Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview monitored on Arise Television, speaks on pre-election cases in various courts, Muslim-Muslim ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and other issues ahead of the 2023 general election. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
What do you make of the warning by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the alarming pre-election cases pending in courts?
I wasn’t in any way taken aback.
In fact, I thought the figure would be higher because the proper things were not done. Whereas the law has taken cognizance of this disturbing trend and made provisions to cure the mischief, unfortunately, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which is complaining refused to apply the provisions of the law.
The point I am making is that both the Electoral Act and the Constitution have empowered INEC to reject the names of candidates, who did not emerge from valid primary elections. But INEC gave the impression that its hands were tied…CONTINUE READING
We are like robots, whatever they bring we take, but that is no longer the position of the law. And I was forced to come out to draw the attention of INEC to the relevant provisions of the constitution in particular.
Section 285, subsection 13 says that the decision of INEC with respect to the nomination of candidates can be challenged either by the candidate or the political party. The law has empowered INEC and it puts a duty on INEC to monitor the primaries of every political party. INEC officials monitored the primaries and they submitted reports.
If names of aspirants who did not participate in the primaries were submitted, INEC has a duty to remove the names and demand from the political parties to submit the names of the actual winners. But INEC said no and this is what has led to the needless cases the commission is facing today.
And the Electoral Commission is joined in every case…
Of course, because INEC is almost a principal party even though a nominal party but the evidence of INEC is going to determine what will happen.
That is to say that we monitored the election as an independent body and this is our report. But this would have been unnecessary if INEC had simply warned the political parties. In fact, the most interesting one is the one of the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Senator Godswill Akpabio.
As the Senate President, you coordinated the promulgation of a new Electoral Act, which is the Electoral Act 2022 and section 115(D) of that law has criminalised double nomination.
So, you can’t say that you took part in the presidential primary and also took part in the senatorial primary at the same time.
Under that law, double nomination attracts two years imprisonment. Again, I would have expected INEC to draw the attention of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the provisions of the law because that is playing with fire.
Why do you think INEC is not doing that?
I am not sure the attention of the INEC has been drawn to some of these provisions. If that is done, the parties would not be playing the game they are playing today.
But as it is today, they are committing electoral offences but I do hope that INEC would have to sit up because what the Electoral Act has tried to do is to curb the criminal propensity of the political class. And unless we challenge impunity, we are not going to get it right.
But that is a systemic problem in Nigeria’s electioneering process…
Yes, it can only be there in a very tough manner but the way we are going, we are creating more problems. Like INEC has said, we are talking about 334 pre-election matters with respect to states and national assembly primary elections.
We are going to have cases from the governorship primary elections and we are going to expect more after the elections. So, we may have 500 preelection cases, not to talk of petitions after the elections next year. That is why Nigeria records the highest pre-election and election petitions in the world.
The way we are going, in spite of the relevant provisions of the law that ought to have taken care of this situation, the state of impunity makes us not bother. So, this is why we are wasting resources on endless election cases.
If you are to be Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister for Justice, how would you deal with the legal system that often allows a lot of these things to take place?
You are in the realm of speculation but what will surprise is the painful aspect of it all. The law has taken care of many of these situations we find ourselves. Take for instance, since 2015 when the administration of the criminal justice was passed, in federal courts, you are not supposed to have adjournment of criminal cases more than five times.
Cases have to be heard day by day and no adjournment should be more than seven days. But because the system has not appointed enough judges, the system has not acquired recording gadgets and we have a situation where judges have to record evidence in longhand.
So we have problems with the system and so we make these laws without putting in place the machinery to make the laws work. We have a situation where enough people go to court because cases started in 2015 are still in court.
And some of them as I did predict in 2015, would outlive this regime and nothing is being done really to address these problems. That is the difference between the ruling class here and the ruling class in advanced democracy because, here, if you are well connected, you are higher than the law and that is impunity.
The point I am making is that we must have a government that is prepared to prosecute all indictable offences; we must have a government that is prepared to put an end to illegal arrest and detention; we must have a government that is prepared to organize a criminal justice system in a way that you do not subject cases to an unending adjournment, and we must have a situation, where official impunity is made history in the country. Unless we do this, rule of law can never be institutionalized in our country.
The hope is that all these things would be addressed with the new government in 2023, but what is your sense of the mode in Nigeria as the election draws near?
Nigerians are generally desirous to put an end to impunity, mismanagement of the economy, darkness and Nigerians want good governance.
The worrisome aspect is whether the system in place would change our narrative and to do that, Nigerians would have to begin now to challenge all those who are contesting elections.
In that regard, what is your assessment of those who have thrown their hat into the ring in the race to replace President Muhammadu Buhari?
So far, some of them are visiting places and others are telling us they want to rule the country but we are waiting for the message.
What do you want to do? How do you address the security of lives and property of every individual in Nigeria? How do you guarantee law and order in the country? How do you address youth unemployment?
How do you address food insecurity? How do you fix the infrastructure deficit? How are you going to address the collapse value of the Naira?
What do you want to do about the exchange rate? Unless we begin to ask these questions, just as they are doing in the United Kingdom now and some of the candidates are falling by the wayside, things will not change.
Do you think that is the key thing in Nigeria, when it comes to elections because the aim is to win and the candidates used to be those with the potential to win, and do you think any of the candidates have broad appeal?
I think quite a number of them have broad appeal but what they make of such appeal is another matter. Some of them are well known, so they won’t need to do much of introducing themselves to the electorate.
The point I’m making is that the media has to come in but what is the media is doing so far is a bit dangerous for the country because what we are doing now is promoting ethnicity, religion and other primordial issues without addressing problems that are tearing our country apart and that is making a mockery of democracy in the country.
Members of the ruling class are exploiting ethnicity and religion to divide our people. They are well united when it comes to getting duty waivers from the government for goods imported by them.
When it comes to sharing of oil blocs, they are united and when it comes to exploiting the people, they don’t fight in their board rooms. But when it comes to ‘let us go and renew our mandate,’ then they will keep the people divided and that is why the issue of religion and ethnicity have become diversions.
How do you think the media should handle them?
What the media should be doing now is, if a political party says it is going for a Muslim-Muslim ticket; if you are dissatisfied, you don’t vote for that party but for goodness sake, ask the party what do you want to do for the country; how do you intend to manage the diversity of the country?
I am very reluctant to discuss this Muslim-Muslim ticket issue because they are diversionary and that is lost in the message of APC trying to justify the ticket because we had it in 1993.
But for goodness sake, in 1993, the Abiola-Kingibe ticket was anchored on a programme called ‘Farewell to Poverty.’ In the Second Republic, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was talking about four cardinal programmes and it was issuebased.