One misconception too many

July 5th, 2018

By Kachi Okezie

“In Southeast, I got 198,000 votes but I have four substantive ministers and one junior ministers from there.” – PMB

The above statement, credited to Mr President, has been making the rounds, recently. Its veracity is not really in doubt, given the sources whence it came. It has also not been repudiated so far. But, this reaction is not so much about the veracity or otherwise of the assertion. It’s more about the opportunity it provides to set the record straight on the issue to which it relates, for future reference.

In our zest for the now elusive change mantra, we mustn’t obfuscate reality. And, on this particular issue, here’s what reality looks like: 1) The President is oath-bound to obey and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (The Constitution). 2) It is the Constitution that gave them (the states in question) those four Ministers, not the President.

The Constitution mandatesthe President to appoint at least one Minister per state. This is regardless of the voting scorecard of those states. Chapter VI (Part 1) Section 147 commands thus:”(2) Any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate, be made by the President.” Then follows “(3) Any appointment under subsection (2) of this section by the President shall be in conformity with the provisions of section 14(3) of this Constitution, provided that in giving effect to the provisions aforesaid THE PRESIDENT SHALL APPOINT AT LEAST ONE MINISTER FROM EACH STATE [my caps], who shall be an indigene of such State.”

Furthermore, Section 14 (3) provides, “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out IN SUCH A MANNER AS TO REFLECT THE FEDERAL CHARACTER OF NIGERIA AND THE NEED TO PROMOTE NATIONAL UNITY, AND ALSO TO COMMAND NATIONAL LOYALTY, THEREBY ENSURING THAT THERE SHALL BE NO PREDOMINANCE OF PERSONS FROM A FEW STATES OR FROM A FEW ETHNIC OR OTHER SECTIONAL GROUPS IN THAT GOVERNMENT OR IN ANY OF ITS AGENCIES [again, my caps]”

(4) The composition of the Government of a State, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such Government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the Federation.”

Also, Section 15 (2):“Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited. (3) For the purpose of promoting national integration, it shall be the duty of the State to: (a) provide adequate facilities for and encourage free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the Federation. (b) secure full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the Federation. (c) encourage inter-marriage among persons from different places of origin, or of different religious, ethnic or linguistic association or ties; and (d) promote or encourage the formation of associations that cut across ethnic, linguistic, religious and or other sectional barriers. (4) The State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various people of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.”

Indeed, legally, speaking, the non-replacement of a deceased Minister (e.g. Kogi’s Ocholi, the late learned silk) for as long as that vacancy lasted, is arguably a breach of the above Constitutional provision, as is the President’s appointment of himself to a cabinet position (petroleum), which creates the anomaly of gifting his home state an extra ministerial slot (with Sirika), when Kogi had none.

Given the foregoing, one is constrained to express the hope that Nigerians, especially the allegedly educated ones, should learn to demonstrate some rationality in thought as well as in speech for theirs and the common good, regardless of their basic affiliations. Real empowerment has more to do with knowledge and information than money and its trappings. Knowledge is what equips us to know when we’re being fed incorrect information, whether deliberately or unwittingly. Without knowledge, we get taken for a ride and, eventually, we simply perish.

Ignorance is a major threat to the social and economic development of a society, and to democracy. This is why Socrates, the celebrated Greek philosopher, was “highly suspicious” of democracy. According to Alain de Botton, of the School of Life, Socrates “was portrayed in the dialogues of Plato as hugely pessimistic about the whole business of democracy.” And in the ideal society which he constructs in the Republic, Socrates famously “argues for restricted freedom of movement, strict censorship according to moralistic civic virtues, and a guardian soldier class and the rule of philosopher kings.”

In his usual rhetorical style, Socrates famously asked: “If you were going on a sea voyage, “who would you ideally want deciding who was in charge of the vessel, just anyone, or people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring?”

Put simply, Socrates believed that it was wasteful, indeed counter-productive, to grant the right to vote (and choose a leader) to those members of society who lacked the intellectual ability and knowledge to enable them make a rational choice. He maintained that such votes would simply be wasted, preferring instead to limit the right to vote only to those with proven mental and intellectual capabilities (in other words, the educated elite), no matter how few in number.

Thankfully, our Constitution was not written for us by Socrates, despite his charm and scholastic prowess! For us, the matter is reasonably well settled, most (not all) of us can vote and many can be voted for. Granted, it is rather silly the situation whereby Nigerians in Diaspora are not allowed to vote in Nigerian elections despite their substantial financial and other contributions to the home country, but even that anomaly is on its way to being resolved, going by the indications from the present legislature. I, for example, will be voting for the first time since 1983, having been overseas much of that time, and I’m looking forward to doing so. I’m excited!

I would argue that even though the various levels of government have a duty to educate the public but the individual, mindful of the importance of his civic duty to vote, should do all within his power to seek and acquire knowledge, particularly of his most basic rights and duties. An informed electorate would not accept erroneous claims such as the subject of this piece, without fitting interrogation. Let’s take the hint from Socrates and turn ourselves into knowledgeable, confident voters committed to building a lasting democracy in our country.

Kachi Okezie Esq is an Abuja-based legal practitioner, management consultant and trainer.

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