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the reps got it right – almost

By Bisi Lawrence
I applaud the efforts of the House of Representatives whose ad hoc committee’s recommendation on the review of the 1999 Constitution has found their approval on the floor of the house. It was a fair appraisal of the yearnings of the people for a better future for the country. However, I find one aspect of the recommendation most appalling.

It would appear, all in all, that those who oppose the immunity granted by the 1999 Constitution to the President and the State Governors while in office are sadly out of touch with reality. At the moment, these high officials who function at the highest pinnacles of our national and state administrations are not fenced off from prosecution in civil matters, but are protected from criminal prosecution.

House of Representatives during plenary
House of Representatives during plenary

Hence they still have to face any action instituted against them pertaining to the conduct of their election into office, as we have seen at both the presidential and state levels. Going by the persistence with which those election cases had been pursued in every instance, one should rightly tremble at what could happen in a criminal case.

The first concern would, of course, be the frequency of such manner of litigation. It can be safely surmised that it would not be far from every other week-end.

That is what would provide the distraction and worry that a person who lost the contest for any of these positions would wish on the man who defeated him. It would be in keeping with the “PHD (pull-him-down) syndrome” to which Nigerians are particularly susceptible. It may also reduce both the prosecuted party and the high office in the esteem of the people. And the anxiety generated by the action would definitely interfere with the concentration needed for the efficient discharge of important duties affecting the well-being of millions of the citizens.

The present system has proved adequate; allowing the long arm of Nemesis to come alive after the official had served his term of office. For instance, guilty or not, how well could Gbenga Daniel, the erstwhile Governor of Ogun State, have been able to remain focused at his table if the law had not waited for him until he stepped out of office?

The recommendations of its adhoc Committee on the Review of the Nigerian Constitution has, however, presented a healthy proposal in general terms about where the fortunes of the country should tend toward. The guiding principle seems aligned to freedom – freedom of the people to live a grander life. It favours the present system of two four­yearly terms for the President and the Governors, against the one-term of six or seven years’ duration as suggested by various sections of the public.

A recommendation that has caused excitement throughout the polity is the recognition of the local government as a full, autonomous third tier of government. This removes the existing subordinate position of the local councils and grants them an independent channel of funds straight from the Federation Account.

The councils would also run a four-year term, just like the other arms of government all over the country, and each would be responsible for its own legislation. That appears admirable, but there are still some grey areas that would need to be cleared up to make the proposal work smoothly.

There are also the possibilities of resistance to compliance by the governors whose disposition had fallen short of the benign to the local governments in former times. But the local government is accepted as the nearest to the people and should therefore be able to deliver immediate impact on the well-being of the people.

It is also a welcome proposition that the caretaker provision in which the State government practically ran a local government by proxy would be abrogated. The system has been abused in many ways ranging from nepotism to a downright negation of  transparency.

But the idea of shifting the organization of local government elections to the national election management body, !NEC, from the state commission does not appear necessary as no reason was adduced for the change. In fact, it does appear cumbersome and could be untidy, and lead to a situation that would be of far-reaching unprofitable results at that level.

The chapter on the creation of more states is, of course, not yet closed, though the recommendation of the House of Representatives committee would so suggest. It is my personal view, which is arguable, that the clamour for the creation of more states is on all fours, with regard to sheer commonsense, with the establishment of more universities when the existing ones are in dire need of sustenance. So many of the states cannot sustain themselves right now, and we are crying out for more? The committee is quite right to give such notions a short shrift.

What thrills my heart most of all is the suggestion for the return of the “independent candidate”. This would permit a citizen who is qualified to vote the right to be voted for without necessarily contesting an election as a member, or under the auspices, of any political party.

That is sweet indeed. It worked so well during the First Republic. A memorable case was that of Nwakpa of Port Harcourt history who had a row with is party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon, NCNC, and stood as an independent candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives. He won, defeating the party’s candidate woefully. He then went on to be re-admitted to the party and even became a Federal Minister. Those were the days when a balance of respect was established: the member was expected to respect the party, but the party too was made to respect the politician. It was allowed in the Constitution.

The House of Reps has done a superb job.

We felt that the rough passage with which Governor Ameachi of the Rivers State was subjected was undeserved, and we said so on this page. The reaction by a former colleague in the Vanguard, Mr. Willy Bozimo followed. He disagreed, as he has a right to, with my views, but he did so with respect and due regard to the point at issue.

The reaction has been a mixed bag of vituperations both for and against his well-considered opinion. We should be able to disagree with one another’s views in a healthy manner, I think, since everyone, after all, is entitled to his own opinion. Here is a sample of what Willy Bee has ordered for himself:

Echoes: (Lai Ashadele – 08023632992) Willy’s reaction to “What A Shame!” proved an interesting aspect of humanity, that children from the same womb differ on issues in line with natural law. Willy must be commended especially for telling Amaechi, in clear terms, what he might reap from his political errors.

(E,Eghagha – 08131692917) We can tolerate ‘gubernatorial delinquency or rascality’, but not presidential or a party’s. Willy Bee missed the point. He rightly said he must earn a living.

(Ehidiane Igando – 08052201960) It is not enough to castigate Governor Amaechi like Bozimo has done because he’s fighting a South-south president. We castigated past Northern Presidents for squandering our commonwealth but our South-south brother we thought would make difference is towing the same line, if not worse.

What we need is a Nigerian President that will make life more meaningful for us all irrespective of the region he comes from. Jonathan so far has not justified his quest. This democracy based on religion or ethnicity is pushing Nigeria many years backward

(O.Olori -08023794203)  I shake my head in pity – pity for the future of our dear country that a man of his (Bozimo’s) standing is advocating politics of tribalism against merit, which is one of the root causes of our stunted development. Democracy is about the  people. Until the people are allowed to choose their leaders, what we have cannot be said to be democracy.

(AMA – 08033925533) Help me ask (tribal) Bizimo: is democracy no longer about legitimate democratic aspirations? So without Jonathan, there will be no Niger Delta?  ((08033266859) If Amaechi df!cided with his eyes wide open, and close his eyes and offer his head to break ‘coco-nut, South-south and other Nigerians will use coco-nut water  as special wine and share coco-nut as cola during GEl swearing-in ceremony for second term.

The dog that wants to get lost does not hear the master’s whistle. (08037083767)Democracy is the right of citizens to freely offer themselves for political positions without let or hindrance. We should aim to build a free society. The President should not be afraid of those who want to contest against him. His performance will decide his fate.

In summary, this country is then still a democracy – of a kind – and that is why we can publish all this stuff today without any fear of a sudden knock on the door at midnight – or one of those ‘invitations’ to the SSS. The point at issue, for me is, as someone has said above, whether a citizen may freely offer himself or herself “for political positions without let or hindrance”.

And since we are in a democracy, I believe that nothing should interfere with that right, no matter whose toe is stepped on. I also believe that Amaechi would know how to guard his head with all his might from being mistaken, or misused, for a coco-nut. It has indeed happened before in this our democracy —of a kind.

Time out.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.