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Aondoakaa has made lawyers unpopular – Prof. Oyebode

The events  that led to the emergence  of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan were  as  curious as ithey were intriguing both for the actors and for those who watched from the sidelines. In this interview with Hugo Odiogor, Deputy Political Editor, Professor Akin Oyebode,  who teaches  Jurisprudence, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, bared his mind  on the constitutionality and  legality of the issue. He also spoke  other national matters.

The National Assembly last Tuesday  passed a resolution  empowering  Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to run the country as Acting President after over  80 days of President Umaru Musa Yar Adua’s  medical vacation in Saudi Arabia without  transmitting power to the Vice President.  What is your take on  this?

I said it is a coup d’tat against the constitution of Nigeria because the constitution  does not provide for what they did. Section 145 is not ambiguous, it is very clear, a president going on vacation, ought to have transmitted in written form, an instrument to that effect, to the National Assembly, that is, the President of Senate and Speaker of House of Representatives, to enable the Vice President to take over office as Acting President.  The Senate only two weeks ago asked him to comply with section 145, he did not comply and now the Senate is swallowing its own vomit.  How pitiable can a legislature be? I mean it is like a circus.

These people are behaving like comedians; but I understand their predicament because, they have boxed themselves into a corner.  They have to come out of the quagmire or the stalemate that we have been living through in the past two and half months. What they did was borne of political expediency, in law, it cannot stand, except what they did, was a coup and a coup becomes  creative when it becomes successful.  The success of a coup depends on the generality of the people, if the people welcome it and say it is okay, then it becomes a fait  accompli and with that, it becomes an academic exercise to look at the propriety of it, because, nothing succeeds like success. We are informed that successful revolutions beget their own legality so, if the people have welcome the actions of the National Assembly, even  the Forum of Governors, which is an unknown group under the constitution, it amounts to what I am saying.  These are extra legal efforts to deal with a problem that has been bedeviling the Nigerian polity for quite awhile.  So you have to contextualize what they did in the light of recent experience.

How  would you assess the performance of Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the federation who is  a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, especially,  the way he passionately defended the idea of an off shore  president and section 145 of the constitution?
Well, let me say that there are Senior Advocates and Senior Advocates. Having said that, many of the lawyers that have gone to serve government as Attorney General end up serving their pockets, their own interest. They would say anything to remain in power and to be in reckoning.  In fact they bid good-bye to their intellect as soon as they take up that office.  We have seen all manners of Attorneys General in the last few years, otherwise intelligent people, who are well schooled, they make pronouncements that cause people like us to shake our heads. We are forced to ask, where did they go to school? I think the people who take up political office are survivours, forget them.  Aondoakaa was just trying to adopt a self serving,  self centered approach.  He wanted to keep the job, sometimes when he talks what he calls law, I believe actually, that he is talking politics, not law.  He could go and tell that to ignoramuses.  When you make untenable statement that Yar ‘Adua could rule from anywhere, may be in the moon or mars, you are advertising your opportunism.

Professor Akin Oyebode

I believe he went to school to study law, and I believe that he even impressed his colleagues in the profession so much that they gave him the highest accolades in the legal practice, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN).  He ought to think of posterity.  He ought to think of what history will say of him.  When he makes such ridiculous, untenable statements, people stand to question his integrity.  Look at  the brouhaha he had with Dora Akunyili, which was completely unnecessary.  Because Akunyili had a conversion five minutes past mid night, she had been part of the whole rabble, telling lies to the country, but she just thought, thus far, no further, and decided to steer clear of lies.

Akunyili herself was one of the people that intimidated Mrs. Ayoka in Ekiti State to shape  up or ship out and the woman was so coaxed that she had to swallow her conscience after she had said she  did not approve of doing what they wanted her to do.  So she was one of them but now want to be on the side of integrity.  Aondoakaa has made lawyers unpopular.  Things degenerated to a state where his colleagues in Nigerian Bar Association had to drag him to Court. And then the type of judgments that Justice Dan Abutu gave was something else.  I mean there are certain things you just wonder, didn’t, they know anything about law and revolution , but because of what they will eat they want to compromise their position which is unfortunate.

We have seen the limitations of a Federal System of government that has failed to live up to the wishes and aspirations of its people, it seems  to be over centralized and over burdened.  What has transpired in the past few weeks seem to justify the calls for sovereign  national conference and evolution of a constitution that would take care of situations like this.  How do you react?
The question of Sovereign National Conference was put on the table way back in 1986 by people like Late Alao Aka-Bashorun who tried to convene  the Conference which General Ibrahim Babangida stopped. We wanted to borrow from the experience of countries like Benin Republic, the Congo, to reconfigure the modalities for our co habilitation in this polity. I believe that the call for a big family meeting cannot be more urgent than now.  Because there are 406 ethnic groups in Nigeria, and the constitution that we are operating is pseudo federal constitution.  It just masquerades as federal instrument when it is actually a unitary document.

A situation where for the simplest thing you have to go to Abuja is no federation. What we are operating now is a bye product of 30 years of militarism, and you know, militarism and federalism are strange bed fellows.  The military is used to unified command, so they can’t understand, the principle of federalism. The governors are behaving like prefects in France, they just carry out the instruction of the president or the head of the junta.

