To get results, we must engage the system, says Sesugh Akume



To get results, we must engage the system – Sesugh Akume


Sesugh Akume is one of the fresh voices in the Nigerian political space. A businessman and public policy analyst, he has lately been engaged in trying to establish the constitutionality of the third tier of government, the local government.

He ran for office in 2019 to be elected into the Federal House of Representatives but was not successful. Undeterred, he has continued to maintain an active voice and role in the polity and recently spoke with Richard Mammah on what he thinks Nigerians should be doing now to achieve a better polity. Excerpts:


Your party, ANRP has been involved in this business of de-registration. What is the status at the moment?

We were unlawfully de-registered. We heard it in the media that we were de-registered. We went to court. The basis of our going to court was the fact that whatever it is that INEC had against us for which we disagree, they didn’t give us fair hearing. Because the normal process of anything, even if you catch someone stealing, you don’t send them to prison, you send them to court and then you prove in court that you caught them stealing, and they are judged, found guilty and sentenced. So, they have a right to fair hearing, everyone has a right to fair hearing, and we didn’t get that at all. We only woke up one day and heard in the media that we had been delisted. For that, we went to court and we are in court, the matter isn’t over yet. On the 13th of October, the matter is coming up for hearing and after then we are going to get judgement. But we can already know where the judgement is heading because quite frankly, we did not get fair hearing. INEC’s response to our own process didn’t deny that they did not give us fair hearing. And the recent Appeal Court judgement that the 22 parties that appealed got, validated the point that everybody deserves fair hearing and so their own de-registration was reversed. As we see it, anywhere you go it is still very likely going to be the same verdict. So, we sort of know where the verdict of our suit is going to fall.


The question someone is going to ask is that is INEC not aware that this is just a basic thing they should do, why don’t they just do things right?

I think it is Nigeria’s problem. INEC is one of the institutions that exists to complicate things for Nigerians. INEC is not a straightforward organization that does things impartially. The other side of it is that it has to do with mediocrity and incompetence. We have been saying this, I have written about INEC being one of Nigeria’s worst institution and drawing from my own experience when I ran for office, you don’t know anything they are doing. It was particularly annoying when the Chairman said they were the best Federal institution, which was more of an insult to me and many people I know, because INEC doesn’t do things properly. For instance, I made an FOI request to get the election result for the constituency I was running in, I made a request in 2018, and I still haven’t gotten it today. The FOI request is supposed to take 7 days, it has gotten to 2 years and I still haven’t gotten it. So, how do you explain that? If they cannot keep organized information and give it out when it should be given, what can they do? There are so many things they get wrong. It seems they are there to defend some interests, and not the impartial electoral umpire they should be. So sometimes maybe they didn’t do it deliberately in order to go and lose out, but then because of their impunity they can do anything and get away with it. Well, it is not going to be so this time.


That brings me to the local government issue. This is the fourth tier of government and then we have these issues at that tier for which you are contesting about how persons come to assume positions in that tier of government outside of the constitution. Did the constitution provide a lacuna sufficient enough that executives in states are exploiting?

No, there is no lacuna at all. I had an engagement with a lawyer recently on my Facebook page, and we raised the same issue and we spoke about a lacuna, I said there is none whatsoever. The constitution created the local government system and not anybody else. Section 7(1), created the local government system, and it said that there are to be run by democratically elected councils. That is precisely how it put it, there is no ambiguity here. So, when states turn around and create laws that make room for appointive local government councils, local government administration, I don’t understand where they got that thing from. It is this same thing about having impunity and not respecting the rule of law so that when the laws say something, you will find a way to twist it and do it the other way round. I think it is part of the military hangover where many things because of the constitution were suspended, they choose to appoint local government heads and transition all sort of things. We have not gotten over those, which is why. There is no lacuna whatsoever.

