Monday, May 20, 2024
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Money rules the political landscape – Lanlehin

Senator Olufemi Lanlehin, legal practitioner and politician, in an interview with Ademola Ogunlowo, takes a cursory look at the crisis of governance in Nigeria

Newswatchplus: Distinguished Senator Lanlehin, as a Legal practioner and a politician who has contested for elective offices and was at various times elected, looking back would you agree that the nation’s democratic government experience of the last 45 years has engendered the profound level of crises of governance as we have today?

Lanlehin: Let me start by saying that the Fourth Republic commenced in 1999 and the initial elections were conducted by the Military, pursuant to the appropriate electoral laws of that time. The Local Government elections and, on party basis, the State Assembly and Governorship elections, all were conducted on the same day; next was the National Assembly elections, and finally the Presidential elections,

I like to believe that we started averagely well in the sense that there was so much hope for the emerging democracy and everyone was prepared and willing to give it all it takes to succeed. But we have now ran some cycles 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023. To me it appears we are trudging on. We are making progress, though slowly. Democracy has certain pillars. The pillars are separation of powers of participants depending on the kind of democracy you are in to. Another pillar which is very important is regular elections at given and agreed times which differentiates democracy from all other systems. This gives the people opportunity to choose their rulers or leaders. The process requires respective leaders to approach the citizens, showcasing their capabilities, experience and ask for their votes for particular offices. This is the bedrock of democracy because it involves the participation of the people whose voices must be heard, collated and made to throw up leaders of their desire.

However our problem has always been the elections. We have never really perfected or we are failing to perfect or we are failing to learn or adhere to it, because the provisions are there at every point in time. It is really not about the electoral laws, provisions, IT IS ABOUT ADHERENCE TO PROVISIONS OF THE LAW as well as the integrity of the people who are appointed to drive this process. You will recall that the first time we had problems with elections was in 1964/65. Before then, the elections of 1951 into different regional offices were fairly smooth. Then we had independence and the Tafawa Balewa government constituted the Electoral Commission which conducted the elections of (1964/65) to the Regional and Central Parliaments, under the parliamentary system of democracy.

But unfortunately, the elections were mired in massive rigging and the result largely discredited and rejected. Ofcourse people of the Western Region reacted far more violently than other parts of the country. The attendant crises marked the beginning of the demise of the First Republic and the emergence of Military rule of 1966 till 1979. In 1979 the Second Republic took off, this time with a Constitution enthroning the Presidential system, a departure from the Parliamentary mode of democracy of the previous civilian dispensation. Again we had elections in 1983, but the Military came back almost immediately, terminated the life of the Second Republic largely because of the massive rigging and nationwide dissatisfaction and rejection of the results of that elections. The Military again ruled the country until 1999.

Come 1999, elections were conducted by the Military. The rulers were not seen to be partisan, though there were rumors in that direction; however, because it was not about the crass manipulation of election figures, the results were largely accepted and everyone went on with the system. The 2003 election was conducted by the incumbent government. The results were largely contested and widely rejected but nothing happened. It only compounded the festering crises of governance on ground. Then we got to 2007 when the incumbent felt he had to choose his successor. All manner of subterfuge, shenanigans came to play; and he succeeded and had his way.

Then President Umaru Yar’Adua, a decent man, religious and of an impeccable pedigree, recognised the quality of the election that brought him into office, and agreed he was a product of a faulty election. Of course he set up the Mohammed Uwais Commission to address the problems bedeviling the system, the reports of which had never been implemented till today. So here we are again in 2023 and despite several amendments to the Electoral Act in 2006, 2010, 2020, 2022, crises of governance persist in the Democracy.

It is therefore trite to say that the crises so far recorded in every dispensation of our Presidential system of Democracy indeed started, and still traceable to the flawed conduct of elections and veracity of results there from.

Newswatchplus: Why is the issue of conduct and results of elections the main problem?