The people that we call governors are not really in charge of the affairs of their states. Take for instance, the situation where, the Commissioners of Police in the states have to refer whatever instructions the governor gives them to the Inspector-General of Police  in Abuja for approval before they can now carry out the order.  So, how do you have a situation where the head of government of a state will not be in charge of law enforcement unit located in that state? Everything has to be in Abuja.

All sort of things emanate from Abuja.  Definitely the Federal Government has become suffocated by excessive duties imposed on it.  The world now is a decentralized world. Even England which is a unitary power, whether you are talking of  Wales, Northern Island, Scotland, they are now having local parliament, that is  in a unitary state, not to talk of other places where people believe that small is beautiful.

What I am saying is that we must devolve power to the federating units in the country,  although  many of them are  not viable.  We have to reconfigure the structure of the Nigerian federation to have viable units. We may adopt six or eight geo-political zones; it has to be some manageable figures which will have the wherewithal for their sustenance. This will be based on what you produce and what you have to contribute to the Federal purse, for the running of the Federal system. This is what people call fiscal federalism or resource control. Others call it decentralization.  That has to happen, otherwise the Federal system will buckle and it will then suffer as we saw in the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. Let me say that Nigeria’s unity is not etched in granite.  People must feel part and parcel of that Federal experiment.  When I hear people say that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable, I laugh. They should look at the map of the world.  It is like a kaleidoscope, you throw things, up a new picture emerges.  So we should be sensible and intelligent to factor in the fact that the only thing permanent in life is change.

So, I say that the people that make up Nigeria should meet at a big conference where they would look at two important things and answer two important questions.  First, do we want to remain together as one people? I hope that by and large they will say yes.  If yes, how?  These are the two important questions.  This has to happen at a Constituent Assembly. Some people are afraid of the word Sovereign National Conference. They say that there cannot be two sovereigns in one state. The idea of saying  it should be sovereign conference is to make sure that the decisions of the conference are not tampered  with or otherwise modified or altered by the powers that be.  Just like Obasanjo inserted about 13 different provisions into the 1979 constitution.

Just the like 1999 constitution by Abdulsalam, which did not reflect the will of Nigerians, despite what the preamble says.  That is why the Patriots said t that he constitution tells a lie against itself.  We are yet to have a genuine constitution.  Nigeria needs a constitution that  takes it motive lever, its main spring, from the various people that comprise the country. That is the problem.  The Federal Constitution is an orphan, there is no constituency  routing for it. Abdulsalam just got a few people to write something and called it constitution.  The venality of the political class was demonstrated in the fact that they did not have an inkling of the operating document that they were going to operate,  until after the election of 1999.

Because of the venality of the political class, they were just too anxious to kick away the soldiers, to keep them away in the barracks.  This is fair enough, but as soon as they came to power in 1999,  the first  item on the agenda should have been  how to constitute a Constituent Assembly. The National Assembly is not a Constituent Assembly.  This rigmarole they call writing a constitution for Nigeria is wrong, they are not elected to write a constitution for Nigeria, it is an exercise in futility.

But they believe that we can amend the constitution and go a head with it?
Well, amendment is different.  Reformulating the constitution, to address the grievances you have identified among the various groups in this country, is a task for a  Constituent Assembly, not the legislature.  Legislatures all over the world have primary duty of making laws for the peace, order and good government of their societies.  The constitution  is a more fundamental instrument in governance. It is higher than any of the statues they are passing.  So, you need a Constituent Assembly, specifically convened to perform  that  duty,  and having elaborated a draft to be submitted to referendum by all of us and if the draft is accepted by 51% of the people, then it becomes legitimate and then we can appropriate it as our own.

This is  why I say there is a lot of alienation with the Abdulsalam constitution because, it does not carry the people along. The soldiers as I said earlier have a mentality of a centralizedd command.  All they did was to create a situation where the Federal father knows best and the rest of us wait for hand-outs from Abuja.  The nation  has been disemboweled, unlike when you  empower the people who live in different areas, the economy is in their hands, whether it is mineral resources or agricultural produce, and  then you put in place a functioning fiscal federalism, so that all the constituent units pay certain things into the national purse, to run the bureaucracy.

Why do you think that today it is a matter of life and death to be in power in Abuja? It is because federal government is sitting on enormous  resources.  People want to fight to the bitter end to grab power in order to determine the complexion and political physiognomy of the country, which for me is counter productive and dysfunctional.  Nigeria is a very important country, a society of this level, the largest concentration of black people on the surface of this planet must not be run this way.

Any small mistake we make here is a global event.  You saw how the global networks have been zeroing on Nigeria in the last couple of weeks.

An absentee, offshore president for close to three months, it can only happen in a country like this. The people have to go out to say enough is enough, we have to save Nigeria and we don’t want the adventurism waiting in the wings in the barracks, who may use that as a pretext to snatch power.  They have been around for thirty years and they have actually under-developed Nigeria, prevented Nigeria from actualizing its potentialities, under performing,  self centered, self seeking and self perpetuating.  I think Nigeria, with the endowment that nature has given  us,  deserves better that what  we are getting.  We don’t want a situation where the best and the brightest in this country will be fleeing abroad. A situation where someone will be asking  what am I still doing here.  Why don’t I emigrate and be a professor some where.  I don’t think it is good for us.


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