Friday, 26 June 2015

Buhari and Me (5)

Buhari and Me (5)
Continued from last week…
(Questions from audience)
Maxwell Kyon (Legal Practitioner): Your Excellency, I have to a very large extent worked on the question of reform of our electoral law. It’s true that if the laws in the statute books are applied as they are, there might not necessarily be any need for reform. The only problem is that they sometimes are never applied as they are. But there’s this thorny question and it continues to arise in issues of elections in courts and this is the question of what is substantial compliance. Because in 2003 and particularly in 2007 elections that led to your going to court, the court actually agreed with you that there was no serialization of ballot papers and that it was actually against the spirit of the electoral act, but that it was not substantial enough to invalidate the election, even though the Justices that dissented disagreed with the holding of the majority on that point. My question is this: let’s assume that you get into office as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, what is your position on the issue of the clause that continues to remain in the electoral act  on the fact that even if there are instances where elections are conducted outside of the import of the electoral act, as long as those instances don’t amount to substantial non-compliance, those elections would remain valid, because you have fallen victim, twice, of this very provision of the law? My second question is on accountability. It has been argued, and I hold that view myself, that part of the problem we have in this country is the legislature, in the sense that it has become too costly to manage the legislature in Nigeria, and also the fact that it would seem as if any bill that would be gotten passed in the NASS or the State Assemblies, you would have to go to the members with some Ghana-must-go and all of that to get your bill passed. What is your position as it affects the legislature and accountable government?
Samuel Aruwan (Leadership Newspapers): Your Excelency, I want to draw you back to the issue of zoning, which has actually heated the polity because one side, the northerners in the PDP, is insisting that power must come back to the north, come 2011. On the other end, others are saying that they believe there are two types of zoning: man-made zoning and God-made zoning, and that it’s God-made zoning that has taken us to where we are today. My question is this: what exactly is your position as far as zoning is concerned? Then again, in 2002, there was a report that was credited to you. You went to Sokoto to chair the book launch of Sheikh Attahiru, at the end of the day, what we heard in the media was “Muslim, vote Muslims”. There were lots of rebuttals and I quite remember the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria exonerating you, saying that they’ve done their investigations and come to the conclusion that you didn’t precisely say so. But then people still have it in mind, considering the band of people supporting you within the north. Your supporters are said to be mainly Muslim, I stand to be corrected. The question is what is your position on the kind of presidency Nigeria needs? Is it a Muslim presidency or a competent presidency?
Tony Akowe (The Nation Newspapers): Your Excellency, talking about free, fair and credible elections; there’s a school of thought that believes that for the 2011 elections to be free, fair and credible, President Jonathan has to resist the temptation to run for office. What is your take on that?
Buhari: Well, I have scribbled the basics of the questions. The first is the question of reform of the electoral act regarding substantiality of compliance and so on… it a technical thing, although one of my colleagues said he has given me an honourary SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria), having sat in court for the length of time I have (general laughter). But I assure you that the question of defining substantiality has beaten me. I think I made a statement on the 12th of December, 2008, when the Supreme Court handed down that judgment, that the Supreme Court, as the Constitution said, is supreme; whatever interpretation they give the government, or they give a law or a case, we just have to go by it. Nobody can do anything about it in the country again. That is fundamental. But having said that, the fact that the decision of that election split the Supreme Court said a lot about the credibility of the election. There were seven Justices; three of them said there was non-compliance. The fact that the presidential ballot papers were not serially numbered, by the electoral act, annulled the election. That’s the decision led by Joseph Oguntade as well as Jutice Mukhtad. They said that by the electoral act, the election was nullified. But then when there’s three-to-three, I hope it was not rehearsed, the Chief Justice decided to vote for the government, and this is what happened. It is now in our history books. So I don’t think, as an “honourary SAN” (laughingly), I should strain myself to explain substantiality… all foreign observers said the election was flawed. The president, Yar’adua, himself – may his soul be in perfect peace –mentioned it; that was why he promised the electoral reform committee at his swearing-in. obasanjo who was handing over to him mentioned it… (to be continued next week)

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