Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, was in Lagos at the weekend to give a situation report on the amendment process. Shola Oyeyipo presents excerpts from the interview session
Although the senate committee has dropped the idea of single term tenure, many still believe it is desirable for the country. Do you agree?
Yes, single term is an important issue to me. When the matter came up at the level of our committee, we were mindful of the political atmosphere. We wanted to tap inspiration from what happened in other jurisdictions. It happened in the Latin America in the 70s. They had a circumstance we found ourselves where the issue of transition from one administration was a major issue and there was crisis within their region. So, they started to amend their constitution at that time to create a single term in each of those countries and it was their transition period. This had destabilised their democracy before some of them amended their constitution to go back to two terms of four years, five years or six years. So, we thought it was something we could recommend to our country.
In what ways can this benefit the nation?
If you look at what is going on now, all the core problems we are having in all the parties are about the issue of succession. So, we believe strongly that the matter can still be revisited. But I think some of the mistakes we made in our recommendation when we said the incumbent would not benefit from it were responsible for shooting it down. Then there was a kind of coalition of forces to defeat it. So, I believe that if the players in the polity or stakeholders are able to come together to deal with the situation could be a win-win situation for everybody.
I believe that the way it could work is now that people have been elected for four years, let everybody complete the four years tenure for which they were elected. And then, through the doctrine of necessity and some sort of jurisprudential approach, do some kind of transition of two years in which case those present occupiers like the President and State Governors who are finishing their tenures, will now do another two years that would end in 2017. In that case, you can see that those fighting the president have hinged their complaint on the fact that if the president gets his second term by the time they are gone, he would start to chase them. So, if we all agree that, that is a way to solve the problem, after two years, both the President and other governors will exit. I believe that the fear would not be there and there would not be much pressure on the polity.
Of course, we don’t have much problem with the legislative positions. We can go ahead and hold legislative election in 2015. The advantage there is when we do the legislative election in 2015, then we do executive election in 2017, we have two year gap for the INEC to have a breathing space to prepare well. You can see what is happening in Anambra now. So, INEC needs sufficient time to prepare for one election before the other.
In America for instance, there is this two years separation. In fact, in most countries, even in Senegal, and some places in Africa have adopted the separation of legislative elections from the executive elections. If we create a two year gap, it creates a situation where the country would not be engulfed in crisis in the process of conducting all the elections in one period. I think it is something we have to reflect on and see if it is something that can help resolve some of the challenges that we are having and I do hope that if we are able to do that and we all agree to it, it would solve even the executive situations because it is believed that most of the challenges we have is as a result of the charged atmosphere arising from jammed elections.
And somehow, everybody will benefit. All we need to do is to exercise patience and give them two more years. After that we move to one term tenure that can be five years, six years or seven years depending on what we all agree upon. The cost of all these elections and all the problems that come with it would have all been resolved. So, it would help to reduce cost of election and also reduce the crisis that may come up due to ambition to run for another term in office.
How then can we bring the matter back for discussion?
We didn’t know that the president and the executive would come up with the idea of National Dialogue when we started the present constitution amendment and came up with the amendment of section 9 of the constitution. Now, because I said the matter was defeated, it is under our processes. And for the matter to come up again, it must come in form of formal motion to bring about that. But because we are serving the people, we would be more than willing to do that if that is what the people of Nigeria desire. If there is debate on it in conversation and Nigerians believe that the way we are going, we need to think along that line and be able to use it to resolve the existing political tension in this country, just as we did during the ill health of our President, we would be more than willing as a national service to have a look into it and be able to reach a level of understanding at the National Assembly.
So, we will be willing to discuss it provided that, that is exactly what Nigerians want. But for now, the matter was defeated in the Senate. If we are going to bring it about again, there must be another motion to resuscitate it.
What really is the problem of your committee with multi-level policing, considering the security challenges in the country?
All Nigerians know my position on this. I have a personal position and an official position. I belong to an institution, the Senate and at the level of the Committee on Constitution Amendment, rejected suggestion for state police. We could not take it, even to the floor. And as a person, it is my job and responsibility to present the report of the committee and I needed to explain to my colleagues why we made that recommendation. The reason we gave was that Nigeria was not ripe for state police, though it will be for the future. That is the official position of the committee which I head.
Now, permit me to speak as a person. As an individual, I believe we can never resolve our security challenges in Nigeria as long as we are doing what we are doing now. Never! If you like, continue to do what we are doing and the fact will repeat itself. We’ll still be having what we are having. The reason is clear. No other country is doing what we are doing in term of policing. Most countries have adopted what I call decentralised policing. If you like, call it multi-level policing.
