Nigeria’s democracy “appears to be in crisis if not in danger”says TMG



The Transition Monitoring Group,TMG has outlined what it refers to as the reasons why Nigeria’s democratic governance is ‘in crisis if not in danger’.TMG at press briefing in Abuja  raised alarm that “Instead of making progress, democratic governance appears to be in crisis if not in danger as a result of many factors which includes the following: the state of insecurity in the country; lack of institutional independence of INEC; high level of corruption in the country; interference with the judiciary; killing of the Electoral Reform process; undemocratic local government system; lawlessness and lack of internal democracy in Nigeria’s political parties; growing rate of poverty in the country; and, marginalization of women, youths, and persons with disability in the political process.

In particular, the group is disturbed by the outright abandonment of the Justice Uwais panel’s report on electoral reforms in the country.Said TMG, “The key recommendations of the Uwais Panel include: that the appointment of the Board of INEC shall be made by the Council of State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) subject to confirmation by the Senate; that State Independent Electoral Commissions shall be re-organised and incorporated into the structure of the  Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); that state level secretariat of INEC should therefore consist of 37 Directors of Elections, one for each State and the FCT, appointed by INEC, trained and post to States other than their States of origin; that the burden of proving that election held and was free and fair shall lie on the INEC; that no elected person should assume office until the case against him him/her in the Tribunal or Court is disposed of.

TMG said “So far, the Federal Government of Nigeria in its own wisdom brazenly refused to implement these far reaching recommendations of Uwais Panel which would have put paid to most of the electoral malpractices in the country. The President still retains the power to appoint the Chairman of INEC and Resident Electoral Commissioners. The Resident Electoral Commissioners are appointed on the recommendations of PDP governors and party leaders. Thus, INEC as presently constituted is made of members or loyalists of PDP with very few exceptions.  In effect, INEC lacks institutional independence notwithstanding that Professor Attahiru Jega who has a history of credibility is currently heading the agency.

 

Read the full text of  the TMG statement below:

 

THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY AND THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION IN NIGERIA

 

BEING TEXT OF A WORLD PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESSED BY THE TRANSITION MONITORING GROUP (TMG), AT BOLTON WHITE APARTMENT, ABUJA, FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORRY ON MAY 19TH, 2012

 

 

Distinguished colleagues, our respected guests, Ladies and Gentlemen of the press

It is our pleasure to welcome you most fraternally to this press conference. We consider it appropriate to once again address you on the State of our dear Nation. Ongoing events in our country continue to thrust a historical burden on us to stand up for our country and for our people.

Introduction

 

Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill”-William Shakespeare in Macbeth

 

The above quotation is not meant to raise any alarm. It’s just a call to action. A call to all well meaning Nigerians to be fully on the alert against unpatriotic elements in the garb of politicians who are unmistakably determined to do all that is possible to avert good intentions in our country. We have said so much about elections in the past that were sham for instance.  Efforts to reform the road that led us there have been and are still being contested by the so called powers-that-be. The disbelief they have so far demonstrated in the genuine move to grow our nascent democracy betrays their insincerity.

 

A hint of caution we would like to drop here however is that Nigerians need to be proactive on issues of common interest as the forces behind corrupt practices that keep undermining the public good are relentless in recruiting lackeys who are most willing to tackle our efforts.  The recent probe of the fuel subsidy by the Federal House of Representatives and the reactions of some of the suspected thieves, typifies this ugly phenomenon.

 

The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) has monitored the transition to democratic rule and its processes in Nigeria from 1998 to date. The present state of ‘democratic governance’ in Nigeria gives us serious course to worry.  Instead of making progress, democratic governance appears to be in crisis if not in danger as a result of many factors which includes the following: the state of insecurity in the country; lack of institutional independence of INEC; high level of corruption in the country; interference with the judiciary; killing of the Electoral Reform process; undemocratic local government system; lawlessness and lack of internal democracy in Nigeria’s political parties; growing rate of poverty in the country; and, marginalization of women, youths, and persons with disability in the political process.

 

Grave Insecurity of Lives and Property

Section 14 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria proclaims that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.  Nigeria is a country based on the rule of law. The rule of law presupposes that there must be an effective executive government capable of maintaining law and order at all times. Unfortunately, under the present civilian based governance regime, innocent citizens are being killed, maimed, robbed, raped, and kidnapped on daily basis. The security agencies are not able to curb the criminal activities of the armed robbers, kidnappers, militants, assassins and most recently, the terrorist activities of the Boko Haram group. Today most Nigerians live in fear. Various governments in Nigeria are begging armed groups and persons who have violated the sanctity of life of many Nigerians to come and embrace amnesty. The right to life guaranteed in section 33 of the constitution implies a duty on the government to save life.  The Federal Government has failed woefully in this regard.

 

The report of a recent Panel set up by the Federal Government shows that some of the armed groups in Nigeria were created and nurtured by politicians for political intimidation of political opponents. Most of the state governments in Nigeria maintains and keep private armed men in their payroll who are used to rig elections. After elections the arms are turned against ordinary Nigerians. Again the altercation between the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Presidency/PDP over Boko Haram shows that all is not well with this government.

