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Atiku questions his democratic credentials

By  Emma UJAH & Oscarline Onwuemenyi, Abuja
As  Nigerians called for credible polls ahead of the 2011 general elections, former Vice President  Atiku Abubakar yesterday  questioned the democratic credentials of  former military President Ibrahim  Babangida, who he accused of banning him from contesting during his regime.

Atiku was apparently reacting to Babangida’s speech at  a book launch in honour of retired Justice Adesola Oguntade,  where the former head of state justified his eight year- rule. The book titled, “The Force of Justice,” containing 62 chapters and 888 pages was edited by Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN and  reviewed by Prof Maxwell Gidado.

Babangida had said that if given the opportunity to rule again, his priority would be to reduce the cost of governance and promote peace and harmony in the country.

In eulogizing Oguntade as a man of impeccable character and courage, IBB mentioned how Atiku benefitted from the wise and erudite judgments delivered by the judge at the apex court.

The former Vice president also waved off critics of his return to the PDP aside, saying, “it was my party. So, what is strange about it? I went back to my party.”

He questioned the democratic credential of Babangida, who has signified his intention to vie as President next year, recounting how he (Atiku) was denied from contesting the highest office in 1992.

Atiku was a presidential candidate under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992, but was disqualified and eventually banned by the Babangida administration.

“When IBB was speaking about the cases I initiated to exercise my legal right, I wish those opportunities were available to me during his transition to democratic rule when I was disqualified not once, not twice and eventually banned, “ he added.

Babangida in his speech earlier, had joined others including presiding Bishop of Living Faith Church, Dr David Oyedepo, Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Uwais, President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) to eulogise judicial exploits and virtues of Oguntade while serving the country.

Babangida called for a slim governance in Nigeria, adding,  “There are many people in governance who need not be in governance; may be they are only in the governance corridors, yet being fully catered for with too much public resources.

“What I am saying is that there is nothing inherently wrong with the presidential system. If I were, again, in position to act, what to do is to trim down the unnecessary baggage of undue human and personnel attachments to the major actors and functionaries (elected and appointed) of the presidential system.

“I am saying that this country, everything put together, deserves a slim governance in personnel and recurrent expenditures. I do not wish to engage in criticism but certainly our recent experience since the return to elected, constitutional, democratic and civilian governance in 1999, clearly indicates that we have seen too many of what the pre-eminent Professor of constitutional law, Prof Ben Nwabueze has referred to as ’subversion of the rule of law and democracy’.

Bishop Oyedepo extolled the virtues of the retired justice, noting that the “judiciary has a great role to play in moving the nation forward,” and that “the future of this nation largely depends on the quality of our judiciary.”

Oguntade,  while decrying the over bloated nature of the current federal structure, added that the country cannot make progress under such arrangement as the old Western region, which could be governed by about ten ministers as they were then called but now has about nine states. That, according to him, has led to huge waste of the country’s resources considering the number of commissioners and special advisers the nine states now parade.

Representatives of Lagos State governor and immediate past governor, Bola Tinubu,  former NBA chairman, Wole Olanipekun SAN and Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Marvel Akpoyibo, Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu of Lagos, Ewi of Ado, Oba Rufus Adejugbe Aladesanmi III, were among those in attendance. Others included former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, prominent members of the bar and the bench, politicians and captain of industries.governance.

“The problem, I repeat is not the presidential system but the overload of the system by functionaries who are not to, or not necessarily required for governance. I am aware of the argument that such overblown attachments in governance may be regarded as some form of welfare employment.

“On the contrary, the proper condition for generating employment needed in contemporary Nigeria is a productive economy and a better environment for freedom and liberty; private enterprise and the flow of global resources to develop our society and the economy.

“There are many other critical challenges on governance confronting this country. These challenges were not manufactured today or even yesterday. Yet leadership have the primary duty and responsibility to them.

“Our role as Nigerian citizens particularly of leadership category is to work tirelessly to trim down the sharp edges of divisiveness and retrogression, and to increase by expanding and deepening the economic, political and cultural spaces so as to foster the ingredients of growth, development, progress, unity and good governance.

“It is true that we are making progress, but we can make better progress with the continuous development of our intellectual capacity.

“I do hope this coming elections we will succeed to make our vote count. Until we make our vote count, we really do not practice democracy,“ Oyedepo added.

Adeshina in his remarks, lauded the landmark judgments of Oguntade when he held forte at the Supreme Court.

“Without any hesitation, I am confident to say that the book “The Force of Justice” an  authoritative review of the selected judgements rendered by his Lordship, is an invaluable contribution to Nigeria’s legal development.”

“The principal objective of this book is not only to advertise the person of Hon Justice Oguntade but also to advertise the virtues and qualities of a judex, in terms of insight, knowledge, wisdom, in-depth understanding, analytical mind, brilliance, hardwork, boldness and courage to stand even when he has to stand alone,” he added.

Honourable Justice George Adesola Oguntade

While thanking the people for appreciating what he has done in pursuit of good governance in Nigeria, Justice Oguntade said:  “you are also a democrat otherwise you would not have known the import of what I have done. So, what ever I’ve done, we did it together.

“It is not an occasion for me to join issues with the former President (Babangida) on his analysis of federalism as contrasted with presidentialism. However, first and foremost, I believe in this country, our first priority is to labour on primarily to enthrone the rule of law.”

He recalled that when he served in the High Court of Western Nigeria and later at Ikeja, if a driver drove on the wrong side of the road, he was promptly arrested and charged to court just as the same was the case of a policeman that took bribe.

He therefore insisted that “the result was that message was being constantly sent around that anybody who broke the law would be disciplined. We now know what is happening nowadays; you can do anything and get away with it. And when you have such a state, necessarily no country can make progress (that way).

“As you came to this place to honour me I thank you.

But you must go home with a message that all of you, without exception, including presidents and former president, have a duty to labour untiringly to see that the rule of law is enthroned in our society. Without it no progress can be made.

I would want to say that federalism has not been a blessing the way it has been practised”, Oguntade said.
file wahab April 16, 2010


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