Nigerian Constitution Needs Complete Overhaul – Tanko – thewillnigeria
June 20, (THEWILL)- A former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party, Alhaji Yunusa Tanko, speaks with AYO ESAN on Nigeria’s democracy at 22 and the desire for a new constitution by Nigerians, among other issues of national importance. Excerpts:
It started very slowly and we had lots of doubts. I remember that in 1993 when we had the presidential election, which featured Chief Moshood Abiola and Alhaji Bashir Tofa, both of the SDP and NRC, respectively, we were expecting that the result would be different and that the people’s wish would be carried out . Then in 1997 or so when General Abdusalam Abubakar took over and he promised that the 1999 election would be free and fair, those of us in the civil society groups didn’t believe him. Many of us didn’t even contest the election. We left the stage for other people who had no business in government and who did not understand what we went through demanding for democracy. At the end of it all, what happened was that these particular individuals who grabbed power even made a silly situation out of it. The electoral process was heavily monetised.
The electoral umpire has been polluted, especially with the President’s recent nomination of his media aide as a commissioner with the Independent National Electoral Commission. The system is so polluted that the common man cannot contest an election. Yet democratic rule is still far better than military rule because we still have the ballots in our hands to make the changes we desire.
I found it difficult to believe this, considering the fact that many of us worked hard to ensure that freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom to protest when things are done wrongly was made possible. That is what obtains in a democratic system. Of course, there are rules of engagement. When we are going out to protest, it is very important for us to notify the police. I am glad to notice that some of the protests in Osun and Edo States were even supported by sitting governors. Unfortunately in Lagos and Abuja people were prevented from expressing what is going on in their minds. That is undemocratic. I am amazed to see that some of our comrades, who were in the forefront of defending the interest of the masses, are now trying to antagonise the people and prevent them from coming out to protest.
I condemn in totality a situation in which some of our people are gagged and stopped from exercising their fundamental human rights. The police may guide and protect, but they should not intimidate those who go out to express their displeasure with certain decisions and actions by government.
With regard to the ban on Twitter, I have already said on AIT and Channels Television that we need to look at it and see if there is evidence of double standards on the part of Twitter. It would be unfair for Twitter to remove President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweets, while it retained that of Nnamdi Kanu, who has also been accused of trying to put some clog in the wheels of progress of Nigeria. Twitter should have trod with caution. It should have given the Federal Government a warning, not to blatantly impugn on the integrity and sovereignty of the country. This is because an attack on the President is also an attack on the sovereignty of the country.
At the same time, some of the statements that were made by the President may be very offensive to other people. So our leaders should be guided on how they make their statements. Nobody will stop Mr President from saying what is right. But in saying it, profiling a particular ethnic group would send a wrong signal to those people. We would advise that both Twitter and the Federal Government should have a round-table discussion and get a correct understanding of the matter. I also support the idea of registering all kinds of social media platforms in the country because they are really causing a lot of problems in the areas of jungle journalism.
You find it difficult to understand which of the stories coming out of the social media is correct or not correct. And that creates a lot of confusion in the system. Some people don’t know that false and damaging information travels faster than correct information. There may be a need to regulate some of the contents so that it will not create problems for those who are listening, watching, viewing or reading the messages and those who send them out.
So I support the regulation of the social media so that we can monitor some of these things. If possible, we can develop a Nigerian app. But that is not to say that we will deny the people the freedom to express their fundamental human rights. We also need to protect the sovereignty of this country.
Sections 4, 8 and 9 are the areas that will give the National Assembly the power to constitute an extraordinary body through which representatives of the people can now come in from different areas and look at this particular constitution. This is because many Nigerians have raised a hue and cry over the constitution, which has provided a lot of challenges for us, especially in the areas of appointments, revenue generation and devolution of power, income generation, policy formulation and state creation. This also includes electoral reform and the registration of political parties. These are very inimical to our collective survival as a nation.
If the members of the National Assembly can muscle up and realise that we have a country to save, they can look at sections 8 and 9 and appoint a committee that will look at the reports of all the conferences we have had and draft a constitution that will be acceptable to everybody. With that we can save the country and avert a calamity that is dangling over our heads.
