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Okorie: A coup’ll lead to the end of Nigeria

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…rumour about coup

I am disturbed by the Chief of Army Staff ’s warning because I listened to Voice of America (VOA) and its report was more elaborate than what was reported by the local media. What I gathered from the report was that there is an intelligence report that there are some moves within the military, which is suggestive of an impending military intervention.

And for the Chief of Army Staff to make a public warning in this regards is suggestive that something ominous is in the offing because the military and other security agencies are known to handle such matters secretly. But here, it is a public warning.

The VOA report even had it that some politicians have already been identified as being behind the disquiet within the rank and file of the military.

And watching recent altercations between some northern political leaders and their south western counterparts over Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’s as acting president, one would not be surprised that there could be some mischievous elements trying to pre-empt certain things about to happen.

This country has had the experience; where former Vice President Alex Ekwueme was tactically prevented from becoming president after his boss (President Shehu Shagari) had served out his tenure through a coup d’état.

That is recent history and so I am worried. But the military should know that the amount of weapons in unauthorised hands is so enormous that they (the military) do not have the luxury of being the only group in possession of weapons of mass destruction. So, if they try anything; that would be the end of Nigeria.

The era of martial music and everybody complying is gone. It is better we manage this democracy and drive it to a success.

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POLITICAL NOTES: Politics and the power of religion

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Should religious leaders play active role in politics or refrain from stepping into the political sphere?

 

This is one question that has defied a definite answer over the years, perhaps, because Nigeria is a country made up of diverse religions.

 

While it is the right of every citizen as provided in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests,” many have insisted that religion should be separated from politics.

 

But, there is a political school, which argues that if celebrities could enjoy political expression, such should not be denied of religious leaders.

 

This school insists that religious leaders should be entitled to political comments like any other citizen in free societies. According to its members, politics is not bigger than religion, and so, if dabbling into affairs of the state is going to make the difference for the people; religious leaders should influence it smartly.

 

They further argued that religion being the driving force of politics all over the world, to separate them may be the most difficult task. Examples were cited of the considerable political influence by Muslim clerics in countries like Iran as well as political dominance of the Hindu Nationalist Party in India despite the fact that the country is a secular state.

 

However, there is another political school, which believes that religious leaders should not dabble into politics on the conviction that doing such will amount to hypocrisy, especially as it concerns their teachings. To members of this school, the Church/Mosque and the government are two separate offices and should not be joined.

 

The fear of this school is the danger of allowing politicians smuggle religion into the nation’s politics. It was argued that the interest of the country and its people would be better served if religious leaders ensure that religion is taken away from politics and by ensuring that politicians do not drag politics into religion.

 

As the debate rages on the participation of religious leaders in partisan politics, it should however be noted that the separation of religion and state does not mean that those who are religious cannot vote or exercise their right to free speech.

 

To many, religion remains a driving force for the masses, as affinity exists between adherents and their leaders though the real danger is with those who choose to preach prejudice.

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Electoral Act: Twists and turns of amendment

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CHUKWU DAVID reports on the recent amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act by the National Assembly, reordering the sequence of elections, which triggered uproar in the Senate and caused a division among members of the upper legislative chamber

As the 2019 general elections approach, battle for self-preservation and survival has already begun within the nation’s political space. Politicians at all levels have started making their calculations and going into latent and sometimes manifest alignment and realignment, with the polity gradually getting charged as well as heated up. In the National Assembly, a lot of intrigues and horse-trading are obviously going on among members.

 

 

This betrays the serious apprehension in the camps of the lawmakers, resulting in the various disquiet tendencies manifesting in the way they go about their legislative business in some critical issues likely to affect their political future.

 

The current brouhaha in the Senate over the amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act, where the lawmakers had to reorder the sequence of elections, contrary to the original arrangement of the nation’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is a reflection of the fact that the lawmakers have started drawing the battle line and building citadels of defence against incursions of some elements in the presidency, who might be plotting to frustrate their return to the legislature in 2019.

 

Apparently, the foot soldiers of President Muhammadu Buhari in the Senate are already crying out, that the sudden decision of the two chambers of the National Assembly to reorder the sequence of elections in the Electoral Act, was targeted at the President to frustrate his re-election bid, while at the same time trying to fortify their chances of returning to the hallowed chambers in 2019.

 

 

From the politicking currently going on between the National Assembly and the presidency, there is no doubt that the lawmakers are afraid that if presidential election holds first and Buhari emerges, he might use his power to ensure that those who are his perceived enemies in the present Assembly do not win their elections back to the apex parliament.

