… Says Our Constitution Does Not Support Systems’ Independence
Barely 19 years ago, it was, that the martial music was silenced and freedom ushered into Nigeria’s governance with the tag ‘Democracy’. How well this new cloak of democracy is worn has remained a matter for deliberation in elite circles and even in dungeons. While many anchor hope on a better tomorrow, some have remained critical of the country’s democratic pace. While some feign indifference, some other, clamour reforms as the way forward.
One thing, however, has remained constant. It is the fact that whichever part of the divide these opinions stand; they are hinged on the need for the sustenance of this democracy. Former Secretary to Delta State Government (SSG), and veteran Labour Leader, Comrade (Chief) Ovuozourie Macaulay may hold divergent views, but has successfully defined his stand on the whole matter in this chat with ITEVEH EKPOKPOBE. Read it…
As Nigeria’s nascent democracy clocks 19, can you please appraise how far or well the sojourn has been?
In 1999, the process of voting was not in any way democratic. It was the strongest candidate that wins or the one with more backing. It was not really through the ballot. In 2003 there was a little bit of reform but we were not there. By 2007, people were beginning to see the need to not only vote, but to stay and defend their votes. If you look at the last election most people who won the election were not expected to win, going by the old order.
Things have evolved over the years and democracy is coming to stay. There is total freedom of speech now. You say it the way you see it; for me, that is the way democracy should go. But that is not to say, we are there. We are still far from it, because the democratic institutions are still not independent. Once the institutions are subject to the dictate of some people in government, then our democracy is not totally free.
We are also not building enough institutions that will help to develop our democracy. So we must begin to look at that now. Yes, for instance, beyond Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), how many institutions are there and how free are they in the electioneering process. How many Nigerians really know their rights? How many people really know the importance of their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and that it is even more important than their International Passports. Are people seeing it as a responsibility to vote? How can Nigerians who are not resident in Nigeria be able to cast their votes during elections? There is still a lot to be done.
Another question is, am I really free to air my views without being hunted? If I am the Chairman of INEC, can I condemn certain acts of the ruling party if they go wrong? If I am the Inspector General of Police, can I do my job without taking directives from certain organs of government? These are some of the areas we have to look into. But that is not to say we are not developing. Gradually, we are going to get there.
There are three arms of government; the legislative, the executive and judiciary. Without the legislature there is no democracy. If you go back in time during the military rule, while legislature was put on hold the judiciary and the executive in form of the Supreme Military Council took charge. What makes a democracy to tick and thrive is the viability of the legislative. But I am sorry to say that those who formulated our constitution did not take into cognisance that the three arms that make government are supposed to have equal level of play. While immunity was allowed for the executive, the legislature and judiciary were not given immunity.
That decision has technically place the other two arms below the executive. The executive can hunt any of the other two down because they don’t have immunity hence one cannot say they are independent. In America, the legislative can disagree with the executive and it will not affect their performance in any way because democracy is in their hands.
Also, the sanctity of the judiciary should be made necessary because once you mess up the judiciary, you have messed up democracy. Hopefully, we will get there. Other developed climes are counting hundreds of years, while we are still battling to count our 19th year.
I believe we should take some of these things into cognisance. We need to build more confidence in our electoral system. We need to build independence in the various organs that help to engineer the process. We need to make ascension to positions be on the grounds of merit. Beyond that, we have every reason to celebrate our 19th democracy.
What is your assessment of the growth of democracy in Delta State?
For those of us who came into Delta State; into Asaba after its creation from the old Bendel State, we can say Delta State has grown. Delta State is one of the fastest growing states in this country. We are fortunate. People may want to focus on the growth of the state capital alone, forgetting that Delta State is a complex state that has at least if not more, four sort of equal status of the state capital. But Asaba is the state capital.
Even if you compare the growth of Asaba alone with some other states capitals – I don’t want to call the names of some, so it will not look as if I am running their government down – you will see how fast we have developed. We are one of the State Capitals that can boast of an airport. Forget that it is undergoing repairs; it does remove the fact that we have one.
Because of the complexity of governing Delta State, while you are developing Asaba, you cannot remove Warri because the bulk of the state Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) comes from there; even in the old Bendel State, Warri was a factor. So you cannot concentrate development in Asaba at the detriment of Warri, Ughelli, Sapele or Agbor, because if you don’t do so Asaba will become so saturated. So what you are doing to this other places is like making them satellite towns.
That is why people will want to say that the development is not fast enough. Anybody who came to Asaba when it was founded knows were Asaba stopped. It stopped at the former Usonia junction. From there you have a stretch of bush path before you get to the then central hospital now Federal Medical Centre (FMC). At that time, between the FMC and St. Patrick College (SPC) seemed like over two kilometres because of the bush. That was the end of Asaba.
All these Government Reserved Areas we have today from there to Okpanam are new in Asaba. If you base your judgement on these indices, you will agree that Asaba has developed. That is why you cannot rate the Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa or any governor before him, based on the development of the state capital because we have our own peculiarity.
Starting from Chief James Ibori, he laid the solid foundation for the state. I will say I was in opposition then because during the military, labour was the only opposition. So I knew how much I engaged the then military government because of lack of development in the state. Chief James Ibori came and laid the foundation, built bridges, did road constructions. Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan came in and built on that foundation. If Ibori had not laid a viable foundation, Uduaghan would not think of an airport. That foundation pushed him to build overhead bridges in Asaba and Warri and attracted a lot of investors to come in. Of course, Shoprite was one of them.
Today, Okowa has stepped in and he has focused on some other areas as well as some of the inherited projects; for example, the Asaba Airport which he is trying to give a facelift because of the failure of the runway. You go to Agbor today; you will see another mini London coming up. For me, that is the hallmark of democracy. In Delta State, we are lucky to have a running system of democracy based on rotation among the three senatorial zones.
Whether you say the Governor wants to develop only one place, yes, that place is part of Delta State. I am not justifying such things if it happens, but yes, the projects are in Delta state, unlike the military era when our money were used to develop other parts of the country but Delta State. In a nutshell, I will say, yes, Deltans have every reason to celebrate and I wish them a happy Democracy Day Anniversary.