Of course, yes. Even the amendment that the National Assembly wants to make will not be accepted by many Nigerians. They will not be comfortable with it. There are certain things that people are agitating for. Some are demanding the creation of an additional state in the South-East. Some people are calling for resource control, while others are calling for true federalism, in terms of controlling their own police and so on.
The constitution needs a complete overhaul. No matter what amendment is made, if it does not take care of these things holistically, many people will kick against it. So, instead of allowing people to kick, why don’t we just have a constitution that will be acceptable to every Nigerian? Then we can start the process of rebuilding our country.
I don’t believe in zoning or what others call rotational presidency. I believe in competence, fairness and equity. If you say we should rotate the presidency between the North and the South, what happens to the micro-zoning of the North- West, North-East, South-East and South-West, for instance? When we say let us zone it to the North and South, it may lead to a situation where an incompetent person becomes president. People will excuse his presence in that position on the ground that it is the turn of his region to rule.
I believe the issue of zoning is the result of lack of equity and fairness in our system. If, for example, you have a southern candidate who comes out and has the capacity to lead this country, let him contest and let the people determine who becomes their president. After all, in the past we had candidates who came from different parts of the country and they won the election. The truth is that we are talking of zoning because there is no justice and confidence in the system we are running. There is no trust in the electoral process. That is the reason why we are talking of giving it to the North or giving it to the South. Of course, that lowers the capacity of the person leading our country. So let’s leverage the issue of competence as a panacea to solve most of our problems as a nation.
The key issue about electoral reform is that I want INEC to be led by an individual that has the interest of this country at heart. Although, the present INEC Chairman, Prof Yakubu Mahmood, has also shown that he wants to do the right thing for the people, our legal instruments have hampered most of the people that found themselves as Chairman of INEC .
Look at our electoral system. How do you reconcile a situation where someone runs for an election in a political party and the next minute he jumps to another political party and INEC does not have the power to stop that person from running in the election? How do you justify people spending huge sums of money to contest an election? How do you justify the nomination of a card carrying member of a political party as INEC Commissioner? This is a very serious matter that is hampering the work of INEC itself.
We want an INEC that is truly independent and whose money comes from the Consolidated Fund without any interference from the National Assembly. We want an INEC that is unbundled in such a way that it will be responsible only for election, while other things like constituency delineation goes to the National Population Commission.
We need to have a commission that will enforce rules and regulations, where anybody that violates electoral regulations will be arrested and dealt with. With this we will reduce the burden of INEC. So that is the reason why a reform of the Electoral Act becomes very important and germane now.
We must make sure that the Electoral Act reforms get passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President. We must also ensure that the contents of the Electoral Act tackle the issue of political ‘nomadism’ and take care of excessive spending on contesting election, as well as all other forms of negative tendencies that are currently in the system, so that Nigerians can now have trust in our election and the electoral umpire.
Definitely there is serious concern for every well-meaning Nigerian. The truth is that we did not nip it in the bud when it started. We were so lackadaisical about it. Now the insecurity has now come to everybody’s doorstep. I think Mr President needs to take more decisive actions, as regards fighting the insurgency which has put the country in a shaky position. We are not happy with what is happening and the President hasn’t done enough. The root cause of insurgency has not been dealt with. Issues such as unemployment, hunger, non-payment of salaries of workers, lack of adequate care for the welfare of the citizens and so on.
Well, we are still having issues with INEC. At the moment we are in the High Court in Lagos. Unfortunately, we heard the judge has been transferred to Kano, but judgment has not been given. You also know that judiciary workers went on strike and they are just resuming now. But you should also note that many cases are still pending at the Supreme Court on the same matter of deregistration by INEC. And we are mobilising the people to believe in the fact that this country belongs to all of us. We have a right as a political movement that has turned into a political party to go for election. The process through which they went about deregistering political parties is what we are challenging. It is completely wrong. We thank God that the Court of Appeal has granted that particular injunction and at the same time ruled in favour of political parties. But INEC has challenged that ruling. The case is coming up in October. We hope and pray that it is going to be in our favour. All the political parties involved are already working underground, mobilising and preparing for our convention.
That will depend on what the people want from me. At the moment I am concerned about working together with a lot of people to improve the country. But if the people find me worthy of running for the position, I will run. If they want us to support someone I will do that because we are democrats and we want to have a society that all of us to can have confidence in. So it is not about my personal interest; it is all about the interest of the country.