It says that the system of local government shall be by democratically elected councils, that is what it says. But because we have state governments that have laws that make it possible to appoint local government councils, they now go ahead and do that. A law of the state can never be supremo to the constitution; the constitution is the supreme law. So, any law that is contrary to what the constitution says is already null and void. I don’t know why the drafters of those state laws know these things and yet put up those kinds of vexatious sections. These are part of the things that we are grappling with. The other side of this lacuna thing is that the Supreme Court has already stated emphatically that any local government system that is not run by democratically elected officials is illegal, that is what the Supreme Court judgement stated. It said so very clearly, a 2014 Supreme Court judgement, that as long as it is not elected, it is illegal. After these judgements, they still go ahead with those kinds of appointments. They now pretend as if they don’t know about the Supreme Court judgement and then they now rely on those sections in their state laws to do what they do. That is why we used two approaches to stopping this. First and foremost, was to get the court in Benue to nullify those laws that allow the Governor to appoint caretaker administrations. It is, from what I have said,  supposed to be a straightforward thing, the constitution doesn’t know what is caretaker administration, the court has said they are illegal, so if it is in this law, it goes to say that it is null and void. The judge didn’t agree with that view so we have to appeal it. But then the second leg of it was to get the Federal Government to stop funding those illegal local government caretaker administrations. They are illegal already; the court has said they are illegal, so why is the Federal Government funding them? It should stop that. If it stops funding them then we can get to a point where we can have much regular elections.


If we take the echoes from the stoppage of funding of Local Governments in Lagos during the Obasanjo presidency, the politics of it all, where will that play in this whole matter?

No, talking about the stopping of funding for local governments that time was an abuse on the side of Obasanjo. What he did was totally wrong, it cannot be justified, and he had no power to do that. It is part of the military hangover. Where do you think he derived the power to stop the funding of local governments? This is part of what we are saying. When we talk about the rule of law, it means that the law is superior to everybody including the President. You don’t wake up one day and do what you like because you have the army at your beck and call, and you can do anything, you have immunity. It should not be, everything should be according to law. For instance, if you are going to stop funding somebody that you should be funding, the court has to state so. Where did he derive the powers from? And he didn’t have any of those powers, all he should have been doing was releasing the monies to those 20 local government areas and then what he could have done was to go to court and stop them from sharing it to those unknown local government development areas, maybe that is what he should have done. But he felt he was a strong man, just sit down in one place and stop the funding one time, which is not proper. But what we are doing here I think is the best way of going about it. Does the court agree that unelected councils are illegal and if they are illegal, is it proper to fund councils that are illegal? If that is not so, let us stop funding them. You are not funding them because you don’t like them, you are funding them because they are illegal, let them have regular elections so that they can always be legal. At the local government level, we don’t need to have caretaker administrations, we need to have a legislative council. It is the legislature that defines a democracy, because we have always had the executive, we have always had the judiciary, it is the legislature we only have during democratic processes. So, we should have a legislature at the local government level that does its oversight work; that makes bye-laws, that does representation and all of those things, just like it happens at the other tiers of government. That is part of the reasons why we need to have regular elections so we can know when a term is finishing and when the next one is coming. It has to be predictable just like you have in the federal and state elections.


But you have councillors, are they not meant to form a legislature of sorts at that level?

At the local government level, we have two different categories of officials. The elected councillors come from each council ward. It is those elected councillors that form the local government legislative council. From there they get the speaker and all the heads of their legislative council. The other ones are called supervisors, but in our everyday language we also call them councillors but they are not councillors but actually supervisors. They are in the executive; they are appointed by the Chairman. Sometimes they are 5, 7, whatever number the local government chooses. Those ones are not councillors but supervisors. But when there are caretaker administrations, only those supervisors and the chairman and deputy are appointed, there is no legislative council because you cannot appoint legislators, there has to be elections. That is why when there are no elections, there is no legislative work going on and legislative work is very crucial at every level of government.


I want to get back to the point about Obasanjo and the strongman systems. It just looks to me like a whole lot of our problems come from the fact that we have too much of the strongman systems that override even defined constitutional and liberal approaches. Will that be a point?

That is perfectly correct. That is why every time we are speaking, we keep talking about a democratic culture, and we still don’t have it. We don’t need strong men, strong people, we don’t need it, we need more of strong institutions. We don’t need a situation whereby everybody is beholden to an individual. For instance, at the local government, you wouldn’t believe it but it is true that many of our state governments have laws that say a governor can remove an elected chairman. In fact, the one in Benue says that on accusation of corruption. What is the meaning of ‘on accusation of corruption?’ It doesn’t matter whether it is true, false or baseless, the bottom line is that there is an accusation and the governor can remove the elected chairman. How? He was elected. The local government legislative council should impeach and remove him, not somebody from another tier coming to remove him. So, we have people who are too powerful, and many of the times there are bad laws that make them that powerful. So apart from the fact that they abuse powers that they don’t have, they also have laws that back them up to be that powerful so on the one hand they are doing something that is wrong, and on the other hand, even when the law expressly says something, they still go ahead and abuse it. These are things that we have to resist because as long as we keep doing this we will always go backwards, we are getting worse and worse, and that is why 21 years after of civil rule, we are still running worse systems in some areas than it was in the military era.