 

Uwais Panel Report and the Electoral Reform

The issue of electoral reform in Nigeria arose as a result of the public outrage and outcry against the conduct of the April 2007 General Elections which from the observation of TMG, other local observers and international election observers were fundamentally flawed.  The salient recommendations of the Uwais Panel on Electoral Reform which have enjoyed overwhelming support of Nigerians have been jettisoned by the National Assembly. The key recommendations of the Uwais Panel include: that the appointment of the Board of INEC shall be made by the Council of State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) subject to confirmation by the Senate; that State Independent Electoral Commissions shall be re-organised and incorporated into the structure of the  Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); that state level secretariat of INEC should therefore consist of 37 Directors of Elections, one for each State and the FCT, appointed by INEC, trained and post to States other than their States of origin; that the burden of proving that election held and was free and fair shall lie on the INEC; that no elected person should assume office until the case against him him/her in the Tribunal or Court is disposed of.

 

So far, the Federal Government of Nigeria in its own wisdom brazenly refused to implement these far reaching recommendations of Uwais Panel which would have put paid to most of the electoral malpractices in the country. The President still retains the power to appoint the Chairman of INEC and Resident Electoral Commissioners. The Resident Electoral Commissioners are appointed on the recommendations of PDP governors and party leaders. Thus, INEC as presently constituted is made of members or loyalists of PDP with very few exceptions.  In effect, INEC lacks institutional independence notwithstanding that Professor Attahiru Jega who has a history of credibility is currently heading the agency.

 

Lack of Internal Democracy in Nigeria Political Parties

Democratic elections without genuine political participation lead to a government and legislatures which deny inclusiveness. Genuine participation implies a population educated on human rights, the political system (including political parties, electoral procedures, representative institutions), and civic duties. Rule of law is a basic requirement of democracy. In fact, it is the glue of a democratic system which must be guaranteed by establishing, among other things, civilian control of the military and ensuring the independence of the judiciary. But we are increasingly witnessing the emergence of blocked transition in Nigeria where popular participation of citizenry does not exist. There is increasing monopolization of political power by the executive branch to the detriment of legislatives and the judiciary.

For democracy to thrive, political parties must be democratic, representative, inclusive, and open to civil society oversight and alliances. Unfortunately, most parties in Nigeria today are either (a) representing oligarchies or former power holders, (b) composed of former radicals that have not adjusted to norms and practices of partisan politics, or (c) individuals united by their personal interests in seeking power, without coherence, credibility and innovative political platforms.

 

The affairs of Nigerian political parties, including party primaries, are conducted with utmost disregard to rule of law. Party primary elections are characterized by violent attacks on opponents and their supporters; writing of result of primaries not held; submission of the names of persons who lost or did not contest primary elections in place of the winners of the elections; hoarding of delegates; selection of delegates without due process; difficulty in identification of delegates. Sadly, all known malpractices and shenanigans at party primary elections are shielded from judicial inquiry by the doctrine of political question.

 

The Electoral Reform Committee (Uwais Panel) recommended, inter alia, that appropriate legal framework should be provided to support justiciability of the party nomination process.  According to the Committee, there is no need to expend time and resources on a primary election that will be discarded while courts stand helpless. In line with this recommendation, section 228 of the 1999 constitution was amended to empower the National Assembly to make rules and guidelines to ensure internal democracy within political parties, including making laws for the conduct of party primaries, party congresses and party conventions; and to confer on INEC powers  to effectively ensure that political parties observe the practice of internal democracy, including fair and transparent conduct of party primaries, party congresses and party conventions.

 

Following the constitutional amendment, section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 now made clear and unequivocal provision for Democratic Party primaries. However, notwithstanding these constitutional amendments and amendments to the Electoral Act, the Supreme Court has held in the case of Senator Yakubu Garba Lado and 43 ors v. Congress for Progressive Change and 5 Others that where two primaries of different factions of political parties are held on different dates, the court will have no jurisdiction over the question of the duly nominated candidate of the party.  In the case People’s Democratic Party v Timipre Sylva and Timipre Sylva & 2 Ors v People’s Democratic Party & 2 Ors the Supreme Court now went further to hold that sponsorship of candidates are internal affairs of political parties over which the courts have no jurisdiction.  The Court thus veered from its earlier decisions in Amaechi v INEC [2008] 5 N.W.L.R. (pt. 1080) 227 at 453-454) where the Supreme Court, per Aderemi J.S.C., said: “Democratic government and society as a whole can only function fairly and properly within a framework of laws…” The Supreme Court thus effectively truncated the electoral reform in respect of internal democracy in political parties and returned the country to the regime of lawlessness in the running of the affairs of political parties.

Election Petitions – From Delayed Justice to No Justice

The popular aphorism is that justice delayed is justice denied. However, in respect of election petition cases in Nigeria, the position now is that justice denied is better than justice delayed. Section 285 of the 1999 constitution was amended to introduce time limitation for hearing and determination of election petitions as follows:

(6) An election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.

