As the march towards the general elections next year progresses, the political temperature has been heating up at an incredible pace. Maybe in an effort to replace hate-waves with love, INEC has just announced that the presidential elections will take place on St Valentine’s Day next year. As the date falls on a Saturday, many lovers are planning their weddings for that date. Now they will have to vote instead. The next date that St Valentine day will fall on a Saturday, I am told, is 2026, which will be a long wait for current lovebirds. Meanwhile, it is extremely important that we do not heat up the polity to the point of explosion before that fatidic date.
In Rivers State, there has been executive recklessness by the Presidency, acting through the Nigerian police to intimidate the Governor, stop his ability to politically organize and use five members of the State Assembly to illegally impeach him.
Recently, former Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar declared that the political crisis in Rivers State portends deleterious consequences for the country’s democracy. He stated this in Minna during an interview with members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Niger State chapter so it was not an off the cuff statement. He cautioned that the country’s fledgling democracy would be eventually destroyed should politicians fail to unite despite their differences and avoiding stoking the polity with crisis upon crisis.
Specifically, he warned about the Rivers State crisis calling on those involved taking note of what democracy is and checking them. It is indeed reckless for five members out of thirty-two members of the Rivers State House of Assembly to declare they have impeached the Speaker because democracy is a game of numbers and rules.
It is reckless for the Rivers State Police Commissioner to be openly rude and disrespectful to a State Chief Executive because the Governor embodies the legitimacy of government at the state level. It is reckless for the Federal symbols of power exercised by the presidency to be used to openly undermine a state government because if power is used unjustly to destabilize one level of government, other powers can be used against other levels of government.
In response to the situation in Rivers State and other constitutional breaches by the Presidency, the All Progressives Congress (APC) last week directed its members in the National Assembly to block all legislative proposals, including the 2014 Budget and confirmation of all nominees to military and civilian positions to public office, until the rule of law and constitutionalism is restored.
The party also decided that if acts of impunity and lawlessness continue in the State and the Police persist in being an enforcement arm of the PDP to the detriment of its members, it would ask its teeming members all over the country and especially in Rivers to take whatever steps are necessary to protect their lives and property. These decisions were taken at the 8th regular meeting of the APC Interim National Executive Committee last week.
I am concerned about this development. While I accept that executive recklessness and brigandage must be opposed, I feel that bringing federal government activities to a halt through the use of the National Assembly is not the best approach. The APC and Nigerian democrats cannot gain by refusing to allow the appointment of service chiefs at a time of serious insecurity or refusing to approve a budget for the country in a context where so much depends on the federal budget. The opposition should be careful not to fall into the trap set by extremists who would prefer chaos to presidential election fearing their candidate could lose. The correct approach, I believe, is to mount a major movement against impunity modelled on the Occupy Nigeria model.
It is incredible that Mr. Joseph Mbu, the Rivers State Commissioner of Police has been allowed to continue acting as a tin god. He stops all rallies and meetings he thinks are supportive of the Governor and provides protection to those he thinks will oppose the Governor. By so doing, his disruption of public meetings and rallies is clearly an infringement of the fundamental right of Nigerians to freedom of association, assembly and expression.
As my good friend Femi Falana argued in his opinion piece in Premium Times of 23rd January, under the Public Order Act (Cap P42) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 the power to regulate public meetings, processions and rallies in any part of Nigeria was exclusively vested in the governors of the respective states of the Federation.
Thus, by virtue of section 1 of the Act the Commissioner of Police or any other police officer could not issue a license or permit for any meeting or rally without the authority of the governor. In other words, no police officer was competent to issue a permit for holding any public meeting or rallies or cancels any such public meeting or rally without the authority of the governor of a state.
Falana quotes the High Court judgment that: “The provision in section 40 of the Constitution is clear, direct and unambiguous. It is formulated and designed to confer on every person the right to assemble freely and associate with other persons. I am therefore persuaded by the argument of Mr. Falana that by the combined effect of sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution as well as Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the right to assemble freely cannot be violated without violating the fundamental right to peaceful assembly and association.
The Public Order Act so far as it affects the right of citizens to assemble freely and associate with others, the sum of which is the right to hold rallies or processions or demonstration is an aberration to a democratic society. It is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution. In particular, sections 1(2), (3), (4), (5) and (6), 2, 3 and 4 are inconsistent with the fundamental rights provisions in the 1999 Constitution and to the extent of their inconsistency, they are void. I hereby so declare.”
The judgement declared the provisions of the Public Order Act which require police permit for public meetings and rallies illegal and unconstitutional and proceeded to grant the following reliefs:
“1. A DECLARATION that the requirement of police permit or other authority for the holding of rallies or processions in Nigeria is illegal and unconstitutional as it violates section 40 of the 1999 Constitution.
2. A DECLARATION that the provisions of the Public Order Act (Cap 382) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 which require police permit or any other authority for the holding of rallies or processions in any part of Nigeria is illegal and unconstitutional as they contravene section 40 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990. After such a clear judgement, it is criminal for the police to continue to insist that people can only assemble with their permission. It is important that this weekend, citizens in Ogoni decided to go ahead and assemble without the permission of the police.
As we approach the elections, we are being confronted by a tendency to stop governance and only play politics. Politics is important but governance also is important. Our Constitution directs governance institutions to promote the rights and welfare of Nigerians. In recent times, Nigerians have been posing the question about the purpose of governance. Is it to punish the people or improve their welfare?
The second question is whether governance is to promote the interest of a cabal or to promote the public interest. These are the key issues facing Nigerians. I have indicated in an earlier column that contemporary political science has fused the words – govern and ability into the concept of governability. Governability is the overall capacity for governance of any societal entity or system.
The question posed in Nigeria today is the level of shocks the Nigeria system can take before it becomes ungovernable. Those who exercise power must always ask themselves what the limits to their action are. Overheating the polity might severely limit the governability of the country.
Dr. Ibrahim is a political scientist and expert on electoral politics recently retired as chief executive at the Centre for Democracy and Development. He is now a development consultant based in Abuja