Electoral Act

…Interim govt call, a sign of a failed state—Afenifere

…Nigerians must not listen to Afe Babalola — Okwesilieze Nwodo

…It’s a call for anarchy — Uzodimma

…Not tenable in democracy —MBF

…Babalola’s position, a distraction —PANDEF

…Babalola entitled to his opinion — CAN

By Clifford Ndujihe, Dapo Akinrefon, Peter Duru, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Davies Iheamnacho, Ikechukwu Odu & Luminous Jannamike, LAGOS

A host of eminent Nigerians and groups, yesterday, kicked against the call for postponement of the 2023 polls and setting up of an Interim Government after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure by Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, saying the move would do more harm than good to the country.

Aare Babalola, the Founder and Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, ABUAD, said on Tuesday that conducting the 2023 polls with the 1999 constitution would push Nigeria deeper into the abyss.

He suggested that the preoccupation of the interim government for six months would be to produce a new constitution that would tackle insecurity, economic, political and other excruciating ills bedevilling the nation, and, thereafter, conduct the elections based on the new constitution.

Babalola said that members of the interim government should be drawn from all living former presidents and vice presidents; some selected ministers and governors and delegates of prominent professional associations.

“The same constitution has made politics become not only very attractive but also the only lucrative business in Nigeria today. What this means is that any election that holds under the present scenario will end up producing transactional and recycled leaders, with no ability to turn things around,” he had said.

But reacting to Aare Babalola’s call, yesterday, Afenifere, other groups and prominent persons agreed that the state of the nation was critical but disagreed with interim government and election postponement call.

Interim govt call, a sign of a failed state —Afenifere

The Pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, said that the call for an interim national government and the worsening state of the country are signs of a failed state.

It also said that the call for President Muhammadu Buhari’s resignation by some notable Nigerians “is coming rather late in the day.”

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Jare Ajayi, Afenifere said that the submissions by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, summed up the precarious situation bedevilling Nigeria.

He said: “By this, we mean the unprecedented low level to which the country has sunk including the depth of mistrust among sub-groups in the country. Compounding these were the cheapening of human life, displacement of innocent people from their ancestral homes and the elevation of corruption almost into the statecraft. 

“It was not surprising, therefore, that the senior citizens in the North, under the auspices of Northern Elders Forum, NEF, called for the resignation of President Buhari. The frustration by Nigerians was also behind the call for an Interim Government by Chief Babalola.”

No justification for polls postponement

While acknowledging the enormity of the problems, Afenifere faulted the call for postponement of the scheduled elections because “there is no justification whatsoever for this administration to spend one day beyond the stipulated period, which is May 29, 2023. And the only constitutionally stipulated way of changing government is through the electoral process. Being a law-abiding organisation, Afenifere does not believe in extra-legal means of changing government.”

On the call by the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, that Buhari should resign, it said: “While it might appear that the call is coming rather late in the day, the frustration that gave birth to it is quite understandable. Were the government being properly run, such a call would not have come. That it came from a group known to hardly see anything wrong with an administration headed by a Northerner is an important reason for President Buhari to realise that his government has really failed Nigerians. 

“The situation, under President Buhari, became so damning that Robert Kennedy University in Scotland used him as an example of a negatively-performing head of a government. It was a national embarrassment. It was something that right-thinking Nigerians were ashamed of. But we could not effectively challenge the university — and many others who share the same view because its inference reflected the reality of our situation in Nigeria presently.

“There is no doubt that the situation in Nigeria has overwhelmed the present officials in government. It would therefore not be out of place for President Buhari to get innovative patriots from all strata of the society to constitute a governing college or council. The major task of such a body should be the immediate Restructuring of the country into a True Federalism.

“Bishop Kukah’s submission should serve as a wake-up call for the government so that the ills of the society can be addressed quickly – in an honest and enduring manner.

Interim government not tenable in a democracy—MBF

Also, the National President of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, Dr Bitrus Pogu, MBF, faulted Chief Babalola’s call, which he described as an impossible political statement.

Dr Pogu said: “I do not think that is a possibility. There are sometimes calls that are just political in nature and not tenable in a democracy. The problems we are facing are not insurmountable. As far as I am concerned the government has the capacity but it is just that the government is not willing to deploy its capacity to end the challenges.

“So this government should rather sit up and address the problems so that we can have a peaceful period before elections. That is the answer rather than saying that there should be an interim government.

“And of course, you might also consider the issue of the constitution. The 1999 Constitution is flawed, it has so many challenges and unfortunately, the military foisted it on us and we are grappling with it. And the way it can be amended is through the same process that produced the National Assembly, which is still flawed.

“So whether this government has the guts or not, we would have resolved that easily by adopting, with modifications, the 2014 Conference Report. That would create a stable and acceptable system for Nigeria including a constitution that will be acceptable to Nigerians.

“So rather than calling for the interim government, yes it is a political statement, but Chief Afe Babalola knows it is not going to work, we should look towards the 2014 Conference Report.”

Babalola’s position, a distraction —PANDEF

To the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Babalola’s call for an interim government is unfortunate.

National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Hon Ken Robinson, said what Nigeria needs at the moment is a smooth transition from the present administration to a better one.

He said: “When elder statesmen like this talk, we don’t outright condemn it. But the truth is that Nigeria does not need an interim government. Nigeria needs a peaceful transition from this APC government to another government, whether it will be a PDP or an APC government is another matter.

