Buhari should be tougher during second term -Prof Dinakin
Professor Yomi Dinakin was the pioneer Dean Faculty of Law, Adekunle Ajasin University and presently the chairman Ondo State Independent Electoral Commission, ODIEC. In this interview with the LINE EDITORS of The Hope newspaper, he shared his views on issues bordering on the nation and Ondo state; he equally explained the activities of ODIEC under his watch. Excerpts:
What has been your experience so far in ODIEC?
ODIEC was like a seasonal thing before now, conducting election and then nothing more, there was no continuity. There is a problem with states electoral commissions except some few ones that have been able to get over it and ensure continuity. But I believe we can make it functional, it is not something that is just for conducting election and go away without further activities. We must see electoral body as a prime mover, election is not a once and for all thing, it is a process. The public (the electorate) see the electoral body only on election day not knowing that a lot need to be done with their collaboration to make the day successful, it create problems if there is no adequate preparation. Again it is not a profit making thing, it is part of governance, it is part of democracy therefore it has to be funded with permanent staff who will continually be trained in the idea of conducting elections. My observation is that the place needs to be retooled and made functional all through, not a place to go to sleep until another election.
Judging by your experience, do you think the ODIEC you have inherited is in position to organise and conduct a free and fair election?
Yes, we can, but we need support and time for planning. It is a process, in electoral body; we talk about procurement of materials, distribution of materials and retrieval of materials, that is why I said it is a process. What we have on ground can be trained and made to prepare for conducting election. There is always room for improvement. Look at the national body INEC, it has continued to periodically conduct election and has really improved over time, we must learn from this as practice make perfect. An electoral body cannot recruit all the staff it requires for an election, it needs ad-hoc staff but we need to recruit and train them. We have to make adequate preparation. Coming to your question, with the staff we have and the current logistic, we can conduct election.
Have you actually embark on preparation for election and training and retraining of staff?
We have started training; we are collaborating with the International Foundation of Electoral System (IFES).It designed training programme for us. It was supposed to be in three modules, we have begun the first module in November last year. The continuity of the training will be when we have settled for the time of election but Internally, about three weeks ago, we conducted an induction course for our electoral officers, for your information, we have an electoral officer in each of the eighteen local government areas of the state, they are to delegate and supervise at that level, we invited colleagues from sisters state electoral commission to conduct the training, we still have other trainings that will be for the whole Commission. Training and retraining is of essence for any electoral body and we have been doing it.
Local Government election in Ondo State was earlier slated for December 1,2018 but was postponed indefinitely, what informed that change of date?
We postponed the election because of some logistics problem. I have said it repeatedly that the state electoral commission depends on INEC for certain things to function. The fundamental thing is voters register, whenever we want to conduct election, we must consult INEC to give us the up-to-date voters register, it is the register that will be used to produce ballot papers and it is until INEC give us, since the state electoral body does not conduct voter registration. When they give us the voters register, we will now know how many number that we have and then commission the security printers to print the ballot papers and printing of the ballot papers will take about three or four weeks. So when we fixed December 1st last year, INEC did not release voters register to us until November 21, it was definitely impossible to now go and print ballot papers. We all know how government works, we did not spend the money given to us last year, it has to go back to the treasury to face a new bureaucracy, we have to go and defend another budget. What we did at the commission is that we retooled, projected and drew another budget that is in tandem with the budget approved by the State House of Assembly. It would be recalled that the state budget was signed into law on January 31, this year that is the function of government, but for the commission. We have not given the time for the election so it cannot be released for now, we have to keep planning and work on the basis of the budget as provided. So the commission keeps working. There is no state commission that has reached the stage INEC has reached in terms of direct funding, that immediately you are set, the fund is there in the account of the electoral body. I believe we would get there but we have not. What the commission must do is that, it must be prepared and set, when there is time table we can easily adjust. Something is very clear, this process must be well planned, The governor cannot just say we want election let’s say for instance July, I will tell him Your Excellency, there cannot be election in July because like I said, it is a process, we must do what is right. However, the commission has all that is required for it to prepare.
