The name OCJ Okocha is a household name not only in Rivers State but nationwide. His fame has gone international especially in legal profession. He is a giant and luminary in law.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and former president of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). The man was also a Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General in the old Rivers State. A man of many parts, humble, brilliant and devoted leader.
In this Round Table Encounter, a vintage Okocha tackled various questions from The Tide Editors on a range of issues, including his person, Derivation, State Creation, Amnesty for militants and the Law. This is the first part of a long journey.
We know you because of the interactions we have with you over the years but how would you want members of the public to know O.C.J. let us start with the initials O.C.J?
These are my initials. O stands for Onueze, C. stands for Chukwujinka and J stands for Joe. Joe incidentally is a family name which emanated from my father’s first name which is Jonathan. Some people make mistake sometime they call me Joseph.
I’m a lawyer based here in Port Harcourt at No. 71B Aba Road. I think that should be okay for introduction.
Let us know what these names really mean and if it has affected your life we know when people give child his name, the name must have relevance?
That is correct incidentally in my family we are always named by the eldest man and it happened that my grand father was the eldest man in Okocha family. So the name Onueze is the way Ikwerre man would say Onueze, Onu is mouth Eze is chief, but the way he explained it to me is that it means what God has said, the voice of God is what God ordained my father has had five daughters in a row and so everybody was praying for a boy to come along. When I come along, they now said oh! That this is what God has said, so I was named the voice of the king.
Chukwujinka is from my mother’s place Onitsha. I was born there. Chukwujinka God is holding this world Chukwujinka, and Joe as I said emanated from my father’s first name Jonathan his friends in the police used to call him Joe, so when I was born it was like this is Junior Joe.
People started calling me Joe. You cannot really say at this time in point how those names have affected my life. I have carried on by the special grace of God.
We will take liberty of your presence here; you will help us today with the history of how lawyers started accepting money for their services?
Well you know in the olden days going by the history of the profession in England there were two categories of the legal profession in the category of lawyers, yes generally there are two categories, the Bar and the Bench, but the lawyers are a body we know as the Bar. At the Bar, there are two groups of professionals, Barristers and Solicitors. Barristers were drawn from the rank of noblemen, gentle men of those olden days.
Their responsibility is to go before court and plead the case of their clients as advocates. They just go to court and stand as well as represent you, forward your case and your defence and try as much as possible to get the law to you.
In those days Barristers because they were noble men and gentle men never charged fees. And if you look at the Barristers gown worn by lawyers you will see something like a cord, the rope and behind, you see something that looks like a bag, is a relic of the bag which the Barrister uses to put his implements of work.
The way it came about that lawyers were now charging fees, was that they never charged fees, when you have done your beat for your client and he felt impressed, as you are leaving he would slip some money into that bag behind you. You won’t see it, you don’t discuss fees. That is the relics that you see in the Barrister’s gown that we as Barristers wear. But of course with the passage of time, it became a recognized profession and the profession as you all know is a calling which entitles you earn your living from it and so Barristers started charging fees.
Barristers considered it beneath there dignity to even discuss fees, so the solicitor is the first point of contact of anybody who has a case in the court.
Solicitor’s responsibility is to find a Barrister to represent you and in that solicitor who will discuss the fees not with the Barrister, but with the clerk of the Barrister. Every law firm has a clerk and in those days, the way it happened, you go to your chamber in the morning your clerk will just hand you briefs so somebody is appearing before the home base, somebody is appearing before the criminal court. That morning you just take your time, you glance through, you go to court and you stand and put forward the case.
So when, Barrister and Solicitors now became a recognized profession, fees became the order of the day. The fees as I said were settled between Barristers and Solicitors. But in Nigeria, the early lawyers we had in Nigeria went to England and those of them who became Barristers, but because they were the only people learned in law, they would practice as Barristers and Solicitors.
Those of them who studied as solicitors and could go to court and present cases. Solicitors don’t appear in the High Court in England but now, a solicitor can even appear and wear the gown. So the profession has come a long way, but in Nigeria once you have passed through the law school you are called to the Bar, by the Authority of the body of benchers. And as provided in the Legal Practitioners Act you are entitled to practice as a Barrister and a Solicitor. So Solicitor was the cadre that were usually office workers who take instructions from clients and prepare the cases. The Barrister is the Advocate who goes to court and pleads the cases.
Now in government, you have the Solicitor General, Attorney General, how do their job move?
Oh! these were statutorily done because the Ministries of Justice there was a time when we have Town Council in Colonial days the department that was charged of doing solicitor’s work. Writing agreements for government, preparing cases, while there was the other cadre which was mostly under the Director of Public Prosecutions the (PPP) were mainly the Barristers who went to court to plead cases.
So when the Ministries of Justice were formed, it was recognized that they still needed to be quite apart from the Attorney General, who is the head of the Ministry, a solicitor general. The Head of the Administrative arm of the Ministry of Justice, The Solicitor-General was an offshoot from the solicitor profession, who stayed in the office and prepared the case. The attorney general was the head of the ministry under the constitution as it is now, he is incharge of all matters that will link to prosecution of offenders, that is how the office is run, but they are now legislated on. There is a solicitor-general’s law which creates the office of the solicitor-generals, both at the federal and the state service.
They said before you get a SAN, you would be prepared to have bank account elsewhere?
That is not true.
What is the lowest SAN can have in the bank?
