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Ray Ekpu: Interim government = Interim illegality

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The Department of State Service (DSS) has informed us that some people with entrenched interests are plotting to foist an interim government on the country. Its spokesman, Dr Peter Afunaya, said so in a statement. Here are his words: “The plot being pursued by these entrenched interests is not only an aberration but also a mischievous way to set aside the constitution and undermine civil rule as well as plunge the country into a crisis.”

He said further that the plan includes organising massive protests in the country and procuring court orders to block the transition of power to the next government. The DSS may not have given us all the information in their possession but two strategies of the alleged plotters stand out (a) organising massive protests (b) procuring court orders to block the transition of power to the next government on May 29, 2023.

Organising protests is a legitimate tool in a democracy provided the protests are non-violent. Also protests are not the sole prerogative of any one group. If some people protest the planned installation of a new government other protesters can also stage a protest in support of the inauguration. That is the beauty of democracy. A resort to violence is not acceptable. To resort to violence is to lose the argument because violence is the enemy of persuasion. With violence you lose reason and when a group of people loses reason they are leading that group to anarchy. 

The other alleged plan is the procurement of court orders to block the transition. That, too, is a legitimate enterprise in a democracy even though there has been a noticeable abuse of court processes since 1999 by some politicians and some judges. Such cases are at the discretion of the courts and the judges and it is inconceivable that any fair-minded and patriotic judge would do anything to bring our democracy to its knees by his decision. 

Secondly, in the unlikely event that a judge comes up in any of our courts with such a verdict it is also likely that that decision can be reversed by a superior court. That, too, is the beauty of democracy because in a democracy no judge can say as they used to say under the military governments; “my hands are tied behind my back.”

During the military era the Constitution and other laws were always suspended so that the military rulers can do as they please in the governance of the country. In those days the military boys gave themselves the power to convert a man to a woman and a woman to a man without being questioned. But they always got a shocker because Nigerians cannot be easily cowed, and were not easily bullied into silence by the military governments that wanted an indefinite transition to civil rule.

It is easy to suspect that if the DSS allegation is true, and there is no reason to doubt it, the probable planners of the so-called interim government must be those who are not satisfied with the results of the Presidential election held on February 25, 2023. Good a thing the leading opposition parties have denied any interest in any interim government. In any case, an interim government can only be set up by a sitting government and it is evident that President Muhammadu Buhari would do no such thing.

He has said that the election was largely free and fair and he has set up a Transition Committee headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Mr Boss Mustapha. The only other way of having an interim government is through a coup de tat. We have had several coups and several military governments since 1966 and most Nigerians have come to the inescapable conclusion that the military boys are no angels. They are as good and as bad as the civilians we have had. Others think that they are far worse than elected civilian leaders because they do not hesitate in taking people’s freedom away by a wave of the swagger stick.

It is inconceivable that the losers in the presidential elections would be the ones plotting to have an interim government. The two leading losers, Mr Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party have filed their petitions at the Election Tribunal. Filing their petitions in the Election Tribunal means that they have surrendered their fate to the wisdom of the tribunal. After the tribunal there is a higher court, the Supreme Court to which those who lose at the Election Tribunal can go. Amazingly, one of those contesting the outcome of the election is asking that the Tribunal should either cancel the election or declare him elected. I said amazingly because of the illogicality involved. 

If the claim is that the election was rigged why would you want to be a beneficiary of an allegedly rigged election? Does declaring you the winner repair the alleged rigging? Or is the alleged rigging okay if you are the winner but not okay if the other person is declared the winner? We wait with bated breath for the wisdom of the Tribunal and the Supreme Court as the parties give us the benefit of their various positions. There are always three sides to a story (or a case), yours, the other person’s side and the tr
uth, which the court is supposed to represent.

So far the losers of the presidential election have taken their cases to the Tribunal and hired high profile lawyers to take care of business. Atiku also led a protest to the INEC office in Abuja and handed his petition to a representative of INEC. The supporters of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, President-Elect have also had a demonstration in support of his victory. What is disturbing is however the level of verbal violence in the social media and even in the traditional media exhibited by some supporters of the presidential candidates. Some of them have even cast aspersion on the Judiciary even before the legal battle begins. As prescribed in the Constitution and the Electoral Act the courts have 180 days within which to conclude the cases and give their verdicts.

We have had an interim government in this country before. It was put together by President Ibrahim Babangida in 1993 after he had annulled the June 12, 1993 election won by Chief M.K.O Abiola, presidential candidate of the SDP. The Interim Government was headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, a business mogul of the UAC stock. There were protests in the streets against it. A court also declared it illegal. Within 82 days it failed in a grand fashion. A military coup took place. General Sani Abacha took over the reins of government and threw Shonekan out. 

There is a difference between the election of 1993 and that of 2023. In 1993 the election result was not fully announced. It was stopped half way and then annulled. In 2023 the result was announced and certificate of return given and received; some world leaders have congratulated the President-Elect and a transition committee has been set up. Any interim government would fail the test of legality and legitimacy. It would be nothing but a coup, and Nigeria has been a victim of several coups, which have stunted its growth, damaged the country’s unity, weakened the strength of its diversity and made autocracy look attractive as a philosophy. 

There is clearly a discernable form of illogic to our acceptance or rejection of election results. The logic or more appropriately illogic goes like this: Where you win massively there was no rigging. Where you lose massively there was rigging. What this means is that INEC was an angel where you won, where you didn’t win INEC was a devil incarnate. To be fair it is evident that the elections were not perfect.

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