QUO VADIS INTERIM GOVERNMENT?- PROF MIKE OZEKHOME SAN.

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By: PROF MIKE OZEKHOME SAN.

 

INTRODUCTION

I grew up in the village in the sixties – my then rustic but very beautiful village of Iviukwe, near Agenebode, Edo State. With forests, game and nature as our only inseparable partners, I sat down and listened to my unread, but very intelligent and wise parents; and the greying elders, as they piloted the affairs of our community with commendable efficiency and proficiency. They used sundry endearing proverbs and parables to unknot difficult puzzles. Proverbs were always the palm oil with which words were eaten, as Chinua Achebe most admirably put it in his epic, “Things Fall Apart”).

 

So, permit me today to employ some proverbs and parables in this discourse, to express myself on a very sore national issue that has caused much ruckus and brouhaha – Interim Government (IG).

 

Now the questions: Et tu Interim Government? Quo vadis Interim Government? IG has become the tsetse fly that delicately perches on one’s scrotum. It must skillfully be killed, lest one ends up breaking his own scrotum. The reason to be wary about IG is simple: when a millipede crawls out of its hole, you may never tell if it will return as a millipede or as a snake. I have therefore decided to discuss this vexed issue today because an elder does not sit idly by and watch a goat deliver on its tether. I owe this duty to Nigerians.

 

INTERIM GOVERNMENT OR INTERIM NONSENSE?

In the latest manifestation of our seemingly endless fascination with things that are apparently bizarre and absurd, Nigerians have almost, overnight, become animated, besotted and infatuated with the fanciful idea of an IG. Afterall, when the moon shines at night, even the lame becomes hungry for a walk. They see it as a panacea and successor to the incumbent colourless and uneventful administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. That suggestion, first patriotically mooted last year by no less a personage than the iconic legal sage, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, had recently gained traction. Many Nigerians did not then grasp his deep jurisprudential thoughts and genuine concerns about the calamitous destination Nigeria was headed. He saw it as a journey to no destination. I had shared his opinion.

 

THE YUSUF DATTI BABA-AHMED INTERVIEW AS A CATALYST.

However, arguably the greatest catalyst for thrusting the debate into the front-burner of current national discourse was the interview granted to Channels Television by the running-mate to Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate in the last presidential election, Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed. In the interview, he seemed to raise the spectre of the presumed winner of the election, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, not being sworn in or inaugurated on the 29th day of May, 2023, as constitutionally mandated by section 140 of the 1999 Constitution, upon Buhari completing his second term of 4 years. This suggestion generated such a storm of controversy particularly among the Tinubu handlers who quickly called for the sanction of Channels TV that aired the interview. As expected, they were seamlessly obliged. Channels TV was fined #5m by NBC. This is Nigeria. I can almost always predict events including the questions and answers. Is this not a country where leaders force the led to first show them the limbs of a snake before the led can enjoy the dividends of democracy?

 

The brick-bats have since then continued unabated, with the proponents of the “No-Inauguration” agitation seemingly coalescing around the mantra of an ‘Interim Government’, to which President Buhari will hand over as a provisional or stop-gap measure. The Buhari government demurs. It is this IG which will presumably organize yet another Presidential (or, indeed general) election that will ultimately produce a ‘permanent government’. Nigerians have so experienced many oddities that they now appear unshockable. Afterall, when a sparrow gets beaten by a raging storm too many times, a mere drizzle no longer frightens it. But our leaders must realise that when the cripple dances in the village square in the presence of agile youths, the elders become ashamed of themselves. Have we lost our individual and collective sense of shame?

 

To probably pull out a burning palm kernel from the blazing furnace of fire, Aare Babalola stepped in, and propounded his thesis in April, 2022. It was based on the sound premise then that without such intervention of an IG, the just concluded elections (which were then imminent) will produce, in his words, ‘recycled leaders.’ His proposal was that the last general elections ought not to have been held at all. Rather, he suggested that they should have been suspended, while an IG should first be put in office for six months, which will then develop “a new-look people’s Constitution.”

That Constitution, according to the sage, “should provide for part-time legislators and a non-executive President.” In terms of its composition, he suggested, most attractively, that members of the IG should be selected from previous Presidents and Vice-Presidents, Ministers and Governors, as well as members of professional associations. (See 2023: Afe Babalola Proposes Interim Government, Says Nigeria Needs New Constitution: https://thecable.ng;published).

