying this should not applicable in Abuja, the federal capital territory? Have you ever heard a Minister of the Federal Capital Territory from the South. Should that not be zoned too? There are one or two occasions where you have Minister of State, but in the last ten years, I have not heard any Southerner who is even Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory, why? Can they not zone that one? Like I said, the politicians are not being straight forwards.

Today, we have Jonathan, Ribadu and Buhari as major presidential candidates for the 2011 elections, what are their chances?
Whether they will win or not, the impact they are making will revolutionalise what is going on. So, I encourage as many people as possible to come out  to give tell those fooling us, that they cannot fool us for too long. As for Ribadu, he is still new in the system. Ordinarily, Nigerian do not look at Ribadu but the party.

Whether it is a goat that the party brought, they don’t care. But if things were normal, those who are asking for change, Ribadu as a young man would have had a good chance. But I think their presence will do a lot to help us move forward.

Every body is calling for one man one vote, but with what your have observed  so far, do you think we can achieve it?

It is not going to be as easy as they think. But if the security operatives are honest, if they want to be neutral, one man one vote can succeed.

For example, after the voters card, I am sure, people will vote if there is adequate security. In the past, there had been accusations against the security men that politicians give them money and they will look the other way while they stock the ballot boxes. That is bad enough, I hope the security personnel will be honest enough this time to ensure there is one man one vote.

What is your view on money politics in the country?

It will take time before money politics can be taken away from the system. Politics of today is not as bad as what we had in the past. We have improvement but it is very slow.

What is your position on the amended Electoral Act?

When we talk about amendments by the National Assembly, it is very sad that the lawmakers amended what favoured them. I remember a particular moment, the late Chief Enahoro had said that there must be a Constituent Assembly that can amend the constitution not what these people are doing. What they did was to ensure that they continue to be in office. For example, there are areas where amendment should take place, they threw those ones aside.

Look at the Freedom of Information Bill, what has happened to it? You will see that each time they want to amend, they call people to Abuja, instead of the representatives going to their constituencies to mobilize people, educate them, it is just a jamboree as far as I am concerned. It is an area where they have failed woefully. They just amended what  interests them and what they did was rubbish. And if the constitution is to be amended in my opinion, they are not the people to amend it. They will say they are our representatives but the people are not satisfied with what they are doing.

The people want a constituent Assembly to look at the constitution. The courts are still nullifying election of somebody who had spent three years in office. What happen to the salaries he  collected all the while? These are the areas we expected the National Assembly to do something, not what they are doing now.

The Judiciary also has to be blamed in this regard, especially in area of delays in hearing of these electoral cases?

The courts has its own problem. It is the duty of the National Assembly to amend the law to reflect that if someone loose at the tribunal, you should refund all the money you had collected.  Also, look at the fighting that occurred at the state House of Assembly last time, where they used all sorts of weapons. These are the areas that our lawmakers should examine. That is why some of us cannot join politics because they will expel us.

What is your assessment of the judiciary, particularly with regards to electoral cases?

Some of them are good, some are not so good. But I think the judiciary has made some progress. If you compare what happened  in the last dispensation, it was so bad. The judiciary has its own problems but they are trying.

There are allegations of bribery against judges to influence judgments. What is your reaction to this?

Like all human institutions, there are  bad eggs everywhere. So it is possible there are some bad judges, but there are good ones too. Efforts are being made to sensitized  all these and it will influence the bad ones to change for good.

Are you surprised that you are retiring without becoming a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN?

You must apply for SAN before you are given but I have never applied and I have my reasons for not applying. There was a time, when that status was very good but people have been complaining about it. As a lawyer, once the privileges committee has decided that this man will be a SAN, as a lawyer, you must agree with them, you cannot criticize the privilege committee, it is not right.

Although, people have been criticizing them in the papers but it is not proper by the ethics of the profession. I want to say with respect that some SANs are very eminent, but some are using their own for political reasons but the good ones will never do that. I did not apply and I have no regrets for not applying.


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