Mr. Tuduru Ede, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, in this interview gives insight into the legal implications of President Muhammadu Buhari seeking amendment to the just passed Electoral Act. He also speaks on other legal and national issues.
By Davies Iheamnachor
What is your assessment of the constitution amendment process so far, what areas do you think must be addressed quickly?
We don’t have problem with constitution amendment. The jamboree they are doing is to collect allowances claiming to be amending the constitution. We don’t need to write constitution everyday and we don’t need to amend every day.
The problem is not in the constitution, but us. Like a great thinker said, the problem of man is not in the stars but in us. You can write one million constitutions but if we don’t have good habits and characters, if we keep entering politics for the sake of acquiring property and wealth, stealing money, getting all the benefits for yourselves, family and community and relatives. That is the problem.
By all means, if we have good people in power, things will change. Our problem is not the constitution; it is because we don’t have people who are sincerely administering the Nigerian State.
If you have people who are selfless, who think about tomorrow, who think about legacies, not legacy of privatisation of state wealth, not legacy of stealing state resources, but legacy of leaving things we can count on when they are no longer available, the place is okay.
Because we are looking at circumstances where many of us left secondary schools, had choice of working and got employment without knowing anybody, can that be today? So the problem in reality now is that we have excessively greedy persons.
People these days steal what they don’t need. They steal and exceed their greed. If you take what you need, you leave the balance, but these days, they steal, exceed their greed, claiming to leave money, property for their children.
But we also have seen that no problem is solved rather, they have created more problems.
If we have persons who are sincere, who come in and say ‘in my tenure, I will build roads, health centres, schools, I will provide employment, I will work for security, we will move forward.
But as I speak also, every home runs on generator, yet we are flaring gas, while we need gas turbine. I tell you, if any of them even comes to do a gas turbine, the price he will give will be 10 times higher than what is available.
Today, we complain about everything, but there was a time every vehicle was manufactured here. Today, we import everything yet we complain about foreign exchange. Any of our politicians who is sick either flies abroad or flies in doctors here, when the cheapest thing would have been to equip our hospitals here.
We still have good leaders, but they would need to spend money. Where would you get the money? The only persons they sponsor for elections are persons that are pliable. If they put you there, be ready to be played like record. If you are not ready to play their music, of course, they will throw you out.
What is your view on the amendment sought by President Buhari to the just passed Electoral Act?
The president is right because certain sections of the constitution have already made provisions for those who want to seek elective offices to quit either by resignation or relinquishment of the appointment they currently hold, at least 30 days to election.
So you cannot just go ahead to propose an amendment to an electoral act by overriding the constitutional provisions.
It is pure law that a constitutional provision is superior to any other laws. Section 1 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) makes such law completely inconsistent. It is even ridiculous that some persons appear to have gone to court to seek order to say that the president has no right to propose an amendment to that Section. I mean, it is pure abuse of process.
The Constitution has already said; if you are interested in politics or running for any other office and you are holding a political position, quit at least 30 days to the election. So you could still be holding one appointment and seek to go for a new one without leaving unless it is 30 days to the election.
So why then are they coming now to make a different provision requiring somebody who is interested in running to leave six months, 180 days before election?
What are the implications of the development?
It is pure personal vendetta by some political players against their colleagues or opponents/perceived enemies in the polity.
It smacks of persons playing village politics; my family against your family. So you bring in everything to the table. It will not stand the test of time.
The position of the president is completely correct. It has legal backing. He received good and superior legal advice and as a good statesman, he also played proper game in ensuring that he gave notice to the National Assembly with the view of that situation being remedied.
What is your view about NASS’s refusal to put VAT on the Exclusive List?
VAT is a very exclusive situation. It is an issue that needs to be taken care of with understanding from all players, all states, all local government areas and all parties to it.
VAT must be dealt with by reference to what transpires in other federations. Remember that even in the United States, there is what they call interested state commerce; you produce an item in one state, you transport it to another state. Some go through several state boundaries.
That requires that people must sit on the table to talk about them. If you want to make it exclusive list item, discuss first. You want to leave it in the residual list, discuss first. You want to make it concurrent, discuss first. You must come to some measure of agreement. All parties must come to some measure of agreement. By that we will avoid rancour and anarchy in the system of generating revenue through what they call VAT.
