Why All Elections Should Be Conducted Same Day, By Okorie

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Chief Chekwas Okorie is the founder and pioneer National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). In this interview with FELIX NWANERI, he speaks on some recent developments in the polity and what they portend for the nation's development

What is your take on the recent impeachment of Philip Shaibu as deputy governor of Edo State by the state House of Assembly, a development, some say has reechoed the way deputy governors are easily discarded by governors? What played out in Edo State is what you get in a situation, where incumbent governors have almost a total control over nomination of members of the state Assembly members and equally funds the state legislatures, which have become mere appendage of the executive and rubber stamps of governors. In some states Assembly, you have 80 to 90 percent of members belonging to the ruling party in the state.

In some states, you have 100 percent of members belonging to a particular party. But if we have an electoral process in which the peoples' votes count, it becomes nearly impossible for one party to control a state Assembly in such a manner that a governor can gather its members under one roof and give a directive on who they should impeach or not.


Rather, it will be the governor, who would be mindful of his action to avoid doing something that would warrant the lawmakers to impeach him. But as it stands, it is unthinkable to believe that any state Assembly has the capacity to impeach governor but for that of the deputy governor, it is a piece of cake.

What makes it easy for governors to wield such power as you have painted? You will agree with me that we came close to what could be described as a near credible election in the 2023 polls and that was the National Assembly election. You can see the balance in both chambers of the National Assembly – the Senate and House of Representatives – but because the elections did not hold the same day, the ruling parties in the various states went back to their old ways of doing things within two weeks.

And the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) always willing to comply for us to go back to the old system, we saw what happened in the subsequent elections – governorship and states Assembly polls. This is why some of us have continued to insist that all elections should be held in one day. If it is electronic, it will be very seamless and you will see the kind of balance will not allow a governor to sit back and behave like an emperor.

So, assigning responsibilities to deputy governors and electronic voting will curb the excesses of some of these governors and other public office holders.

Do you agree with the view that we may get to a point that it would be difficult to get people to take up the position of deputy governors if constitutional roles are not assigned to them as most of them are seen as mere spare tyres? Yes, deputy governors are supposed to have constitutional responsibilities just like ministers of state. Even at the level of the presidency; I remember what former President Goodluck Jonathan said, when had the opportunity to work with him at the time he was vice president under President Umaru YarÁdu.

You know that the when the Justice Mohammed Uwais committee was set up, another one called the Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform was also set up. That committee had the national chairmen of the five political parties at the time and was chaired by then Vice-President Jonathan. I remember that this issue came

We came close to what could be described as a near credible election in 2023… but because the elections did not hold the same day, the ruling parties in the various states went back to their old ways of doing things within two weeks

up and Jonathan put it as joke by asking about the kind of vice-president the framers of the Nigerian constitution had in mind, when the person is just a spare tyre and does not have functions, including not even having a security vote. Before then, I didn't even know that the vice-presidents didn't even have security vote of their own.

So, it behooves on the National Assembly to look at ways of strengthening the offices of vice-president and deputy governors in the ongoing amendment to the 1999 Constitution by assigning constitutional roles to both offices. That will serve as a check to their respective principals, particularly the governors, who, like I said before, behave like emperors.

Talking about constitutional amendment; what do you make of the call by some elder statesmen led by a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, for President Bola Tinubu to adopt the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference in restructuring Nigeria as according to them, the National Assembly is not in a position to give Nigerians a people constitution? I am on all fours with Chief Anyaoku's position on the issue of restructuring of Nigeria on the basis of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference because the confab had delegates from across the country, numbering close to 600 people. Also that conference came up with 660 recommendations, which were arrived at on the basis of consensus. It is unprecedented that such number of Nigerians from diverse backgrounds and persuasions to arrive at 660 recommendations on consensus.

That conference, which cost Nigeria approximately N7 billion for it to be conducted, also came up with a draft constitution and we had expected that President Goodluck Jonathan, who convoked it will expedite action on implementation of the recommendations, but apparently for political reasons, he may have considered that coming back to office for a second term will give him ample time to do so. Unfortunately, that opportunity didn't come. Unfortunately again, President Muhammadu Buhari did not mince words to say that he will not touch the report even with a long spoon.

However, I will say that the National Assembly is not in any position to give us a peoples' constitution. The National Assembly that some people are looking at is a product of the same 1999 Constitution that we want to change and so many things have been wrong with our leadership recruitment process as a result of all the complications of that constitution. So, the 2014 confab recommendations should be subjected to a referendum.

I do not mind if the Federal Government sets up a small committee, not a new conference, to look at some of the recommendations and make adjustments because it has been long the report was submitted and society is dynamic. Let me also say that Chief Anyaoku is not alone in this struggle. So many well meaning Nigerians have made it clear that if Nigeria is forced to remain under this constitution that we are operating, the country will not survive.

