Friday, 12 June 2015

Was Robert Clarke (SAN) Right? : A Closer Look at the Nigerian Constitution

I know, I know!! The Oracle seems to be talking too much these days abi? Anyway, in my last divination, I talked about how APC's disrespect of the PDP cost them a say in who became the President and Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate. I also briefly mentioned a number of arguments and opinions about the emergence of Saraki and Ekweremadu as Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively.

One of these arguments was that the elections-ab initio-was unconstitutional; an argument initiated by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in the person of Robert Clarke on Channels Television. Clarke stated that it was wrong for those who nominated and elected Saraki and Ekweremadu to justify their actions by claiming that the 57 senators-elect present at the time were more than enough to form a quorum in line with the "quorum rule" in the Nigerian constitution. He argued that the "quorum rule" was meant for Senators who have been inaugurated and for the purpose of carrying out normal senate businesses and that it was wrong to be used by mere Senators-elect as an excuse to disenfranchise their colleagues. He further urged the APC to go to court.

Mr. Clarke’s argument resonated widely amongst Nigerians and many see the elections as were conducted at the Senate House on the 9th of June 2015 as unconstitutional...the acceptance of this argument may be because of Mr. Clarke’s  position of authority as a SAN...surely he must know what he is talking about. Although I am not a legal practitioner and I really am not worthy to argue with a highly placed Learned Gentleman in the person of Robert Clarke... this is exactly what I intend to do.  I believe that the Nigerian constitution is for all to read, interpret and seek understanding of. I do personally think that Mr. Clarke has got his interpretation wrong on this occasion and I will say why.

The "quorum rule" can be found in section (54); sub-section (1) of the Nigerian constitution and it states that:

"The quorum of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall be one-third of all the members of the Legislative House concerned".

So in this case, since there are 109 (presently 108) Senators, a quorum can be formed by 36 Senators. Now, whilst those who elected Saraki and Ekweremadu argue that 57 Senators were more than enough to form a quorum, Mr. Clarke argues that the rule says"...members of the senate or house of representatives" and therefore only comes into play when the Senators have been inaugurated. This sounds legit yeah? Well let's see what the same constitution says about the election of senate leaders.

Section (50), sub-section (1), article (a) of the Nigerian constitution states that there shall be:

“A President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.”

Now, this section clearly referred to those who shall elect the Senate President and Deputy President as "members of the house" even though they are yet to be inaugurated. The 57 people who were present when Saraki was elected unopposed and 75 people who were there when Ekweremadu was elected were indeed "members of the house". At this very point, it is clear that Clarke's argument cannot hold water because the constitution clearly sees Senators-elect as members of the house prior to their inauguration.

Clarke also claimed that 51 senators-elect were deliberately disenfranchised...it is this particular claim that annoys me about Clarke. Like I said in my previous article, 108 Senators-elect chose a venue, time and date for an event; at the agreed time, some were absent and the scheduled event went ahead as planned. I cannot understand why those who kept to the agreed time should be chastised...common sense tells me that the 51 APC senators disenfranchised themselves and should really be admonished for their folly. Apart from what common sense tells me, you may wonder if it was constitutional for that election to be held when others were away...let's see what the constitution says.

Section (52), sub-section (1) of the Nigerian constitution says:

“Every member of the Senate or the House of Representatives shall, before taking his seat, declare his assets and liabilities as prescribed in this Constitution and subsequently take and subscribe the Oath of Allegiance and the oath of membership as prescribed in the Seventh Schedule to this Constitution before the President of the Senate or, as the case may be, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but a member may before taking the oaths take part in the election of a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, as the case may be, or a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives”

Now the point of focus is "...but a member may before taking the oaths take part in the election of a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, as the case may be...".Do you notice that the word “may” was used instead of “must”? This section clearly states that participation in the election is optional...Senators can clearly decide not to be there, or decide not to vote even if they were there. Since 51 senators decided to attend another event instead of a pre-agreed event in the Senate house...the 57 who turned up were free to carry on with the events of the day as attendance and participation were optional.

At this point, I plead with Mr. Robert Clarke to drop the sentiments and really study the Nigerian constitution before coming up again on live TV to feed unsuspecting Nigerians with wrong information. I also suggest to you- the Nigerian citizen- to grab yourself a copy of the Nigerian constitution...it not only lets you know what should be allowed and what shouldn't in the Nigerian polity, it also helps you crosscheck the information you get from obviously biased persons as it concerns the laws of the land. God bless Nigeria!

The Oracle has spoken!!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Respect the Opposition: Lessons from APC's Blunder

Yesterday, the Nigerian Senate elected their principal officers and we saw Senator Bukola Saraki of APC emerging Senate President and Ike Ekweremadu of PDP his deputy.

