• Monday, June 24, 2024
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Changing the constitution first step towards solving Nigeria’s problems – Ubani

Changing the constitution first step towards solving Nigeria’s problems – Ubani

Anthony Ubani is the Executive Director of #FixPolitics, a citizens-led movement to structurally change and innovate politics in Nigeria. In this interview with Iniobong Iwok, he spoke on the organisation’s campaign for diaspora voting, and revealed why the country is failing despite its abundant human and natural resources. Excerpts:

#FixPolitics has been advocating for diaspora voting. What is the true situation now?

Over 115 countries in the world have some form of system which allows their citizens in other parts of the world to still vote during elections in their home countries; this includes over 40 countries in Africa. These countries have one system or the other to allow for diaspora voting enabling their citizens to vote.

That means we have more than 10 countries that have not subscribed to diaspora voting and Nigeria is part of them. It is not a universal thing in the world. Countries like Mozambique, Algeria, Chad and some of these countries have gone further to give their citizens that live abroad to participate in governance at home.

This means that they have seats in parliament. Of course, it is common in many western countries, Portugal, Italy and the rest. The practice is simple universal suffrage, equal suffrage. Because someone is living in Ghana does not mean he should forfeit his fundamental rights, voting is a fundamental right and when you deny anybody such rights it is a serious issue. Voting is one issue that is central to democracy everywhere in the world, if you remove voting democracy is standing on one leg that is why countries take it seriously.

There must be a serious issue, why someone is outside the country and they cannot vote, particularly in a time of technology. Two years ago the World Bank released a report that Nigerians in diaspora have the largest remittance to any African country, that on average they bring back $24.3 billion to the country. It is clear that the Nigerian government agreed that Nigerians in diaspora are a major force in supporting, economy of Nigeria. That remittance amount to six per cent of your GDP and if a group of citizens are so important that they are supporting foreign direct investment in your country, they are supporting in entrepreneurial development, in trade, transfer of idea, knowledge, transferring funds to support families and doing all these things to support your economy, why are they not worthy to be given opportunity to vote and take part in the governance of their country?

Why is it that 80 percent of countries in Africa have embraced this thing and the country that calls itself the giant of Africa has not?

So, it is a major form of disenfranchisement. It makes it difficult for you to talk of the major vote cast. If 30% of your population is outside the country and 70% is in Nigeria and the ones outside are not given opportunity to vote, it means that whoever is elected does not have illegitimacy and has not secured the majority of the votes.

In a democracy you want all ideas, which is why countries have moved to allow people to direct participation. We would allow you to vote, we would allow you to be voted for, that is what they are doing. Every election brings three people to represent you, but here in Nigeria, we have not even started with the first level which started in 53 BC and here we are 2024 we are still here.

The first time we had a major intervention on diaspora voting was in 2012, Abike Dabiri, was the head of the committee on diaspora in the House of Representatives, so she brought us together with six legislators in the House of Representative and they put this bill forward and it was considered.

For diaspora voting to be constitutional there are three basic things you need to do in the constitution. You need to amend Section, 77(2) section 177(2) section 134(2), but we are even going too far just amend section 177(2) and they would get that right, because that is the one that says for you to register and vote, you must be a citizen resident in Nigeria. All we need to do is to change that clause to a citizen based in Nigeria or outside Nigeria. When we came to 2022, they forced the agenda to the constitutional amendment process, it passed first reading, passed second reading to go to the third reading which is passage, but 269 members voted against it, 87 voted for it.

It is important that we see this as progress, ten years ago there was no single support for diaspora voting in the National Assembly, but the situation now shows progress.

For us we see movement, but it is slow, our goal is that within the next ten years, we would get diaspora voting passed by the National Assembly and instituted.

Why do you think Nigerian politicians are afraid of diaspora voting?

The #FixPolitics research discovered one thing that we are practising monopoly democracy and not a proper democracy in Nigeria. The political class owned everything and they have captured the judiciary, INEC, everything they have captured. Whatever is going to happen they determine it directly. In the otherworld they are acting in the interest of the citizens of the country. They are acting in their own selfish interest because they don’t have any incentive to execute reforms. Things would continue to be like this or continue to be worse.

With this system, the first questions the politicians are asking are; would this diaspora voting consolidate us in power? Would it empower longer, our children, our friends, or affect us and get us out of power.

I don’t know what their conclusions are, I can’t say what their fears are, but if you add the logic, they see that it would be a threat to their hold on power. They should understand that for the most part that they win elections they are not as legitimate. It means if you bring in more people and such people are up to the size that can change the results and such people are not the kind of people you would call poor, uneducated Nigerians. These are typically very educated, very enlightened and well-to-do Nigerians. With them, the whole thing about pocket money, mudu of rice would not work because they are enlightened, educated. It does not mean you can’t sway these people; it means that the price of swaying these people would be huge, it would be more difficult. I want to believe that the political class have looked at it and say these people are between 10, 30 million in numbers, if you give them a chance to vote it is a problem, let’s delay this thing. There could be so many other reasons, from monopoly democracy, where you want to keep power within your reach and among your cronies.

People are advocating for a parliamentary system as a solution and what can also be done to have free and fair election?

Nigeria came from a parliamentary system in first republic; our leader said let us move to the presidential system. Why are Nigerians now calling for a return to the parliamentary system and they are saying we should remove one chamber, it is because they are seeing so much waste in the system, thinking that the number of stealing would come down. I can tell you that the money that ten politicians steal from this country is enough to keep Nigeria going for five years. It is not so much about the institution whether it is bicameral or unicameral the problem would continue with this present constitution. In terms of having a free and fair election, we have a monopoly democracy. You can’t have a free and fair election; the political class are in charge, they have bought INEC, judiciary and all the institutions. This means that things would always go their way either they win or lose. In this situation, it is a wakeup call for us to take interest in the affairs of the nation, but beyond that a small group of people have to mobilise the electorate to hold the three arms of government accountable to act in the interest of Nigeria so that the country does not collapse. In acting in the interest of Nigeria what is the first thing that must be done; constitutional change. I did not say constitutional amendment.

The United States of America is about 250 years old; they have had 27 amendments; that appropriately ten amendments every hundred years. Nigeria is about 64 years old. We had 22-24 amendments to the constitution; you can’t just keep amending the constitution.

That should tell you that there is something fundamentally wrong with the constitution. The best thing to do is to restate the constitution and call a constitution drafting process that is people’s led, because if it is led by the political class you would have the same result. Call a constitutional conference and the National Assembly would facilitate the processes and the people would come together and decide how they want to be governed. When they come together through their representatives to come up with a new constitution, you are on your way to fixing the electoral problems, you are on your way to fixing the issue of monopoly democracy, you are on your way to fixing the issue of waste in governance and corruption. Everything would fall into place.

By that time, you have a constitution that belongs to the people and they can claim ownership of and we can hold the political class accountable unless that we would be running in circles. Where Nigeria is now, the only viable option is for citizens to take charge.

It’s time for citizens to wake up from their apathy and start working together to compel the government to commence implementation of urgent structural reforms to prevent Nigeria from becoming a failed state. That would require the collective efforts of civic society, the media. We need a small group of people, we don’t need too many numbers, we saw it during the #EndSARS, when the Nigerian citizens get there they will rise, there is no country in the world that has changed without the citizens rising to say we have had enough.