Epiphany Azinge, a professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is the immediate past Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS). He speaks on 2019 general elections and its anticipated flaws, census, judiciary and varied issues. TUNDE OYESINA reports
You expressed fears on constituency delimitation, what would you say has informed discussion on constituency delimitation ahead of 2019 general elections?
Well, generally we feel that considering the personnel available at the law firm and our antecedent, myself coming back from my position as former Director- General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies; that one should not at this point in time put to a stop to all the ideas that one has garnered over the period that we still have a lot to offer to society even in the private capacity. And we want to see how through public enlightenment and setting agenda, we can also make this contribution very effectively.
How would you think the 2019 general elections would be conducted without consideration to Nigeria’s population?
I mean, do you foresee any issue if census is not taken before the 2019 general elections? Yes, I foresee that we may have issues; the census is coming up and we don’t know how soon we can conclude that before 2019 elections, and if care is not taken, we may box ourselves into a litigation or constitutional quagmire that may derail the 2019 elections, because people may start asking questions.
As we rightly heard, this is something that would have been done maybe latest 2009, but here we are in 2017 still trying to tinker with constituency delimitation. Mark you, from information available, what we are using was done last in 1996, of course, drawing from the 1991 census.
So, constitutionally or otherwise things are not what they are supposed to be. And to make sure that things are done and done timeously, we want to use this as a way of galvanizing appropriate authorities, in this context, Independent National Electoral Commission and more importantly to the National Assembly because even if INEC succeeds in constituency delimitation, the law says the National Assembly must have something to do with it before it can become authoritative in accordance with the Constitution.
So, the motive is to put this into the public domain, happily, INEC seem to have taken a hint and they are already setting up committees, but I think it should go beyond just setting up committees. Time is of the essence and time is not available to us.
We are moving fast in 2017; I know the primary consideration now will be the census and indeed there will be no need going into constituency delimitation when we are thinking of census. So, we have to wait until the census is over before we can now delimit and how can we handle both together at the same time in 2017 and in 2018 before we move into election in 2019.
Of what challenge do you think this will this be?
What should be the way out? Yes, it is a challenge; so the agencies or organisations responsible are hereby invited in the interest of this country and for there to be an election that will be acceptable in 2019, it is important that something is done and done timeously. What we plan to do is to put out a communiqué which we will pass on to the National Assembly and the INEC so that if their action plans or modalities that we have been able to distill from the presentation at the programme, that naturally will be very useful and beneficial to those authorities and the whole of the country.
It has been said several times that money plays a sort of negative role in our electoral process. How do we remove the toxic influence of money from our elections?
The major challenge for me is that we must have that political will; be honest about it to make sure that the influence of money in politics is greatly reduced. But the Constitution is very clear on this. On the issue of expenditure ceiling for election, especially election campaign, if the way the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is going, we have that political will whereby all the anticorruption agencies work in synergy with INEC, we will be able to monitor the source of finance and the expenditure limit.
For instance, if you are spending one billion naira, where did you get the money from? Again, even if it is legitimately made, you ought not to spend more than N100 million or N200 million depending on what the law has said.
If we are able to do that, we will have a level playing field for everybody, good candidates will now emerge, issue of trying to recoup money when you have gone to a political office will decrease because what people are saying is that we are going there to recoup. So, all I am trying to say in effect is that it is not a policy we are trying to develop, it is there in our law but it is honoured more in the breach than observance.
For me, for the exposed political actors whose antecedents are predicated on the fact that maybe they spent money much more than required in order to win an election, that presupposes that when they get into office, they would want to make money; that is the basis of corruption.
So, for me, it is a premise; if you stop enormous expenditure as prescribed by the Constitution for election campaign, the tendency is that when people are in office, they are likely not to amass wealth.
So, that correlation is what I am trying to drag at. So, we are going through a kind of national rebirth now. This, for me is fundamental. For instance, if you are the son of a billionaire, you don’t think you have an advantage over the son of a nobody because you have the advantage of money you think you can have a head-start. But he may be a better material than you.
In America, anybody can come and run election. Fine, Donald Trump is a billionaire and he won election not necessarily because he is wealthy but because of other issues that he canvassed. There are so many billionaires in America that ran election and failed, so, let money not be the primary consideration.
Who are those well-equipped in terms of character and intellect and every other thing to run this country. Buhari doesn’t have money but he won election. People must have funded him; yes they are supposed to fund him. Hilary Clinton was funded.
But in the course of funding, it is easier to detect when you are being funded than when you have amassed that money surreptitiously. So, we must clean up the system and clean it up well. For me, the beginning of the clean must be from the expenditure for election; if we are able to handle that I believe we can gain some mileage there.
What diplomatic steps should Nigeria take in the wake of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa?
We must be careful of the likely consequences of what is going on in South Africa. In Nigeria, I noticed that gradually the tension is brewing and tempers are flaring. I think that government must be quick enough to look at it from the perspective of international diplomacy and the principles of reciprocity; let us know exactly what is going on and how do we handle it.
But I have seen some takes and I don’t think that they are hogwash; where so many South Africans on the social media are saying that they must continue to attack Nigerians and other foreign nationals. The first thing is to make sure that our citizens in South Africa are well protected.
I believe it is important that our ambassador to South Africa is called back by government so that he will be briefed fully on the line of action to make sure that our citizens there are safe. Also, I believe that there should be a kind of conversation on this matter between the two countries’ leaders, the President and the President of South Africa, indicating our determination to ensure that the lives of our citizens in South Africa are well secured and their property as the case may be.
And in the event that this seems to be snowballing into something that we never predicted, we have to make room for our people to return home. And to that extent, we have to obviously cut off diplomatic relations with South Africa.
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