By Ochuko Akuopha
Mr Miakpo Emiaso is a retired President of Delta State Customary Court. In this interview, he spoke on the Amended Electoral Act, the Abuja High Court judgment that sacked Governor David Umuahi of Ebonyi State and his deputy, the Court of Appeal decision confirming an Ebonyi State High judgment on Umuahi’s defection, restructuring and other issues.
What is your take on the Abuja High Court judgment that sacked Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State and his deputy?
I have read that judgment and studied it very carefully. It is a perfect judgment, in fact, I respect Justice Inyang Ekwo for that judgment. I cannot fault the judgment and the background, the mischief which that judgment seeks to cure is very germane. There are two basic reasons why the Umahi camp lost.
When you read Justice Ekwo’s judgment, Umahi and his other defendants were represented by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria but they did not contest the substantive action in the application of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, instead, they were citing section 308 of the Constitution, that Umahi had immunity.
Even if he had immunity, should he not also join issues on the substantive matter of the suit? Instead, they ignored all of that, to that extent, you cannot fault that judgment because the law is straight forward that what is not contested is admitted and Umahi and his team did not contest that claim of the PDP that ‘the second and third defendants, that is the Governor of Ebonyi State and his deputy, won the elections because we sponsored them and so we (PDP) are the ones who won the elections, the office belongs to us. If they say they don’t want us anymore, they must cease to want the votes we won and the election results that we won, let them go to whatever party they want to go to, but leave our votes for us.’ This basically, is what the judgment is all about and I think I agree with the learned Justice of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
There are other serving governors that won elections on the platform of the PDP that also defected to All Progressives Congress, APC. What do you make of this situation?
You can see, like Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, he has learnt very fast that the judgment of Justice Ekwo in PDP versus INEC and others can’t be faulted, so, he has started dancing a different tune. I don’t know what he means. Does he really think the rest of us in this country don’t have brains on our shoulders? ‘Oh, I am not a registered member of the APC, I only just defected, but I am not a registered member.’
What is he talking about? It shows that Justice Ekwo’s reasoning in that judgment is perfect, it cannot be faulted and I am very sure the Court of Appeal will uphold that judgment and before that comes, Ayade and his co-travellers are getting wise. You, see the rascality of Nigerian politicians thinking that they can jump ship just because they are looking for where they can butter their bread better, should be stopped.
This kind of judgment from Justice Ekwo would help us develop political parties that are ideologically based, so that when you belong to a party, you know that this is the way we think in this party, so you stay in that party whether in victory or you are losing, you don’t change positions. Where are you changing position to?
When you change position, you are going to change position to another party that doesn’t share the same political ideology with you, so you will be a misfit there.
Why did Umuahi change party in the first place? He was in PDP, PDP won the election, he was in office and he is running from that party to another party that lost. They did not just lose, they lost with a very wide margin. The other party got only 81, 000 votes but PDP won with over 300, 000 votes.
But the Court of Appeal in Enugu last Friday, held that Umahi should remain in office as the Constitution did not anticipate any other way to remove a governor and his deputy other than by impeachment by the state House of Assembly?
The judgment of the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division in the other suit brought by the APC candidates is immoral. The reasoning which informed the Appeal Court’s conclusion is shallow.
If the court can admit that it may be immoral and improper for someone to jump ship to another party while occupying an office won by a different party, then the conclusion that they did nothing wrong is immoral and exceedingly mechanical.
The seat belongs to the political party which sponsored the candidate. The candidate does not have any right to alienate or trade the electoral victory of the party. The reasoning of Justice Ekwo of the Abuja Federal High Court is still to be preferred for having the capacity to cure the mischief inherent in the immoral practice of defection while occupying an office belonging to a party.
I have a strong conviction that the Supreme Court will lean in favour of the Abuja Federal High Court position.
The amended Electoral Act is in force in the country now. Do you see it as a way forward towards having credible elections in the country?
My first reaction is to say that the 9th National Assembly pleasantly surprised me in passing the Electoral Amendment Act because before now, I have held the view that the 9th National Assembly was just a rubber stamp for the APC and President Buhari. I least expected that they were going to be that courageous to pass an Electoral Act that included electronic transmission of election results; because the electronic transmission of electoral result will greatly reduce the chances of election result rigging the way we had always known it, where result figures change between the polling units and collating centres.
So, with this Electoral Act that contains this provision that the results shall now be electronically transmitted, the moment voting stops, the results are electronically recorded and transmitted. Nigerians, particularly, the political class are ingenious when it comes to doing evil things, when it comes to evading justice, when it comes to bending the rules. When they make a good rule today, the average Nigerian politician is immediately thinking of how to circumvent that law, so, that being our nature, one cannot really now say it is all uhuru, but it is a long shot in a right direction to reducing the menace of election rigging in the country.
