‘It is within the powers of National Assembly to reorder elections’

Dayo Ogunjebe

The attempt to re-order the 2019 general elections by the National Assembly is generating controversy such that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other interested Nigerians are kicking against the move. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, Lagos lawyer, Dayo Ogunjebe says it is within the powers of the National Assembly to re-order the elections. He also spoke on human rights record of the federal government as well as other judical issues.

What’s your opinion about the human rights record of the present government, going by the report of Transparency International?

It is not good at all. I have tried to tell some people because some of them are saying the record is getting better because we have dropped from 136 to 138. I tell them to stop looking at the numbers. It is a good index.

The farther you are away from that index shows how bad you are. The truth of the matter is that this government has not been transparent. I recall what Buhari said when he went to the Chatham house.

He said all the mistakes he made in the past were mistakes for which he admits full responsibility, that he has now changed and has become a democrat.

But he has not done anything democratic in the conduct of his government business. And recently, he said he was going to take Nigeria to the next level. Which level is that? He hasn’t even improved from what he got from Jonathan apart from spending his time blaming Jonathan.

Now look at the Dapchi case. Because Jonathan is not there to blame, they are blaming the soldiers and the soldiers are blaming the police. He inaugurated a committee nine days after the girls are already in Niger Republic.

What does that suggest in respect of the level of insecurity we have in this country?

I am a fair person and I have given Buhari his chance. I am terribly disappointed, even in the security. During the campaign, he was saying he is a former army general, that he would tackle insecurity, that he knows how to coordinate the army.

It look at what happened! The army said they left Dapchi and handed over to the police, but because they was a lapse, those people were able to come in, operate and drive out successfully the length and breath of that state without interference.

I don’t want to say anything about the Nigerian army or Nigerian Police force. But I don’t believe that a truth is been told to us.

What do you think of the controversy generated by the National Assembly in their attempt to reorder the elections?

It is within the powers of the National Assembly to do that. It is their duty to make laws. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a product of the laws made by the National Assembly and they have the power to vary it, modify it or scrap it altogether. Whether it is good or bad, I can tell you what I feel. Most of the politicians went into office due to the bandwagon effect of the Buhari candidature at that time.

Because they feel he has disappointed the public now, they don’t want a recoil if he was to loose election. They now want to operate solo. But the problem here is this; even if they operate solo, it will not absolve them from the backlash effect because they are still in All Progressive Congress (APC) party.

And if the APC is not considered a good party to project to the National Assembly or even the presidency, whether they staggered the election or not, they will fall in the same way.

What is your view about judicial corruption, whereby lawyers are accused of giving bribe to judges?

The president himself gave money to one of the judges and they said it was a gift. So how do you discriminate between which one is a bribe and which one is a gift? Justice Ademola was able to lead evidence that the president himself, through one of his lawyers passed him some money. So if you describe all other money he had received as bribe, then, that too is a bribe.

As a lawyer, how do you differentiate between bribe and gift?

I don’t differentiate. It is the law and the law doesn’t too.

Is a judge free to receive gift from lawyers?

Judges are human beings just like everybody else. If I am a judge and my father or my uncle decides to give me something, I will collect. People look at judges as people isolated in one corner but they are not. In the case of Rickey Tarfa, he said he and the judge had worked somewhere before he was made a judge.

They did some cases and suddenly, they made him a judge but they have paid him for those cases, is he now going to say my lord you cannot collect any money from this case anymore because you are now a judge? He can’t do that! In the other case, the judge was his classmate and an old boys association member. They are contributing money together. So it would be ridiculous to say that a judge dropped from the skies.

The 2019 election is coming closer and the sing-song is restructuring such that some are of the opinion that there should be no election until we restructure. What is your view on the restructuring debate?

The difficulty I see is how to quantify how much the centre will give to the regions.

Is it a difficult thing to quantify?

I am all for it, but they are just calling for restructuring. There is no concrete agenda or working document outlining the restructuring we are asking for.

It is like your wife saying just sign the cheque and give to me. Don’t add any money to it. Restructuring for the people of Biafra might be different from the restructuring of the people of Rivers. I have no problem with restructuring, but with my lawyers mind, I will say, what exactly are we asking for?

But we have a report from the national political conference ex-president Jonathan organized?

That report still contains a blanket discussion on restructuring. There should be a committee set up to outline what we mean by restructuring.

Do you think the APC government is prepared to discuss the restructuring issue?

No. I studied in England and I spent 20 years of my life in England. Everything in England is documented, even though they said their constitution is unwritten.

They have documents about different things. When they were talking about Biafra at that time, Ojukwu was saying on Aburi I stand because a document was produced on the Aburi accord. Yakubu Gowon was saying they were here they were not there. The people who are agitating for restructuring have not sat down to say exactly what they want.

When Jesus saw the blind man, he said, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ Even though he saw that the man was blind. My pastor, who is also a lawyer said, it may be that the man was hungry and needed food. My pastor said the man had shortcomings.

He would have said, I want to see, I want to be rich and I want to marry. But he said he want only to see. So after seeing, he will then go and find work, whereas he would have gotten everything at once.

What of resource control?

Resource control has been addressed. Jonathan was the president from south south. So he had all the power to sign everything.

Can you address the issue of resource control without constitutional amendment?

It was constitutional amendment that brought the 13 percent we have today. My position with regards to oil wells that is given to Northerners is that it is very sad.

One of the problems of Jonathan’s administration is that that agreement entitling those emirs to have control of those oil wells was to expire during this time.

I don’t know whether this government has renewed it for them, but it was supposed to come up during this regime. When Jonathan was the president, they should have reviewed it.

How do you think we can get it right as the election year is approaching and politicians are jostling to grab different elective positions, especially with the emergence of National Intervention Movement (NIM)?

NIM is not a political party and the way they are talking, they may go and join a political party. APC can approach and convince them to join them and then, we will have the same of the same. It might be PDP that would approach them and there would be a different approach to it. All the PDP aspirants favour restructuring, I can tell you.

But we need to have a restructuring formula or agenda on ground. We are just clamouring for restructuring but there is no document. The oil producing states need to sit together and talk so that that document will be on the negotiating table. In law, we say that documentary evidence can only be rebutted by documentary evidence.

If this is done, the non oil producing states would also come up with their own documents. From there, we will all be negotiating the restructuring and come up with something. It is just like APC that was crying for power then. They got the power now, and they don’t know what to do with the power.

It is because they didn’t have a set out blueprint of what they were going to do with power.

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