 

Conversely, there are also indications that Buhari and his supporters in the National Assembly are apprehensive that, holding the presidential election last would put him (Buhari) at a difficult position, where he might lose election particularly as there is an outcry across the country over the state of the nation under his leadership and watch.

 

With the current furore in the Senate on the amendment to the Electoral Act, there are possibilities that President Buhari may decide to withhold assent to the Bill when transmitted to him.

 

If this happens, then the National Assembly leadership will face the serious hurdle of getting the constitutional requirement of two-thirds majority to override his veto, which may be extremely hard to achieve because of the immense ethno-religious influences on Nigerian politics.

 

The pro-Buhari senators have also threatened to go to court to ensure that the controversial reordering of election sequence does not become law.

 

This development will one way or another definitely diminish the strength of the All Progressives Congress (APC) before and during the 2019 general elections.

 

This is because, if not quickly resolved, it might provoke some irreconcilable acrimony among the members of the party in the build up to 2019.

 

This will also give the opposition especially the Peoples  Democratic Party (PDP), some level of advantage in 2019 elections, particularly if the stakeholders in PDP cash in on the various crises rocking the APC, and put their house in order before and during the elections.

 

Genesis of the disagreement

 

The Senate was thrown into a serious turmoil last week Wednesday over the consideration and what some senators described as a controversial adoption of the Conference Report of its Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act Amendment Bill.

 

The crisis erupted between those considered to be pro- Buhari senators and others who are supposedly not supporting his re-election bid. The two factions tested their strengths to some extent during the exercise, which later resulted in desperate press briefings by the opposing political blocks.

 

The genesis of the imbroglio was the report of the Conference Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which approved the reordering of the sequence of elections, thereby invalidating what INEC had arranged and sent to public domain through the time table it earlier released on the 2019 general elections.

 

The House of Representatives committee on Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, had in its amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act, included Section 25(1) into the Act by reordering the sequence of the elections to start with the National Assembly, followed by governorship and state Assembly elections before the presidential election, which is now to come last if the proposal eventually becomes law.

 

The Chairman of the Conference Committee and Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif, who presented the report for consideration, explained that the Conference Committee harmonised some differences in the two versions of the bill as passed by both chambers as well as adopted the new agreed positions.

 

“The committee met and deliberated on the two versions of the bill. After exhaustive deliberations, the committee noticed seven areas of differences in section 36 (3), 49(2), 53(2), 63(4), 78(4),” he said. Nazif further explained that the committee, in considering the House version in sections 25(1) and 8 (9A, a and b) dealing with sequence of elections and political parties’ primaries, unanimously adopted the provisions in its entirety to ensure orderliness.

 

Pro Buhari senators rattled

 

According to the rule of the apex Chamber, the conference report ought to have been subjected to debate on the floor, to enable senators who are not members of the committee to make contributions, especially in the areas that were not part of the Senate version but the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, put motion for the adoption of the report straight for voice votes.

 

Tension further heightened when it appeared as if at the voice votes, those who shouted nay were louder than those who shouted ayes, and yet Saraki in his ruling said the ayes carried the day. Angered by this development, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central) raised a point of order to call for division, but was overruled by Saraki.

 

Omo-Agege, in his point of order, argued that the committee had no power to reorder the sequence of elections, stating that it was an attempt to usurp the constitutional powers of INEC and declaring the action unconstitutional, null and void and should be revered by the National Assembly.

 

He alleged that it was only 36 out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives were present in the Green Chamber the day the amendment to the Electoral Act was carried out there, while the Senate did not form a quorum on the day it was passed in the Red Chamber.

 

His words: “The Electoral Act that is being amended today, is a product of well considered research by the INEC committee in the Senate; it went through full deliberation on the floor, and it was passed.

 

“36 people in the House of Representatives cannot determine the faith and the destiny of 360 people in the House, which is now carried over in the of 109. Yes, if a conference committee is set up to reconcile the differences, the least we are owed is for this amendment to section 25 to be deliberated.”

 

Painful enough to the Buhari supporters, all the struggle put forward by Senator Omo-Agege to attract Saraki’s attention and persuade him to yield to his argument ended as futile efforts because the President of the Senate could not reverse his already made up position.

 

In another spirited effort to nullify the passage of the report, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South) rose through another point of order to argue that it was against the Senate rules for a conference committee report to be adopted without being debated at the committee of the whole.

 

Gaya’s argument was however, knocked off by Saraki, who referred him to rule 53(6) of the Senate standing orders, which prevents the apex legislative chamber from revisiting any matter that had been ruled upon.

 

“Distinguished colleagues, I’m just entertaining all these points of order being raised over the just passed 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill for the sake of understanding ourselves better on an issue, which is of national and not selfish interest,” he said.