There is supposed to be the Office of the Attorney-General that should protect the constitution principally. And you also have institutional mechanisms like the Nigerian Bar Association that is also supposed to stand in advocacy for constitutional order. What are the things that make it not be automatic for the office of the AGF and NBA to come and say no, this is not correct? Once such aberrations come up, it should be impulsive to respond, isn’t that not the proper thing to do?

That should be the proper thing to do but as you know, in Nigeria we run a system of government called the kakistocracy, government by the worst and least qualified people. A kakistocracy is what we have been running. Many times, we have Attorney Generals that become the Attorney of the President, which is not how it is supposed to be, it is supposed to be Attorney General of the Federation. An Attorney General is supposed to distance himself from the President, the President is supposed to have his own lawyer at that but it is not so because we abuse laws, starting with the Attorney General. We have noticed so many times when this present Attorney General was swearing-in party officials. For goodness sake, is he the lawyer of the federation or the lawyer of APC? So, you can see that is already an abuse. This is an Attorney General as the chief law officer who is going about abusing the laws, that is what we have. Is it not the same Attorney General who endorsed the action of the SSS to go to the houses of judges to arrest them at night and break down their houses, what was all of that for? Isn’t that illegality? Let me even come back home. In January, the Attorney General wrote the Attorney General of Oyo state and in fact all the other Attorney Generals by extension that removing democratically elected chairmen is illegal, it is unlawful. That was in January, he wrote them because the Oyo governor had just sacked democratically elected local government councils against the law because, first and foremost like I said, appointive local government councils are illegal. Not only that, the Supreme Court had said that governors do not have the power to sack elected local government officials which is very clear and yet the governor of Oyo went ahead to do it. The Attorney General responded promptly and wrote to the governor of Oyo that it was a wrong thing to do, and he expected them to reverse the wrong decision and that he was going to be advising the Federal Government on what next to do so that such does not happen again, that was in January. From January till now he has done nothing about it. I wrote to him in response to that letter that he wrote and told him that he was very right and very much in order, I even shared ideas with him. I told him that first and foremost, appointed local government areas are illegal so they should be no funding for them because they are illegal, the Federal Government cannot be funding illegality in the first place. And the second thing I told him was that there were very many terrible laws in our state laws, you can get all of those nullified so that nobody mistakenly relies on them to do these things.

First and foremost, he did not even acknowledge receipt of my mail and did nothing about it and it has been 7 months. That is why in my personal capacity as a private citizen, I have to approach the court to do this thing that an Attorney General should be doing. How do you explain these? Possibly there are APC governors who are also breaking the laws and he is an APC person and no longer the Attorney General so he is beholden to politicians? It is unexplainable but that is how it is. So the other bodies that should be doing that, it is still the same thing, a country where they are private servants in public offices, so they don’t do things for the common good, it shouldn’t be that way, they are just looking for a way to be at the table where they are sharing the national cake and that is why so many things that ought to be done automatically are not done, as if people do not know their jobs. And even when you remind them, it is not their priority and that is part of the reasons, we are in the mess we are today.


I will also touch on the whole judicial process. It seems that the judicial process, judicial activism in that sense, just trying to respond to issues as you are doing here is not being well embraced. Someone said to me that it seems to him that Nigerians do not step out to contest these issues, aberrations and acts of impunity when they occur. I know in our history we have had quite a number of people contesting such issues and even today. But first is this person correct to say that as a nation we do not contest impunity to the extent that we should and then if we are not doing enough of it, what else can we do?

The person is absolutely spot on, he is very accurate. There are so many of these acts of impunity that go unchallenged. It is part of the reasons why I think many more people should take up such causes. I have written a three-part series on impact litigation. I try to demystify what it is and why many of us should engage in it. I just wrote the last part. I hope many people read it. It is the job of everybody. I think it is because many of us don’t know certain things or we seem powerless, or we don’t trust the system to work, we just give up. I don’t think so, I think the system works, and it can be made to work. I think many more people should take up such causes and believe in the system and make it work for us because if it doesn’t, we are doomed.