The lowest and this is in the legal practitioners Act, because we do not want a Senior Advocate to handle every case; there must be a chance for young lawyers to grow. A Senior Advocate is not expected to accept instructions from any matter the value of which is under 400 pounds. 400 pounds, you can now begin to do the conversion. Some people are using the exchange rate as stipulated by the Central Bank, some people are using the black market rate, but the stipulations in the law is that, a Senior Advocate quite apart from other restrictions on his ability to go to court, should not accept instructions in any matter the value of which is below 400 pounds.
In recent times, we have come to approximate that to be at some point N50,000, some have said N100,000.
You see before you become a QC in England as we become Senior Advocate here, Queens Counsel or Kings Counsel if the person on throne in England as at the time you are appointed is a man, what you needed to do is to reduce the number of cases making demand of your time and that is why you have to apply for it because it has added responsibility. It will decrease the number of cases you are handling. It will now make sure the cases you are handling are high value cases. Because as a Senior Advocate, as a QC, in civil matters you are obliged to appear with a junior and the way of charging is that you charge first amount, one third of that first amount is added for your junior who appeared with you. So anybody going to brief Queen counsel or King counsel or a Senior Advocate should accept that the fees you will pay will be higher than what you would ordinarily be paying is not only going to pay for the lawyer, the SAN or Queen counsel appearing. He will also in addition pay one third of what he has agreed to pay to that Senior Advocate to the junior, so he was supposed to make you exclusive in a way, so that Queen Counsel, SAN is not for all comers.
What made you read law?
I said to some other journalists, the fear of the mathematics led me to law. During the civil war we lived at a place in Umuahia near a magistrate court. I used to while away my time and go and stand in the court premises and just watch lawyers do their thing.
Some of them were given to all mannerism so I cultivated an interest. As you may know, my father was a policeman and all that , so when I finished secondary school in 1972 in Government Comprehensive Secondary School, we were looking through the universities prospectus syllabuses and all that. I tried to choose a course and I have my difficulties with Mathematics. Happily I ended getting C5 in Mathematics. It wasn’t my worst subject, my worst subject was Physics. I had C6. Why I got a C5 I was good in Arithmetic and Trigonometry, so I was determined not to come across Mathematics again anywhere in my future career, so looking through the only courses I had that has noMathematics, is History. No Mathematics, single honours BA History.
Economics had Mathematics, I was very good in Economics, that is what I thought I should go and read. But thinking about it I spoke to my father he said, I should learn from his experience, he was a policeman with only O levels he didn’t have any profession; he said look go and study a professional course so that if government refuses to employ you, all you have to do, put up a sign board somewhere, then start working for yourself. So I looked through all the courses; medicine has Mathematics, Architecture has Mathematics, the only one that did not have Mathematics was Law. And I remembered how I used to enjoy those lawyers with their wigs and gowns at Umuahia in those days only to get to Ife and the first year, we had Mathematics 001 Mathematics 102, so it turned out that you cannot really run away from Mathematics, so it was the fear of Mathematics that actually led me to do Law and I ended up teaching logic, logic is Mathematics 102; and then symbolic logic 001, so that was how I ended up becoming a lawyer, advice of my father and the fear of Mathematics.
As time went on, I realised that there was something about law, and my genes you know in my family, my great great grand father had always been a law enforcement officer. My great great grand father was a native court judge in the old Obio District Court. My grand father followed in that same mould, because when he became the head of the family, he also went and became a member of the Obio Native Court. Those courts in the colonial days, now they are calling them customary courts. Then my father went into the police, law enforcement too, and here I am a lawyer one sister is a judge, one brother is a lawyer, one decided to follow and he inherited all my fatehr’s books. He is a Chief Superintendent of Police now.
Sir Before we go into more contemporary issues what are the true goal, factors for becoming SAN. Why is it difficult for more Rivers people to become SAN. The impression being created is that, else where, some lawyers, helped people to pay the prescribed fees of their clients to get to Supreme Court, that would qualify you, how true it is?
Well I don’t know about the truth of lawyers paying the fees for the litigation cost for their clients is professionally unethical to do so. And |I will not agree with you that Rivers people have not become Senior Advocates. We had quite a few. Indeed, the first Senior Advocate appointed in Nigeria was a Rivers man. Dr Nabo Graham Douglas, former Attorney-General of Nigeria of blessed memory.
After him, there was also Galima Peterside, Opobo man, who became SAN. He was practising in Jos. The truth of the matter let me be frank with you is that, the cost of the major qualifications required to apply to Senior Advocate of Nigeria, you need to have met some minimum number of appearances, argued minimum number of cases in the superior courts.
High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. We were not too easily or readily exposed to those other superior courts like Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. In the olden days, the Supreme Curt used to sit in circuit. It would move from one capital of one region to the other and sit there, when it was the Federal Supreme Court, even when they had The West African Court of Appeal, it would move from the capital of one country to the other and would sit like that. But when the law was passed, that created the Senior Advocate cadre. It became important that you have to practice where all these courts were within the jurisdiction.
You see the realities of the situation is that if I have a case in the Supreme Court, and Supreme Court is in Lagos, as it was in those days, someone needs to brief a lawyer in Lagos, because if I brief a lawyer in Port Harcourt and other provincial headquarters, it means to pay, not just his transport. I will pay also not just his fees, will pay his transport, also pay his hotel accommodation and so on and so forth. So those lawyers who were in the area where those courts were located are in a vantage position.