“Nigeria needs to move away from this Buhari presidency to a presidency that will be for all Nigerians; a presidency that will throw off the nepotistic tendencies and biased posture of this government and unite Nigeria.

“What Nigeria needs most now is how to address the worsening state of insecurity to diffuse the disaffection and the feeling of alienation by sections of the country, and not whether it is an interim government.

“If we have an interim government and the characters end up like that of Buhari, what have you done? You would have truncated Nigeria’s democracy for nothing.

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“That suggestion, sincerely speaking is completely out of place, it is unnecessary, a distraction. We want a transition that will produce an electoral process that will involve the electronic transmission of election results.

“We want INEC to conduct elections with results transmitted from the polling units to the INEC centre across Nigeria. Note that in some parts of Nigeria there will be the electronic transmission of results while in some other parts they will say there is no network and they would do a manual transmission. We want electronic transmission across Nigeria. People are making phone calls across Nigeria. Bandits are making phone calls even in Sambisa forest. So, INEC has no excuse.”

It’s a call to anarchy — Uzodimma 

On his part, Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State described the call for an interim government and election postponement as a call for anarchy.

Speaking to State House correspondents after a meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Uzodimma pointed out that the nation’s constitution has no room for an interregnum. 

Asked his opinion on Babalola’s suggestion, he responded: “By May 29, if there is no elected government, our constitution has not provided for an interregnum. There shouldn’t be a gap otherwise you are creating room for anarchy. 

“What will be the process of selecting the interim government because, after May 29, the President may not have constitutional powers to function as a President anymore? So, I don’t think we will decide to abandon our constitution. 

“Constitution is like a Bible. For some of us who are Christians, the Bible is the manager of our faith. So, the Constitution should be the instrument guiding our actions as a country. 

“If you have an opinion you think is superior to what is in the Nigerian constitution, such opinion should be taken to the National Assembly and they will, through due process, amend our constitution to factor in such an opinion.” 

The Governor, who disclosed that two persons had been arrested in connection with the killing of a staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in Ihitte Uboma, said that INEC was not the target of the attack as intelligence report has it that the Okigwe Correctional Center was the main target before security was beefed up at the premises of the facility.

On the agenda of his meeting with the President, Uzodimma said, “I got the approval of Mr President to commission the Owerri-Orlu road and the Owerri-Okigwe road next month. The contractor is a world-class contractor, the roads are almost 95% complete. 

“By next month they will all be completed, ready for commissioning by Mr President and Mr President has graciously approved that he will be there to commission the roads.

“I also used the opportunity to brief him on  the state of affairs in my state, particularly, it has to do with the recent resurgence of banditry and the efforts we have made to contain the situation.”

He said that the roads are federal roads, adding, “I wrote to Mr President to approve that the state constructs the road. They are economic roads and critical highways that will alleviate the suffering of our people. Those roads have been there for over 16 years unattended. 

“The Owerri-Orlu road is 44 kilometres dualised making 88 kilometres. The   Owerri-Okigwe is 59 kilometres, expanded from 7.3 metres to 12 metres. And progress has been very substantial.”

Nigerians must not listen to Babalola — Okwesilieze Nwodo

Also speaking, former National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, urged Nigerians to disregard Afe Babalola’s call for an interim government and election postponement.

Rather, Nwodo, a former Governor of Enugu State, called on the Federal Government to ensure that the 2023 elections hold, and the military did not take over government in 2023.

His words: “If the government is sincere, they can control the security situation in Nigeria before 2023 general elections but if the government is trying to use insecurity as a strategy to scuttle the elections that is a tragedy.

“Afe Babalola’s call is to enable APC to elongate their tenure outside the constitution. A country cannot live in a vacuum. What is the hope that if you give them another three years that they can solve the insecurity problem that they have not been able to solve in the last seven years? It is a disaster for the Federal Government not to control the security situation so that Nigerians can go to the polls in 2023.

“There are two things that must not be allowed to happen: the 2023 elections must not be postponed, and there must not be the military rule in Nigeria. Democracy has come to stay in Nigeria.”

It’ll be dangerous to suspend democracy arbitrarily —CUPP

In like manner, the National Secretary of the Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, High Chief Peter Ameh, said that Chief Babalola’s call has no legal basis.

His words: “There is no constitutional provision for what the legal luminary suggested. The stipulated time for election has been stated clearly in our Constitution. With that, if elections and hand-over are not done at the stipulated time there will be a vacuum. It is painful he is suggesting such a thing at this moment.

“The All Progressives Congress, APC, has performed very badly. The situation of the country is in a very bad taste. Afe Babalola should allow Nigerians to go to the polls. If Nigerians decide to continue with the suffering under APC, so be it. If under a free and fair election, they choose another party, Nigerians will have another taste of governance. That is the way to go.

“Democracy all over the world takes time to develop. We can’t suspend our democratic system like a military dictatorship. Except the National Assembly makes a law towards that direction, I don’t think that is the best way to go.”

Babalola entitled to his opinion — CAN

To the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Chief Babalola has to right to express his thoughts on any issues affecting the nation. 

Speaking through the Special Assistant to its President on Media and Publicity, Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, CAN maintain that it is within the constitutional rights of the lawyer to bare his mind on any issue of national interest.    “He (Babalola) expressed his personal opinion on the rot in the country and he has the Constitutional right to do so,” Oladeji said.

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