Lanlehin: The main problem has to do with how the various Electoral Commissions where constituted and the appointment of the Commissioners over the years. It is the President of the Federal Republic who appoints the Chairman and members of the commission; and since conventional wisdom dictates that “he who pays the piper dictates the tune,” the appointments were never seen to be transparent enough to earn credibility and acceptance by the stakeholders and the general public. And despite Mohammed Uwais Committee’s recommendation that appointments into the Electoral Commission be reviewed, nothing has been done so far.

Another major problem with elections comes with the collation of result. The collation process indeed has four clear levels namely: polling unit, Ward collating centre, Local government collating centre, State collating centre. In the traffic within the collating centers, all manner of acts are perpetuated and all forms of underhand dealings are perfected, and the results were usually and massively tampered with.

Newswatchplus: The five pillars upon which our current democratic dispensation rests have been, for this purpose, identified to include the independent electoral commission (INEC); the political parties; judiciary; legislature; civil society organizations (CSO); can we share your experience with each of these pillars and how they have contributed to the success or failure of our democracy?

Lanlehin: Please permit me to take the Political parties. The Presidential system we practice is a winner-takes-all principle which plays very much into the hands of power mongers.  The Parliamentary system on the other hand demands that you first go to your constituency, win an election there and bring your victory to the parliament, where all elected members sit to elect the Premier or Prime Minister. It has inbuilt checks and balances and a peculiar cost-effectiveness in governance.

Newswatchplus: Do you then agree that by adopting the presidential system abinitio, we have indeed created the platform for crises of governace?

Lanlehin: Yes.

Newswatchplus: How do you assess the conduct, operations and other activities of political parties? How have they been adhering to their own in house principles, rules and regulations as well as practice of internal democracy?

Lanlehin: Hitherto, the practice of internal democracy in political parties was above average because they were formed by people of like minds, common interest, be it social, ethnic or ideological. Also, at the time (during the First Republic and early part of the Second Republic), people joined political parties in order to genuinely foster their political interests. A member became a leader not because he was a moneybag but because his community wanted him to serve them.

Newswatchplus: What do we have now?

Lanlehin: Party supremacy has given way to godfatherism, having been hijacked by moneybags. Elections are conducted with billions of Naira, and of course the winner takes all. The citizenry is so impoverished that money now blows the political wind. Not only that virtually all stakeholders in the election process are purchasable from the delegates of the party primaries through some (not all), Elders and Leaders of the parties, everyone is an item of purchase by the moneybags. People don’t care about the source of money, as long as they get their cut from the cake.

So, because money has taken the centre stage, consideration for honesty, decency good character in politicians has since taken flight. The truth therefore is that internal democracy in all existing political parties is fraught with corruption and violence because the stakes are high. The monetization of our ethics, values, characters, hopes and aspirations has eaten deeply into every fibre of our democratic system.

Newswatchplus: Let us look at the judiciary, tribunals, and courts on one hand, and legal practitioners on the other

Lanlehin: They go hand in hand because the Tribunals and Courts cannot function without the legal practitioners. Hitherto, when we had elections that were not disputed, the Electoral Act gives the appointing authority the right to constitute tribunals in areas likely to have petitions. But now, some weeks before the conclusion of elections, the Tribunals are constituted, sworn in and waiting for petitions to come.

Lo and behold, petitions pour in and keep piling from the pre-election period until even after the elections. 

Newswatchplus: In respect of the judiciary what is your take on the issue of conflicting judgments by the courts?

Lanlehin: The processes are long winding and subject to many requirements: presentation of evidence, collation, assessment and procurement of evidence, as well as applications of the law to the evidence and other parts. So if there are two panels and the Supreme Court has pronounced on the particular matter, one panel can see it in one way, while another panel can differentiate it in a way it thinks does not apply to the case in question.

Newswatchplus: Not necessarily through some underhand influence?

Lanlehin: I don’t know. I believe it is the way they use it.

Newswatchplus: There is a general belief that the election period is boom season for lawyers to make money. These days when you look at the success rate of petitions registered at the election tribunals, a large number of them were dismissed, yet you see all categories of lawyers justling to handle election petitions even when they know the cases might not succeed. What is responsible for this?

