LG funds: Why NFIU order is a breach of the law — Gusa, Ex-Benue AG
Micheal Gusa is the immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Benue State. In this interview, he bares his mind on the agitation for the creation of state police and many burning political issues. JOHNSON BABAJIDE was there. Excerpts:
WHY is there much agitation for the creation of state and local government police in the country? Do you think the country is ripe for it?
I think the idea of state or local government police is apt now and appropriate, because of the emerging level of criminality in which we have found ourselves in this country now.
Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) provides for the establishment of a Police Force for Nigeria. That section provides that there should be no other Police Force that would be established for the federation or any part thereof. But it is imperative that we have it now, especially when you look at the performance of the Nigeria Police Force so far and the emerging criminality in the country. Every day you hear of banditry, herdsmen killings, cattle rustling, kidnapping here and there. In all these, governors of the states do not have the powers to command the police. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces status still lies with the Presidency.
When you look at the constitutional provisions, it is the Federal Government that owns the police and so, the powers of a state governor in reacting in a proactive way to these criminalities is obviously hampered.
So, I buy the idea of local government and state police, because the various states will have the police personnel at their disposal that can be used in nipping some of these criminal activities in the bud.
A situation where the commissioner of police in a state does not take directive from a governor who is the Chief Security Officer of the state is not good enough. If that was good then, looking at what is happening now, I think there is an urgent need to amend the constitution of Nigeria and make provision for states to have their Police Force.
Perhaps your take on the creation of state police is a function of the security situation in the country; what do you make of the current security challenges in the country?
The situation is so bad and governors cannot react spontaneously, because police commissioners do not take directives from them. But when you have state police, that will change. The wave of criminality in the country now is overwhelming and it has become a source of great worry to every discerning mind in this country.
There have been calls for the amendment of Electoral Act to check cases of electoral fraud and malpractices in our electoral system, but the president only recently declined ascent to the new Electoral Act forwarded to him by the National Assembly. Is there any possibility to get a new Act?
We are practicing democracy in the country and we copied it from somewhere else and we will continue to make mistakes and continue to learn. As we learn, we will continue to amend the constitution which is the grand-norm or any other statute that relates to the electoral process in the country.
There is nothing wrong with the call for the amendment of the Electoral Act, because even as it is now, particularly Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the 4th Alteration, which provides that all interlocutory applications that challenge the competence of an election petition be postponed and taken during final addresses which is what we are going through now.
But for some of us, we insist that the law is not helping the process. The Supreme Court will have to interpret it to make a distinction between applications that are challenging the competence of the election petition and interlocutory applications that are challenging some paragraphs of the petition. There has to be a distinguishing point, because the courts, particularly the tribunals now, in most cases, are taking all applications that challenge the competence of the petition itself and even some paragraphs of the petition itself during final addresses and we are saying no.
In fact, in our own petition here in Benue State, we have taken such rulings to the Court of Appeal.
Which petition are you talking about?
The governorship election petition and the senatorial election petition for Benue North West district. We have taken them to the appellate court for the Court of Appeal to interpret and distinguish between the two applications, because we have an application that is challenging the validity of the petition itself and then, an interim application or interlocutory application that is challenging some paragraphs of the petition.
So, we have gone on appeal and the ruling on that will give direction to the petitions that are pending before the tribunals in which these rulings have been made.
Recently, during the June 12 celebration, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue State assured its supporters of victory in the ongoing petition at the tribunal challenging the victory of Governor Samuel Ortom, assuring that like June 12, the party, through the tribunal, would reclaim the mandate from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Are you not worried by the show of confidence by the opposition?
Well, I am not given to making such comments when a matter is pending before a court or tribunal, because as a lawyer of so many years standing, I know the implications of that; the matter is sub-judice and it is not for me to pass any judgment.