The earlier case I told you about nullifying those obnoxious sections in the local government laws,the judgement that the judge of the High Court gave in my view was a perverse one, and like I said we are going to be appealing it, but something else also happened that is instructive. After we finished all the proceedings in court, a date for the judgement was given, this date was adjourned three times. Within this time for the adjournment of the date for the judgement, local government elections were eventually conducted. Part of what the Judge said in his judgement then was that well the suit had been overtaken by events seeing that local government councils have been elected, inaugurated and have been doing their jobs. If you put everything together you can barely make sense out of it. Local government elections ought to have held in 2018, in 2019 the elections didn’t hold, nobody knew why and then elections weren’t holding until elections were made to hold during a lockdown when everybody was supposed to be in their homes. The judge is telling you that the elections had been held already, what else do you want? My point is that there is evidence to believe that the lawsuit caused them to conduct those elections so they can have that judgement. The point is even if you don’t get precisely what you want, something is shifting, something is moving, and it works. The point I am trying to make is that the system works and if we don’t challenge it, the impunity will grow. But if we challenge it and resist it, it can at least reduce, even if we don’t get what we want at the first time. There is no way we can sit down and just allow things to be the way they are, we have to keep trying. You see every tool is a toolbox we can use.


The issues of economics, will that also be a factor? There is a whole basket of economic issue; you have rising costs and declining incomes. Could that be some of the factors that hinder people from saying ‘hey, let me take up these issues’?

Yes indeed, that is a factor, nobody can deny that. Part of the argument I put forward is that we can band together and do these things together. For instance, if I feared the cost of starting, we wouldn’t be doing anything. If I start and somebody say ‘oh, you are doing a great job, maybe you should take some amount of cash, I don’t have so much money but this can at least recharge your phone, this can at least do that’. There are certain people who can come together and contribute some sums and say go ahead, we like what you are doing. We need more of us to take up these things, support in the little way we can. The thing is that this whole economic thing is a trap because things are getting worse. If we don’t resist it, things will get much worse than they are right now. If we cannot put up a resistance because of the economy, the economy is going to be getting worse but if we put up a resistance, things can begin to happen little by little by little. So, I don’t think that we should conclude that things are getting difficult and so everybody should just live from hand to mouth and just try to cope. That is the design of our detractors, which is what they want. They want us to be so poor that we cannot think about any other thing than to survive for the day. It is a trap and that is part of what we need to resist. We don’t have to have anything in place before we can do that. There are people who can spare sums. I think we should consider that.


Alright, let me try and close on the politics issue. Nigeria seems to be caught up in the PDP-APC domino, but some of you had already made a point that ‘hey, we need to have a break’, that these two parties do not seem to be sufficiently representative of the best aspirations of the country. It is indeed a strong point to make. You have factors such as deregistration and all the bottlenecks that come in the process. Does ANRP have a backup plan just in case this whole process goes on, because another election will be held in another two to three years or so, starting with the whole processes of getting candidates and platforms in that sense. Does ANRP have a backup plan that says ‘hey, if by XYZ time in 2021 and we are not permitted to field candidates on our platform, we will do B. Is that in the box?

Yes, it is in the box. I happen to be the national spokesman of the party, the publicity secretary of the party and I am on the EXCO and National Working Committees so I am in a position to know. We do have those plans, we have done our scenario building and we do have those plans, and all it takes. Though I sounded extremely optimistic about how we think the judgement of the High Court is going to end up, we still have those scenarios all put together. For us, we are actually a political party. I don’t think PDP-APC are political parties in a sense, they are just special purpose vehicles for winning elections and getting to office. Because if you call an APC person to sit down here and tell you want their party thinks about XYZ, they don’t know because it was never an issue. How is it that somebody is in PDP in the morning, by evening APC and next morning they are back to PDP? So, it doesn’t work that way. When you call them parties, I actually don’t know how to address them, they are not parties in the real sense. But to answer you, we have scenarios planned out and so on. We don’t only envision winning elections but we also gain a firm voice on issues we have such as fuel scarcity, the pricing and all those things. We have positions on different issues of nationat expressionourse even if we are not publicly invited. We can create public awareness; we can also influence books for our policy makers and let the world know that this is where we stand on XYZ. We do that a lot.


Finally, what about the other newer parties, the other smaller parties as it were to use the euphemism? Are you working on cooperating with some of them going toward?

Yes indeed, we have always cooperated with them. In the course of competition and the problems we have with APC-PDP, all the things we are fighting for is for the other parties not to be corrupted by the APC-PDP. We interact and form alliances and work together because when it comes down to asking the right questions, it is not a competition and we can always work together.

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