Senator Ike Ekweremadu, a lawyer and politician is the Deputy Senate President and Chairman of Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. Ekweremadu, who is representing Enugu West Senatorial District in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, in this interview, says it is critical to subject the National Conference to legislative process. The Deputy Senate President also speaks on the progress of work on the constitution amendment exercise, among other issues. TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE reports.What is your view on the issue of single term tenure?When the issue of single term tenure came up at the level of our committee, we were mindful of the political atmosphere. We also tried to draw inspiration from what happened in other jurisdictions, especially in Latin America in the 70s, where they had circumstances in which we found ourselves where the issue of transition from one administration was a major issue and was causing crisis within their region.So, they started to amend their constitution at that time to create a single term in each of those countries and it was for a transition period. This helped them to stabilise their democracy and now some of them are amending their constitution to go back to two terms of maybe four or five years. So, we thought it was something we can recommend to our country.Do you think Nigeria can benefit from it?If you look at what is going on in Nigeria now, all the core problems we are having in all the parties are based on the issue of succession. So, we believe strongly that, that matter can still be revisited. But I think some of the mistakes we made in our recommendations, was saying that the incumbent would not benefit from it and I think there was a kind of coalition of forces to defeat it. So, I believe that one of the ways to deal with the situation is for the stakeholders in the politics to come together. It could be a win-win situation for everybody. And I believe that the way it could work is now that people have been elected for four year.Now let everybody complete the four years tenure for which they were elected and then, through the doctrine of necessity, all sort of jurisprudential approach do some kind of transition of two years in which case those present occupiers like the president and state governors who are finishing their tenures, maybe, will now do another two years that would end in 2017.I hear that the complaint of some of those fighting the president is that if the president gets his second term when they are gone, he would start to chase them. So, if we all agree that, that is a way to solve the problem, after two years, both the president and those other governors will now exit and I believe that the fear would not be there and that would bring down the temperature of politics. Of course, we don’t have much problem with the legislative positions.We can go ahead and hold legislative election in 2015.
The advantage there will be that if we do the legislative election in 2015, and then do executive election in 2017, we will have two years gap for the INEC to have a breathing space to prepare well. You can see what is happening in Anambra now. So, INEC needs sufficient time to prepare for one election before the other. In America for instance, there is this two years separation and in fact in most countries, even in Senegal, and some places in Africa they have adopted that policy of separation legislative elections from executive elections.If we create a two year gap, it creates a situation where the country would not be engulfed in crisis in the process of conducting all the elections in one period. I think it is something that we need to reflect on and see if it is something that can help to resolve some of the challenges that we are having now and I do hope that if we are able to do that and we all agree to it, that it is going to solve even some of the security challenges because I do believe that some of the security problems we are having now are from the tension arising from politically charged atmosphere.So somehow, everybody will benefit from it; both the president, governors and all we need to do is to exercise some patience and give them two more years and they will all exit and we will start on a clean slate and be going forward. After that we can move to one term tenure that can be five years, six years or seven years depending on what we all agree upon.The cost of all these re-elections and all the problems that come with it would have been resolved and people will now know that if I am a president or a governor, I have a certain number of years and when I finish, I am not going to hunt the president or stop him from running again.Right now what is happening is that if the governor wants a re-election, he will do all kinds of things to stop the opposition and on the other hand some people will accuse the governor of all kinds of stupid things because he wants to have himself elected, so it causes all kinds of problems.Even the cost of the election itself, I don’t think that Nigeria can continue to sustain that. I know how much money we have spent on INEC and besides I know that politicians themselves spend a lot of money which most of them don’t ever declare. So, it is a huge cost to the country, but if we say let there be single term especially for the executive positions, some of these costs will have to be reduced.How then can we bring the matter back for discussion?Interestingly, we didn’t know that the president and executive would come up with the idea of National Dialogue. When we were doing the present constitution amendment we came up with the amendment of Section 9 of the constitution. Now, because I said the matter was defeated, it is under our processes. And for the matter to come up again, it must come in form of formal motion to bring about that.But because we are serving the people, we would be more than willing to do that if that is what the people of Nigeria desire. If there is a debate on it in conversation and Nigerians believes that the way we are going, we need to think along that line and be able to use it to resolve the existing political tension in this country, just as we did during the ill-health of our president, we would be more than willing as a national service to have a look into it and be able to reach a level of understanding in the National Assembly. So, we will be willing to discuss it provided that is exactly what the Nigerians want. But, for now, the matter was defeated in the Senate. If we are going to bring it about again, there must be another motion to resuscitate it.What is your view on the agitation for state police as part of the measures to be taken toward solving the security challenges in Nigeria?I have my personal position and an official position because I belong to an institution. The Senate at the level of the Committee on Constitution Amendment rejected suggestion for State Police and so we could not take it, even to the floor. And as a person, it is my job and my responsibility to present the report of the committee and I needed to explain to my colleagues why we made that recommendation. And the reason we gave was that though it has its advantages, Nigeria was not ripe for State Police and it was something for the future.That is the official position of the committee which I head. Now as an individual, I believe strongly that we can never resolve our security challenges in Nigeria as long as we are doing what we are doing now. Never! Even let us continue what we are doing, in five years if we meet again, it would be the same problem that we would be having. The reason is clear.No other country is doing what we are doing in term of policing. Most countries, especially the federation, have adopted what I call decentralised policing and indeed, the issue of State Police is even anachronistic. What is done now is