 

Obviously not satisfied with the explanation, another senator, Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa), disrupted the proceedings further with another point of order, under which he argued that the sequence of elections included in the Act was illegal.

 

According to him, section 76 of the 1999 Constitution vests the power to organise, conduct and fix dates for elections in INEC, which in spirit, also includes order of elections as earlier announced by the electoral body.

 

But rather than providing solution to the disagreement, the argument offended Saraki, who declared that section 25(1) of the Electoral Act, which deals with sequence of elections has nothing to do with organising, conducting and fixing dates for elections. Just as he did to other speakers, who were antagonistic to the adoption of the report, the President of the Senate ruled him out of order and called on the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North), to proceed with the next item on the order paper.

 

Pro Buhari senators walk of plenary

 

The pro Buhari senators felt humiliated by Saraki’s ruling, and in a prompt reactionary move, Adamu and nine other senators immediately stormed out of the chamber to the Senate’s press centre, where they briefed journalists, expressing their grievances and total opposition to the action of the President of the Senate in midwifing the adoption of the report in a manner they said lacked due process.

 

The senators who walked out of the chamber included Abdullahi Yahaya (APC, Kebbi North), Ibrahim Kurfi (APC, Katsina Central), Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina South), Abdullahi Gumel (APC, Jigawa North), Binta Masi Garba (APC, Adamawa North), Ali Wakili (APC, Bauchi South), Andrew Uchendu (APC, River East) and Benjamin Uwajumogu (APC, Imo North).

 

 

They all took turns to speak against the adoption of the controversial report, declaring it as a constitutional breach, which would not see the light of the day since according to them, it was targeted against President Buhari. Senator Adamu, who led the group said that they already had 59 signatures of senators against the insertion section 25(1) into the Electoral Act.

 

However, the protesting lawmakers did not provide proof that the group actually secured 59 senators on its side because they were unable to produce a signed list of the claimed number of supporters.

 

“Though we are 10 here now, we can assure you that as at this morning, not less than 59 senators have expressed their opposition to the illegal sequence of elections included in the Act. Perhaps that was the reason why the Senate president refused to follow the due process when report on the Act was to be adopted in the Senate.

 

 

“Section 25(1) of the Act reordering the sequence of elections from the one earlier released by INEC last year is a law targeted at an individual which to us is totally in bad faith and will not be allowed to stand,” he said.

 

At this point, Senator Omo-Agege, who is a lawyer by training, boasted that he won his election in 2015 on the platform of the Labour Party and not APC, but that as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it would be wrong for him to keep quiet on the basis of partisan interest, when wrong things were being done by politicians who swore to uphold and defend the constitution of the land, and by extension, the people.

 

The senators also claimed that many members of the Conference Committee, which first adopted the contentious insertion, did not sign the document including the chairmen of the INEC committees of the Senate and the House.

 

They also brandished the signature page to support their claim. Also, contributing at the briefing, Senator Binta Masi Garba, said that the hurriedly passed Electoral Bill was nothing, but handiwork of an individual who might be thinking that he was holier or greater than the state. “An individual cannot be holier than the state and besides, power is transient and is given by God,” he said.

 

She pointed out that those behind the new sequence of elections were more or less enemies of the country by not considering the economic implications it would have on the economy, noting, “if INEC, based on economic problems at hand mapped out two layers of elections, why coming up with three segmented sequence of elections?”

 

Counter press briefing

 

In a swift reaction to the briefing of the pro-Buhari senators, Senate’s spokesman, Aliyu Sabi, and Chairman, Senate committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, in a counter press briefing, said the amendment was not targeted at anybody, but carried out in national interest.

 

 

According to them, aside the contentious section 25(1) of the amended Act, six other core areas of electoral processes were worked upon with the aim of deepening democratic process in the country, pointing out that “we did it in the best interest of Nigerians and not for any selfish agenda.”

 

Asked what the Senate would do if President Buhari decides to veto the bill based on the raging controversy, Sabi, who represents Niger North Senatorial District on the platform of the APC said: “When we get to the bridge, we shall determine how to cross it.” On his part, Nazif denied the allegation that he did not sign the report, showing the document’s signature page where he duly signed to prove that he endorsed the report totally.

 

He said: “et me make it very clear that I have signed on the concurrence committee report. I don’t know where that came from but I signed it. This is it, signed by me (displaying the report’s signature page) and if you go to the clerk, it is also signed by me.”

 

Commenting on the allegation by the opposing senators that the amendment reordering sequence of election targeted Buhari, he said” “I am not aware if the sequence of election is being targeted at anybody.