Nobody does state police again, what we now do is multi-level policing and if you like, call it decentralised policing. If the security challenges become complicated, you have to bring in complicated process to address it. We cannot have a federal type of government that adopt unitary system of police and expect that to succeed. Even the white men, when they came to do the amalgamation, they knew that a centralised police could not work in Nigeria. So, the type of police they set up was the Native Authority Police. That was the first type of police we had in Nigeria. So, it worked. They even introduced the prison that was native authority based. It was later in the years- I think in 1936- that they decided to set up a Federal Police.
So, the federal and local authority police co-existed together till 1966 when the army took over. When they took over, they set up a committee to review that type of police and they came to the conclusion that, they were using it to intimidate political enemies. It was bound to happen because the white men did not bother to set up a structure to regulate that kind of level of policing. So, there was nothing like Police Service Commission, may be at the centre, with a guideline to structure that type of native authority policing to be able to determine what bound they must stop.
They were doing things the way they liked. Instead of the army to find a way to reform that type of arrangement; to make sure there was a level of control and some regulations, what they did was to throw away the baby with the bath water. They now cancelled the issue of other level of police then set up a central police which we have now.
What happened after that? First was armed robbery. We started to experience armed robbery. Armed robbers now go about their business everywhere because they started to post policemen from Kano to Enugu, from Enugu to Calabar, from Calabar to Ibadan.
They now bring people who don’t know the terrain of the state. So, armed robbers take advantage of that. When the armed robbers have established their reign, kidnappers now joined them. Now, there are terrorists and some ritualists are also coming in because the police that we have are not grounded in the environment they are operating.
Take for instance, you send a southerner, may be a Christian to Sokoto. And then, in the course of his beat, somebody commits a crime and he is chasing the person, once he runs into a house, he cannot go further if there is a woman living in that house. He is not allowed to enter because their religion does not allow him to see the woman. There are cultural differences we must respect. And the only way to do that is to get a policeman who is also part of the culture of the area, who respects the culture and also understands the environment.
Since he lives and does his police work there, he knows everybody in the area. What they do in most countries is called decentralised policing or multi-level policing. That means in Abuja for instance, there is a federal police. Then, there would be Abuja Federal Capital Territory Police. Then those who live in Apo, there would be police. The University of Abuja would have its own police and these are all well coordinated. What happens is that, if there is an offence in Apo for instance and the man appears there in the next second. If it is a thing that he cannot handle, he contacts his colleagues in other part of Apo. Then he can call the FCT Police before bringing it down to the Federal Police. By the time you finish all these, they must have arrested whoever is involved.
In a situation where somebody has to leave a place in the course of posting, it would not allow him to know the environment in which they are operating. Part of the job of the police is prosecution and also investigation. A policeman is investigating a crime and he is going to testify in Court A, in Lagos. And he is now transferred to Jalingo. Now, what happens to that case? That is the end of the matter. Then, the criminal goes free because the policeman cannot be coming from Jalingo to give evidence in Lagos. They will bring another prosecutor that does not know anything about the matter and he has to start afresh. That is how criminals go away with the offence.
As I said, as long as we continue to do what we are doing, we will continue to have security challenges that we are having. Since something has to be done, we have to have a rethink. When some of us were pushing for it, we spent a lot of time meeting with the governors in their forum to explain to them the need to decentralise the police. Most of them dismissed it. But thank God, those states that dismissed it are those states that are calling for state police now.
But they now begin to see the need for it. I believe that as we rightly pointed to our colleagues that the time was not ripe for it, the time is beginning to be ripe for it. People are beginning to see the reason we need to go back to the issue of decentralised police. We have to decentralise the system so that local governments can have police, even factories that can afford it can set up police. But there must be an institution that must regulate it making sure that they are doing the correct thing as they do in Brazil. In Brazil, there is Police Service Commission which gives states their own PSC which are distinct and different from the state government. In that case, it is this PSC that hires and fires the Police Commissioners of the state. Also, there is Federal PSC which now makes sure that all the state PSCs are doing the right things. If you do anything that is contrary to the provision of the law, they will dissolve it. If we put down some of the checks, we must have addressed some of the fears of the people who are opposed to it. It is something that we have to revisit. Not just the South-west governors, everybody has begun to see that it is something we have to revisit.