We hope that it works because, with electronic things, when they misbehave, they misbehave landslide. So, if we are not lucky and these politicians are able to come out with counter electronic devices for hacking into INEC platforms, the effect will be so devastating. So, one hopes that, whatever electronic devices INEC will be using to transmit these results would be such that cannot be hacked into, cannot be tampered with, so that we can for once have decent elections that reflect the true results of how voting took place from the polling units.
One thing Nigerians have been agitating for in the amendment of the 1999 Constitution is the creation of State Police. How do you see it?
Anybody who is against State Police does not mean well for Nigeria, particularly the Nigeria of today. You cannot be in Abuja and police Uzere community. Small crimes that are being committed in the creeks of the Niger-Delta, you are controlling them and fighting them from Abuja, you are joking. I have always been in support of State Police; this country is too big, too wide. Fighting crime is a local activity. You cannot fight crime effectively in this country by centralizing the police as it is now.
Policing this country must be decentralized, I do not only support State Police, I advocate local government security outfits. You may not call those ones police, but local governments must have powers to police their geographical jurisdiction, because the local government officers know the local government better than the governor who is in the state capital. Fighting crime is a local thing.
The fears that if you allow state police, the governors will abuse and use the state police to victimize their political opponents, is the Federal Government not currently doing that? Now that it is centralized, is the Federal Government not using the EFCC, the DSS to victimize political opponents? So, that argument does not hold water at all, if that happens, that somebody who is in office is using state police and state resources to fight his political opponents, the day will come when civil society will question that kind of conduct. In fact, there are so many things the civil society shall question our politicians for. They are using public funds to run their personal lives.
I read an interview of Michelle Obama the other day where she said while they were in the White House, they fed themselves, they paid for their feeding. Yes, they were living in the White House for free, they were not paying rent, but running their family, they paid for everything that they used, but it is not so in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, you hold public office especially when you are a governor, everything is paid for you; that should stop, in fact, it is criminal. There are times I question when a governor or the president goes to a function and says I donate so much million. From which budget are you donating that? Did the National Assembly appropriate that money? They just spend government money as though it is their personal money.
The civil society must rise up to question such spending. The Constitution says the government shall not spend money unless it is appropriated by the National Assembly.
Are you favourably disposed to Nigeria having local government autonomy?
If local governments are not to have autonomy, then scrap local governments completely, because that is the foundation of democracy itself. We do not really have a democracy in this country now, what we have is civilian government. A situation where in every state in this country, the party that is in majority in the House of Assembly is almost 100 per cent majority, is not an indication that we have democratic system.
It is impossible for you to always have House of Assembly members that are 100 per cent single party and where there is a slight difference, may be one or two seats for another party is like no seat at all because he has no clout in the House. So, we must start at the local government level.
If you go to all the local governments in the country today, the persons who are said to have won elections to whatever seat were actually handpicked by the governors, so that you find out that everybody in the local government is from one political party.
When two thieves have gone to rob a bank, you can’t expect any of them to complain because it is kill-and-divide; that is what is happening right now, not only in the local governments, but all over the states of the federation. They are all thieves from the same family, stealing together, sharing the booty together and nobody questions anybody. With that kind of setting, you can never really get a government that is accountable to the people.
Stakeholders, particularly those from the South, have been agitating for restructuring of the country. What do you have to say about this?
Nigeria today has reached the end of the road, giving the structure by which it is governed. Unless this country is politically and economically restructured, it will never make any progress beyond where it is now. Those who are against restructuring are against it because they personally benefit from the present down-side-up federal system that we are operating.
It is only those who are benefitting from this kind of evil system that are against restructuring. They are not being intelligent by opposing it. If we restructure and run a true federal system, that means that every federating unit will want to outdo the other federating units surrounding it and it will then work harder, be more up and doing in order to achieve its objective of being a better federating unit than the other federating units. At the end of the day, it pays everybody.
There are so many resources in this country that are lying fallow, that nobody is looking in their direction. When you say there is unemployment in this country, which is true of course, why should there be unemployment? There is much job opportunities in this country, so much resources that can be converted to jobs that nobody is bothered about because every state governor is sitting in an air- conditioned office in the state capital waiting until when money will be shared in Abuja, then sign papers and money is electronically transferred to the state which they just divide, that is not governance. Any idiot can govern this country because all they are doing is to collect money and spend money. No state except Lagos State which all he does is to collect tax, but there is really no planting. No government is running a true economy that you plant; tend, then when it matures, you harvest.
Restructuring the country politically and economically is mandatory, a must, we have gotten to our wit’s end as we speak. Unless we restructure this country and run a truly federal system, both politically and physically, we are going nowhere.
The present system has created lazy politicians who are struggling to occupy office for their personal gains not because they want to serve the people, not because they want to protect the country, not because they want to make the country better. They just want to go there to feed fat, they don’t think, they just feed from the system. They don’t give to the system anything.
A restructured Nigeria where the federating units are not expecting anything from the centre, but will be under obligation to contribute a percentage of what it generates on its own to the centre, that is how a federal system ought to be.