Aloy Ejimakor's Interview to Nigerian Press, Feb 2009

No Comments » February 23rd, 2009 posted by // Categories: General Articles

Aloy Ejimakor is a Nigerian jurist based in America. He is the President of Organisation of Nigerian Lawyers in Diaspora (ONLID) and also of Nigerian Patriots in Diaspora (NPID). He traveled to Nigeria recently and granted an interview to members of the Press. Below is the text of the interview.

As a Nigerian in the Diaspora and having witnessed elections as it is done there, how would you rate the performance of the INEC in the conduct of elections?

Well, INEC may be called names by some people who have a stake in continually waxing negative on Nigeria and her finest institutions. But for me, I would say that back in 2007, INEC did a great job with the difficult task of conducting elections in a very complex nation of over 140 million people. Throughout the time-line to 2007, the pressures on INEC were just too much. Elements of local and foreign intermeddlers who passed off as either monitors or observers were engaged in a well-coordinated, well-financed campaign to discredit the elections even before the first ballots were cast. And to succeed, they resorted to personalizing their attacks around the person of Professor Maurice Iwu, mostly because Iwu’s brand of stubborn patriotism did not sit well with them and the forces they represented. This is besides the other distractions collateral to the war of attrition between the former president and his vice, the hidden ambitions of the then senate president and so on. That Iwu and INEC overcame all these and gave Nigeria her first truly democratic transition since Independence is something that Nigerian patriots like me celebrated in the Diaspora with foreign friends of Nigeria who all together acknowledged Iwu’s single-minded resilience as a gutsy umpire for the most populous black nation on earth. As for the flaws that the naysayers have tried to so much overplay, I will say these: I believe that the problem of organizing elections in Nigeria goes beyond INEC as a single institution amongst the many others like the police and the SSS that are also deployed to critical functions on election day. And if we decide as citizens that nobody is going to interdict our ballot boxes; that election-day law enforcement will rise to deal with instant electoral offenses; that our politicians will refrain from engaging thugs to cause electoral mayhem; and that everybody else comes together to say: for once we are going to have the most credible elections of all time, it will happen and all the Iwus and INECs of this world cannot frustrate that desire. But if we decide that, as voters and politicians, we are going to be mired in election malpractices just like exam malpractices and other sharp practices that are rife in this country, the most pious assemblage of umpires headed by the Pope himself will not succeed in giving us an election anywhere near being credible. In other words, it is our dubious ways as a people and the mindset that we must win by hook or crook that give us marred elections. Professor Iwu (and those that will succeed him) and our current and future INECs are just the fall guys for what I like to call “embedded societal proclivity to beating the system”.

So what are your suggestions on curbing electoral malpractices in Nigeria?

First of all, we need to strengthen the institutions that support INEC and that includes having some continuity in the leadership of INEC beyond June 2010 (when the term of the current leadership is billed to sunset). Continuity becomes more compelling because the next election in 2011 would have to be held much earlier than before. Continuity is also supported by the following factors: recommendations of the Electoral Reform Panel that elections be held early enough; the clear wishes of vast majority of Nigerians; and the political liability that comes if the President is seen to be too eager to placate the opposition by replacing an experienced INEC leadership too close to the next election. The Presidency has shown political courage by tending towards re-appointing former INEC Commissioner, Igbani and I don’t see why Chairman Iwu will not be re-appointed on the same theory. In other words, if it is true that Professor Iwu’s tenure will expire in June 2010, it will not make any sense in replacing him with a new Chairman, especially since replacing him might give the unwitting impression that the President capitulated to those who saw his mandate as illegitimate, besides the more important point that such eleventh hour replacement will further complicate the same issues we are trying to overcome. The President has the prerogative to re-appoint Professor Iwu, even so on an interim basis, and it is the position of vast majorities of the Nigerian Diasporan organizations that the President will not kowtow to those who wished otherwise just because they lost an election an Iwu happened to have conducted. Coming to the other institutional factors, we must bear in mind that INEC does not function in a vacuum of institutions but rather in the midst of many institutions. INEC does not have the powers to arrest electoral offenders, the police does. INEC does not have the national intelligence mandate to detect early conspiracies portending threats to our elections, the SSS and to some extent, the NIA does. INEC is not well-funded and that must stop forthwith because its functions are ever so central to our very survival as a democracy. In the immediate future, we might have to consider the efficacies of giving INEC some ad-hoc coercive powers on election day in order to enable it to, on its own, immediately take electoral offenders into custody and bring them to book without any let or hindrance.