The cases are there before the tribunals and it is our belief and firm hope that the various tribunals will do justice to the cases that are pending before them. And when you talk particularly about the governorship petition, we still have confidence in the panel. We still have confidence in the judiciary and we believe that the determination of the petition is going to be based on facts and evidences that would be tabled by the petitioner before the court.
So, we do not want to preempt what the tribunal will say. But we know that in the governorship election in Benue State, the people of Benue came out to vote en mass for Governor Ortom; for what he stood for and for what he did and what he has continued to do for the people of Benue State.
Moreover, the people believe in him and so, they came out to vote for him. PDP did not, in any way, rig the governorship and other elections in the state. So, I don’t know how and where they will now go to manufacture their evidence to establish any that Governor Ortom was not duly elected by the people of Benue State. We are waiting to see the evidence the APC will produce before the tribunal to prove their case.
Moreover, we were all witnesses to the fact that Governor Ortom is a grassroots man who is loved by his people. The people further demonstrated this even when we left the APC for PDP. During the elections, we campaigned vigorously as if he was not the incumbent in the state. In fact, Governor Ortom went to all the nooks and crannies of the state canvassing for support. He did his campaign by himself, because he believes in the people and the people trusted him. He went out canvassing their support and assurances which they demonstrated during the election. Whereas, the opposition APC failed to campaign in the true sense of the word. They were busy talking about federal might and that at the end of the election, the results would be announced somewhere other than the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office. In another breath, they said the results would be announced in Abuja and that power would be handed over to them whether Benue people liked it or not.
That was all they engaged themselves in; they never campaigned. They believed power would be forcefully taken from Governor Ortom and handed over to them, irrespective of what the outcome of the poll was. So, they did not campaign.
But we in the PDP and the entire leadership of the party believed that it was only the people that would decide the outcome of the election, because power lies with the people. And so, we went out to look for that power from the people and when it was election time, the people came out, voted for Ortom and also protected their votes. That is why, even when they declared the election inconclusive and a supplementary election was held, the people still went out to vote for Ortom.
So, I don’t know why they think they can claim a mandate through the tribunal when they had no mandate in the first place. You certainly cannot place something on nothing.
We have noticed that governors in some states, for political reasons, foot-drag in the appointment of acting chief judges at the end of the tenure of a substantive chief judge. What does that act portend for our nascent democracy?
In that regard, I would always want other governors to take a cue from what the Governor of Benue State is doing in the state, because since he became governor, he has seen the transition of two chief judges of the state. And on each occasion, it was the most senior judge that succeeded the exiting chief judge. And we have seen, during his time, the fastest and the shortest transition of chief judges.
So, that is a constitutional provision. When you look at Sections 270 to 271 of the Nigerian Constitution, it provides for the appointment of the chief judge of the state. Here in Benue State, the moment the governor is informed about the period of exit of the chief judge, he directs that the process be initiated for the appointment of a new chief judge. That is how it should be done, because it is a constitutional provision.
But when you go out to seek to deviate from what the constitution provided for, it means you are subverting the rule our law. Due process will be lacking and things are done in accordance with your whims and caprices, which is bound to bring a lot of problems. I urge other governors to take a cue from what the governor of Benue State is doing here in the state.
You can also see that because there is due process in what is obtainable in Benue, there is no acrimony. It has always been a peaceful transition from one chief judge to another.
The recent Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) directive on the transfer and use of local government funds… Doesn’t it run contrary to the provisions of the State and Local Government Joint Account Law operational in states like Benue?
It is the constitutional provision that there should be state joint account allocation committee into which money from the Federation Account is sent; for the state to sit in a joint account committee and then, disburse the money to various local governments. And so, if there is an executive order from the Presidency that is directing the allocation of funds directly to the local governments, it is an infraction on the provisions of the constitution.
I think before that is done, the Presidency would have sought for the amendment of the constitution so that whatever is done will be in consonance with the provisions of the constitution. But as it stands now, without abrogating the joint account provision in the constitution, it is an infraction on the provisions of the constitution.