Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), a constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the latest Supreme Court rulings, how to improve the electoral process and the controversy trailing the South-West security outfit, Operation Amotekun, which has been declared illegal by the Federal Government. Excerpts:
The Supreme Court on Monday affirmed the election of Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau state. As the lawyer to General Jeremiah Useni, the candidate of the PDP, what is your take on that judgment and others granted by the Supreme Court?
I must say that I am surprised by the governorship ruling on the Plateau governorship election. We had a very good case but the Supreme Court being the final court of law, once they have finished their judgment, they have finished; but that does that not mean they cannot or have not made mistakes. For example, we formulated about 18 issues but they look into only one issue. Even the interlocutory appeal that we had won at the Supreme Court on 23rd September last year which the Tribunal ignored and the Court of Appeal also ignored, the Supreme Court did not touch it at all. We also cited the case of Hope Uzodinma vs INEC of last week and the case of Governor Aminu Tambuwal that was also decided on Monday morning as being in our favour but they did not touch any of them at all.
One point I must make is that the electoral regime as presently constituted is firmly skewed against a petition which is expected to prove that you won in every polling unit, either across the state or across the nation; and all of this must be done within a limited period of time because the period provided for commencement and conclusion of elections cannot be elasticated. The Supreme Court itself had said so that it is like the Rock of Gilbratar which cannot be moved. What it means is that politicians go out of their way during the elections to kill, maim, burn, bribe and yet you see them boasting publicly that their opponents should go to the Tribunal. They do this because they know that the constitutional and electoral obstacles erected on the path of the petitioner are so gargantuan that climbing them is like climbing Mount Everest. That is what encourages politicians to mess up the system; that also encourages INEC instead of being impartial and independent, they are compromised. So, we have a situation where Presidents, Governors, Local Government chairmen, lawmakers and even councilors are being conceived, incubated and delivered from the hallowed chambers of the courts of law rather than through the electoral process which gives vent to the voice of the people. So, the people’s votes are continually being relegated to the background in preference of a supervisory authority called the courts that now delivers candidates to the people.
What do you think can be done to address this anomaly?
I think that it is high time for the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Committee Reform report and the Senator Ken Nnamani Electoral Committee report to be dusted up by the federal government so as to rejig and reinvent the wheel of our electoral process. Otherwise, what we are practicing today is not necessarily democracy, which is government of the people, by the people and for the people as stated by Abraham Lincoln in his 1863 Gettysburg declaration, but the government of the powerful, by the few and of the ruthless. That is not good for us as a nation.
On the Imo governorship election, some lawyers have said there is still hope for Emeka Ihedioha as the Supreme court can still review the case. What is your take on that?
No! Generally, under the Supreme Court rules, except when they commit what we called clerical error, the Supreme Court rules forbids the Supreme Court reviewing its own case because it is the final court. Otherwise, there will be no end to litigation. People who are saying the Imo judgment can be set aside maybe really do not know the legal position.
What is your perspective on the raging controversy surrounding the South-West security outfit, Operation Amotekun which has been declared as illegal by the federal government?
The federal government cannot declare Amotekun illegal. They have no powers to do so. The federal government has its own police force in section 214 and 215 of the constitution. The same section makes the governor of a state the Chief Security Officer of his own state; meaning that within the territorial jurisdiction of a state, a governor has to provide security for its own citizens. He doesn’t have to wait for the federal government. Amotekun is like the Hisbah that has been operating in the North for years which was set up to fight Boko Haram and other criminal vices. There is nothing special about Amotekun. We have the Agbekoya before.
There is hardly a state in Nigeria today that doesn’t have one vigilante group or the other. They are all meant to take care of the security of such states. Within a federal system of government, each federating unit is supposed to be independent and autonomous within its territorial area.