A lot has been said about this election: some hail the PDP for their political savviness, others say PDP merely saw a chance and took it; some say APC has sown the seed of disintegration amongst themselves, others accuse Saraki as being a traitor; some say that what happened and the current situation of things in the Senate House is healthy for the growth of our Democracy, others say it was illegal for voting to have commenced without the 51 APC Senators-elect who went for a meeting as summoned by President Buhari...they argue that it was wrong to assume that section 54 (1) of the Nigerian constitution was applicable in yesterday's scenario as the Senators were yet to be inaugurated. The said section reads: "The quorum of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall be one-third of all the members of the Legislative House concerned".

Well, I wouldn't delve into these debates now...but I made an important observation and learnt a very important lesson: "never disrespect your opposition". How come? 

Now, prior to the convergence of the Nigerian Senators...the time and "venue" of the event must have been earlier agreed on by all and sundry. By the events of yesterday, it is safe to say the venue was at the National Assembly complex and the time was 10 A.M. because that was when both Senators-elect and staff members of the National Assembly were allowed access into the complex. Reports say that Senators elected on the platform of the APC were to meet President Buhari at the International Conference Centre, Abuja at 9:00 A.M.; 51 of the 59 APC Senators left for this meeting and seemingly put the pre-agreed convergence and inauguration of all Nigerian Senators at the backburner. They were at the International Conference Centre till about 11 A.M. waiting for Buhari who unfortunately never turned up and only left when news of what was happening at the National Assembly reached them. Some say that these 51 APC Senators may have known that with Saraki and his team joining forces with PDP, their candidate (Senator Ahmed Lawan) stood no chance at becoming Senate President hence they chose to stay away from the election or look up to Buhari as their very last hope. But judging from the way they reacted when they got the news and the speed with which they headed back to the National Assembly complex I dare say that:
  1. The APC leadership and Senators-elect must have thought that all 59 members would be at the International Conference Centre for the said meeting with Buhari.
  2. They were audacious enough to think that as Senators from the ruling party, the event scheduled for 10 A.M. at the National Assembly complex would never kick-off till they arrive. They actually never seemed to have bothered about people who may be waiting for them at the National Assembly complex and were ready to wait as long as it takes for Buhari to arrive…they only left when news of proceedings got to them.
  3. Points 1 and 2 above clearly show that the APC leadership and 51 Senators-elect had no iota of respect for the Senators-elect from the PDP whom they expected to "sit and wait" at the hallowed chamber for their "superior" colleagues to arrive before the business of the day commences.
In their folly, they forgot that constitutionally, the Senate Presidency could go to any Senator whether from a majority or minority party. APC actually did risk a PDP Senator-elect emerging as Senate President because they had a greater number of members at the very point of election: 49 against 8. They should also be grateful that Saraki was there to be nominated because if he had gone for that "meeting", PDP would have had no choice than to nominate and vote in a PDP candidate as Senate President...and yeah APC would have needed 72 members to unseat him/her, a number which they lack.

Well...the arguments can tarry, but personally I think it all went wrong for APC yesterday when the 51 Senators-elect and some party leaders chose to disrespect PDP Senators-elect and take them for granted. Some may argue that even if the 51 Senators-elect were present during the election, Saraki would still have won as it would have been 57 against 51. However, they neglect the fact that Saraki was a sole nominee and was unopposed. This was because the PDP had reached an agreement with him and the 8 APC Senators-elect in the Chamber were either for him or for Ahmed Lawan who wasn’t in the Chamber at the time and therefore couldn’t be nominated. There also was no guarantee that if an election was conducted, all 8 APC Senators-elect who skipped the “meeting” would have voted Saraki. A look at what played out as the Deputy Senate President was elected goes further to show that the absence of the 51 senators played a role in APC’s blunder. 

There were 75 Senators-elect in the hallowed chamber when the election for deputy speaker was conducted. Ekweremadu polled 54 votes: theoretically, this should be 49 votes from the PDP and 5 votes from the 8 APC members who didn’t go for the “meeting”. An additional 18 APC members arrived and gave Ali Ndume their votes; 2 APC members out of the 8 who never went for the “meeting” also voted Ndume (20 votes in total); a Senator decided not to vote (can’t tell whom s/he would have voted for). 33 APC members were probably still on their way to the chamber or still at the International Conference Center waiting for Buhari. Assuming they were in the hall, and the abstaining Senator voted for Ndume …Ekweremadu may not have won outrightly and same goes for Saraki. 
  
I hope they have learnt their lesson and that they remember that PDP has 49 members which is more than enough to form a quorum in the house (36 members needed)...so when next an important event is scheduled in the House, they shouldn't go “gallivanting” as they do not really have a superior status in the Hallowed Chamber.