What is ODIEC budget?
For the election, the House of Assembly approved the budget of N1.25 billion, but from it we are supposed to do a re- organization, it is from this that we began the training of electoral officers and recently we have been able to split ourselves into groups, we visited other commissions to compare what is being done in terms of standard practice and re-organisation. Like I said, those ones will not affect the conduct of the election if we want to do it now. You will be wondering that why can’t we announce the date, there are variables, it is in public domain that the governor of the state announced that those in local governments who are interested in creating The Local Council Developments Authority (LCDAs), should indicate interest, this will definitely affect our plans. My commission has opened up discussion with the committee set up by the government in this regard .By the provision of the Law, at the end of the day when this committee make recommendation to government, government is under an obligation to conduct referendum in the areas to be carved out as LCDAs, the responsibility for referendum lies with the ODIEC therefore, we have anticipated, we have made plans but we cannot do that unless we liaise with the LCDAs and the government to know the time table. But if they do that today, we are set. Part of our strategies before was that by the third quarter of this year, we want to start ward delimitation, the activity that the ODIEC has not been performing before. By the local government law, the ward delimitation is a function of ODIEC, it suppose to be doing this every ten years but I do not know the year the commission did that last in the state, For the record, I said there were attempts to start but we did not do it. I will cite an example, in Shagari area in Akure, you will discover that in the last five to ten years, that area has really grown, so if you are talking about population with respect to delimitation of ward, how do you accommodate them, how do you again create an additional polling units? Those are the necessary things we must do. So we have plan, we have it as part of what we want to do in the third quarter of this year, to revisit the question of ward delimitation, it will make ODIEC to be busy, because we will go to the field, engage demographers, make consultations, look at the population and so on, and again we are very conscious of the fact that because the law states maximum number of wards that can be in a local government but like I have said these are plans that will affect whatever activities we are doing, our goal is that we want ODIEC to effectively address its mandate.
Why is it that any political party in power always sweeps council polls?
It is your duty as press to monitor what we do closely, follow us and educate the people. Before we jump to conclusions, you see the political parties, I always laugh and marvel when, you listen to radio today or read newspaper. There was a time I addressed stakeholders, I am the chairman of ODIEC ,on the day of the election I cannot be in every polling unit, the best I can do is to sit at the headquarters monitoring the teams and so on, it is what they bring to me that I will put down because there would be clear light, the press watch team, agents of political parties will be on ground , where will I be doctoring figures, is it not the figures they bring from the field that I will work on, so I told the political parties to go and work on the field and bring me the result then you are suppose to have agents so if you cannot manned the field, is it the electoral body that will manned the field? Definitely not.
In your previous analysis, what you said was that 203 wards in Ondo state are grossly inadequate for election, now if you go ahead to conduct new delimitation, would INEC accept, would they be recognised?
No, no let us get it very clear. A polling units is suppose to consist of five hundred voters, you can go up to seven hundred but once it is above that, you create another unit, not on paper but for administrative convenience, you always do that because that would take care of excess. But what I am saying when I gave the Shagari example, is that it is in Akure South, how many wards do we have in Akure South local government in terms of representation and proportional representation? That is where ODIEC comes in to create additional wards to cater for, bearing in mind the maximum. I think the maximum is eighteen per local government and in all the state today, I think the highest is twelve wards, so you can create additional to accommodate more.
You made mention of the possibility of creating LCDA’s in Ondo state. If they were created , don’t you think it will pose enormous and difficult task for the commission to conduct local election?
Why? Like I have said, it is for administrative convenience, it is not that it is difficult.
What are the likely problems that ODIEC may encounter?