(7) An appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of the delivery of judgment of the tribunal.

(8) The Court in all appeals from election tribunal may adopt the practice of first giving its decision and reserving the reasons therefore to a later date”.

This amendment was aimed at stopping the situation where petitions keep on lingering, until, at times, the tenure of the office runs out. What the amendment requires is that the state should organize its machinery of justice to ensure that election petitions cases are determined within the stipulated periods.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has interpreted the section to mean that election petition cases not determined within the stipulated periods has lapsed. In line with the decision, many election petition cases were struck out without being heard on merit. The easiest way to defend election petition in Nigeria now is to find ways of delaying the hearing of the petition until the period limited for the hearing of the petition has lapsed.

 

Suspension / Recall of Justice Salami: Undermining the Independence of the Judiciary

The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, was unceremoniously suspended since August 2011.  The NJC recommended that Salami be suspended for his refusal to apologize to the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Katsina Alu, for alleging that Justice Katsina Alu attempted to influence his decision in an election petition arising from governorship election in Sokoto State. President Goodluck Jonathan swiftly suspended Salami in less than 48 hours after the NJC decision was made. At that time Justice Salami was presiding over the election petition filed by General Muhammodu Buhari against President Jonathan.  President Jonathan brought an application in that case to strike out the petition on the ground that it was filed on a Sunday. Justice Salami in refusing the application held that since time is of the essence in election petitions, if the Registry staff of the Election Tribunal decides to make sacrifices to open on a Sunday and General Buhari decide to take advantage of it, he should not be penalized for that.  Secondly, Salami held that President Jonathan never showed the court the prejudice he suffered as a result of the fact that the petition was filed on Sunday instead of being filed on ordinary days. The suspension of Salami was followed by massive transfer of Justices of the Court of Appeal by the current Acting President of the Court of Appeal.

 

The NJC did not consider the issue of lifting of the suspension on Salami until all election petitions had been concluded. Recently, the NJC recommended that Salami should be reinstated. President Jonathan who acted on the suspension of Salami with alarming speed is now dragging his feet on implementation of the recommendation to reinstate him. This is a systematic erosion of independence of the judiciary.

 

Economy and social decays

Decadence and degradation have continued to characterize every aspect and sphere of our national life – economic, social and political. A cloud of gloom and apprehension continues to envelop the land. The incompetence, insensitivity and despotic arrogance of the government have become legendary in the face of grave national problems, as has its woeful inability to proffer workable solutions to the myriads of problems that currently riddle our society.

 

An extract from Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo’s speech in 1987 read: “It appears to me that we now have economic structural adjustment programme which seems to drastically reduce living of all classes of productive workers except speculators and commission agents. Some of the energies, resources and vitality sapped out of the economy need to be gradually brought back to ease the burden a little bit on most Nigerians… We probably need to spend less on Defence and debt-servicing for now to lighten the burden as well. If we are reasonably in control of our affairs, among other measures, let us ban what we can produce locally or do without and let us scrupulously enforce the ban. A socially contended, politically harmonious and economically vibrant society is the best security for a nation. Let us avoid piecemeal actions that do more harm than good. Let us take a comprehensive view of our priorities for growth, revitalization and gainful employment. If we are substantially dictated to, let us tell those who preach trade liberalization and other harmful measures to us, and which they do not practice on the ruins of their own economy and at great hardship to their own people, that they are leading us along the path of great economic decline, social dislocations and turbulence and political consequences that we can ill afford… adjustment is part of the process of existence of any human being or human institution. It is part of our daily experience. But adjustment must have human face, human heart and milk of kindness and must not ignore what I call human survival and dignity, issues of employment, food, shelter, education and health.”[1]

 

To us in TMG, the above was a statement of fact by a patriot, a statesman and a hero, who, finding himself out of power tends to be with the suffering people of our dear country. Obasanjo’s piece offered evaluation of IBB’s economic policies, which on hindsight, would appear to have accurately mirrored the enduring grievances against SAP.

 

However, the transfer of power from the military regime of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar to former Head of State (1976-1979) Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999 after almost two decades of uninterrupted brutal dictatorship, brought no dividends like safe and secured existence, improved infrastructure, improved economic conditions, and respect for fundamental rights and a freer democratic space where Nigerians can pursue their democratic aspirations. President Obasanjo, confronted with the reality of governance did not imbibe the democratic values as ways of conduct he preached. Like Gregory Peck, the Gunfighter, the old general refused to shed his military orientation. Obasanjo who vehemently criticized the bad economic policies of Babangida surpassed records in the implementation of World Bank – IMF policies. The resulting large scale misery inflicted by 8 years of his government and public outcry brought the government into direct confrontation with groups like the NLC, ASUU, NANS, NMA, NUT, and the pro-democracy groups.

 



[1] Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, at a lecture at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Sunday Times, March 29, 1987: p.1,9

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