By Jiti Ogunye
When the decision of the Supreme Court in Peter Obi v INEC was delivered, Uwaifo JSC ( Rtd. ) and Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, SAM criticized the decision as being subversive of the Constitutional schema of uniform governorship tenures. I aligned with them. It was my considered opinion then and now that the constitutional arrangement of uniform tenures of governors and the President of the Country ought not to be altered by adjudication and interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution by our courts while exercising their power of judicial review, as that would be tantamount to rewriting the Constitution. The private legal right of an elected governor to govern for a four year tenure from when he is sworn into office ought not to be enforced against the public right of Nigerians to have a uniform governorship and presidential elections in Nigeria to be conducted in one general election cycle. We argued that if a staggered governorship elections and phased gubernatorial mandates renewal were contemplated by the framers of the Constitution, same would have been explicitly stated in the Constitution; and that if, in the then prevailing circumstances, same was desired, it should be achieved by the amendment of the Constitution and not by default.
A number of people were not persuaded by our arguments. Even if the entire Country was aligned with our point of view, there was nothing anybody could do any longer. The Supreme Court had changed the law. Perhaps for ever.
One consequence of the “ alteration” of the Constitution, regarding uniform tenures of governors has been the disruptive roles of political parties and their errant governors in off general elections season gubernatorial contests. Incumbent governors who are not facing re-elections at home or in whose states governorship elections are not being conducted now utilize their “ free time “ to extend their spheres of influence to states where governorship elections are being held. We have witnessed these roles in Anambra, Osun, Ekiti, Kogi, Ondo, Edo, Anambra and Bayelsa States.
The off general elections season gubernatorial electoral contests have now caused a bizarre situation, which we believe was not anticipated by the jurists who decided the Obi’s case. It has now become a new normal that Governors, in a supposed federation comprising “ semi autonomous units”, leave the states they govern to participate and campaign in political rallies in other states.
Thereafter, on the eve of the elections and during conduct of same, the governors, acting as their parties’ delegates or election monitors, abandon their states and converge on the states where elections are being conducted to attempt to propel their parties to victory. Recently, the nation witnessed this ugliness from the two sides of the political divide in Edo State. Another show of this national shame is currently unfolding in Ondo State.
It is our considered view that serving governors of states with their political entourage and security “accoutrements” should not be permitted to continue to do this , under whatever guise. We all know that Nigeria, by its structure, fiscally and administratively, is now more like a unitary State than a Federal State. However, in the practice of the political parties, our gravitation towards the unitary extreme should not be further accentuated. Governors from various states who converge in States conducting elections do not have the right to vote in those states. During elections, political campaigns are prohibited. Under the Electoral Act , it is an offence, on the day of election or during voting, to compel or pressure a voter to vote for a particular candidate or party. Thus, the presence of the governors in a state during a governorship election ,ostensibly, adds no value to a peaceful and violence-free conduct of a free and fair election in that state. Other than being present to cause electoral mischief and corruption, governors have no good reason to leave their states and descend on a state where a governorship election is being conducted.
During the conduct of the Kogi State governorship election , there was a report that Governor Seyi Makinde and his security details were ringed in by a wall of state security agents. In the just concluded election in Edo State, it was the turn of Governor Nyesom Wike to allege that he was being disallowed to exercise his right to freedom of movement on the day of the election. Of course, there were just concerns about why governors of the opposition party were subjected to that kind of restraint while governors of the ruling party were not being similarly “restricted in movement”. We may recall that In the past, however, governors and chieftains of the then opposition party were not even permitted to enter a state to campaign, let alone being tolerated to prance about on Election Day. Dateline ( or do we say “ year-line“ ? ): Ekiti 2014.
The bigger issue, therefore, is not the need for equal treatment of all ( intruding governors from both sides of the political divides ) before the law ( and by law enforcement and security agents ). The bigger issue is the need to keep intruding governors away from states, other than their own , during the conduct of governorship elections. Keeping them out will stem the tide of vote buying, rigging, violence, and corruption during the conduct of the elections. Sadly, it won’t end these electoral malpractices . But it may help in reducing them.
-Jiti Ogunye, poet, writer, lawyer and human rights activist, writes from Lagos