What does making party primaries early to the election in the time table by INEC portend?
The primary elections can come anytime, but it must respect the timelines provided for in the Constitution and in the Electoral Act. But you see, timing is not even an issue, the issue is whether INEC will ever be prepared to conduct elections in the most acceptable and credible manner. Then you look at the political players in the various political parties, particularly two major parties. They need to bring a lot of statesmanship and interest of the voting public to bear upon any considerations they make, upon any decision they take. At the end of the day, it is to better the lots of the citizens. We are concerned with provision of light, jobs, education, good health facilities and security.
As I speak, I can tell you there is privatisation of state security, what is now commonly called state capture by some individuals. When some persons move on the road, you see a convoy of army, police, navy, I am sure even the air force accompanies them, not to talk about the local vigilante. So, where are we heading to?
This is not the Nigeria we met, something very different. The problem has always not been with the law, but with the operators; operators of the political parties and operators of the election administration in Nigeria.
How do we ensure that election matters are disposed of before elected officers are sworn in?
I think even in the current Electoral Act, which substantially some of us opposed, some efforts have also been made in harmonizing the courts to which, apart from the tribunal, the election and re-election matters go to. You know for instance, pre-election matters now are for the Federal High Courts.
That is a good step. At least, we have managed to remove the interference of some state governors in the electoral process. But then, there are some innovations in the current Electoral Act to reduce the timeline for litigation.
I do believe that to make it easier, once you get a position, that is, witness statement on oath, we should deem some of them as adopted. Then, instead of going through the process of cross examination, do a written deposition, write out the questions and submit to the other party to respond in writing in the manner of what the Americans call grand jury. So you have put in your petition, the other party files his response. We should give like a month, for the defendant to write questions to be served on the petitioner, then the petitioner to also write out his questions and serve on the respondent. Both parties also answer them in the way they find the positions, that is, witness statements on oath, then both parties exchange. Then on the basis of what comes out, they can go further to formulate the questions for determination. It is as good as done.
Recently, it appears elected officers are products of the court, other than that of the electorate, what is your take?
That is the Nigerian aberration. As a lawyer, I am very circumspect to speak about that. But why would election be determined by court? It shouldn’t be. Even if it were to be determined by court, it shouldn’t be that matters should run from Tribunal to Court of Appeal, and to Supreme Court, for instance for governorship election.
That is why our cases are not moving at the Supreme Court which is over burdened.
The Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal did not sit one day and say let the matters come to us.
It is the politicians who created the problem. So the politicians should also go further to amend the law to ensure that the courts don’t have much say in how leaders are elected.
You saw what happened in the last American election, how Donald Trump wanted everything to be done to upturn the election of Joe Biden, but the courts refused. That is because their constitution is made that way.
So, our elected representatives should be bold enough to shield the court from the politics of electioneering and election administration.
What do you think should be done to end insecurity in Nigeria?
For some time now, people have been talking about community policing, to a good extent, I agree that we should have community police and that there should be a centralisation of same to be funded from the federal level.
When you leave it for the local government, it will be used like village matters. This is because from our understanding of other countries, if you leave Port Harcourt and enter Ahoada today, the first thing is, as you arrive, the person who hosts you will report your presence and the security agents will run a test on you to know who you are.
But here, people move from one community to the other, from one state to another, nothing is cross- checked. These are the challenges.
Then you look at the issue of proliferation of small arms. How did we come to this point where you can walk to even motorpark and buy AK47, not to talk about bullets? Our security system has been compromised.
What do you make of the current fuel situation in the country?
For fuel scarcity, I have a special idea on why we often have scarcity. Nigerians who sell fuel will always contrive a situation to swindle the public even when there is no scarcity. They create artificial scarcity and simply sell fuel and try to make more money.
Are they not being supervised by anybody? They are. We have an agency that takes care of that, but do they go and enforce? No! When they go, they collect money and leave, so we are left to the elements.
Any suggestion on way out will make no sense. If you say build more refineries, the ones we have, are we using them? You know how much they are making from importation including importing fake fuel, adulterated fuel.