Yes, there are two ways to it. If we want to conduct an election before the creation of LCDAs, we will go by the eighteen local governments and then government may say we have created LCDAs, so the councillors from which ward will fall into which LCDA? That will be governmental policy. We would have conducted our election on the basis of eighteen local government but on the other hand you may say you cannot anticipate how the demarcation will be. For example, between Ijapo and Alagbaka assuming these are two wards but they are all in Akure South, if you want to create three LCDAs, I am giving example for us to follow. Three LCDAs were created from Akure South, a portion of Ijapo falls into some place else, a portion of Alagbaka taken away, it will affect the wards so that is what we anticipate, the process government has started can be completed between June or thereabout, create the LCDAs, reorganize the wards and then do election.
The LCDAs, will they be legally recognised because the Constitution will only recognise chairmen of existing local government?
You see this is a constitutional problem but some of the time, you look at the letter of the constitution, you look at the intendment of the constitution, you look at the practicability of certain actions and convenience of action. We do not need to go into all the details and what is the ideal thing but the present situation in Nigeria is that the constitution recognises 774 local governments and by the constitution, the Federal Government is suppose to share the money from the consolidated revenue among the three tiers of government, the federal government, 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory and 774 local governments, the idea of LCDA’s is an administrative thing and that is why the government is calling it LCDA’s, it has not called it Local governments and no provision in the Constitution stop the administrative power of the state governor to administer the state. The Ondo state governor has the prerogative to determine how to govern Ondo state within the armbit of the constitution, so the governor has not said he is creating local governments, he said he is creating LCDA’s that is all, federal will release money to LG’s.
Brilliant as your position seems to be, Yoruba will say (Oyinbo to se pencil on lo se ereza) we will still like to descend further into this LCDA’s controversy and there is a group Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU), they have warned that any bank that release money meant for any LG to any LCDA will be sanctioned. now, you are an authority in law, the LCDA’s that are being proposed are not known to law, only the 774 LGs are known. Now with somebody there breathing on the necks of the banks not to release this money, what do you think is likely to happen in view of this financial autonomy being proposed to LGs?
Yes sir, let us assume for the purpose of this presentation that, that body NFIU is constitutionally empowered to monitor money released to a local government, as you said government will be well advised and will be wise to create LCDAs within one LG, the LG is suppose to spend the money coming to it on the LG, therefore there will be a further step that among the LCDA’s created, there must be collaboration so there will be chairmen of this LCDA’s but possibly subordinated to the chairman of the parent LG, the work of the governor will still be there to coordinate the LCDA’s to bring development to the area. And again, we look at it from the beginning, the local government is under the supervision of the state assembly, the problem with Nigerian is that we don’t understand our responsibility possibly the state assembly have just messed all over the states. They are controlled and tossed around by the governors. So it is like the story of the tail wagging the dog. When the assembly sneezes, the governor must be shaking if they have the muscle, if they understand their powers. I hope this financial autonomy will be reversed. The governors are bitter because they are coming hard on them removing their power, by the time they start giving funds directly to local government, you will see how the state assemblies will be impeaching governors anyhow.
To interpret, when there is money, there will be big trouble, now when this money actually come, theoretically, we assume that all the LGs will be under one political party, if the election takes place say in Ondo state today and there is a mix, the governor would want an understanding, when the money come from Abuja, he will say we are working toward common objective, why don’t we spend it this way and the other way and a local government feels, no, this is not how it should be, we are suppose to be independent and have a right to spend this money, the way and manner I deemed fit?
That you are sending money directly to the Local Government does not make them independent, the LG is a subordinate it is not the same as the state government and like I have said the LG is subject to the supervisory control of state House of Assembly.
But it is also the third tier of government?
Forget that, it is the third tier of government for the purpose of administration, a local government chairman may be surcharged, the Houses of Assembly have not been doing their job. They are to subject them to supervision as I have said, some of these things, if we look at it, and project, it is like cutting the wings of the governors, they will lose the grip once the assembly becomes assertive, the House of Assembly passes the budget, they are the one controlling the money but the governor dishes out for them because they are not in first charge compared to the National Assembly, our state assemblies cannot fix their own salary but you see what National Assembly has fixed for themselves, because they control the top.