multilevel policing or decentralised policing.You see, the security challenges have become very complicated, so you will have to bring a complicated process to address it. We cannot have a federal type of government and then adopt the unitary system of police and expect that to succeed. Even the white men, when they came to do the amalgamation, they knew that a centralised police cannot work in Nigeria.So, the type of police they set up was the Native Authority Police. That was the first type of police we had in Nigeria and it worked. They also introduced the prison, which were Native Authority based. It was later in the years, I think in 1936, that they decided to set up a Federal Police.So, the federal police and local government police co-existed together till 1966 when the army took over. Unfortunately, when the army took over, they set up a committee to review that type of police and they came to the conclusion that people were using it to intimidate political enemies. It was bound to happen because the white men did not bother to set up a structure that would regulate that kind of level of policing. There was nothing like Police Service Commission with clear guidelines on how to structure the Native Authority Police and to be able to determine what bounds they must stop.So, they were doing things the way they liked. But instead of the army finding a way to reform that arrangement and make sure there was a level of control or regulations, what they did was to throw away the baby with the bath water. They cancelled other levels of police and set up a central police system which we have now. What happened after that?First was armed robbery because armed robbers were now going about their business everywhere because they start posting policemen from Kano to Enugu, from Enugu to Calabar, from Calabar to Ibadan. So, they bring people who don’t know the terrain of the place.So, armed robbers take advantage of that. When the armed robbers have established their reign, kidnappers now joined them. Now there are terrorists and some ritualists are also coming into the crime business. The police we have now are not grounded; they don’t know the environment they are operating. Take for instance, you send a male Southerner, maybe a Christian to Sokoto and then, in the course of his beat, somebody commits a crime and he starts pursuing the person.Once he runs into a house he cannot go further if there is a woman living in that house because he is not allowed to enter because their religion does not allow him to see the woman. So, there are cultural differences that we have to respect and the only way we can do that is to get a policeman who is also part of the culture of the area; who respect the culture and also understand the environment and who lives there and as long as he is doing the police work, he knows everybody in the area.What they do in most countries is not state police, but decentralised policing or multi-level policing, which means that in Abuja for instance, we will have the federal police in Abuja and we will also have the Abuja Federal Capital Territory Police.Then, those of us who live in Apo, will have our own police and then the University of Abuja will have its own police and these are all well coordinated. So, if there is an offence in Apo for instance, the first police you will call is the policeman who lives on your street and the man appears there in the next second.If he thinks it is something that he cannot handle, then he will contacts his colleagues who live in other areas of Apo and if it becomes too much for them, they will call the FCT Police and if it is still too much for them, they will now call in the federal police and by the time you finish all these, they would have arrested the criminal.In America they commit crime everywhere and everyday as they commit here but the difference is that no matter where you go, they will find you because they are everywhere and they know what happens within the environment they operate.But in a situation where somebody has to leave a place where he lives in the course of posting, it would not allow to know the environment in which they are operating. Part of the job of the police is prosecution and also investigation. A policeman is investigating a crime and he is going to testify in Court A, in Lagos. And he is now transferred to Jalingo.Now, what happens to that case? That is the end of the matter. Then, the criminal goes free because the policeman cannot be coming from Jalingo to give evidence in Lagos. That is how criminals go away with the offence and that is how they increase the number of criminals in the society. That is why some of them in the prison will never come out in the name of awaiting trial because of the type of police we arrange. It is so sad that we are not seeing all these.Is the National Assembly going to debate the recommendations of the National Dialogue?Legislative process is a time consuming process and it is meticulous. The product of a legislative process is expected to endure for a very long time and that is why it is painstaking. So, if it is brought to parliament it has to go through the whole process because people’s lives are involved and there is no legislation more important than the constitution.So, if some people come together and agree on a constitution and bring it to the parliament, we have to look at it line by line, to make sure that everything is right because after all, they are the duly elected representatives of the people.There may not be fundamental changes to it, but they are going to be subjected to debate because several heads are better than one. It is critical that it should be subjected to legislative process and when that happens we would be assured that the whole process has been completed. There is no way you can sit down in Abuja, bring some people together, they craft a constitution together and it becomes law. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.Assuming we had a military regime, it is possible that you can bring people, set up a Constituent Assembly because there is no parliament and so they can agree on whatever they want to be the constitution. But not where you have an institution recognised by the constitution as the ultimate legislative body and you go and duplicate that institution by bringing another set of people by asking them to go and do a constitution.You are asking for anarchy. We hope that those who will come for the national dialogue will realise this, and know that nobody can escape the necessity of sending the outcome to the National Assembly and even to the State assemblies so that it will go through the whole hog in accordance with the law.What is your view on creation of new states?We have never said that it is impossible. What we have consistently said is that it is very difficult and I still maintain that it is difficult. Because a situation where you have to generate certain signatures and then bring it to the National Assembly, which will then deliberate on it and then send it to the Independent National Electoral Commission for referendum within the area that wants to be a state and after that you will now send it to all the states of the federation irrespective of where the demand is coming from.If you are requesting for a state in Cross River, you will have to send it to Sokoto and when they finish, in those State Houses of Assembly, you will bring it back to the National Assembly to vote and it is only when it passes through that it now becomes a state. If that is not difficult, I wonder then what is difficult.We are not saying that it is impossible, but we encourage people to try the process, let’s see how far that they can go. Under our processes, for the matter to come up again, it has to come through a formal motion. But because we are serving the people we will be more than willing to do that if that is what Nigerians desire.