It took a long time for us to move the Court of Appeal to Port Harcourt. When the Court of Appeal was originally created, it had divisions only at the regional headquarters. Ibadan, apart from Lagos which was the capital of Nigeria, Kaduna and Enugu. Sometime I was secretary of the Bar Association here in Port Harcourt. We made very serious effort to have the Court of Appeal Division from Port \Harcourt crated and to have the court also moved to Port Harcourt. Because when the Court of Appeal Division for Port Harcourt was created, it was still sitting in Enugu. And some lawyers used to think it was greater advantage to earn transport money, to earn hotel bill and go to Enugu to do cases.
So when Wifa became chairman and I the secretary, B.M. Wifa SAN, and I secretary, we fought seriously to move that Division to Port Harcourt and immediately, Oh, virtually no year would pass without one SAN and that court came here in 1992 or there about, 1992, 1993, Graham Douglas had been appointed SAN in 1988, 1987, 1988, when the Court of Appeal was in Enugu, but when it came to Port Harcourt, it came here in 1992 as I said before. By 1994, 1995, when I became SAN two years later Dr Osanakpo, the next year, Wifa and virtually every year now, we have two or three appointed as Senior Advocates.
Informatively for you, we have 16 senior advocates. And this is even not counting our former Attorney-General Odem Ajumogobia who is now the Minister of State for Petroleum. He was the Attorney-General here when he was made SAN.
These are the reasons for the qualification, you must have minimum of ten years post call experience. Second you must be of good character; third, you must have a good law practice. These days, they actually come to inspect your office, see how many juniors you have. Look at the library and facilities you have in your office and then you must have argued a minimum number of cases in the Supreme Court as well as Court of Appeal and High Court. These three categories, Supreme Court cases is category A, two Supreme Court cases and four courts of appeal.
Second category, category one Supreme Court. Four Courts of Appeal and six High Court cases. Because people argue that you know most of the practice is in the High Court. Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are reviewed panels to look over what has been done by the High Courts and so real advocacy is at the High Curt level, so you have those three categories, and you must qualify in any of those three categories. Now they’ve also imposed a certain fee that you must pay. When I applied for SAN, I didn’t pay anything, What you have to pay, I think is N200,000.
You also have to show that you have been a good citizen, you pay your taxes as at when due, and then that at the time of your application you are not being investigated or having been convicted or liable in a case of professional misconduct. So there are the parameters by which you get appointed as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Creation of State taskforces, are they in accordance with the constitution?
I would say is not inconsistent with democratic culture we are trying to build. Task forces by their very nature are charged with particular task so is expected that they focus their full time and attention towards the cardinals of whatever task is assigned them. The problem which ma be … is that some of the taskforces don not understand that they are naturally bound to follow due process in carrying out of any their assignment so you may have a point when you say, these taskforces are not acting in accordance wit rule of law or due process as you say. But there is nothing inconsistent with the constitution, or with democratic principles of government decides that it want to set up taskforces in view of particular problems.
Rivers State: Governance, Economy and the People
2023 Polls: ‘Media Faced Myriad Of Challenges In Performance Of Their Roles’
Being the presentation of Dr. Chima Matthew Amadi at the 19th all Nigeria Editors Conference (Anec) On November 16, 2023 at the Ibom Icon Hotels And Golf Resort, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Titled: “Post-2023 General Elections: Assessing the roles played by the media, Inec, Security agencies and others”.
I am grateful to the leader
ship of ANEC, organisers of this conference, for inviting me to give this presentation at this very important event being held at this very important time in our national history. Conferences like this are important because they help shape the national conversation and help Nigerians distill fact from fiction, take stock of situations and map a route towards the country that we all dream of.
In inviting me to give this presentation, ANEC gave me the arduous yet important task of assessing the roles played by the key stakeholders of our electoral process in the conduct of the 2023 general elections. The task is arduous due to the complexities surrounding the involvement of multiple stakeholders in varying degrees, who all have to perform their roles optimally for the successful conduct of elections. It is also arduous because one has to navigate the emotive state of large sections of the Nigerian populace, at home and abroad, who may not have a full understanding of the circumstances surrounding the elections and yet, respond passionately about it.
Yet, it is important to assess the roles played by key stakeholders in order to appraise the assess the success of the elections. We need to know who did what, when, where and how. We need to know which officials or agencies performed their tasks optimally and which did not. Only by doing so, will we be able to ascertain the areas of improvement, the areas where there are gaps that need to be filled and areas that need to be strengthened.
The stakeholders involved in the electoral eco-system can be broadly categorized into 6 groups. They are:
The electoral umpire, INEC
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Observer Groups
Like the fingers of one hand, these groups all need perform their roles effectively to ensure successful elections. But also, like a hand the slight lack of capacity in one finger does not prevent the functions of the hand.
As this is a gathering of senior members of the media, I will begin my assessment with the roles played by your profession. The media has always had to bear the burden of maintaining a balance during election season. This task involves maintaining a balance between:
passing information and curbing the spread of fake news;
saying things as they are while not inflaming tensions and igniting fires;
promoting free speech while dissuading hate speech, and
preserving our rich cultural heritage while dissuading ethnic, religious and tribal sentiments.
The media’s role has always been particularly important to maintain a peaceful, just and egalitarian society. It is also particularly precarious because the major political players use the media as a tool to advance their own interests.
The constant attempts by government to “regulate” (read suppress opposition voices), the rise of fake news and the decentralization of information dissemination by the rise of social media makes the role of the media all the more important, and all the more precarious.
The media faced myriad of challenges in the performance of their roles in the 2023 general elections. Notable among these was the deployment of fake news which was done blatantly and effectively by major political players or on their behalf. It was so widely done that observer agencies had to note the desperation political players had to spread damaging, but fake news, against opponents.
