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LAGOS, NIGERIA.     Friday, May 23 2003

 

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The Patriots asks for interim govt, Obasanjo as head

  • Canvasses five-year single term for president
  • Rejects military intervention
    By Akpo Esajere, Group Political Editor

    THE group of eminent Nigerians, The Patriots, has taken a deep look at the April 19 presidential election and, alleging massive irregularities, asked the National Assembly to set up an Interim Government of National Unity to be headed by incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo.

    This position is informed by the group's belief that the election was so riddled with irregularities that forming a government on its basis would be a disservice to democracy. President Olusegun Obasanjo's victory at the April 19 general elections is being fiercely contested by some of the defeated candidates.

    The Patriots, headed by legal luminary Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams (SAN), at a press conference in Lagos yesterday, added however that if its advice is found impracticable, the federal legislators should amend the constitution to establish a single term of five years for the President.

    According to the eminent citizens, President Obasanjo's current four-year mandate will thus be extended by another year, as the proposed constitutional amendment will take effect from 1999.

    Also at the press conference were the secretary general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. Ben Nwabueze; South-South leader, Chief David Dafinone; and a leading member of the Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo.

    The group's statement, read by Chief Williams, noted the sharp disagreements that have attended the results of the April 19 elections in which former military ruler Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) came a distant second.

    The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has rejected the result. Gen. Buhari and Rev. Chris Okotie of the Justice Party (JP) have gone to court to challenge it.

    Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), at a symposium in Kaduna on Wednesday jettisoned his earlier claim to victory at the elections and claimed that Buhari was the winner.

    Buhari and some other politicians have called for "mass action" to protest the planned inauguration of President Obasanjo for another four-year-term on May 29.

    The Patriots' statement yesterday accepted the claims of allegations of "massive irregularities" by Buhari, the conference of political parties and some foreign election observers.

    It said: "We are firmly convinced that it is wholly unacceptable to allow the results obtained by means of these well-attested electoral malpractices, described by the CNPP and also International election Observer Teams to stand".

    The Patriots added: "To allow it to stand will subvert the democratic form of government instituted by the constitution and worse still, would entrench election rigging as a permanent feature of the Nigerian polity. Democracy would have been irretrievably satisfied, together with the legitimacy which democratic elections confer upon government".

    The interim government being proposed by The Patriots will be called "interim or transitional government of national unity to be composed of persons nominated by the political parties and other interest groups".

    According to them, it will be chaired by President Obasanjo "in recognition of his being the person currently holding the reins of power in the country" and will function for one year. During the period, according to The Patriots, the interim government should involve itself minimally in the process of administration while concentrating on:

  • Convening and organising a National Conference for the restructuring of the Nigerian polity under a new Constitution to be adopted by a Constituent Assembly and approved at a referendum;

  • Setting up a new and credible electoral system and a new electoral body to replace INEC; and;

  • Overseeing the holding of a fresh election to be conducted by the new electoral body."

    The CNPP and Ohanaeze Ndigbo had earlier proposed the setting up of an interim government to take over from the Obasanjo administration on May 29.

    The Patriots said yesterday it was disturbed by the "grave situation" arising from the polls and the threat it poses to peace, order and stability in the country.

    The group said it had held a meeting with the CNPP and was impressed with the desire of the political parties for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in a way that will preserve the country's fledgling democracy.

    Although efforts to hold discussions with the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have not yielded dividends, the eminent citizens said they had no reason to doubt that the party is in favour of a peaceful resolution of the problem.

    "We recognise that the idea of an Interim Government of National Unity is not free of inherent, though not insurmountable, difficulties, e.g. the problem of how and by whom legislative power is to be exercised during the interim period. In the case the idea is not acceptable for this or any other reason or is otherwise considered unfeasible or impracticable, we would like to revert to our earlier proposal of an immediate amendment to the Constitution to limit the President and the State Governors to a single, non-renewable term of five years, the amendment to take effect from 1999. We believe that, with the agreement and cooperation of the Peoples Democratic Party and the other political parties, the amendment process can be completed before May 29, 2003", they said.

    Appealing to all political leaders to avoid actions that are capable of destabilising the nation, The Patriots urged politicians to maintain their determination that Nigeria does not welcome any intervention by the military. It said: "However serious any political crisis may be, our political leaders have the capacity to resolve it without the armed intervention of our military."

    They described as unfortunate and regrettable the condemnation by the Federal Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the International Election Observer Teams for reporting the cases of electoral irregularities and malpractices they observed.

    "In our view, the opinion expressed by the International Election Observer Teams show that the very serious allegations made by the CNPP cannot simply be brushed under the carpet. Nor is it a satisfactory solution to the crisis to say that anyone not satisfied with the conduct of the elections should go to the Tribunal. Anyone who is knowledgeable about procedure before the Tribunals will readily agree that there is a limit to which the machinery of the Tribunals can cope with massive riggings at gubernatorial or presidential elections, which The Patriots unhesistatingly condemn," they said.

    Listing dumping of ballot boxes stuffed with papers allegedly thumb-printed outside the polling centres as one of the irregularities that trailed the election, Chief FRA. Williams said: "The result of an election may include irregularities. They (irregularities) are there - somebody who wanted to vote could not vote and so on and so forth. But when it is massive; when you find more voters than were registered, it is an abuse to call it an election. It is an election distorted by fraud."

    Asked to comment on the possibility that President Obasanjo could ignore their views, William said: Some time ago we gave expression to our conviction that in order to promote national unity, in order to make all the ethnic groups, including the so-called minority groups in this country to feel that they belong, we should restructure the country and make arrangement for presidential elections in such a way that it is not monopolised by one or two large ethnic groups."

    The eminent lawyer continued: "And that was the basis of our advice to the President not to go for a second term but he went. That does not destroy the validity of our argument". He then added: "History will yet judge whether what he did has helped in promoting the unity of Nigeria or has increased the tension within the country."

    "In the same way, we have put forward those two alternatives, hoping that one of them will be taken. People may reject one or the other, or reject both. But they will bear the consequences.

    "And that is why we are making this appeal. We don't want the consequences of ignoring the verdict of international observers."

    The statement was signed by Williams, Dafinone, Nwabueze and Afenifere leader, Chief Abraham Adesanya.

 

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