What makes you believe that Nigeria will not survive under the 1999 Constitution (as amended)? How can we rely on the present arrangement, which has been unable to agree on an issue like autonomy for the local government? Even after the National Assembly passed a bill in that regard, it did not scale the hurdle of two-third approval of state Houses of Assembly. A process as that is not what will give us a new constitution.

Let me also use this opportunity to say that President Tinubu was one of us in the trenches in fight for true federalism. So, he is in a unique position and history beckons on him to restructure Nigeria and become the country's father of federalism just like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was and is still the father of Nigerian nationalism.

The 10th National Assembly was recently accused of budget padding by one of the senators. While many believe that it is a familiar path, some are of the opinion that there is a political undertone behind the allegation? This weighty allegation of N3.7 trillion budget padding was made by a group that called itself the Northern Senators Forum. The chairman of the group, Senator Abdul Ningi chose the British Service, BBC (Hausa) to make this broadcast in which he made order weighty and inciting allegations that portray the North as being at the receiving end of the Bola Tinubu administration.

The Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was also portrayed as being complicit in short changing the North in the 2024 budget appropriation act. In the publications under reference, the Senate Committee Chairman on Media and Publicity, Senator Yemi Adaramodu, promptly debunked the allegations of his northern colleagues. Curiously, Senator Ningi had gone international with his damaging allegations, while stating at the same time that his forum would meet with President Tinubu and Senator Akpabio separately to inform them about the discoveries they made after their hired consultants had combed the 2024 budget with a fine comb.

The proposed visit will come after demarketing the country on a respectable international media platform. It was not long ago, when Senator Ali Ndume, another prominent member of the Northern Senators Forum, came out firing from all cylinders, threatening political consequences if President Tinubu did not order the reversal of the administrative actions of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Aviation Ministry to move some of their departments to Lagos for a more efficient and cost effective service delivery.

Again, a recent visit of the Israeli Ambassador to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, attracted the ire of Alhaji Abubakar Gumi, an Islamic cleric, who imputed religious undertone in what was clearly an official visit. It will be recalled that it was the same Alhaji Gumi who raised a false alarm that the appointment of Wike as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory by President Tinubu was a plot to the deny the North of their birth right. In his warped thinking, the FCT Ministry was the exclusive preserve of the North, even where there is no such provision in the Nigerian Constitution.

Are these scenarios enough for any ne to read political meaning to issue Senator Ningi raised? President Tinubu is yet to complete one year in office, and a few vocal political scavengers from a particular section of the North have vowed to blackmail, intimidate, and distract the President until his administration is derailed. While they are on it, they are also targeting the Senate President, Senator Akpabio. I can now see the wisdom and the hand of God in placing Senator Akpabio as the Senate President at this time.

I shudder to imagine that our dear country would have gone up in flames by now if Akpabio's closest rival was elected as the Senate President. Opposition politics is healthy and contributes to good governance if it is constructive. I am an apostle of constructive opposition. I have observed with dismay that when the same political elite who are 99 per cent responsible for the multi-dimensional backwardness in their own part of the North, are out power, they hide under the umbrella of the non-existent monolithic North to mobilize forces against the government in power.

These unpatriotic elements must not forget that it was North-controlled military governments that systematically moved Nigeria from a four regional structure to 36 state structure and the Federal Capital Territory that has the status of a state in the Nigerian Constitution. In Nigeria's 64 years of independence, the North has held executive powers at the federal level for 46 years, including 26 years of totalitarian military dictatorship. It was under the military governments that Nigeria was also carved up into 774 local government areas.

The North-West was allocated 188 local government areas, while the South-East was reduced to 95 local government areas. We have borne this and other deliberate acts of marginalization with stoic equanimity. I am glad to observe that the Middle Belt covering over eight states in the North are now wiser and are progressively and strategically asserting their geopolitical identity and civic rights. They can no longer be anybody's political beast of burden going forward.

President Muhammadu Buhari had his eight years, and history will judge him. President Tinubu should be allowed and cooperated with to govern Nigeria, and history will judge him afterward. I urge all well-meaning Nigerians to be eternally vigilant. We must protect our hard earned democracy. It is in our national interest to do so.

Nigeria recently lost one of its great politicians and a former governor of Abia State, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu. How did you receive the news of his death? It was about 41 years ago when I met Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, a brilliant, self effacing, and consummate academic, when he was a member of the Board of Directors of Nigercem Nkalagu, now in Ebonyi State. Our friendship remained unbroken and waxed from strength to strength.

I am deeply pained that his demise is at this time when there is so much more he still had to offer to a country he loved so much. On the basis of my friendship with Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu spanning over 41 unbroken years, I wish to state that he was a quintessential gentleman, whose word was his bond. Any understanding reached with Dr. Onu was bankable.

There was no difference between written and unwritten agreements as far as Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu was concerned. His integrity, sincerity and honesty were incomparable. His humility was disarming. Betrayal and inordinate ambition were vices that were alien to Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu's persona.



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