The Aare’s worries have since been vindicated afterall by the farce and national embarrassment which the last discredited presidential election symbolises. Has this great educationist and legal prodigy not been vindicated by subsequent events? I think so. Or, do you not?

 

ARE INTERIM GOVERNMENTS COUPS IN DISGUISE?

 

Interim Governments, some have argued, suffer from a serious fundamental defect in the sense that they are wholly unconstitutional and tantamount, in effect, to a coup d’etat. Proponents of this school of thought liken an interim government to the load the hunch-back man must carry on his back, whether he lies facing down, or sleeps facing up. After all, he who brings a maggot-infested piece of firewood into his home should not complain of visitation by a colony of lizards.

 

Some questions naturally agitate the mind here, on the question of an interim government in Nigeria:

Was the idea a mere mooted plan, or was the DSS merely flying a kite so as to test the waters and the mood of the Nation?

 

Why should Nigeria’s elite Secret Service cause such national hoopla and frightening alarm without quietly arresting such proponents and charging them to court, if there really were any?

Datti Baba-Ahmed’s televised statement that Ahmed Tinubu should not be sworn in 29th May, 2023, was a mere advocacy that did not in any way infract sections 37, 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code, CAP C38, LFN, 2004; nor amount to an attempted coup. In 2015, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo outrightly called for a “parallel government” if his APC (then in opposition), were denied victory.

APC, through its then Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, had also threatened to set up a parallel government.

Rotimi Amaechi, a chieftain of the APC, followed suit in threatening to form a parallel government.

The very Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, who held press conferences in the US, urging the US to sanction Peter Obi and Datti Baba-Ahmed for alleged treasonable felony did not only threaten Nigeria in 2015, but actually vowed that the APC would form a parallel government if they were rigged out of the 2015 elections. All these threats were made at a time when elections had not even taken place. Yet, heavens did not fall. No one called for their arrests and prosecution. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who believed his “second term ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian”, simply smiled and walked away in the face of opposition stringently threatening his legitimate government. Yet, these party chieftains are now threatening fire and brimstone for such mere suggestions even when they are aware of the historic electoral malfeasance that took place. By the way, did the DSS need to announce a coup publicly without arresting the alleged coup plotters? Aside apparently flying a kite and testing the waters, did the DSS need to publicly pledge its loyalty to a president-elect that has not yet been sworn in, and whose election is still being hotly challenged by his two major co-contestants? Was the whole scenario merely simulated as an artifice and design to give Tinubu an upper hand, and thus hint the petitioners and the Presidential Elections Tribunal not to waste their time in litigating their petition?

 

What will be the fate of the winners at the various levels of the last elections were an Interim government to be set up? Are they expected to simply accept their fate and wring their hands in despair on the altar of hopelessness and helplessness?

 

How exactly will such Interim government come into being or function? Will it simply materialize out of thin air? Does it require a legal instrument to birth it? Who will author that legal instrument? NASS? President? In what capacity and on what basis?

 

Is the idea of an Interim Government even known to, or acceptable within the confines of the 1999 Constitution? Is it envisaged or provided for therein, whether specifically or by necessary implication?

 

This last question neatly dovetails into the most fundamental question of all – and the greatest obstacle to the erection of such contraption- that is, the provisions of section 1(2) of the 1999 Constitution which clearly outlaw the unconstitutional takeover of government in any part of Nigeria in the following words: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any persons or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”.

 

The implication of this provision is obvious: without a constitutional amendment in accordance with section 9(1)&(2) of the 1999 Constitution, the whole idea of an interim government is itself legally a non sequitur. That process of amending the Constitution is quite cumbersome, tedious and time-consuming, as it requires the buy – in of at least 2/3 majority of the members of the National Assembly as well as a resolution passed by at least 24 (or 2/3) of the 36 State Houses of Assembly. If experience is anything to go by, it will be simply impracticable if its main objective is to create the legal framework for establishing an Interim government. Will those who believe they have won the last election – even if illegally and by brute force – not certainly resist such an amendment? I believe so. Or, do you not?

 

(To be continued)

 

THOUGHT FOR WEEK

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. (Winston Churchill).

 

LAST LINE

God bless my numerous global readers for always keeping faith with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by humble me,

Prof Mike Ozekhome, SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb., LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D. kindly, come with me to next week’s exciting dissertation.

Amawu Cletus Albert Amawu

I'm a Journalist, Host/Producer of The Verdict, your voice of conscience on FAD FM 93.1, Calabar, Public Affairs Commentator, Social Change Agent.

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