And for the record...I do like that Tinubu failed to take control of the Leadership of the National Assembly; I now hope that these lawmakers forget the politics and get down to the real reasons for which they were elected. God bless Nigeria.

The Oracle has spoken!!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Post-2015 General Elections: Do Nigerians Now Have A Voice?

I was having a chat with some of my mates on the 30th of March 2015 as the Nigerian Presidential election results were being announced. I must point out that amongst us, there were the pro-Buharist and pro-Jonathans and as expected, there was a whole lot to disagree on. But one commonality was the expectation of violence...most of us had that sense of foreboding even when the results appeared to be heading Buhari's way. The thinking was that down South-south violence will emanate. 

However, I felt differently...I told them that if Buhari wins, there will be no violence because Nigeria's southerners would rarely get violent for political reasons. Yes, there may be pockets of agitations here and there...they will not tarry and will certainly not turn into a full-scale upheaval. I, however, said it wouldn't be so should Buhari lose the election as the Northerners would definitely agitate. Well, it happened as I envisaged... Asari Dokubo and other Southern elements who huffed, puffed and threatened fire and brimstone should Jonathan lose haven’t mustered a word since then. Now, where am I heading with this?

There is this overly optimistic feeling that Nigeria's electoral process has matured to the point where the citizens can decide the outcome of elections. It is very easy to cite as favourable instance the fact that the 2015 election was considerably free and fair and that a sitting President was voted out…fair enough. The sense of improvement is also backed up when one reflects on what elections used to be under Obasanjo ...a do or die affair. However, I am a bit sceptical about sharing in this optimism …not because I’m a pessimist but because I am a realist. I do really wish this to be our turning point and the change we crave for in our electoral process; but in my own opinion, for the electoral process to really change, the judiciary must change, our politicians must change, and the electorate too...and as we all know, none of these has changed. In fact, it is this same electoral process which got GEJ ousted that also got a despised man in the person of Theodore Orji of Abia state elected into the Nigerian Senate, his rascally son into the State House of Assembly and his crony as State Governor. As it concerns unseating the incumbent President (which many Nigerians have taken as sign of Citizen-power) - apart from the disaffection which GEJ's leadership brought - I do believe that three major factors came into play for this to happen; these were: a man, the former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan; tribal underpinnings; and of course the threat of violence. I will discuss these three.

Goodluck Jonathan as a factor

If you may recall, the election that ushered us into the democratic era in 1999 from a Military dispensation was way better than those conducted by OBJ in 2003 and 2007. In 2011, GEJ oversaw an election which was dramatically better than any of those under OBJ...2015 even witnessed improvements. By all indications, if OBJ were in charge during the 2015 general elections, the outcome wouldn't have been the same.

GEJ –as a politician who was seeking re-election- had the power to remove Professor Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of INEC when there were talks of his being biased; he could have appointed someone who would dance to his tune…he didn’t. GEJ as President saw proof that kids were allowed to register and vote in the North yet he didn't pick on that as an excuse to change things in his favour. As the President he experienced accreditation problems with the card-readers, he could have picked on this as an excuse to change things…he didn’t. As the President, he got reports that a large number of people in the Southern region of the country where he expected to get a bulk of his votes from couldn’t get their voters' cards for reasons not of their own making…this was another opportunity to juggle things to his favour and he didn’t. Though I am not encouraging such, but GEJ had a number of “legitimate excuses” to tinker things in his favour…but why didn’t he? It may have been because he wanted to play fair, that's one. Two, he may have been confident of winning despite all. Three, he definitely was aware of the likelihood of violence if he made a wrong move and he kept repeating that his political ambition was not worth the blood of a single Nigerian. In my own opinion, what GEJ did was merely set a good example which other Politicians may or may not copy, he hasn't instituted a fundamentally different system from what we used to know. 

Violence as a factor

You may recall that before the election, there was massive movement away from the North by people who expected some sort of post-electoral violence as has been the norm in previous two elections following Buhari's loss. However, there wasn’t such movement away from the South which was GEJ’s political stronghold. In fact, In Nigeria, political violence seems to be the preserve of the North. Add this Northern culture of post-electoral violence to the fact that it has been in the news that the US predicted Nigeria breaking up by 2015; the facts that APC members have threatened to set up a parallel government if the outcome of the election goes contrary to their expectation; and the fact that the already existing Boko Haram insurgence had stretched the Nigerian Military and security apparatus to their very limit… all you have are the trappings of unrestricted-violence. I am not saying that this will solely be in the North, no ...but it would have started in the North with the South retaliating and maybe a civil war and ethnic bloodshed would have ensued. GEJ knew this and he chose not to take a risk by denying Buhari his victory despite the fact that it may be unmerited. Some may call this cowardice, but I do call it Wisdom because it is mere folly and stupidity to risk the lives of the people you are to govern just because you want to govern them. Take a look at Bashar Hafez al-Assad in Syria...killing his own people because they do not want him as President; even closer home is Burundi with Pierre Nkurunziza refusing the douse the on-going violence by opting out of a bid for an unconstitutional 3rd term in office as President.

