Sunday, 6 August 2017

Military, Jonathan, Buhari responsible for Nigeria woes—Ekejiuba





Barr Jezie Ekejiuba is an Onitsha based human right lawyer and President, Voters Right International, a right group that fights to protect the rights of voters in Nigeria. In this interview with Okechukwu Onuegbu, MD/CEO of news48hrs.com, the legal luminary and activist analyse the significance of local government autonomy. He also spoke on other issues.
 
What is Voters Right International all about?

Voters Right International was formed to protect voters because their rights have been relegated to the background yet they are one of the major stakeholders in election processes. Others are the electoral body (INEC), candidates (politicians and political parties). But INEC and politicians believed that they are the only one. They never reckoned that voters have equal rights with them. I have come to show that voters have equal rights. Without voters, candidates and INEC will not be in existence. They will have nobody to campaign to. That is why we instituted a crass action to show that we have rights. We have one regards deregistration of political parties which is currently at the Supreme Court. 

How does Voters Right International view the recent move by the National Assembly to reduce the official age of contesting for Presidential, Governor and parliamentary elections in the country?

We are happy about it because this country has so many qualified young persons yearning for leadership. It will benefit the country if the youths are given opportunity to govern the country. We have been experiencing leadership by old people for long now.
However, allowing the young to rule is a new trend. The world is currently transiting power from old to young. France is leading by electing a 39 year old person as President.
Therefore, I am so happy that the senate has passed it. The house of representative has equally passed it. I believe that 24 or more states will also pass it to form a majority. We want the young to takeover. Any person opposing it is doing that not in the interest of the country. The person has ulterior motive.

How is your group also feeling about the move to grant Local Government autonomy?

That is a good move as well. The Senate and House of Representative have passed it. I am praying that various states house of assembly would pass it. The bill need at least 24 states house of assembly to pass it for it to become a consensus. This is because if they did not concur to it. It will be defeated. I am advising all states to concur and pass it. It is good because there is nothing to hide there. It will bring massive grassroots development such as rural roads, rural water, rural electrification, rural transportation, and so on.
If you go to England you will see that it is what they are using to witness even development. The state and federal government would use through them to reach out to the people at the hinterland. So, let them be given free hands to operate. They will be complimenting the federal and state governments. That is what we meant for restructuring. It is called true federalism. Restructuring is all about true federalism. That is allowing all tiers of government to do things according to their ability in their own ways and their own locality.
I am appealing on the states to please support the local government autonomy. It will benefit everybody. It is time for us to decentralize power. Let the power be returned to the local government.

You said you are appealing to the states government to support the bill. Are there likely indications that they would kick against it?

I know that if the governors support, their various house of assembly will equally support it. I know in Nigeria, most state lawmakers make laws that are usually in tandem to what their governors want. Even though the third tiers of government is provided in the constitution, every time states governors find it difficult to conduct local government election. They have refused to use the democratically elected local government officials to run affairs in the Council Areas. But once this is passed into law, all this would be brought to an end.
They should know that it has nothing to do with the ways they run their house of assembly and state executive. Every local government areas would start competing among themselves for infrastructural and socioeconomic development. For instance, Orumba South Local Government Area will claim to be the first in infrastructural development. Aguata will counter it by showing or showcasing their various developments. So there will be rural development everywhere and the state government will have less things to do. Those in national assembly will have less to do.
Also, the council areas whose executives mismanage funds would move to impeach them and they will face the consequences in EFCC and others. I believe that this is the best thing the state governments should look for. We are asking for good governance and this is it. With it, people will hold their elected councilors responsible and the elected like councilors will also hold the chairmen responsible.

If that is the case, why then would state not likely support it?

They did it before in the last National Assembly. You remember that the bill was passed but it failed to get up to 24 states approval. The former President Jonathan also refused to sign it. This new constitutional amendment is a repetition of the processes they used before under the leadership of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Chairman of Constitutional amendment committee. I am appealing that it passes through at least 24 states assembly as provided by in the constitution. Let it be the last time. They should accept it.  
They are rejecting it because local government allocation coming from the federation account which says that there must be joint state account to be controlled by the state. Immediately it comes to them they may decide how to use it. They have this selfishness to distribute it as they wish. They can say since I am in control of it I will decide on who gets what. But this amendment will make it possible for each council areas to receive theirs directly into their accounts. This same temptation has made them not to conduct local government election in disguise that they can make use of caretaker committee members to run affairs of the local government areas. They will divert it into other sources instead of channeling them to the local government authority. There is temptation that some may even take it to run for elections. So, they may not like to lose that gab. There position is that they may lose power. But I don’t consider it so. They should be satisfied with what they have. Granting the council areas autonomy would reduce too much burden on them.

But don’t you think it was due to abuse of power by the council boss that is making it almost impossible for the country to grant them total financial autonomy?

Well, I believe that we are practicing today is democracy. There is nowhere a governor should accuse the local chairmen of using money wrongly. It is the people that voted them through their councilors that can accuse them. Remember that the constitution gave power to state house of assembly to make laws guiding the running of local government affairs in their various states. So, the states can use regulations to checkmate their activities. It is also the councilors responsibility to remove such persons. Removal is best way of managing or making people to discharge their duties.
See, most of the problems we have in this country is that the military government that drafted this constitution allocated the local government power to the state through the joint account matter instead of allowing local government areas to manage their resources. Take Anambra State for instance, we have twenty one local government areas. What it means is that Anambra State government is the one that collects and manages the allocations meant for the entire 21 Council Areas.

