Do Our Politicians Know The Constitution?

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

I have always suspected and held the belief that our politicians, all classes of them, appear to be charlatans, novices, greenhorns and pretenders. This is no longer surprising nor should be taken for granted. In our current nascent democracy, I suppose we should expect some kind of experimentation for a while until we finally get it right; however, unfortunately, since this form of governance has a very important impact on the lives of 140 million people, there really is no room for mistakes.

Actually, since we got our independence from Great Britain in 1960, any form of government which we have tried our hands on have always been a mix of trials and errors, more like our roadside mechanics, not versed in the theoretical and educational aspect of their job, but relying mostly on trying out procedures and processes and poking about in your car’s engine until they finally get it right, even if briefly and unsustainable.

People always think politics is a game, but I always beg to differ. It is no longer a game when politicians make political decisions which affect the lives of millions of people for which they are responsible; which determines their standard of living; their daily livelihood, their health and wellbeing, their security and in fact the very essence of their being alive.

Thus, since 1999, we see all our political leaders in the three arms of government thrashing wildly about in ignorance, or maybe deliberate abuse, of our constitution. Ex-President Obasanjo was very notorious for disregarding the Constitution in all aspects, forgetting that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is greater than anybody in Nigeria. The Senate and the House of Representative routinely disregard the Constitution; in fact they abuse it, failing to follow laid-down rules of the House and the Senate, and most times, resort to violence to sort problems out. The same applied, and still applies to the States’ chief executive officers, States Houses of Assembly, comprising mostly thuggish, crooked and unsavoury characters and the local government Chairmen and their mostly ill-educated, half-baked councillors. (Please, I have done my homework very well on the human constitution of our legislative houses, so I am sure of what I am talking about, and not just passing insults).

My fears were somehow confirmed, and I was mildly surprised when I read that the newly judicially-installed Governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, as one of his first decision on assuming office, decided to “sack” all the state’s local government chairmen and councillors, in apparent ignorance of the Constitutional provisions for doing so. I was surprised because of many reasons: Dr Mimiko is a highly educated man, and experienced politician, who should know the provisions of the Constitution before acting so hastily; secondly, he rode to office on the back of a lot of goodwill after all he had been through, and I would have expected him to settle down first and face the task of re-building Ondo State before he can even consider “sacking” the local governments. Thirdly, and this is also tied to constitutional provisions, he failed to refer to the State House of Assembly before his peremptory dissolution of the local governments.

I was one of millions of Nigeria who rejoiced on the ousting of the inept and corrupt Dr Olusegun Agagu (my former lecturer at the University of Ibadan) from the Ondo State Government House, and the subsequent judicial victory of Dr Mimiko. I wish him well very much and hope he will do for Ondo State what Agagu, in all his wisdom, refused to do for the people of Ondo State for almost 7 years. A lot of Nigerians have since counselled him that he should focus his attention on good governance, accountability, responsibility and rule of law.

However, Dr Mimiko, with the benefit of hindsight, must realise that his very first move was very wrong. So he has started off on a very wrong footing with this “sacking”. Agreed that the elections, which were hastily conducted, after ignoring a court order not to do so, by his predecessor that brought in the current local government chairmen and councillors was another breach of the law of the land, Dr Mimiko could have sought constitutional and legal advice before proceeding on this disastrous route.

Now, having been advised rightly, Dr Mimiko is now having to eat his hat, and is now belatedly doing what he should have done in the first place – go to the court and determine whether the elections that brought the “sacked” councillors in were conducted validly and lawfully.

I wish him the best in the governance of Ondo State, but he should really go and study the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and adhere to it as fully as he can. This will be part of standards by which he will be judged at the end of his tenure.

Having said all these, the actions of the Nigeria Police, in form of the Inspector General of Police, presumably at the behest of the President, in escorting the “sacked” local government officials to their offices was the cap in the unfolding farce. It again showed either a lack of respect for the Constitution or an ignorance of it, or both. The Governor of a state of the federation id the chief executive officer and chief security officer of his/her state, and as such, the federal police owe him a high degree of accountability. That is why he has a Commissioner of Police reporting to him (as well as to his Inspector General). This fact alone subjugates the police command of each state to the executive officer, the Governor, even though, he is appointed by the Inspector General. The role of the police command is therefore, not only to keep the peace and ensure security in their state, but also to take certain orders from the Governor, in order to carry out their primary objectives mentioned above.

So what are the federal police doing escorting local government officials to their offices? According to the constitution, the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of local governments is the preserve of a state government, therefore, any intervention by the federal police in cogently reinstating the sacked chairmen and councillors is tantamount to undue and unhealthy interference in the affairs of a state, unless in the case of a state of emergency.

According to the IGP, Mike Okiro, answering questions as to why he thought it expedient or proper to use his policemen to undo what the Governor did, “what the police have done was to make sure that nobody was unduly cheated and we did our best to prevent a break-down of law and order…”
This is where we see another breach of constitutional provisions, whether by ignorance or deliberately. It is not the responsibility of the police to correct or deal with an errant governor for his mistakes. I know a certain section of the 1999 Constitution takes care of that.

The above flies in the face of President Yar ‘Adua’s posture of rule of law and due process, much as his government’s arrests of some journalists last year was. Therefore both Mimiko’s “sacking” of chairmen and councillors without consulting his state House of Assembly and federal police interference in “reinstating” them are unconstitutional, undemocratic, unlawful and does not augur well for a growing and healthy democracy. Rather, it undermines democracy.

In the end, both are wrong, and their actions are likely to heat up the political landscape in Ondo State. If you do not know, always ask those who know. Executive powers do not translate to executive abuse and force, and Presidential and police powers must also not be abused under the guise of protectionism.

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Gbola Olalere March 31, 2009 - 7:50 am

I am not surprised by the attitude of our politicians in neglecting the constitution. If they had respected the constitution of the land, many of them could not have been in there different political posts. What do we expect from a candidate who did not depend on the votes of the people; and a party that has no Manifesto? There can never be compliance.

Akinwale March 30, 2009 - 8:58 pm

I have often wondewred how these people behave that way and rule the way they do. There is a dearth of knowldge of the law and the constitution. They have the Constitution, but they dont read it. A lot of then dont even read books or newspapers.


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