In many instances, the media did not live up to its fact checking responsibilities. In other instances, it did so too late. In yet other instances, it did not matter because political players persisted and the people went ahead to believe what they wanted to.
A third challenge the media faced was the deployment of incendiary and inflammatory rhetoric. Given that this was the first election since 1999 where a major political party fielded a Muslim-Muslim ticket, the nation was already charged along religious lines. This was a topic that ought to have been handled with the greater care and responsibility than it was. In the end, it pushed to the country to the brink, from which the country has not really recovered.
Closely allied to this was the conversation around the ethnicity and zoning. Like the conversation around religion, this was a charged topic. And like the conversation around religion, the conversation around ethnicity and zoning was perhaps not handled with the care and sensitivity with which it should have been.
One can reasonably surmise that the media could have, and should have, done better in assessing the twin issues of religion and ethnicity and their roles in our society, as well as leading the national conversation about the importance of religious consideration vis a vis the need for national cohesion and tangible development.
In my assessment, the media did not do enough to point out the critical security challenges the electoral umpire faced before, during and after the elections. For instance, over a 4-year period between 2019 and 2023 there were 50 attacks on INEC facilities in the country. A breakdown shows that in 2019, INEC recorded eight attacks; 22 in 2020, 12 in 2021, and eight in 2022. The incidents occurred in Osun, Ogun, Lagos, Ondo, Bayelsa, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Enugu, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Borno, and Taraba states. One is of the opinion that not enough media spotlight was given to these attacks which were obviously done to weaken the capacity of the electoral umpire to conduct free and fair elections.
Finally, the media did not always perform its role of leading the conversation on critical issues. In some instance, the media caught onto those issues late and in others, not at all. The end result was that the public often got its information and had its narrative shaped by opinions on social media by political players, most of whom had agendas.
It is important to the consideration of the above identified issues to probe whether the ownership structures of the media house and the political inclinations of their owners impede the objectivity and performance of the media. In many cases, the correlation between owners and the political leanings on the one hand and the reportage and slant on critical issues on the other is very apparent for all to see, especially in cases where the owners are prominent members of political parties or are aligned with one political divide or the other.
One must also consider that many media houses simply shy away from firm, objective and consistent reportage of critical issues simply for the fear of losing advertising patronage, particularly from government. As a result, critical issues and events are barely discussed and, where reported, are barely footnotes hidden at the bottom of pages in obscure segments of print and audiovisual programming.
I will not deign to tell professionals such as yourselves how to carry out their jobs. I will, however, sound a note of caution. Social media presents a valid threat to the existence of conventional media and will weaken its effectiveness and reduce its relevance if the media does not retake the lead on reportage, lead conversation relevant to the Nigerian people and provide unbiased and objective analysis of the issues as they occur.
The Nigerian media needs to find the fine balance between the instinctive need to survive and pay the bills vis a vis the duty to give fair, unbiased and objective reportage on issues are critical to the Nigerian people. You have to evolve or you will slowly watch the media industry as you know it die.
Seeing as INEC is the constitutionally authorized body to prepare for, conduct elections and announce results I will assess their performance second. In this wise, it is important to point out that elections are a process not an event. It is a process that commences with the announcement of the Notice of Elections, goes through Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), collection of Permanent Voter Cards, sundry logistic arrangements, political party primaries and the selection of candidates, campaigns, campaign finance, voter accreditation, voting, collation of results and announcement of results.
Any credible assessment of elections in Nigeria has to appraise the entire process from start to finish, and not pick at parts of the process in isolation. In this wise, it is worthy to note that the 2023 elections had the following important highpoints:
Despite certain challenges, CVR and PVC collection went rather well resulting in the highest number of eligible voters in our national history at over 94m.
This is the first election in the last 12 years that was not postponed.
There was a very visible improvement in the logistic of deployment of election materials across the country as a result of which accreditation and voting started on time across the country.
In times past, the announcement of results no matter how invalid could only be overturned by the Courts. However, the Commission was able to exercise its power of review to prevent constitutional crises in a number of states, most notably in Adamawa State.
There are many other examples. However, most of the post-election assessment of the elections has unfairly been narrowed down to the deployment of the Bimodal Verification and Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Instant Result Viewing portal, IReV.
BVAS was designed to perform the dual role of curbing incidents of impersonation by ensuring that only a properly accredited voter could cast his or her ballot and transmitting the results from the polling unit directly to the IReV portal.
Several local and foreign observers have put its performance at 98% success rate in ensuring successful accreditation of voters. This level of success is phenomenal and is evidence that a lot of work has been done to curb incidents of multiple voting and overvoting.
However, the BVAS machines suffered a set-back when they encountered a glitch in the system which caused a collapse of the IReV portal making it impossible for the results to be transmitted in real time. This led to INEC suspending the electronic transmission of results and relying on manual transmission, as also allowed by law, while work was being done to fix the system.
The Commission receiving severe criticism over the occurrence of this glitch, perhaps rightly so. But having suffered a technical glitch in the middle of election day, INEC did the best it could, in compliance with the provisions of the law, and ensured that the manual transmission of the results was done, and copies of Forms EC8 appropriately handed over to the political party agents as well as pasted on a wall at the polling unit.
I will not bother to go into the fine print of the legalese stipulated by our court systems. But I want to draw your attention to certain numbers:
PARTY NO OF VOTES
APC 15, 424,921
PDP 12, 853,162
Difference 2, 571,759
PARTY NO OF VOTES
Difference 3, 928,869
PARTY NO OF VOTES
APC 8, 794,726
PDP + LP + NNPP 14, 582,740
Difference 5, 788,014
APC basically maintained the number of votes they garnered in the 2015 and 2019 elections, losing only 233, 074.
