Interim Govt call: Extreme, alien, not a solution to Nigeria’s challenges

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2023 elections remain a topical subject that has now assumed a discourse of divergent wings. While several connotations from perceived dynamics in the political landscape have begun to surface to colour the ecosystem with nostalgia, the vagaries of factors posing challenges to the actual conduct of elections are largely feared before the Country.

The fear of deforming circumstances has constituted the ground for the expression of concern and calls for interventions over perceived threats. Warnings of red signals on issues of insecurity, aggression and secessionist movements have been feared and projected to pose threats to the processes of the elections, if not addressed. As notified, stakeholders including the election management body – the Independent National Electoral Commission – have raised alarms on the necessity to get situation arrested and addressed for a safe climate for the elections.

Such calls are indeed justifiable, as conducting an acceptable election which in the standard of best global practice would be adjudged “free, fair and credible” demands a climate which is utmost conducive for same. Thus, giving credibility to the calls.

However, recent alarm proposing calls against conducting elections in 2023 brings-in other narratives which largely may appear alien and strange not only to expectations, but in their extreme end, against the patterns of the prevailing system.  Calls against holding General Elections in 2023 have recently come to surface as part of the dynamics and arguments in the discourse of the perspectives over the coming elections.

A position that attracted wild reactions was that of Legal luminary, Founder and Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola, who in a press conference in Ado-Ekiti, on Monday, called for the postponement of the 2023 General Elections and the introduction of a six-month interim government, after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure elapses in May 2023. According to him, the preoccupation of the interim government would be to produce a new constitution that would tackle insecurity, economic, political and other excruciating ills bedevilling the nation. Warning that if the 2023 elections are conducted, it will recycle the same crop of leaders, who will plunge the nation further into bankruptcy, economic depression, and insecurity, he said:

“To save Nigeria from nose-diving into irretrievable bankruptcy and poverty, irreparable economic and political damage brought about by the 1999 constitution and its beneficiaries, a new constitution is imperative before any election. I, therefore, strongly advocate that we should postpone the 2023 elections until the Interim Government put in place after the expiration of Buhari’s government has put in place a new truly People’s Constitution.

“I am not in doubt that any election conducted under the 1999 Constitution and under the prevailing economic depression and insecurity will lead to a return of most of the failed leaders who are responsible for the near bankruptcy of Nigeria today.

“No election under this constitution will bring about young men, brilliant and intelligent Nigerians who want to serve without taking money. I suggest that there should be a body at the local, state and federal levels that will screen whoever wants to be elected not the so-called primaries they are doing now.

“We have nosedived into that low ebb locally because of the mismanagement of the economy because of the wrong people you put there. If you put the right people there, they will not go about borrowing without thinking of how to pay it back. Anybody who wants to borrow must have a source from which he is making revenue to be able to pay the loan he took. Nigeria is already bankrupt. The government is borrowing more, spending more but earning less revenue. The worse thing is that the debt servicing level is also rising.

“The naira, which was N199 to $1 in 2015, is now over N570 to a dollar. The external debt which was $10.7 billion in 2015 is now over $38 billion. The government is borrowing more, and spending more. Moneybags now control the lever of powers, if we allow the present Constitution beyond 2023, what we will be getting is recycling leadership who will continue the old ways.”

He submitted thus: “As soon as the President, the present government completes its term, do not hold a new election.  Rather let us have an interim government for a short period to discuss a new Constitution. This will consist of all retired presidents, vice Presidents, governors, and some selected people.

“The new constitution shall provide a true Federal System of Government instead of the rather expensive Presidential System of Government. I suggest the Parliamentary System of Government with a Unicameral Legislature. The new constitution should provide for part-time legislators and not full-time legislators where there shall be no salary but sitting allowances only.”

Although the legal icon did not mince words regarding the challenges confronting the Country, yet the submission of an interim government, as a solution, was an extreme position that would attract reactions from different quarters across the Federation. The Middle Belt Forum, MBF, in dissent, argued the call was not tenable in a democracy. The National President of MBF, Dr. Bitrus Pogu in his reaction to the submission in Makurdi, describing same as “a political statement” was quoted: “I do not think that is a possibility. There are some calls that are just political in nature. In a democracy that is not tenable. The problems we are facing are not insurmountable. As far as I am concerned, the government has the capacity, but it is just that the government is not willing to deploy its capacity to end the challenges. So, this government should rather sit up and address the problems so that we can have a peaceful period before elections. That is the answer rather than saying that there should be an interim government.”

From the South-east, Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma, after a Tuesday meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja, had flayed the submission, describing it as a call to anarchy. He argued that the 1999 Constitution does not have any provision for such circumstance, positing that an interregnum would throw the country into an anarchy because the constitution did not provide for same. “By May 29, if there is no elected government, our Constitution has not provided for an interregnum. There shouldn’t be a gap, otherwise you are creating room for anarchy. What will be the process of selecting the interim government because after May 29, the president may not have constitutional powers to function as a president anymore? So, I don’t think we will decide to abandon our constitution.  Constitution is like a bible. Some of us who are Christians, the Bible is the manager of our faith. So, the Constitution should be the instrument guiding our actions as a country. If you think there is an opinion you think that is worthy to be canvassed, superior to what is in the Nigerian Constitution, such opinion should be taken to the National Assembly and they will, through due process, amend our Constitution to factor in such an opinion,” he was quoted.

In its reaction, Yoruba  Socio-cultural group, Afenifere, though agreed with the unsavoury situation in the Country, yet frowned against an interim government submission. In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Jare Ajayi, on Tuesday, the group had said: “While Afenifere acknowledged the enormity of the problems, we do not support the cancellation or postponement of the scheduled elections. There is no justification whatsoever for this administration to spend one day beyond the stipulated period – which is May 29, 2023. And the only constitutionally stipulated way of changing government is through the electoral process. Being a law-abiding organisation, Afenifere does not believe in extra judicial means of changing government.”

Largely, reactions have given credence to the necessity of a new constitution, but yet the submission for an interregnum is considered alien, which many believe would destabilise the system.  Such submission calling for an interim government, largely appears to be alien to the principles of sustenance in democracy – a system which has the principle of periodic elections as one of its core tenet.

Hence, the incursion of an interim government would amount to alteration of the prevailing order, providing for a periodic national election in the space of four years for a change in government. A disruption coming-in, is tantamount to reflection of a dwindling system as against an evolutionary one giving ample ground for democracy to thrive. It is known that such interim government is mostly friendly to a political climate where the vagaries of military rule find deep root. Taking Nigeria back to that standard may speak no less of a draw-back to a system of rule that has been adjudged largely unacceptable before the celebrated development of democratic practice of the 21st Century.

Hence, while the arguments that the Country is presently faced with challenges that portend threats to the management of elections in 2023 cannot be refuted and displaced, yet NewsDirect holds that there are other proactive measures with pragmatic approaches to address the perceived challenges, than taking the Country aback to the installation of an interim government.

It would better serve the Federation well for efforts to be concerted by the subsisting authorities to scale-up soft and hard measures to address these challenges with civil appeals and force interventions where applicable.  This is just as the blend of socio-economic and political, among other applicable interventions in the entire working fabrics of the nation, should be rightly fixed in an overarching dimension of systemic control to make the election a reality, while laying the foundation for positioning the Federation beyond the edge of discord, discomfiture, confusion and mischief.