Lanlehin: You see people have lost confidence in the system because they have been told over and over by the authorities that elections would be transparent and credible, but it never happened. This instigates confusion in which one candidate wins at any cost and expects the loser to go to court if aggrieved. Even when advised on the futility and poor chances of such court actions, aggrieved persons in most instances insist on pursing the matter not minding the cost of litigations. So the lawyers to a large extent and coupled with the need to do their job and earn a living, will get fully involved in the matter. If one lawyer rejects the brief another will take it up. This is the corruption aspect of it. At this point so many malfeasances like trying to twist facts, bribing of judges, etc will now come to the fore. The huge returns from such briefs explain the unusual hustling of lawyers during this season.

Newswatchplus: How do you see the respect for the rule of law in the 24 years of governance?

Lanlehin: Obeying rule of law can be examined from two main perspectives; the government and the citizens. The government, as a major participant in the judicial process, cannot be said to have performed well when it comes to obeying court orders. It is also glaring that individual citizens, particularly the influential ones regularly abuse court processes and disobey judicial orders. Over the years the court process has to a large extent been elongated. In the past the general perception was that when you went to court, you got good justice at the shortest possible time. But now even the mere process of court of first instance, on to Appeal and Supreme Courts are long drawn and expensive. By the time court processes, judgments and execution are finally concluded, the litigants’ confidence would have waned and  adherence becomes dangerously meaningless. That the situation has been worsening is a strong reflection of the gradual and downward trend in all aspects of governance in Nigeria over the years. And of particular interest is that government at all levels constitute the major culprit of crass non-adherence to court judgments’ and brazen disregard for the rule of law, even in our democratic dispensation.

Newswatchplus: How do we stem the crisis to ensure our democracy adequately delivers good governance, ensures rule of law, freedom, security of life and property and economic development?

Lanlehin: I am a very firm believer in the parliamentary system of government. It is more accountable to the people and less expensive.

Coming to your question, I will still say that the solution lies in Elections, Elections and Elections. Because when you put in place a system that throws up good people who have conscience, integrity; such people most times believe in rendering good and committed service to the people.

Emergence of such transparent leadership has to be from the Local governments, the grassroot space for citizenship participation. At that level, people who can perform and serve the best interest of their community are identified and then appointed to serve. We must therefore operate a system that gives credence to local government elections which ensures adequate and effective participation of the grassroot citizenry, the major driving force in any democratic system. This aspect of our democracy has so much been basterdazied that local government system seems to have lost relevance in our governance equation. So if we can fix governance and participatory politics at the local government level, we will make appreciable progress.

Equally important is the devolution of powers between the tiers of government. The Local and State governments must be allowed to control those critical issues like the police. Ofcourse checks and balances would need to be put in place to check abuse and allay the fears of misuse of these outfits by the government. Also, the determination of salaries and wages of labour as well as regularization of Micro & Small scale enterprises should be developed to reflect local and environmental realities.

Newswatchplus:  What you are saying is that this presidential system does not go well with our peculiar situation in Nigeria. So if we have to stem the crisis of governance and bring our democracy back on course, we should go back to the parliamentary system?

Lanlehin: Yes. But it is unlikely to happen!

Newswatchplus: So where do we go from here? What about re-structuring?

Lanlehin: One must realise that after several election promises by politicians since 1999 to either devolve power or restructure the Nigerian state, nothing ever happened in that direction. This is because once a politician gets powers it is difficult to get him to tinker with the system through which he emerged in the first instance. I would like to say that therefore though the concept of Democracy is universal, the practice is not. Various forms are adopted to suit the peculiar needs of the practicing nations. That is why for instance the American system is different from the British, French, Indian, German adoptions. And that is why I am supporting the parliamentary model for Nigeria, essentially because it is less expensive, less rancourous, more participatory and more accountable.

In my view therefore, the crisis of governance being experienced today can be traced largely to the adoption of the presidential system in 1979. It has proved to be strange and disastrous to our peculiar political and social milieu. A quick but deliberate and conscientious shift to the parliamentary mode of democracy would serve Nigeria and its people better.  

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