January 13, 2015

February polls: Call for postponement unconstitutional — Agbakoba



Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and a delegate to the just concluded National Conference, in this interaction, explains why postponing next month’s general elections for a transitional government is not tenable. He bares his mind on other burning national issues. Excerpts:

* Olisa Agbakoba

* Olisa Agbakoba

By Dapo Akinrefon

What is your take on calls for the postponement of the election and the proposal for a transitional government?

The call for postponement is clearly unconstitutional because the constitution provides for a term of four years. If this proposal is to be accepted, it will require an amendment to the constitution. And if the constitution is amended and Nigerians agree, then we do it. But to the extent that it is not even an issue, only Tunde Bakare had mentioned it, we haven’t heard the politicians speak on it. That is part of what I am saying, they haven’t said anything because they are consumed with power.

From what I can see, the politicians are not interested in what type of Nigeria we will find in 2015. The question you asked me, politicians are not asking themselves those questions. The reason that call has come up is because both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) are travelling on one track from opposite ends and when they meet at the centre, there will be a collision, a blow out.

To avert that collision, some Nigerians are calling for a postponement, which I don’t support except it has relevant constitutional backing.


President Goodluck Jonathan recently urged Nigerians to vote PDP lawmakers who in-turn will pass the recommendations of the National Conference into the constitution. Are you satisfied as a member of the national conference?

That is a good idea but don’t forget that the president is not the first to call a Confab. In the last 60 years, the political process has not thrown up statesmen; I am not interested in you just focusing on these two political contenders. If we have had statesmen, for instance, I can give you two examples; whether they are military or civilian it doesn’t matter to me. If General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida had been a statesman, he had a very good opportunity to craft a good Nigeria by creating and bequeathing a proper legal framework for a good constitution.

Secondly, if General Olusegun Obasanjo, who is talking rubbish now, was a good statesman, he would not have converted the national conference he called into a third term agenda. The challenge has been the lack of statesmen.

So the question being posed to the political contenders is, do we see elements in either the PDP or APC that when Nigerians reflect on the failures of the country, we can then say this man or that man stands out? I think that is the broader question. I don’t want to get into the issue of who is the better person.


His take on the way Nigerians are approaching the election?

The way we are going to this election, we are going to fail. We have been doing it the same way and failing. The problem with this particular election is that it seems to be the most volatile. That is the problem and the competition for political powers has been very personalized and the impact it would have is what I think Bakare spoke about. So, we need to be very careful about not sliding into the abyss.


Do you think INEC is ready for the February polls?

I don’t think so. INEC is not in that readiness mode to conduct the election because 75 per cent of the voters does not have the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC). So, if INEC is insisting that you have to present your voters card before voting and 75 per cent of those to vote in four weeks time don’t have it, then it calls for concern.

On today’s information, INEC lacks the fundamental to conduct elections, let alone free and fair on the grounds that the logistical framework to conduct it is not there. The politicians don’t think that our votes count because if they thought so, I am unable to understand why two major political parties will launch their campaigns four weeks to the election when typically the campaign should be launched two years ago. The politicians are not interested in your votes, they are interested in power. Sometimes people talk about the followers, but the followers are very hungry Nigerians and they are not in a position to make informed decisions. So, I don’t blame them when they take a loaf of bread with N20 inside it. There are 40 million unemployed youths and poverty levels are at about 90 per cent. The wealth income distribution is so bad that only about 500 Nigerians own 90 per cent of the wealth. With that type of challenge and bondage, it only takes a statesman to make a change.


Some people have argued that the fault lines are as a result of our defective constitution. Whose responsibility is it to sort out these fault lines?

It is a mixed bag of issues that I found myself in. Who does what, who is that statesman in the traffic, who will step out and direct the traffic when everybody is fighting? The best example of how society is ordered is what Durkhem, the founder of social organization said, people who are called upon to exercise political power have a special duty to carry out and when they fail to do their work people begin to resent them and it leads to social revolution.

The first way out of our predicament is the peoples’ revolution where we absolutely overthrow the system but that has it challenge. The second way out is civil society doing it on behalf of the people. Civil society does not mean human rights group as people keep thinking, they mean those critical elements of the society that represents the people and there are two most important ones; the church and the traditional rulers. Not one traditional ruler has said anything meaningful about the way the country is going. Most religious leaders speak to their personal interest.

Can you imagine if we are able to have a Christian-Muslim handshake of our leaders? Politicians will shake and be terrified. If the Christians and Muslims will come together and say politicians if you don’t answer these questions in the following way, we will tell our people not to vote for you, it will work.

The relevant components of the civil societies are incapacitated. I have not heard Labour speak in a long time because you have to look at the people who lead the masses. That is the challenge, it is the challenge of a long traffic jam and people have been sitting there for four hours and no one is prepared to give a space. So, there is no leader prepared to say I am going to shrink my powers in order to establish a strong democratic institution.

Can we ask the political parties whether they are prepared to pledge that if their man wins, he will be a statesman and if he fails to do so, in the next four years, the party will get another opportunity? Those are the options, which will work, I don’t know.

Having being in this political stuff for a while, I doubt if the civil society is strong enough because the compromise of civil society is very deep and you see that they are all dismantled. Let us find somebody who will go in there and represent us but we can only do that by asking the questions now from these two parties.


Is there silver lining in the political developments of the country?

The only great development is the fact that we now have a strong multi-coloured party structure in the shape of APC, that is the only thing new that one is happy to report.

It does seem as if what we are seeing is a personal clash from the politicians rather than an issue clash. The only consideration that politicians have in this election is political power and that is not going to help Nigeria. The issues are very critical; Nigeria is in low-grade civil war. There are eight conditions you review in describing how a state can be described as failed. Nigeria is exhibiting three, yet, our politicians have failed to address the fundamentals. The big issue is the one that late Bola Ige raised, if we don’t address our political arrangement on how we live together, we won’t have a national order.