PDP lost 1, 590,184 votes between 2015 and 2019. This reduction in votes can be attributed to a variety of reasons.
Amadi is a human rights activist based in Abuja.
By the 2023 elections, the opposition support base had been balkanized into 3 parties – PDP, Labour Party (LP) and New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP).
– Between 2019 and 2023, APC lost a staggering 6, 397,121 votes, a situation reflective of the public disapproval of President Buhari’s management of the country.
– Between 2019 and 2023, the opposition gained 3, 319,762 votes, a situation reflective of the public desire for a change of the ruling party.
– The results indicate that the ruling party actually lost the election. The opposition actually won the election. The ruling party cannot lose a rigged election by more than 6million votes.
– The only reason why there has not been a change of the ruling party is because votes given to the opposition were distributed to 3 parties rather than a single party.
Given these numbers and these facts, it is next to impossible to conclude that the elections were rigged.
One must admit that the Commission faced a number of other challenges in the conduct of the election, most of which were not of its own making. If one considers that the elections were held in the middle of a debilitating cash crunch as well as a fuel scarcity, one will reach a conclusion that the Commission deserves commendation for getting its logistics around the distribution of sensitive electoral materials right.
Of course, one cannot complete an assessment of INEC’s role in the 2023 elections without commenting on the poor conduct of INEC permanent and ad-hoc staff in isolated incidents across the country. We had instances of senior officials going rogue like in Adamawa State, where the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), declared a candidate winner without due process of any sort of legal authority to do so.
We also had instances where ad-hoc staff, retained to ensure the smooth conduct of the elections, received monetary inducements to sabotage the same processes. We all know that many Nigerians see the elections as an opportunity to cash out and indeed create pockets of challenges in the process.
However, one must commend the Commission’s determination to follow the process of the law an ensure the prosecution of all officials caught sabotaging the electoral process. The announcement that the Commission intends to prosecute as many as 215 people for various electoral offences is commendable. If you recall, in the aftermath of the 2019 elections, the Commission prosecuted as many as 300 people for various electoral offences and secured over 200 convictions. What this means is that it is establishing a pattern for the arrest, prosecution and conviction of electoral offenders – something that was never done before.
The occurrence of internal sabotage of the electoral process was to be expected. In the months before the 2023 elections, several Resident Election Commissioners (RECs) were appointed and sworn into office. These appointments were made in apparent violation of the provisions of the law and in spite of protestations by many stakeholders over their partisan pasts. These included at least a former governorship candidate of a political party; the younger sister of the South East National Vice President of a political party; a former civil servant dismissed from service in a state on account of corruption, and the manager of a hotel belonging to a politician who served as minister at the time of the appointment.
A cursory study of the electoral trends will show that many illegal activities occurred and attempts at disrupting the system occurred in the states where these people were posted to serve.
I do not believe there was sufficient public pressure to resist these appointments and attempts at sabotaging the electoral process from within. I also do not believe that enough was done to bring this issue to the limelight.
On a connected note, one must point out that there has been a slow but remarkable departure in the “activist” outlook displayed by the Commission since 2015. This departure is not unconnected with the reduced appointment of people from the civic space and committed advocates for a return to democracy to members and acolytes of political parties who have a clear and present incentive to be biased. I am rather disappointed that this is happening, given that this activist approach has led to an improvement in the legal and regulatory framework around elections and the deployment of technology designed to improve the credibility of elections.
We have seen several instances in the past where the electoral umpire has insisted on preserving its credibility as an unbiased umpire by disowning results whose integrity it could not vouch for. Unfortunately, it has not done so often enough and seems increasingly reluctant to do so. I will give an example by citing the Kogi State gubernatorial election of 2019 and asserting that the electoral umpire had no business given the wide scale violence that destroyed the credibility of the results, a fact attested to by INEC staff, CSOs and observer groups that participated in the elections. There are so many cases where the Commission departed from recent history and failed, refused and neglected to intervene in blatant cases of electoral malpractice.
This is a stance that the Commission must depart from. Otherwise, it will give vent to increasing levels of desperation within the political class, who are already desperate enough as it is.
My final comment on the Commission is note its failure to replicate its commitment to open and transparent information dissemination as it did in 2019. In the build up to the 2019 elections, the Commission deployed all its available resources – including its chairman – on all available media platforms to keep Nigerians informed of the state of the election, especially when a postponement was announced. On the contrary, in 2023 the Commission failed to keep Nigerians sufficiently informed of events as they occurred, particularly when the IReV portal experienced a glitch leading to it malfunctioning. This failure ultimately led to a vacuum which was ultimately filled with a potent mixture of facts and conjecture that have almost undermined the credibility of the process.
8. Having spoken about the Commission, one must analyze the role played by the security agencies in the conduct of the elections. After all, without a peaceful, safe and secure environment, elections cannot be held nor results declared.
Commendably, the 2023 elections were held in a largely peaceful atmosphere across the country. In most places, people were able to arrive their polling units, cast their ballots, wait for the announcement of results and go home without any incidents or breach of the peace. One must point out that the coordinated deployment of security agents led to a drop in the casualty figures from the two previous election cycles.
However, there were a number of flashpoints in certain states that nearly led to a breakdown of law and order. Notable amongst these states are Benue, Cross Rivers, Delta, Imo, Kano, Kogi, Lagos and Rivers.
