By Angela Atabo
Abuja – Malam Mahmud Jega the Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Daily Trust newspapers, on Tuesday in Abuja said the Presidency had been exceeding its role and powers prescribed for it by the constitution since 1999.
Jega said this in his keynote address at an event tagged ‘‘20 years celebration of democracy in Nigeria’’, organised by Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
Jega said that the federal government through the ant-graft agencies appropriated to itself the role of bullying state and local governments.
“Since 1999, the presidency has exceeded the role and powers prescribed for it by the constitution.
“Through the agency of EFCC and ICPC, the government arrogated to itself the role of bullying state and local governments.
‘‘At one time, it used EFCC to force some state assemblies to impeach their governors even when they fell short of a quorum. It is forever grappling for more power.
“One of the biggest power snatches is the arrogation by the President of an unknown role called Party Leader; in that capacity, a president determines the candidates to field at all levels.
“The President even determines who is a party member through “re-registration” in which he hands over membership cards to select individuals.
“He invites people from other parties to come into his party and become candidates even after primaries have been concluded.’’
Jega said that at some point, the Presidency arrogated to itself the power to dictate to INEC who should be declared the winner of any election and how many votes to allocate to that person.
He added that the Presidency assumed the role of appointing Principal Officers of the National Assembly, and any leader who tried to assert its institutional independence was removed through what was famously called “banana peel’’.
Jega said that state governors were the next most powerful and the next most visible actors adding that the power that they exercise was beyond what the constitution envisaged.
He said over concentration of power in the hands of governors, control of contract awards and the virtual jettisoning of the Tenders Board and financial rules, lush security votes among others were powers not envisaged by the constitution.
Jega said that liberal democracy survived in Nigeria uninterrupted for 20 years not so much because of its own evident success but because of the international situation.
He advised that the government should work on strengthening democracy by securing the people and proffering solutions to improve the economy.
The chairman of Governors Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, said in savouring the 20 years of unbroken democracy, Nigeria “needs to keep on improving on the challenges we confront in this democratic dispensation.
‘‘This is when we can begin to talk about success. Freedom is the dividend of democracy. The greatest tribute we can pay to these democracy legends is to continue to build democratic institutions.
“We cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good,’’ he stated.
Human rights activist, Dr Oby Ezekwesili said although Nigeria had recorded 20 years of unbroken democracy, the country’s was still at infancy level.
Ezekwesili said that there was no way democracy would thrive without good governance, adding that “when good governance does not happen, it would be difficult to experience democracy.
‘‘Participation, equality, equity and responsiveness, all define good governance.
“When good governance does not happen, part of the reasons for its failure to govern on these principles, the symptoms is corruption.
‘‘So, when you are going to tackle corruption, you must tackle it not as a superficial symptom; Corruption is a symptom of poor governance.
“The real fundamental problem that we have is poor governance. Corruption is a manifestation of it. It manifests in many ways.’’
Ezekwesili said that the government should tackle corruption from the structural level which was the priority people were putting on the table.
Earlier, CDD Director, Ms Idayat Hassan, said the last 20 years of unbroken democracy offered Nigerians the opportunity to take a stock and make amends where necessary and forge ahead in the democratic adventure.
Hassan said that the aim of the event was to chart the way forward for the nation’s democracy and block every way of re-emergence of military rule.