Nigeria at this present stage is in disorder, there is no way 2015 will be successful for Nigerians, it may be successful for the politicians, either the APC or PDP, but not Nigerians because there will be no national order which is the vital ingredient and element necessary to promote peace and stability. With peace and stability, you can have development.

I was watching a film, Half of a Yellow Sun, and in the part were Biafra refugees were fleeing, the last thing on their mind is for a politician to come and talk to them about power, roads, job. Or if you go to Somalia and there is a war going on, you don’t want to talk about job creation. So, if Nigeria is unable to reverse the impending doom that Professor Bolaji Akinyemi mentioned, then the issues our politicians think are issues are no issues.

How the politicians can pocket the loot is what is causing all the problems.

They are interested in how much can be made, that is why they are jumping from party to party. Those are not the real issues. If we don’t ask ourselves how we want to live together, we are going nowhere.

If Nigeria is unable to understand its own fault lines, the ethnic, linguistic and religious fault lines and create the political arrangement to accommodate them, 2015 will go to either PDP or APC and we will carry the baggage forward to 2019.

The only way we can develop because we have the resources, Nigeria is a very wealthy country but the problem is that we don’t have the peace and stability to develop its resources. So, it is crucial that the politicians be made to understand that key discussions that we will like to hear is that if they come to power, how do they intend to address the issue that has eluded the colonial powers who did not give us a good constitution, the military powers which did not give us a good constitution and civil powers that have not given us a good constitution?

We will like to hear what the presidential candidates think. Should Nigeria be a loose federal system, should we collapse the states and how can we become a viable political entity? T

Right now, transformation is not our problem, restoration is our problem. Restoring Nigeria in order to transform is the problem. What happened in Japan in the 1600 is happening here in Nigeria.

They had political shotguns, warlords that took over the country and they used their troops to pervert the national treasuries, until a leader who understood statecraft came and led Japan to where it is today.

So, do we have a statesman? We will like to hear what the parties have to say. Do they have statesmen in their presidential candidates? If so, are we are hearing the message? The two political parties must tell us why we have to vote for them.


What type of political arrangement will you recommend for a heterogeneous nation as Nigeria?

Confederalism is best suited for Nigeria. Only two have gotten it right in our history, Obafemi Awolowo and Ojukwu, the system conflated and collapsed in 1966. It had been managed from 1960 but by 1966 the contradictions of Nigeria made it to collapse and it led to a civil war.

Before the civil war, the political leaders at the time went to Aburi in Ghana at a time to sit down and discuss how to move forward and the agreement was a confederation.

On return, Gowon, who is now leading a national prayer, failed to implement the agreement of a confederal system because the super permanent secretaries of the time, who were interested in political power, told him that a pyramid federation was the best, which is power at the centre. That has been the problem and that is what Ojukwu and Awolowo said.

But if you have six sub-pyramids in the six geo-political zones, we won’t have these problems. The contest will not be as fired up as this. Let me give you an example of how you can create and resolve a national order. In the United Kingdom, there are four entities; Welsh, Irish, English and the Scots.

The Irish were mistreated and they lost the Southern half of Ireland and it became the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland was run from their Abuja, and it led to the rise of IRA and there was no peace, until a statesman came in the shape of Tony Blair. When he came, he created the Good Friday agreement that devolved power to Northern Ireland, then peace.

When Scotland tried to go out of United Kingdom, because they felt that it could be a country of its own, what other parts of UK did was to promise Scotland political devolution, more powers.

So, a statesman uses the opportunity of power to bind a country. Our leaders, whether Azikwe, Gowon, IBB or OBJ, have failed to rise to the level where they use statecraft to create a Nigeria. So, we are at position where the danger of Nigeria facing catastrophe stares us in the face.


Don’t you think the happenings in the country may be giving credence to the prediction that Nigeria will break in 2015?

I don’t think Nigeria will break in 2015. I saw the US Ambassador on TV denying such prediction. Nigeria is too strong a country to break up. That is out of the question. The challenge, however, is that Nigeria would not be able to harness its full potential in seemingly little things like a national carrier before we even move to the big things.

For example, if you want to be a big country, you have to show yourself to the world whether in sports or other endeavours. The one that always strikes me because I travel around the World is that I see Air Gambia, Air Mauritius, Air Zambia but I have never seen Air Nigeria. I say what a shame? What they have done in the Middle East is to create enabling environment that attracts you there. So, they have their Emirates, Etihad that is how a country is great because they are showing their flags.

One of the most ridiculous ones I have seen is that if 10 containers come to the Central Africa which contained about 18 countries, eight belong to Nigeria. Out of that eight, five go to other ports because they find your ports inefficient. How can you say you are great country? The reason for that sometimes is simply the fact that the Federal Government being too big, owns all the ports, whereas Lagos State should own the port.

So, unless a statesman is prepared to say I want to reconfigure Nigeria by a redistribution of political power. You can see as Apapa is. Apapa produces almost the equal of our oil wealth but because it is not tapped and nobody cares, it has stayed like this.


Federal Government is too far and the Lagos State government is completely incapacitated to do anything. Resources from shipping by the way is twice the national budget, its about 7 trillion, the national budget is about 4 trillion but because it is nobody’s business, it goes and then you have foreign ship owners, foreign terminal operators operating. So, when you talk about unemployment, it is related to the political configuration of Nigeria. Unless, we found statesmen and statecraft to deal with this Abuja problem, take the power from Abuja and spread it down, Nigeria is not going anywhere.