There must be some criticism for the security agencies regarding these incidents of violence. In many cases, the security agents deployed to provide security for the peaceful conduct of the elections actually provided operational cover to enable the perpetration of these acts of violence by thugs sponsored by political players. In other cases, they stood by unwilling and unable to do anything to stop the violence. And in other cases, they responded late to calls for help or did not respond at all.
It must be said that 161 reported casualties, as well as the maiming of several others and kidnappings of several others, is bad enough – no matter that there was a reduction in the occurrence of such events from previous years.
The security agencies have to do more to discipline officers who collaborate to subvert the electoral process, improve response times and train officers in de-escalation techniques while ensuring the integrity of the electoral process.
The security agencies also have to do more pro-active policing aimed at gathering intelligence and preventing these attacks before they occur. It is no longer enough to react long after the attacks have been carried out, nor has it ever been enough.
To achieve this, the security agencies have to overcome the problem of under-policing and over-policing during elections. While I am aware that it seems incongruous to this, a careful study of elections will reveal that this is an actual problem that occurs when large numbers of security agents are deployed in urban centres or specific locations to the detriment of rural areas or other locations. The result is what while elections remain peaceful in certain areas due to the concentration of security agents there, it leaves other areas susceptible to the nefarious activities of political thugs.
Hopefully, we will get to a point in the not-too-distant future where there are no casualties or breaches of the peace during the conduct of our elections.
But it almost feels like this is a vain hope given that the security agencies are mostly deployed with partisan considerations in the first place. It happens all too often that security personnel are deployed to parts of the country and allowed to operate with obvious partisan agenda. How then will elections be peaceful when the security agencies who have the duty to maintain the peace descend into the arena on behalf of one side?
And the true conundrum about this descent into the arena is that it varies according to local considerations in the various. As such, a security agency that may be pliable and favourable to a political interest in an area may be aggressive against it in another area.
Nigeria desperately needs a return to a situation where the security agencies are loyal to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and our constitution rather than this situation of being loyal to different fiefdoms and interests.
9. Civil Society Groups (CSOs) and Observer Groups
The role of CSOs and Observer groups in the 2023 electoral cycle cannot be over-emphasized. The deployment of many of the legal, regulatory and technological innovations for the 2023 elections were only possible because of the relentless pressure applied by CSOs to ensure the passage of the Electoral Act 2022. I must speak to the memory of my late friend and brother, Comrade Ariyo “Aristotle” Atoye, who drove the process and rallied critical stakeholders to pressure the National Assembly. Unfortunately, he passed away in October 2022 and did not live to see the benefits of his hard work in operation. May his soul continue to rest in peace.
Many CSOs also played very commendable roles in voter education and sensitization. They spearheaded so many initiatives designed to discourage flaws like vote buying, electoral violence and to encourage high voter turnout and peaceful conduct during the elections.
It is important to observe that the participation of CSOs was not all positive. There are several instances where CSO were established or retained with the intention of pushing negative and divisive rhetoric along regional, ethnic or religious lines or to promote fake news or to attack political opponents. In so doing, their activities served to heighten tensions and worsen the climate in which the elections were held.
This presents us with the need for an urgent national conversation around the role of CSOs in our democratic process. It has become increasingly important to find the balance between the rights to freedom of speech and the rights to freedom of association vis a vis the need for some sort of regulation that prevents organizations from exacerbating tensions during electoral season.
There were several commendable things about the participation of observer groups in this electoral cycle. Most notable amongst these was they served to point out the loopholes/gaps in the electoral process and make recommendations to plug such gaps in the future.
However, many observer groups did not observe the entire electoral process and so only gave their recommendations about election day activities. As such many of the recommendations do not give any insights about how to improve pre-election day aspects of the process.
It must be said that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a CSO and observer group that gives a fair, balanced and objective assessment of the electoral process. And this is traceable to the vice like grip the government and donor agencies have over the activities of these organizations. It has also become increasingly frequent to see reports written by these organizations differ greatly from the press statements and media interventions they make.
The end result is that one is often left wondering whose/which agenda CSOs and observe groups serve, why the conflicting positions and where (if) one can find unbiased and objective assessments of the electoral process. And this presents a challenge to the improvement of the process as it becomes difficult to find objective ways to improve the electoral process.
For instance, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) prepared a report that assess the 2023 general election as fair and credible, a far cry from what is contained in the press statements made by the organization and media interventions given by its staff, which gained significantly more traction than the report.
It is my recommendation that more electoral observer groups get involved in the Nigerian election process from the beginning rather than only towards election day. This will, amongst other things, ensure that gaps in the process are identified and plugged well ahead of time.
I also strongly recommend that CSOs and observer groups find and toe the fine line between the instinctive need to maintain their funding and the duty to objectively assess the electoral process and report their findings to the Nigerian people.
Having discussed all else, I will now come to the biggest challenge to the electoral system itself – the politicians. It is ironic that politicians pose the biggest threat to a democratic process. However, the winner takes all nature of our political system means that politicians have the most incentive to subvert the process. And over the years, they have demonstrated the willingness and desperation to subvert it.
The ingenuity employed by politicians to seek out the loopholes in the legal and regulatory framework is enormous and their determination to find the gaps the process cannot be over emphasized.
It is the politicians that have designed the system of vote buying to circumvent the innovation of card readers and BVAS. It is the politicians that offer monetary inducements to key stakeholders in the electoral process including security agents and staff of the electoral commission to subvert the process or to look the other way. It is the politicians who continuously stress test the electoral eco-system to find the ways to weaken the process and gain an undue advantage. It is the politicians who pay thugs to disrupt the casting of votes and collation of results, and in so doing endanger the lives and properties of Nigerians.
