Dr. Kayode Ajulo, former National Secretary of the Labour Party has stressed the need for the Federal Government to rejig its policies if it desires the nation to move forward. He also calls for the abandonment of ethnic and religious sentiments in national affairs. He outlined what President Muhammadu Buhari must do to move Nigeria forward.
What is your impression of the state of the country?
Today as Nigerians, we are at a risk of becoming liabilities to humanity when all we do as citizens or leaders is to view things using the lens of religion and ethnicity. As a matter of urgent national importance, I want to urge Nigerians and indeed the leaders that such sentiments, tendencies and actions should be avoided by all possible means this year. I had to start off the conversation from this position because of the dire consequences it portends for the corporate existence of any nation.
What suggestions can you offer the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration especially as the year is just beginning?
It is a fact that cannot be gainsaid or misconstrued that the term ‘sustainable economic growth and development’ is one of the key indicators of good governance in a country and as such the right policies must be put in place to ensure this. To put it in another way, good governance is central to economic growth and development and the absence of the latter is symptomatic of the failure of government to deliver on the former.
Economic development is attainable through the provision of the right infrastructure and engaging all the variables in the market so as to attain the desired equilibrium. This is to be contrasted with economic growth which is simply accounted for by market outputs and a rise in GDP.
An enabling environment must be created by the government to ensure a steady development of the economy and this agrees with the reasoning of scholars that economic development has a direct relationship with the environment. This implies the provision of physical infrastructure, increased spending on health, education etc. which invariably stimulates economic growth. The consensus therefore is that economic development and economic growth are inseparable.
As a legal practitioner, I do not want to be caught in the web of encroaching for instance, on the competence of the Economic Advisory Council inaugurated by the President in the course of 2019 by delving professionally into the nitty-gritty of the nation’s economic outlook for the past year.
However, as a lawyer, it presupposes that I should have a fair understanding of a wide spectrum of issues including this instant one and it is on the strength of this that I will comment on the economic outlook for 2019 and suggest some possible ways of fostering economic growth and development going forward.
How would you review the outgone year, 2019?
It was a year of adjustment for Nigerians in terms of economic realities particularly in the aftermath of the closure of our borders which was an economic measure /policy to primarily curb the menace of smuggling and heavy dependence on foreign goods. It however came with a mixed impact for the economy because of the unexpected nature of the announcement.
In all sincerity, one would have thought that such economic decision of dire implications would not have been taken overnight without recourse to the concerned stakeholders in particular and the Nigerian people as a whole.
This is partly responsible for the public outcry that greeted the announcement, with market analysts arguing that the shock created negatively impacted the economy especially in the area of price inflation, notwithstanding increased local production. For instance, the price of a locally produced bag of rice has risen from N15,000 to more than N20,000.
It is therefore expedient that while the government is keen on boosting and increasing local production, it should also devise an interim means of ensuring price control even though economists may want to argue that what we are having now is the interplay of the forces of demand and supply. The current price inflation especially of rice which is arguably the most commonly consumed staple should be reversed as soon as possible because even though the border closure is an encouragement for domestic producers, it has however led to price increases for consumers and this is capable of making a mess out of the lofty economic decision.
Still on the issue of border closure, the decision is widely criticized by some stakeholders.
I am not unaware that many have criticized the action as insensitive and untimely. However, I must admit that Nigeria would have been more economically stronger if the bold measures currently undertaken by this administration had been considered and adopted by previous administrations. This is the reason why I must commend the government on one hand and also advise it as noted earlier that economic policies of this nature will be better appreciated and welcomed when all the stakeholders and indeed the Nigerian people are carried along in terms of media advocacies, engagements and campaigns for such scheme. I must admit that it is not easy for us as a nation to adjust our consumption pattern to suit locally produced goods overnight but with time we will learn to appreciate this sacrifice.
Some people also say the border closure is a breach of the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of goods and people?
I have gone through the protocols which only border on goods produced by respective member states and not goods produced by non-member states and as such, neighbouring countries will do well to comply with the ECOWAS protocols on transit of goods.