Additionally, we need a permanent regime of voter education and I understand INEC is doing something right now about it by bringing Electoral Institutes into the realm, thanks to reforms brought by the same Professor Iwu. Further, the media needs to get beyond negative reporting on Iwu and INEC and turn to educating Nigerians on the many reforms undertaken by INEC in recent times. A more informed voter would be more vigilant in guarding his vote against ballot snatchers. Further, Iwu’s determination to reduce the use of ad-hoc staff is part of the larger reforms in the general direction of making our line and staff umpires more responsible for what happens on election day in terms of discharging the statutory functions reserved to INEC. These reforms make it imperative that we urgently look anew at the methods and magnitudes in which INEC is presently funded. As regards methods, I will suggest that INEC, like the judiciary, be funded on a first-line charge basis, meaning that it gets to draw from the Federation Account directly as a mater of law. That is bound to make it more independent. As regards magnitudes, the funding must be generous, untangled and devoid of political considerations. I give Professor Iwu the credit for long suggesting these reforms along with his fine thesis on electronic voting. But for now that INEC cannot draw directly due to constitutional constraints, the National Assembly can resort to its appropriation powers to ensure that no expense is spared in the funding of the next elections until such a time we get around to amending the constitution to make matters clearer. And finally, Nigeria has come full circle to the point that we don’t have any business with asking foreign nations to help fund our elections. If foreigners are not allowed to fund our political parties, why would we accept their strings-laden freebies to fund our elections? This is a national security matter which came to the fore when these foreigners demanded access to the biometrics of Nigeria’s registered voters. And they nearly succeeded but for Professor Iwu’s uncanny intellectual grasp of matters of national security and statecraft.

As President of the Organisation of Nigerian Lawyers in the Diaspora (ONLID), what is your take on the recent judgment on the voting rights of Nigerians in the Diaspora?

This question comes under the general purview of what is often referred to as the ‘Diaspora Voting Rights’. This idea developed out of the ‘Absentee Ballot’ system which is prevalent in America, whereby Americans living overseas can cast their ballots at any of the American diplomatic missions closest to them. So, based on this premise, we in the Diaspora felt that our universal suffrage suffers as a consequence of our sojourn abroad and absence of a clear legal path to whether we can cast our ballots at our locations overseas or not. And because INEC was also not clearly statutorily empowered to take extra-territorial ballots, a crack team of Nigerian Diaspora proceeded to bring legal action in this regard. Now that a competent court has given verdict in recognition of Diaspora Voting Rights, I see no reason why anybody would want to be opposed to the idea. I only see a new opportunity for the National Assembly to either enact a law to define the procedural angles; and when time comes for constitutional amendment, to consider whether it is even better to give it the force of constitutional protection.

As a lawyer of many years standing, what is your take on the conferment of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN? Would you say it has deepened the country’s judicial system?

The recent visit of Former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to his former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has generated a lot of controversy in the body polity. What is your take on this?

First of all, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is supposed be one of the major opposition leaders, not by the strength and spread of his party, but by the sheer dint of his many battles with the former regime and the war of attrition he launched on President Yar’Adua’s mandate and INEC. So, if Atiku now wishes to reconcile with Obasanjo or PDP which did most to ruin his political career, that can only be justified at the personal level because any reconciliation that rises to the level of a new political marriage is, frankly, a betrayal of the entire opposition and the forward-troopers who bore the worst brunt of the spats between Atiku and Obasanjo. What happens to Lai Mohammed? What happens to Usman Bugaje? What happens to Tinubu, the AC and its ranks? And for Obasanjo and PDP, what happens to Professor Iwu and INEC that were so much alleged by Atiku to be on Obasanjo/PDP payroll? The justification found by Atiku in the ‘reconciliation’ between De Klerk and Nelson Mandela is not in pari materia because De Klerk remained in the National Party and in stark opposition to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress years after the sunset of apartheid. Further, any consideration by Atiku that he needed to reconcile with Obasanjo must have been, in the first place, encouraged by the stout defense INEC and Iwu raised against him while he unleashed his barrage of attacks against Yar’Adua, PDP, INEC and Professor Iwu; and as regards Professor Iwu, I would say so unfairly. Atiku talked about reaching for peace after war but neither the PDP nor any of its apparatchiks offered any evident and effective rebuttal to Atiku’s deployment of sections of the domestic and international media to array negative attacks against them. That means that the second constituency that might be left in the cold on this new path to Atiku/Obasanjo/PDP romance is INEC and Chairman Iwu and some ‘non-stakeholding’ faceless Nigerians who never meant to but were still the only ones that mustered the stout defense of the system that constituted the so-called ‘war’ that compelled Atiku to now seek reconciliation. Finally, if this reconciliation has elements to it that intends to replace Yar’Adua with Atiku as the PDP flag bearer in 2011 on the premise that Yar’Adua may be too ill to run, then it is in utter bad taste. But if it involves some arrangement whereby Atiku will refrain from attacking INEC, Professor Iwu, Yar’Adua and aspects of our national institutions ceaselessly and call his troops home, then some decent Nigerians might come to terms with it.

Attorney Ejimakor can be reached at:

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