Ethic sentiments as a factor

I must say that there were a couple of factors that determined who voted for or against GEJ and Buhari: a minority of Nigerians would have voted for these men because the genuinely liked them and believed that they would make a difference in Nigeria as President. A larger set of people voted one as a "lesser evil" over the other...some voted GEJ not because they felt he had something tangible to offer but because they feared the unknown as it concerned Buhari or because they didn't see Buhari doing better and vice versa. I dare say that the greatest majority voted on ethnic lines as has been the norm over the years.

Nigeria is made up many forms of divisions both abstract and concrete. We have divisions by religion (Christianity and Islam); by regions (North and South); by geopolitical zones (South-west, South-east, South-south, North-west, North-east, and North-central); by the about 250 ethnic groups though most Nigerians identify with or are seen to be more Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa which are the 3 dominant ethnic groups. Then there is the silent but dominant division by “ethnogeopolitical” zones consisting of the Hausa-Fulani North, Yoruba-Edo South-west, Igbo South-east and the Efik-Ibibio-Ijaw South-south. I must point out though that politically and otherwise, there isn't a solid line between the South-east and parts of the South-South.

The ethnogeopolitical zoning makes it easy for the North to unite under a massive political umbrella while the south is in diverse camps; it also could give a false sense of "majority" because the unified North has the capacity to outvote the diversified South on an issue and the result will still be seen as the “voice of the Nigerian majority cutting across ethic barriers”. To help check this is the electoral rule that states that to win a presidential election, the Candidate needs an overall majority and at least 25% of the votes in two-thirds of the states (24 states). Achieving this feat could theoretically be a given for an anointed Northern candidate who potentially has 19 states at his beck and call and will only need 25% of the votes cast in 6 other states + a clear majority to win. It is not this easy for another anointed candidate from one of the Southern sub-regions who may not be the anointed candidate for the other sub-regions.

The Northern might and unity was felt in the 2015 general elections as they massively voted for APC; the Southern diversity was also noticed as the South-western sub-region voted APC while the South-eastern and South-southern sub-regions voted PDP. In fact, I am convinced that for PDP to win the next presidential election, the following conditions must be met:
  1.  APC must fail woefully in the North and thus becomes despised as a regional party: If this happens, PDP must field an alternate anointed Northern candidate to rival Buhari.

  2. The Northern/south-western pally must go sour: If this happens, PDP must field a candidate from any region (Southern region most preferably) that will unite all of the Southern region.

  3. PDP must field someone mercurial enough to unite the South and divide votes in the North...but who could this be?
As unlikely as these may seem, in all of conditions, the North is still an important factor. So before you join the bandwagon of optimists and take your foot off the pedal in the demand for sustainable change ask yourself these:
  1. If GEJ was bent on remaining as President, was there any institution or system strong enough to stop him?

  2. If not for the threat of Northern violence and the knock-on effect it may have on other parts of Nigeria, would GEJ have given up this easily in the face of perceived electoral anomalies?

  3. Post-GEJ, is there a guarantee that persons in the mould of Obasanjo will not ensure that elections go their way?

  4.  Was the outcome of the election really an indication of the wishes of the majority or was it the result of strategic ethnic alliances that gave a false sense of "collective voice"?

  5. What has changed about the registration of fictitious elements and the underage voters? What has changed about ballot stuffing and snatching? What has changed about results manipulation? What has changed about the judicial system which is meant to deal with those involved in electoral malpractices? What has changed about Nigerian Politicians? What has changed about you the voter?
I am happy that Nigeria is at peace and I do wish President Muhammadu Buhari success as he presides over the affairs of Nigeria. However, in my own opinion and as it concerns elections...until winning and concession of defeat are solely outcomes of the ballot and not of threat of violence; until the disposition of the sitting president has no impact on elections; until ethnicity has little or no role to play or until a system is instituted to give equal weighting of votes across ethic barriers; until the electoral system is good enough to prevent, detect and nullify fraud from the point of voters’ registration to announcement of results; until the Judiciary is strong enough to speedily bring to book and punish electoral offenders; until our politicians and electorate ditch the do-or-die attitude and follow the good example which GEJ has set...nothing has changed, it isn't yet uhuru.

The Oracle has spoken!!