It is imperative that this current administration use this period to aggressively pursue capacity building for local production of goods hitherto smuggled through our porous borders. The government should also strive to strengthen the nation’s borders by boosting the capacity of border agents to ensure compliance with the relevant regulations on trade. The joint border patrol involving the Police, Customs, Immigration, Navy and State Security Services currently being proposed by Niger, Benin and Nigeria is a step in the right direction.
Prices of goods have increased with the border closure, take the case of locally produced bag of rice you mentioned earlier
There is no gain without pain; I want to commend Nigerians for enduring the temporary hardship occasioned by the border closure which is a necessary sacrifice for a vibrant and a robust economy. Undoubtedly, since the border closure, government accruals have increased in terms of payment of duties and there has been an increase in local production of some goods. Nigerians however await price affordability of these locally produced goods which also should not be found wanting in terms of quality because it is premised on this, that the current hardship being experienced can be reasonably justified, otherwise, the government should rethink the border closure altogether.
Another important area that should be brought into focus by this present administration is the diversification of the economy in order to achieve sustainable economic growth. The pressing demand of this new decade is a well-planned decentralisation of the economy from the oil sector to other sectors of the economy such as agriculture and solid minerals. We should stop paying lip-service to the issue of diversification and start walking the talk.
The human rights and respect for the rule of law records of the administration is an issue of great concern. In fact, it is regarded as the worst ever in the country’s history, the era of the military included. What do you say?
Human rights and the rule of law which possibly are two sides of the same coin have prominently featured as topics of interest in Nigeria. Both terms are adequately provided for under the Constitution and other laws of the land. A country’s sure path to peace, economic prosperity and development is secured when laws are respected, obeyed and upheld no matter whose ox is gored.
The duty of protection of the fundamental human rights of citizens rests on all fours on the three arms of government, – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The fourth estate of the realm- the press also has a role to play with respect to the protection of these rights.
The National Assembly in exercise of its power under Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as altered enacts laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation. There is no gainsaying the fact that the essence of protection of Nigerians, majority and minority alike, via the instrumentality of laws is to prevent one from taking advantage of the other either in terms of numbers or influence. I must stress here that majority may not necessarily be in terms of numerical strength but in terms of the influence wielded by a group against the others. Thus, it is the duty of the legislature to think ahead and put in place measures which may prevent any possible event or occurrence which may cause widespread monumental humanitarian crisis.
I am compelled to believe that this is what informed the proposed hate speech and social media bills currently before the Senate, the bills have however generated heated debates with many Nigerians seeing them as a contravention of the rights to freedom of speech as embedded in the Constitution and other international human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Notwithstanding, the sincerity of the intentions of the sponsors of the bills in particular and the Senate in general, I want to canvass that the Senate should pander to the instincts and wishes of Nigerians by suspending deliberations on them.
As we speak, the bills are just so unpopular among the populace and there is also the legitimate question that they are capable of being manipulated against perceived ‘enemies’ of the state. In this instance, it is better to err on the side of caution than on the side of utter recklessness that the political class is well known for the hate speech bill may inadvertently become an anti-free speech law if passed and this seems to be the legitimate fears of citizens.
It may also interest the Senate to know that the United States which also practices a presidential system like us does not have hate speech laws, as a matter of fact; American courts have repeatedly ruled that laws criminalising hate speech violate the guarantee to freedom of speech contained in the first amendment to the United States Constitution.
It is on the strength of the above that I want to assert that some provisions of some extant legislations such as the Criminal Code Act, the Nigeria Penal Code Act and the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention etc.) Act, 2015 have the capacity to address the issues raised in the proposed bills.
How do you strike a balance between rule of law and national security? The Federal Government always cites national security and interest when ever it disobeys court orders?
With particular reference to human rights, the National Assembly ensures protection of Nigerians across all divides and it is needful to stress here that the Chapter IV of the Constitution was not just inscribed in the Constitution to achieve nothing. The framers of the Constitution left no one in doubt as to their determination in ensuring that no Nigerian should have to suffer needlessly without getting justice and this lends credence to the legal maxim, Ubi Jus, Ibi Remedium that is, where there is a right, there is a remedy.
However, there is the delicate issue of how to strike the balance between upholding the Rule of Law and National Security. In my humble but considered opinion, the rule of law is quite accommodative of National Security; the ultimate threat to National Security is the lack of respect for the rule of law. The executive arm of government cannot be seen or fingered to be breaking the law in the name of upholding national security, the rule of law and National Security are not two mutually exclusive terms.