Does that means the LG autonomy issue is a mirage?
It is not a mirage; it is a question of understanding the working of the system and how to play by the rule. They have more latitude no doubt the NFIU says it is breathing down on LGs, can they breath down on governors. It shows you LG is inferior. There is still only one security officer for the state, can the NFIU says he is monitoring the Governor? Does LG chairman have immunity?
The governor are now arguing that NFIU lacks the power to breath on the LGs considering what section 7 of 1999 constitution says. If you are a member of Nigeria Governors Forum, what will be your advice?
The section seven talks about giving power to the governor to create LG, administer, control the finance and joint account (JAC), but what is the intendment of the constitution with respect to the joint account it suppose to be coordinating? But what our governors are doing is that they collect all the money, they will say, they will do capital projects? It is when we abuse the process that we start to flex muscle even though if they win, they will not have all the power they are wielding, I envisaged as the chairman of ODIEC that there will be keen contest for the chairmanship position because their appetite has been watered , there is money coming , everybody will like to take a slice of the action, so many people will want to contest , we have to be careful in ODIEC and we must be impartial.
Just some weeks ago, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari appeared to have shifted his position, his rigid position, he was talking about the prospect of a true federal structure for the county. What is your reaction to this news, and what do you envisaged or what will be the focus of the proposed new federalism?
We are not running a true federation in Nigeria, and it will take a lot of time and concerted effort, things have gone awry. Things have gone the wrong way for a very long time and even for those of our generation, I am talking of those above sixty, how many true federalism did we see not to talk of those who were born after us. What is true federalism when there is no financial autonomy, what is the restructuring going to be, for nearly half a century they have moved everything to the center so it becomes who control the center dictates what goes on in the country, what is the restructuring we want? Are we in agreement as to the type of restructuring? Are we talking about federalism with respect to fiscal federalism, are we talking about institutions. I was invited to give a talk the other day, we were talking about federal character commission, we have not been smart to even go below it and see deep lopsidedness in it. You are talking about appointment of individuals, if you appoint me, I am in ODIEC assuming there is money coming to me , I am from Ondo state from Idanre LG, fine, how many people from Idanre LG will benefit from the money that come into my pocket, is my family, so have we really solved it by putting me there and said I am representing Idanre. We are not even looking at the physical development in term of federal character, have you ever thought of it here, Ondo state was created in 1976, whenever you want to create a joint federal agency you take it to Benin, say Benin-Owena river basin, federal agency joint you are taking it to Benin, you are developing Benin what about Ondo state? The police immigration zonal headquarters all of them are in Benin so what are we saying, we must not only be talking , those things in term of federalism of a thing is good but the best thing is to start from fiscal federalism, revenue generation, revenue sharing, I tell you sir, what is the business of the federal government with respect to primary education, but people sit down there, they will share billion of naira before they will start bringing stipends here and said they are doing intervention, and it pays those who are benefitting from this lopsidedness that we can never reach agreement, permit me the lady Here, if you want to be a polygamist, you must make sure that the wives does not see eyes to eyes, when there are enemity they will fight you, when they are at loggerhead they will be seeking your favour, that is what they are doing for us in this federation.
On a parting shot, President Muhammadu Buhari has just be sworn in for a second term, what advice do you have for him?
Well, for me as a person and in term of infrastructural development in this country looking back his administration has tried, he has done a lot to curb excesses, corruption, I will advice that he should be tougher, be more firm and continue the implementation of structural development, but I am sure that some of the time we will see some international economy and polity we seems just to be walking into the jaws of China, well it has become irreversible because we have taken a lot and we must continue or we are walking straight trying to get out of America and running into China and the Chinese are worse.