 

What I know is that as Chairman of the Committee on INEC in the Senate, I have a responsibility and I chaired the concurrence committee of both the House and the Senate. “But politics is dynamic.

 

What I know is that there are reasons for elections, people have different reasons for why elections should start from the top to down and from down to top. In the past, we have had elections from the top to down. I don’t know if anybody questioned that. In the past also, we have also had elections from down to top. I don’t know if anybody questioned that.”

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Piecemeal restructuring won’t guarantee true federalism –Sowunmi

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Public affairs analyst, Mr. Biodun Sowunmi, speaks with WALE ELEGBEDE on killings by herdsmen, the Third Force movement and the restructuring of the country

 

The killings by the herdsmen haven’t abated despite the promises of government. What do you think makes the killing spree to continue?

 

The inability of the Federal Government to halt the rampaging herdsmen militia is a clear demonstration of lack of political will and cold complicity on the part of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Let no one be in doubt about the capacity of our security forces.

 

These gallant officers are disabled by the body language of the President and utterances bordering on the justification of the senseless loss of lives by some government ministers and security chiefs, consequently fuelling the killings going on in our country.

 

How best can the menace be tackled and do you support the proposed cattle colonies?

 

The primary duty of any responsible government is to protect lives and property.

 

The Buhari administration is found wanting in this regard. What should normally be the strength of the government is now its weakness. I mean the centralisation of our policing system has created a weak institution that tends to look up to the sitting President for a signal to crack down on criminality such as the menace of the herdsmen. What needs to be done has been articulated by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the governors.

 

They have correctly stated that federalising our policing system through the creation of state police is the right trajectory. Hence, we need to restructure the country now in order to save lives. The idea of creating cattle colony is anachronistic. Cattle colony belongs to the 18th and 19th centuries.

 

We are in the 20th century, where ranching is the modern way of rearing cattle. There is no country rearing cattle in a colony that is a leading producer / exporter of beef or milk. So, the Federal Government should embrace new method rather than an outdated practice of cattle colony. I think it is only Pakistan and one other backwater country that still have cattle colony.

 

The APC Committee on restructuring seems to be serious on delivering its mandate. Do you think they can birth the restructuring you and others have been canvassing for?

 

The APC has decided to swim with the tide. Nigerians have been clamouring for restructuring. To be fair to APC, the party did promise it through devolution of powers.

 

 

But it was foot-dragging until when it became obvious that something has to be done about the agitations for true federalism. What APC has done with its proposal is to also create another problem for oil-rich states or zones.

 

 

Their agenda is to retain the proceeds from oil wells on the water while the states keep the ones on land. However, I am pessimistic. If APC is thinking of submitting its restructuring agenda to the National Assembly, then we are most unlikely going to restructure the country before the 2019 elections. What the Federal Government needs to do is to convene a referendum on the 2014 Confab or convoke a sovereign national conference.

 

 

The call for state police has been accepted by the presidency and the governors. Are we seeing restructuring already or you don’t support this piecemeal approach?

This is a fire brigade approach and a dumb attempt to still retain unitary rule. The piecemeal approach must be rejected by all. It is simply not going to work. We need to practice federalism in its real sense and not a mish-mash political system. Even if we introduce State Police, what about mining, power, etc. There are no federal indigenes or residents.

 

We only have residents/indigenes of the different ethnic nations making up a country called Nigeria. So, the introduction of state police alone will not satisfy those of us bent on saving Nigeria from total collapse.

 

We need to create a new structure that assigns defence, immigration, customs, and foreign affairs to the coordinating centre (federal government) and allow the federating states or components to be responsible for other functions.

 

What is your take on the call by former President Olusegun Obasanjo for a national coalition?

 

I endorse the need for a third force. The APC and PDP are gradually sinking the ship of the Nigerian state.

 

We have been moving from one crisis to the other. It is now time for all progressives and well-meaning Nigerians to join forces to build a new Nigeria. Obasanjo’s prescription of a third force is the vehicle to challenge the entrenched interests that PDP and APC are representing. But the panacea to Nigeria’s headaches is to restructure to have a truly federal Nigeria.

 

 

Are you worried about the growing rate of underage voters in the country?

 

The 2019 general elections integrity is already compromised with the high level of child voters recorded in the North.

 

This trend started in 2003 and it has gotten to the pinnacle with what l saw in some states in the North where political parties mobilised the children below 18 years to register, it’s very sad. The truth is that votes buying on the election day is less dangerous than when children in millions are allowed to vote. INEC can’t pretend was not aware of this ugly attitude

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