Mr Tayo Oyetibo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in this interview with OLADIMEJI RAMON, shares his views on the just-concluded general elections
Our elections since the return to democracy in 1999 have been characterised with violence. What are we not getting right; the laws or their enforcement?
I think it’s a failure of the security system, because over the years, I believe that the security agencies ought to have devised a mechanism for checkmating electoral violence. There are what we call red flag areas about which they should have advance information through intelligence, that will enable them to put in extra preparation to prevent outbreak of violence. But a situation in which almost at every election, you still have this type of situation occurring is unacceptable. In 2019, if we cannot have elections that are violence-free, it is unacceptable. These are situations that have been occurring since the 1960s and we are still in the same situation in 2019; it is unacceptable. It is unacceptable on the part of security agencies; it is unacceptable on the part of the politicians. The urge to serve the people ought not to involve desperation. If a politician actually intends to serve, I do not think he’ll want to go into violence to be able to achieve that objective. It is because there is something other than the motive to serve that propels politicians to prepare for violence and use thugs to disorganise elections.
The courts have consistently pronounced that the military has no role in elections. But going by the scale of violence that usually attends our elections, don’t you think the courts should review their stand?
Conduct of elections is a civil process and to that extent, it should be the responsibility of the police to provide security. However, where the situation becomes too serious and threatens the internal security of the nation, you can call in the military; but the military cannot be primarily involved in our electoral process.
But despite the pronouncements by the courts, the government has consistently deployed the military for elections…
It is wrong; absolutely wrong. There cannot be any justification for it.
But in my view, things would have got out of hand in many cases, if the military was not involved.
But the military also worsened the situation in some states. In some states, there was a conflict between the police and the military as to who should be in charge of the collation centre and it worsened the situation. Why would the military be involved in the collation of elections results?
From media reports, not less than 20 lives were lost during these elections. Do you see the perpetrators being brought to justice?
I think prevention is better than cure. I’d rather prefer a situation in which the security agencies are able to nip in the bud any attempt to cause violence during elections; because a man who is dead is dead; there’s nothing you can do to bring back those lives. I think it’s a serious issue that the nation has to look at. What are the causes of violence and what are the best ways in which the state can respond timeously and adequately to prevent similar situations in the future.
Since the court has barred INEC from deregistering political parties on the basis of not winning at least a legislative seat in a cycle of general elections, what method can INEC use to substantially reduce the 91 political parties, which many say are just too many?
The floodgate was opened in the case of INEC and Balarabe Musa; and I think we may need to revisit that regime of allowing all manner of political parties to participate in elections. When you have a ballot paper that is as long as five feet, it’s unwieldy; it’s not tidy. I think the constitution needs to be amended; we need to put heads together to amend the constitution, to provide the minimum criteria that must be fulfilled before a political party can be registered. The provisions in the constitution are not sufficient to curtail the emergence of mushroom political parties. Of course, we have to strike a balance between the right to participate in the governance of the state and the need to curtail political parties that just come and go after each election. What we have this year is nothing to write home about. If you look at the ballot papers, it’s just unacceptable. To reduce the political parties, we will need an amendment to the constitution, the Electoral Act cannot do it and I believe that is why INEC has not been able to do much to curtail it.
There is a belief that most of the decisions of the election petitions tribunals are based on technicalities rather than the substance of the cases. Is this correct?
I don’t know what you call technicality but you cannot arrive at substantial justice without using procedural justice. And if it is procedural justice that you refer to as technical justice, that is wrong. But at the same time, the courts, in deciding the cases, must not sacrifice justice on the altar of technicalities. Very often, a petitioner goes to court to challenge the result of an election; he makes generalised allegations without being able to put evidence before the court to support his allegations. The tribunal has no option but to dismiss the petition. However, where there was an outbreak of widespread violence in a particular locality and yet results were returned for that locality, of course, that is fraud, because election cannot take place under violence. The tribunal should be able to set aside the return, but not when a candidate, who obviously could not have won, goes to the tribunal and makes wild allegations without being able to adduce evidence. The tribunals treat petitions on a case-by-case basis. Where the petitioner is able to adduce substantial evidence to be able to overturn the result of the election, so be it; if not, the tribunal has no other option but to dismiss the petition. And that’s what happens in most cases.
Have we gone past the era when, as it is said, judges turn billionaires after election tribunals?
There are wild allegations in the public; people make such allegations without facts to support them. But that is not to say that there are no corrupt judges sitting on election petition tribunals. I have been involved in a number of election petitions and I know that some of the judges are quite honest. They could make mistakes which are subject to correction on appeal but I do not accept the general statement that judges who sit on election petition tribunals become millionaires or billionaires after the elections. That is certainly not correct.
We need to response to situations with a sense of moderation. But I can tell you also that there are corrupt judges and a corrupt judge is worse than an armed robber. An armed robber is one who sets out to deprive the owner of a thing by using weapons, but a corrupt judge is one that is placed on a seat as a representative of God on earth and he is expected to dispense justice, but takes the right of A and gives it to B, on the consideration of monetary transaction. Such judges are worse than an armed robber because they use the instrumentality of the state to take justice away from A and give to B; in other words, robbing A of the justice that he ought to obtain and giving it to B for monetary consideration. The armed robber comes openly but the corrupt judge does not come openly and that is why a corrupt judge is worse than an armed robber.
Should there be a limit to the number of terms that lawmakers can serve, like the governors and the President?
Why? The executive formulates policies; they execute the policies; so, there is a need to limit the number of years those who occupy executive offices can serve, so as not to subject the people to a stereotype political system, whereby everyone’s fate is tied to the policies of a set of politicians. And that is why there is a distinction between the executive and the legislature. But in the National Assembly, for instance, there are 109 senators and the House of Representatives has over 300 members. Their own is to pass laws; those laws are debated. If you are popular within your locality and people keep returning you to the National Assembly, so be it. It does not do much harm to the people as you have in the case of the executive that formulates policies and execute the policies.
Do you think the current academic qualifications for legislators is adequate?
For the legislators, I think, yes; but for the executive I think we need to review the qualifications. Presently, all you need is to have been educated up to at least the school cert level. You don’t even have to pass the school cert exams; you may have F9 all through. We should review that provision.
The 1999 Constitution has been described by many as a military document. Do you think the military deliberately inserted that minimum academic qualification for their own purpose?
I don’t think so; most of the military guys in power then went to school. They attended military schools, which are much higher than secondary school; so, I don’t think that was the motivation; I don’t think so.