No More Reversals In Nigeria’s Democracy – Toyo | Independent Newspapers Limited
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No More Reversals In Nigeria’s Democracy – Toyo

Posted: May 29, 2015 at 12:44 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo is the Honourable member of the House of Representatives Representing Calabar Municipality/Odukpani Federal   Constituency in Cross River State. The former Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia and a seasoned Lawyer spoke in an exclusive interview with SAMUEL ITA on the gains and challenges of democracy under the  Goodluck  Jonathan Presidency and the achievements of the outgoing   National Assembly, among other issues. Excerpts…

What have been the gains and challenges of Nigeria’s Democracy in the past four years?

Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo

Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo

Democracy has been a journey. But I think in terms of the leap in consolidation, we’ve seen it most in the last four years. We’ve seen the transition of the President. Never before, under a democratic dispensation, have we been able to see a transition from a president who died in office to his deputy using the ‘doctrine of necessity’. It was a bit confusing. The country was at a loss. Then from that transition we saw a situation where the president was being elected and given a mandate of four years. I think even in terms of that movement we saw, instead of the return of the military and destruction of civil institutions, rather the strengthening of civil institutions and democratic consolidation. More importantly, under President Goodluck Jonathan, we’ve seen the consolidation of the Separation of Powers. In the National Assembly, we’ve not seen one time in the four years when the president tried to influence through resources, money or coercion, the workings of the National Assembly. To a large extent, we saw an Assembly that took its own decisions, chose its own leaders and determined it’s course of action, and conformed with its plans to the best of its ability. So, in many ways that happened. We saw the election outcome. We saw the building of democratic institutions like INEC which moved us to the use of PVCs, different from what we’ve had in the past. It will be difficult for us to say that there will be reversals except we have someone who is intent on destroying those institutions. I think what we need to do is to celebrate what we have gained and ensure that we don’t have reversals. The change from Jonathan to Buhari confirmed that the democratic process is working; that people can now use their votes to determine the future. There were changes at the national level. At the states level, governors who were hitherto very powerful were denied senatorial seats. So a whole lot of things have happened which are tests in their own right and signals to the emergence of a new culture of doing things and I believe it is a culture that is embedded in democracy. However, now there are challenges in the sense that we’ve seen the use of money politics. We’ve seen the use of hate speech. We’ve seen the entrenchment of religious and ethnic differences. We’ve seen the rise of insurgency in Boko Haram and all that and the ability of those things themselves to take away from what I call the gains of democracy. So, we see a counter narrative. But what is important is that the narrative is not strong enough to kill the fact that we as Nigerians have risen up and have said that we want a democratic system and want to defend that democratic system, and that is what is happening as we prepare to swear in the new president.

Could you identify the major achievements of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly in which you have been a member?

I would say that we have touched quite a number of things, but I think one of the most significant things, from my perspective, are two things: the attempt at altering the Constitution is to me a very major step forward. We tried in many ways to redefine those things that laid gaps and weaknesses in the exercise of Constitutional powers within the ambit of government. We tried for example to separate the office of the Accountant – General from the Auditor-General. We also tried to separate the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation from the Minister of Justice so that we’ll depoliticise the use of that office by government officials. We tried also to address the issue of citizenship by making sure that citizenship and residency were in consonance rather than indigenship. You could be anywhere in Nigeria and you are as much a citizen as are the people who claim to be natives. We tried to make a few progressive changes. We dealt with the question of women and how women married to foreigners were seen as secondary to marriage of men to foreigners. So we tried to equalize that and give their rights to them. We gave them right to claim equal right no matter where they were married into, and origin as well. But, for me, the piece of legislation which I think is best for us is the Bill on Violence Against Persons. It is one bill that touches on every aspect of an uncivil society and uncivil character of the society and its disruptive character. Whether your rights are violated through rape, assault, blackmail, extortion, to all the many things that happen to people at the federal level. This is a case where a person can now move up and say this has happened to me beyond what the fundamental human rights say and I have the rights defined in a very definite manner. It is a legislation that will turn around quite a lot. It touches on issues like forced marriages, child marriages; issues of religious discrimination and all sorts of things. When the Bakassi issue came up we used motions to draw attention to the plight of the Bakassi people. We also used motions to engage the Boko Haram crisis and the Chibok girls in the North-East.  We also did a lot in terms of oversight which involved visiting national institutions, engaging and holding public hearing on national issues. For instance, we looked into the issue of rice waivers involving the Indian company, Stallion. Like the issue of fuel scarcity, I’m sure that this week, we’re inviting the agencies involved to come and explain why the fuel scarcity is still persisting. There are quite a lot that NASS has achieved but I think the greatest achievement is that we have made a statement that we can choose our leaders.

Most members of the next NASS will be freshers because many old members lost out at the primaries or at the polls. What was responsible for this, and what are the implications for the next NASS?

We may not see as dynamic a National Assembly as we saw in this last Assembly. The reason is that when people emerged out of their own energy and capacity, then they are able to deal with issues better. But when they come through the manner we saw in the last election, when the leaders got involved in a manner that they did not allow people to emerge normally, then people moved to other parties and what we call the Tsunami effect resulted. The All Progressives Congress, APC, just came with their dynamics and a lot of people jumped on that band wagon. In jumping on that band wagon, I don’t think enough time was given to look at who is a better person. So we have lost quite a lot of senior members of the NASS because of the internal workings of the party. If you look at the case of Cross River, Akwa Ibom, etc it would largely revolve around what happened at the primaries and how that primary was managed in such a way that it was not possible for many of us to emerge. The delegates list was totally out of reach of many candidates. I think it is a total waste for someone to be in the NASS for 4 years because in 4 years you are just beginning to learn the ropes in NASS. During the period, you build the network. You begin to raise your voice and people begin to respect that voice. Then in the next Assembly, such members, if re-elected, are better equipped to deal with legislative business. It is definitely a major issue that must be addressed. So, I think that in the four years I have been in the House of Reps, I have done enough to have earned a second term but that was not to be because of the  internal workings of the PDP in Cross River  State. However, I remain a member of the party. I haven’t left the party. I have invested over twelve years to get to where I am in the party. It will amount to a misuse of the energy I have invested in the party to just abandon it at this stage. I will remain a part and parcel of what is going on.