It is now evident that the first step towards ensuring freer and more credible elections must resolve with designing systems that limit the influence politicians have over the electoral process. And this limitation must begin with reducing the influence politicians have over the appointment and employment of permanent and ad-hoc staff of the Commission.
We must also ensure speedier trials for people found subverting the process, including the politicians who offer the inducement and provide the logistic support, and enact legislation prescribing stiffer punishment for those crimes.
The challenge with achieving this objective is that we require the input of the very politicians whose excesses and influence we seek to curb in the first place. While the deployment of technology is proving very effective in curbing the shenanigans of the politicians, the human factors still remain highly susceptible to the inducements provided by the politicians.
I hope we find a solution to this conundrum soon because before our eyes the politicians are displaying and will continue to display a determination to find an undue advantage by subverting the electoral process as much as they can.
Even as I say it, the difficulty of this prospect stares me in the face. After all, it is the same politicians who perpetually refuse to abide by the internal rules of their own parties or conduct free, fair and credible primary processes, and who deploy all sorts of vicious antics against even their own party members.
Every single act of violence, every single piece of fake news, every manipulation of the electoral process, the subversion of law and regulations and the use of divisive rhetoric are always traceable to the interests of one politician or the other. And it leaves one in wonder – if you are so desperate to be voted for, why not just do good and be good to the people so they reward you with their votes? Why fail and then desperately seek to hijack the electoral process to get into office?
Nigerians seem to have the short end of the stick with its political class and scarily it appears that there is no help in sight.
11. I was a bit hesitant to include the judiciary in my assessment of the 2023 election, or indeed any other election. But its critical role in the preservation of our democracy can no longer be taken for granted. And it is my belief that the importance of the role of the judiciary and the need for it to be seen as an impartial arbiter must be restated at every available opportunity. The judiciary must now not only do justice, it must be seen to be doing justice.
This stance has become necessary in the wake of the all too frequent inconsistencies displayed by the judiciary, many times in violation of the provisions of the law and in flagrant disregard for decades of jurisprudence and decisions of the Court. Or the reliance on technicalities to determine cases rather than doing substantial justice in a bid to protect interests of politicians.
It has long since been the desired position that elections should be decided by the ballots not by the courts. However, every Nigerian must be worried when a former senator stands in the hallowed chambers of the Senate to say his wife used to give favourable judgments to his colleagues. Every Nigerian must be alarmed when a senator alleges that his election was overturned at the behest of the President of the Senate because he did not pander to certain interests. Every Nigerian must be concerned when a retiring Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria alleges that the bench is a cesspool of corruption, increasingly people by judges appointed on the basis of nepotism rather than competence and increasingly unwilling to be a fair arbiter in the best interest of the wider population.
It used to be that the outcome of certain cases can be determined by a careful study of previous decisions of our courts in the knowledge that the principles of stare decisis or judicial precedents will apply. However, this is no longer the case. It now seems “justice” is served dependent on the parties before the courts and whose interests need to be protected rather than the law.
Otherwise, how do you explain the judgment of the Supreme Court that declared Senator Ahmed Lawan as the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate for Yobe North, even though he clearly did not participate in the primaries to produce a candidate? Or how do you explain the judgment of the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Imo State nullifying the election of Ikenga Ugochinyere as the House of Representatives member for the Ideato Federal Constituency on the basis that the primary of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) did not comply with the party’s constitution, even though the position of the law and the Supreme Court is that only members of parties who participated in a primary can challenge the outcome of that primary? The list goes on and on.
We have departed from an era when litigants approached courts as the last hope of the common man into an era where the judiciary has become a willing tool in the hands of the political elite who subvert the electoral process to further rob the people of their electoral choices.
The unfortunate thing is that this era into which we have been unwillingly pushed threatens to consume us all as it only ensures that an already desperate political class is given an extra incentive for further desperation. And unless something is urgently done to compel the judiciary to assume its role as an impartial arbiter, politicians will view elections as a no holds barred venture they must win, regardless of the rules. And the phrase, “Go to court” will continually be thrown around in condescension and mockery.
The good thing is that the judiciary can save itself. The National Judicial Commission must immediately and more forcefully implement its rules and regulations and enforce its powers of supervision and discipline of any judge found to have given judgment that fly against the letter and the spirit of the law, and the disregard of jurisprudential principles established over the years. This internal mechanism designed to self-heal must be activated while there is still hope and while the faith of the public in the judiciary can still be restored. Otherwise, a day will come when the judgment of the people will be visited on the judiciary, as it is being visited on Nigeria’s political elite.
12. I think this is a good place to bring this presentation to a close. And I’d like to end the way I began by thanking the organizers for deeming me fit to lead this conversation today and by thanking all of you present for listening to me.
13. I will close my presentation by saying a short but very poignant prayer I have come to believe in so much: Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and all its peoples. Amen.
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Correcting The Narrative About Fubara
A lot has been reported from the media parley our leader, former Governor Nyesom Wike, granted yesterday, where he alleged a lot of things about his successor, Governor Siminalayi Fubara, happenings in the politics of Rivers State, and the issues surrounding the crisis in the state.
A lot of us have avidly followed and had an experiential experience of the events in this state since time immemorial, irrespective of the silence of our people for fear of the uncertainty of the future. Even in our silence, we know the truth when we hear it and we know our history.