The government cannot continue to rely on the Obiter decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Asari Dokubo v. FRN, which is to the effect that when an individual interest conflicts with national interest, the national interest will naturally prevail. I want to counsel that it is not within the purview of the executive arm of government to determine in each respective case whether there is a national interest to protect neither does it come within its domain to determine whether national security/interest supersedes individual interest.
In any case, the judiciary is the only constitutional organ vested with the power to determine disputes in whatever form and I want to respectfully submit that assuming without conceding that a particular case reveals a prima facie threat to national security, the same does not extinguish the overriding power of the court to grant bail as enshrined in Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as altered.
It is pertinent to reiterate that as an independent arm of government, it is vested with judicial powers for the enforcement of the fundamental human rights of citizens pursuant to Section 46 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as altered.
The executive on its part has been caught in the web of misconceptions by the public as well intended actions taken by it for the peaceful coexistence of the nation has either been met with public outcry or outright condemnation.
This is evident in the perception of the public towards its handling of the cases of Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki. The misconceptions were further heightened by the apparent disobedience to court orders as witnessed in the afore-mentioned cases. I must state that there is simply no legal justification for such disobedience; the executive would have shown its predisposition and posture for the rule of law by complying immediately with the orders while also pursuing and exercising its right of appeal for a stay of execution of those orders.
It will however be counterproductive and self-serving to sum up based on these two cases that the totality of this administration’s drive towards the prevention of anarchy amounted to a complete disregard for the rule of law. I am not an advocate of executive lawlessness or arbitrariness; we are all stakeholders in issues of governance and as such we can put the government in check when there is a likelihood of it going above board to ensure the protection of the entire citizenry as intended in the Sowore’s case. We can do this by voicing out our genuine concerns as joint stakeholders in the Nigerian project.
How does this persistent disobedience to court orders tell on the image of Nigeria?
I want to point out that disobedience to court orders is capable of diminishing the confidence of foreign investors in investing in the economy because of the fear that such investments may not be insulated by any known mechanism of the law which are unenforceable in case of a likely breach of agreement.
Of a fact, I am aware that most arbitration clauses contained in agreements with foreign businesses usually stipulate that the venue of arbitration in the event of a dispute should be overseas and not Nigeria.
You mentioned that the duty of protecting the fundamental rights of citizens rests with the three arms of government, even as the media also has a role to play. What exactly can the media do?
The media should ensure a dispassionate and objective dissemination of information at all times to the citizens. The government should endeavour to constantly engage the media so that it will not suffer perception issues. The freedom of the Press is non-negotiable and paramount in a constitutional democracy and its protection must be guaranteed at all times; an attempt to gag the press or criminalise free speech is an invitation to the rejection of governmental authority which is entrusted in the government by the people.
Freedom of speech which is also provided under this section must be respected, citizens must be educated by the Press that every right comes with its corresponding duty and responsibility; free speech therefore should not be construed to mean license to make careless, reckless and violence evoking statements.
Allegations of nepotism and sectionalism continue to trail the President Buhari-led government. What can you say about that?
I want to emphasise that good governance is not ensured by leaders alone but also built by the trust reposed in the leaders by the citizenry. Thus, an inclusive government is based on accountability and trust in the institutions put in place for effective governance of the nation.
A lot of negative incidents have transpired in recent times in our national development which could be attributed majorly to the wrong perception of the government coupled with a shallow, almost non-existent feedback mechanism. Consequent upon this and as a matter of urgency, the Federal Government should shun whether covertly or openly all acts of nepotism, sectionalism and division which are some of the things the present government ably led by President Muhammadu Buhari has been severally accused of. The President who is conferred with the executive powers of the Federation by virtue of Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution needs to keep faith with Nigerians by showing that he is indeed in words and action, the leader of the entire country.
It is counselled that he should ensure that appointments indeed reflect the principle of Federal Character in recognition of Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution. The government should not only run an open-door policy but if possible, a “no door” policy which ensures a steady interface of the government with the people. Premised on this point, I will like to suggest that the Presidential media parleys should be held from time to time in order to stimulate healthy conversations between the President and the citizens.