By Josef Omorotionmwan
IT is a wicked irony that the more things change, the more they remain the same. In some parts of the world, the campaign periods are the best times for the people in government to showcase and try to portray themselves as saints, even where they know that they represent the devil here on earth.
Campaigns should ordinarily provide opportunities to apologise for past defaults and renew promises for change, even where such promises are meant to be kept more in the breach. You should at least pretend to be the good guy.
The foregoing presupposes that elections would be free and fair and that the people’s votes would count. But where you are not depending on the people’s votes to take you to power, of course, you can brazenly do anything, including getting away with murder. In just the same way that the rain coat is of no use to the fish, the people’s votes are equally of no value to any election riggers, ballot stuffers and ballot box snatchers.
The Land of Promise, Akwa Ibom State, is promising danger. The echoes coming from that State are worrisome. And apparently, the Federal authorities that are supposed to intervene in bad situations are having fun, watching an ugly situation grow worse.
The President who should have been an unbiased umpire in the game is struggling to swim a little above water as he now appears to be the very captain of a drowning ship. Given a slight opportunity, he might now prefer to shift the goal posts at the approach of a scoring chance.
Akwa Ibom is right now busy demonstrating that in the statistics of a greedy man, “a little bit” is greater than the whole. How else can anyone explain that in a democracy, so called, an entire parliament would sit down to enact a deadly draconian law, a law worse than that for which we cursed past military regimes?
How can anyone explain that in this day and age; and in a campaign period, the Akwa Ibom State Government, in its desperation for power, is re-enacting the obnoxious ‘Decree 2’, thus throwing us back into atavism? We are sharply reminded of the dark days of the military juntas of Buhari, Babangida and Abacha.
In this day and age, we are all watching rather helplessly as the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly empowers the State Governor (a civilian Governor!) who is supposed to be operating a Federal Constitution, to order the detention of anyone for 14 days in the first instance and to renew the detention order after the 14 days, as he pleases.
This decree was promulgated on March 31, 2011. The decree came handy for a Magistrate’s Court sitting in Obot to detain the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Senator Akpan Udoedehe, for an “offence”, which he was alleged to have committed on March 21, 2011, ten days before the decree was enacted, a clear case of “unborn tomorrow, dead yesterday” .
This decree is repugnant in all respects: One, it is an ex-post facto law and it is in utter defiance of the provisions of Section 36 (8) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates: “No person shall be held to be guilty for a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed”.
Two, this law is dead on arrival. Laws are made for all times and for all people but it is clear that the Akwa Ibom decree was specifically tailored to incarcerate one man, in a desperate bit to get him out of the way to facilitate the second coming of the incumbent Governor.
Maybe the law is already working. We hope that the mega figures recorded during the recent National Assembly elections; figures that are only reminiscent of the ‘landslides’ of the NPN era, are not the direct dividends of the decree. But what does this portend for our sing-song of ‘one man, one vote’? We hope the bumper harvest of figures will not at a point become inflationary.
But one thing is certain: whereas in the South West states and other more civilized places, the system has worked transparently well, to the extent that losers have been encouraged to accept defeat and congratulate the winners, in Akwa Ibom State and other devious areas, tons of protests are still trailing their results. Are we going to ignore them? There would be no better brewery for disaster and catastrophe than that.
Three, this draconian law is unconstitutional ab initio as it runs counter to the provisions of section 35 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, which, in line with the guarantee of the citizen’s right to personal liberty, provides for a maximum of 24 hours detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of 40 kilometres; and 48 hours in other circumstances. In any case, it is the police and not the State Governor that can order the arrest and detention of a suspect.
Slowly but certainly, we are gliding towards the edge of a precipice. Just when we were expecting the establishment of the new Electoral Offences Tribunal, which the President promised, the National Assembly constructively ousted the jurisdiction of the existing Tribunals and courts in electoral cases. Today, we see the return of the Gestapo, perhaps an innovation in democratic dictatorship! What next?