The failed recall of Senator Dino Melaye on Saturday provides an opportunity for lessons to be drawn from the implementation of the recall constitutional provisions. Out of 189,870 signatories to the petition for Melaye’s recall, only 18,742 were verified by the Independent National Electoral Commission. This is a paltry 5.34 per cent of the total number of registered voters in the senatorial district and therefore did not satisfy the requirement of the law demanding a simple majority of the signatures of voters registered to vote in the constituency.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 in Section 69 provides for the recall of senators and members of the House of Representatives. It requires that a petition signed by more than one half of the persons registered to vote in the member’s constituency alleging that they have lost confidence in that member be presented to the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Thereafter, the petition is subjected to a referendum conducted by INEC and if it is approved by a simple majority of voters registered in that member’s constituency, the member stands recalled. In between the presentation of the petition and referendum, a verification of the signatures of the petitioners is conducted by INEC. For the verification to succeed, 50 per cent plus one of the registered voters in the constituency need to be verified.
The provision for recall of legislators is based on the sovereignty of the people affirmed in Section 14 (2) (a) of the Constitution to wit; that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through the constitution derives all its powers and authority. It is about the right of the people to change their mind on the mandate they gave to a representative, midway into a legislative term. It is democratic and tallies with the right of the people to choose their representatives. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. In the secular world, it is the equivalent of the holy book in the great religions. Every other law derives its validity through compliance with the foundational principles and philosophy of the constitution and any law in conflict or inconsistent with it is void to the extent of its inconsistency. Provisions of such a foundational law are not to be invoked for mere atavism or just to prove an empty political point to a political opponent.
Media reports monitored last Saturday indicated that there was a very low turnout and the constituents were not in any mood to recall their senator. They were also unaware of the sins of Melaye that would have led to the commencement of the recall process. They constituents simply stayed away and went about their normal routine business. Again, the media reported “fictitious and forged signatures and names of dead persons affixed to the recall petition by its promoters”. The constitution does not anticipate or provide that signatures would be forged or the names of dead persons be inserted in a petition to recall a serving senator. It is imperative to state that forgery is a criminal offence for which the offenders should face stiff penalties and sanction. It is the expectation that the police and INEC should proceed with the same rigour and vigour with which they moved to recall the senator and go after the culprits and bring them to book.
The constitution anticipates a good faith process based on honesty of purpose. For constituents to lose confidence in a legislator, there must have been some misdeeds or offences committed by the legislator. Maybe, they mismanaged constituency project money and converted the same to their personal use. Or they have committed a grievous offence known to the law. Alternatively, they sleep in the chambers of the Senate and fail to bring up issues of importance to the constituency in the Senate. Also, the member has been docile without sponsoring appropriate bills and motions. None of these could be attributed to Dino Melaye in his representation of his people. I do not want to believe that people can make up their mind to recall a legislator for the fun of it to justify the number of petitioners who started the process. Alternatively, could it be argued that about 95 per cent of the persons who signed up for Melaye’s recall changed their mind? That would be magical and so drastic and would not have been the case in the logical and natural sequence of human action. It is a very remote probability.
The fact that those who perpetrated the forgery made the federal treasury to spend hundreds of millions of naira which should have otherwise been used to solve life and death challenges facing the nation makes the case for their prosecution more compelling. Our hospitals and schools are run down and need so much in resources to rehabilitate and our government states that the money is not available. Yet, some little minds on an ego trip decided to make Nigeria go through this punishing fiscal schedule. Yes, money must have been spent to defend the litigation from the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal, pay the personnel that went to the field, and the logistics for the exercise, etc.
There must be a limit to the misuse of executive and state power to prove a point which has nothing to do with the interest of the people. Recalling a senator is not a tea party.
Due to the way the Melaye recall had gone initially, it encouraged some level of rascality leading to some persons in Senator Ennyinna Abaribe’s constituency in Abia to allegedly start the noise of his recall process. According to media reports, part of his sin is that he “insults” President Muhammadu Buhari in his contributions in the Senate. This is so trivial and if we do not learn lessons, it could start the process of a journey to nowhere that would waste public funds.
Let it be known that this discourse is not against the provisions of the constitution or the idea of recalling legislators. But the message is that recalls should be based on empirical evidence, good reasons and honesty of purpose. It should not be an opportunity to settle political scores or to flex muscles to show an opponent that you can lord it over them.
Let this serve as a deterrent to those who want to rig the system through forgery, so as to ensure that in future, no one will try to game the system in future.