As the nation nears the end of a governance cycle early 2023, it is to be expected that the political marketplace will be abuzz with ideas around which popular choices may be made next year. Still, a sense that the Buhari administration has been less than effective across every facet of its interaction with the polity has gotten the political commentariat in a funk.
It is in this context that Chief Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria, put forward two dangerous propositions, at a major press briefing in Ado-Ekiti on Monday, April 18.
The first is that the 2023 general elections should be postponed. The second, that an interim government should be constituted to manage the affairs of the country, draft a new constitution and organise the next round of elections.
At the heart of Chief Afe Babalola’s call is the belief that:
· There is the need to develop a new-look peoples’constitution;
· Politics has become a lucrative enterprise in Nigeria; and
· Any election that holds under the present scenario will end up producing “transactional and recycled leaders” with no ability to turn things around.
PREMIUM TIMES is of the strong opinion that none of these reasons is cogent enough to warrant the dismantling of the democratic structures erected since the exit of the military in 1999. As in need of root-and-branch reforms as Nigeria is, down Chief Afe Babalola’s route lies the worsening of the myriad crises that have left the country wanting a good leg to stand on.
Even if it is arguable that the current constitution lies against itself when it says in its introductory chapter that “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria……… Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution” (since it is common knowledge that it was imposed by the military with hardly any input from the people), it would, however, amount to a coup to suddenly set the constitution aside. While the current constitution is not a perfect document, the path out of the cul-de-sac that the country is in today does not pass through a process of undermining the evolving order, especially after twenty-three years of uninterrupted civil rule.
The difficulty in understanding why Chief Afe Babalola, a well respected legal authority who should know better, is proposing that a democratically elected government should be replaced with an unelected “interim” one, is worsened by his preference for the interim government’s composition. It is common knowledge that many among the ranks of former presidents, former vice-presidents, former governors and a few selected leaders, have been accused of being architects of or contributors to the decadent state of the economy and the unstable polity. Indeed, with all the human and material resources invested in getting the military out of power to pave way for democracy, what sense would it make to return to another undemocratic dispensation?
In addition, against the background of the unresolved problems of nationality, ethnicity and religion, which have fueled agitations for self-determination and secession in some parts of the country, what gives Chief Afe Babalola the audacity to hope that even the ordinary issue of the ethnic or geo-political origin of the leader of an interim government would not cause further acrimony and chaos?
If the constitution is suspended, under what law will the so-called interim government operate? Would the constitution of such an interim government not amount to the introduction of a quasi-dictatorial government that will rule according to its whims and caprices? Given the age-long sit-tight leader syndrome plaguing African nations, what guarantee is there that the interim government would not seek to extend its illegal rule? If a democratically elected President Olusegun Obasanjo had the temerity to seek a third term, what assurance can be given that an unelected interim government would not seek to perpetuate itself in office?
For want of useful responses to this litany of questions, PREMIUM TIMES believes that the idea of an interim government is a time-bomb that no one should toy with. It is not worth debating and should, therefore, be completely jettisoned.
Chief Afe Babalola was equally being disingenuous when he tied the concern over the lucrativeness of politics and the need to stop transactional and recycled leaders, to his call for the suspension of the 2023 elections.
Again, it is an open fact that money-politics and corruption are banes of political advancement and the deepening of democracy in Nigeria. That is why, among other reasons, President Muhammadu Buhari’s pardon of two former governors serving jail terms following conviction for corrupt practices, has been condemned by this newspaper. And just like other concerned organisations and individuals, we have equally supported legal and policy measures against the undue monetisation of politics, especially the hijack of Nigeria’s political parties by super-rich political godfathers.
Be all this as it may, the solution to the problems that the country is up against does not lie in suspending the 2023 elections. Indeed, despite the enormous crisis facing the nation, especially the confounding state of insecurity, it is encouraging to see prospects of more credible future elections following the signing into law of the new Electoral Act 2022 by President Muhammadu Buhari. Although not a perfect document, some of the provisions address the concerns of Chief Afe Babalola, as they seek to promote internal party democracy and guarantee the sanctity of votes with the power granted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to electronically transmit results from polling units. The Electoral Law also makes it mandatory for INEC to be allocated funds at least a year before the next elections.
Amidst these positive signals, PREMIUM TIMES expects Chief Afe Babalola and other elder statesmen to lend their voices to the clamour for politicians to play by the rules, so that the electoral process would not be jeopardised. The beauty of democracy is that through elections voters are empowered to boot governments and politicians that fail to meet their expectations out of office and vote into power credible alternatives.
If Chief Afe Babalola is therefore that concerned that the next elections could produce “transactional and recycled” leaders, then he should throw himself into the political fray by joining forces with those working assiduously to ensure that the political parties produce flag-bearers that do not have questionable credentials. On the other hand, Chief Afe Babalola, can also align forces with civil society, the media and professional groups, in their constant quest to defend democracy and democratic values.
We urge Chief Afe Babalola, and others who may share his views, to toe these honourable paths and discontinue their dishonourable quest for the suspension of the 2023 elections and the imposition of an undemocratic interim government.
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