The truth is that Governor Fubara is too loyal, calm and very humble to even think of fighting anybody. Our leader, Chief Wike, even affirmed this in his media parley yesterday, wherein he stated that Sir Fubara was his best bet because the other aspirants would not have been able to tolerate him for two weeks.
A man, who wanted to destroy any structure would not have proposed to resign as governor, instead of fighting. Governor Fubara, whom we all know, has never been desperate for power because we all know how he emerged. If not for the public humiliation-laden impeachment ambush against his reputation, he still would have carried on quietly as the very humble person that he is and hoped that the issues would be resolved internally.
In this state, we heard in a recorded conversation where a local government chairman was violently threatening another, that he and Governor Fubara should get prepared for war, because he is coming for them, and the governor who has been accused of fighting the structure has not responded or taken any action against the chairman. Such could not happen during the eight years of our leader; when chairmen were suspended and their allocations deliberately delayed as punishment.
If Fubara was fighting as many people had expected him to, the man would have since dissolved his cabinet and relieved a lot of people from their duties, but alas that is not the case, which was the common practice during the administration of our leader.
Amidst the disrespect from even his cabinet members by some very powerful commissioners and chairmen, Governor Fubara has remained calm, respectful in words, and humble. Such tolerance, restraint, and humility should be studied. This is what those struggling to be governor through impeachment will never endure.
One clear take-home in all of this is that we have examined and x-rayed Governor fubara and we have found him not guilty. But as usual, the system will always come up with a reason to lead Rivers State people into a needless battle, thus the allegation of destroying the structure. How can a man who practically inherited all political office holders of the former administration be accused of such a charge?
NOW THE ISSUES.
He, Fubara is destroying our structure, I’ve asked him to maintain the structure that brought him. – Wike
Response: As a people, we can choose to feign ignorance or not but the truth is that, Governor Fubara in the beginning of his government was even called a puppet and a weakling because he practically inherited the working team of his Oga. From personal boys of our leader to special assistants, to commissioners, to security and even his chief of staff were provided for him. The elders that used to move with our leader, are still the ones moving with the governor. Every appointment so far in this state, except for a few special assistants and the two commissioners from the local government of the governor, was processed directly by the structure. So, how then has the structure been destroyed, which is yet to be made known to the public? I would not want to dwell on speculations for now, hence my question.
I’ve respected President Tinubu by keeping calm, but Governor Fubara has disrespected the President and Vice-President. – Wike
Response: After the intervention of President Tinubu in the imbroglio of a failed mutiny attempt that bedevilled our state. It is Governor Fubara, who has carried himself more in a peaceful manner. For the first time in the history of our state, the governor appeared in a state broadcast to apologise and even called the minor setback a father and son issue that will be resolved. The governor has never threatened anyone publicly, rather it is our leader, Chief Wike, who has threatened to cause more issues in the state which will cripple governance and development, even with the presidential intervention.
27 Assembly members are against the governor. – Wike
Response: That they are against the governor is no fault of Fubara, because even the members do not know why they are against him. They are only following orders as directed by the structure that purchased their forms just as the governorship forms were purchased for all aspirants. A lot of members who have dared to open up in private said they were coaxed into the decision because of their pending appeal judgment. To date, there is no public rationale as to why the failed impeachment attempt was enforced.
He is an ingrate and only ingrates will support him. – Wike
Response: For a man who was declared wanted by the EFCC because of you, yet he stayed loyal, went into hiding and took the shame all because of the structure. Then such a man cannot be said to be an ingrate. Everyone in life has one or more persons that have helped him/her to grow and disagreeing with one who helped you to grow on some certain issue does not amount to betrayal or being an ingrate.
We still remember the painstaking roles President Jonathan and his wife, Mama Patience, played in ensuring that another Ikwerre son took over as Governor of Rivers State from an Ikwerre son who had served eight years straight. Even after the efforts of these Ijaw Icons, we stopped seeing them in our state, we stopped issuing an official birthday wish to them as a state until recently, but this did not stop our Ijaw brothers and sisters in Rivers State from supporting and standing in defence of our leader, Chief Wike.
I fought my battles. – Wike
Response: Our dear leader has forgotten that he did not fight his battles alone. It was the combined efforts of all Rivers people that ensured that he came out victorious. The women of KELGA, The women of Ogu/Bolo and Okrika, the youths of PHALGA, the sons of Nyemoni in Akuku-Toru and many others, all played their part.
In all the victories of our leader, it is Rivers people that have made it possible and the Grace of GOD, so it should not be about self.
It is Atiku’s people who are trying to use Fubara against me. – Wike.
Response: If only our leader had handled matters with his son internally, and protected him from the disrespect he was subjected to amongst supposed family members, instead of attempting to use the Assembly to remove him unjustly, it would not have been a free-for-all fight.
Trying to link this to Atiku because of the presidency is a disservice to Rivers State people, because of a truth, this is just Rivers people standing and defending the integrity and personality of Governor Fubara, the number one citizen of their state, just as they did defend you, our leader.
In a society where influence outweighs democracy, the true value of our voice diminishes, as power is wielded by position rather than the genuine voice of the people.
I remember when Governor Fubara, once said that nobody should send him any message because he would show it to his Oga, our leader. The truth is, there is always a limit to how far you can continually push a humble man, no matter how loyal he is.
Until kingmakers realise that there is an elastic limit to which they can stretch their authority, everybody will contnously be called an ingrate and betrayer.
By: Ezebunwo Ichemati
Ichement, son of Rebisi Kingdom, writes from Port Harcourt
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