A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afam Osigwe, on election petitions as well as the illegality of the call for an interim government among other issues
Those calling for an interim government premise it on the need for reform in the country. Do you consider this to be a good reason?
There can’t be any talk of reform outside of the constitutional framework that will not amount to some form of coup. The constitution has provided for a change of government, and that is through elections.
An election has taken place, and a winner has been declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
I am aware that some of the candidates in that election have gone to court, but to justify the call for an interim government on the grounds of constitutional reforms suggests that reforms cannot be made within the constitutional framework. I don’t agree with that.
What other reasons make this unacceptable to you?
We need to ask: under this interim government, what law will regulate it since the constitution will not be applicable? Will it become a supreme law-making government?
At some point, it will slide into anarchy. I can’t walk my way into the thought process that seeks to justify this call. There is no doubt that many things could be done better in Nigeria, but the call for an interim national government is not the answer to it, and as a lawyer, since the constitution does not justify it, I am unable to see why anyone would ask for it.
Do you agree with the way the Department of State States handled the matter by issuing a press statement to that effect?
I don’t think it is professional. If people are plotting a coup, I do not expect a highly revered agency like the DSS to release a statement as if they were a political party, saying that they pledge their loyalty to the President-elect as if their loyalty were called into question.
Nobody is calling their loyalty into question. If people are plotting to topple the government through undemocratic means, it is part of their statutory duties and power to sanction an arrest.
If they have identified them as they claimed, then they should arrest them.
But after a week of making that statement, no arrest has been made; making it seem like that call was just flying a kite. It didn’t seem like it was founded on any credible intelligence, and no concrete investigation seems to be going on. I don’t think the press statement put them in a good light.
What is the cause of these agitations and the persistent clamour to break away?
If Nigeria is laid on sound principles of the rule of law, if people have a sense of belonging wherever they may have settled and are not made to feel like second-class citizens in any part of the country, if access to things like jobs and political opportunities is based on merit, these agitations will be a thing of the past.
However, if the government is parochial and there are suggestions that if you are not from a particular place, you cannot access certain things, then people will feel unwanted and would prefer to go separate ways where there is a sense of belonging.
How can we make progress with these problems?
When we identify some of the maladies, bad policies, and nepotism that are experienced in governance, when people get rewarded based on merit, then we will make progress.
A reference was also made to a “series of protests” and attempts to get a court injunction to prevent the inauguration of the President-elect. Do you sense the government is averse to peaceful protest or apprehensive about court orders?
The right to peaceful protest should be protected by society. It is part of the right to freedom of expression. But I would be shocked if any court grants an injunction to restrain a person who has been declared the winner of an election from being sworn in.
Is it a practical setup that winners of elections are sworn in while petitions are ongoing?