Don’t you think that granting this autonomy would amount in reducing the states internally generated revenues which are most domicile in the local government areas?

The functions of local government areas are provided in the constitutions just like those of various state governments. Examples are markets and parks which have been hijacked by states. But is the constitutional right of local government areas to manage them. States can collect taxes from citizens, companies and others.

How is your organisation going to support this movement?

The best thing is to start sensitisation campaign to highlight its benefits to people. We have started sensitising Honourabl members, state governments and others to support it because it will be for their posterity. So, I will encourage them to do that now for posterity. I did that when I was there. They should use this period to put their names in the book of history. They should know that they won’t be there forever. So there is need for sensitisation. I am appealing to them to do that. We the Voters Rights international are on the forefront advocating for it. We will make them to understand that it will reduce rural to urban migration. Because when you open these rural areas, people will see the need to come and invest home. Everyone would no longer be restricted in the city. There will be functional health centres and clinics. Farmers will have access to transport there produce to the cities. You know that the best ways to control people in the grassroot is to use the local government area executives and legislatures, then to the traditional rulers and their cabinets down to others.
The elected officers would have direct links to people in the grassroots than transitional committee members who are temporary people. TC members are not accessible to the people. It is only when people are elected that they will have direct access to the people and relate with them well. They will know you and you will know them. But they can’t control their power because they were appointed not elected.

What would you want the government to do as regards institutions like states independent election commission and their employees when this autonomy is granted?

I believe that what we are suffering now is as a result of the power and constitution handed over to us by the military. Right from the beginning, there ought not to be State Independent Electoral Commission like ANSIEC. The election should be conducted by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC). But the military that handed us the constitution decided to add that. So, for them been there receiving salary is a waste of public funds. If a budget is made, the house will appropriate for them year in and year out yet they don’t conduct local government election. The best thing is to completely strap it out. Let every election be conducted by INEC. That is the right law. No need for duplication of offices. Those working there should be re-deployed to other ministries. The military made a mistake by creating it in the first place. There is no need wasting public fund and tax payers money on state electoral bodies that are not functional. I am advocating that it should be stripped. Let INEC takeover.
Again, whenever the tenure of council areas expired, INEC should conduct another election to replace new members as it exist in all national and state governments. You don’t wait till it expired. They should get the timetable ready so that everything that is practiced in the federal and state will be replicated in the local government. Let us leave what we are doing that is bad.

Are you also satisfied that there tenure should elapse in three years?
Well, if they say it is three years, state can decide to amend local government law to make it four or two years. But I think three years is okay.

What is your advice to the NASS on presidential assent to the bill to becomes law when the president refuses to assent to within 30 days?

It is all because of the military mentality. There is provision in the constitution the NASS should follow to endorse it. There is how the NASS will override the presidential power to make it law. But you know these things can lead to court case when it happens. I pray for understanding between the two arms of government. Like last time the president refused to sign it, it was due to some certain laws they deprive the president.

We understand that your association is the court with Anambra State government. How far is it?

This case is in appeal number CAQ43720102012 challenging the inflation of the constitution. The constitution provided for a democratically elected local government officers but Anambra state government is using Caretaker and Transition Committee to govern the 21 LGA which is contrary or violation to section 1 (2) and 7 (1)of 1999 constitution. I challenged its violation before Hope Ozor of Anambra state High Court but it was not granted to me. That was why I went to court of appeal. The case is now that they have concluded and adjourned for judgment. I the court of appeal that what we are using to govern Anambra is contrary to constitutional provisions and I am hopeful that I will secure judgment. And if I succeed by the Grace of God, I will serve them to Anambra State government. I hope they will obey it. This is what we are talking about. It is synonymous to local government autonomy. If I get the judgment, and local government autonomy come in place, people will enjoy grassroots democracy and everyone will benefit. It is a court action. It is a public action. I want the rural people to benefit because they are those suffering. The best thing is to open up the system for everything to be moving smoothly. What we are having now is an urban democracy or sectional democracy. It is only when this thing is done that people will have freedom to reach out to the government.

And you believe it would be binding on the current administration when the state government is saying that it does not apply to what they currently have?

Those people are ignorance of what the suit is all about. They should have ask for it if they want to be knowledgeable of what my pleas are. They don’t know the reliefs. One of the reliefs is for court to grant perpetual injunction. Perpetual injunction seeks to prohibit forever the use of appointed people in the position of governing local government areas. Once it is granted, there will be nowhere the state would ever use it again. It is in line with section 1 (2) and section 7. This perpetual injunction is restraining the governor of Anambra State and any of the defendant jointly or severally either by self or their agents to stop appointing, recognizing or accepting the use of unelected persons to run the affairs of the local government areas. This is an impeachable offence. It is called gross misconduct. The constitution explains that gross misconduct is violation of constitution and it is an impeachable offence. So if I succeed on it, and serve to the governor he must obey it. If he refuses, I will apply for order of mandamus that will compel the house of assembly to impeach him and the house must apply that. The judgment could even be used in any states of the federation if granted to my favour.


  

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