Onofiok Luke is the member representing Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium constituency of Akwa Ibom State and chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary. In this interview he spoke on the just concluded general elections, the need for national healing, among other issues.
The 2023 general elections have been concluded and all eyes are now on the courts. What do you make of this?
We still have few elections that we are yet to be concluded, such as one federal constituency in the state where I come from. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not come out to say that elections have been concluded. However, some have been concluded and the battle shifted to tribunals; so, by my training as a lawyer, those are subjudice. As an individual, I have confidence in the judiciary, maybe because of my training.
Life is an incremental improvement, and I believe that whatever mistakes the judiciary might have made in the 2019 elections petition, they are going to improve upon it. And I believe that they have seen what has happened.
We don’t seem to be in sync with the feelings of Nigerians. There is anger in the hearts of Nigerians for a whole lot of reasons, and that is what you saw them express in the last elections. Now that the battle has moved to the tribunal, the eyes of Nigerians are on judicial officers. So we must be careful the way we act. We need to call a spade a spade and deliver judgement according to the law. I believe the judicial officers would do that.
Would you say that all petitions should be determined before the swearing in date?
The essence of the electoral act was to cure this defect we have seen. Let us start with pre-election cases, which we were able to determine before the elections. Now, we do not have the legal framework that mandates the determination of these cases before swearing in. So you cannot hold them to perform that because the legal framework is not in place. We held elections on February 25 and others in March and expecting swearing in on May 29. And you want the courts to determine those matters in a space of just how many months? It is not possible until we have a legal framework to that effect.
You said Nigerians went to the polls with anger; how would you describe the exercise, particularly concerning INEC, which seems to be in the eye of the storm. Are you satisfied with the process?
The anger and post-election outcome were caused by INEC. Doublespeak is where the problem lies. No matter what would have happened, considering what happened within my area, elections were quite peaceful and people were awaiting the manifestation of INEC’s promise to upload results on the Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real time.
I can remember sometime around November when there were rumours that INEC wanted to jettison some of the things they promised and they came out boldly to refute it and assure Nigerians that results were going to be uploaded real time online. Now, the anger of Nigerians is the inability of INEC, for whatsoever reason, to upload those results real time online. What people are saying is that they want a reflection of what we voted on ground. That is where the problem lies.
The electoral act helped us a bit in the last elections, in the sense that it curbed excessive violence, relatively and comparatively, with what used to happen. It curbed a whole lot of ballot box snatching and many others.
For me, a winner has emerged and cases are in court, so let us allow the law to take its course. Let us now turn our energy to the courts.
I am part of the people that are kicking against the interim government. It will not portend any good for us. Let the president-elect be sworn in and let the courts do justice to issues before them. Whatsoever is the outcome, we have to begin a healing process.
This country has been divided and we keep talking about trust deficit. How do we expect Nigerians to continue to have trust in us when we say one thing and do another? The problem today is that trust is nose-diving. We are going to the highest level of trust deficit.
What do you make of agitations in some quarters for an interim government?
An election was conducted and a winner emerged. I am part of the people that are kicking against the idea of an interim government.
Post election comments by political actors are not helping the healing of this country on all sides. We should minimise such comments. They are very inciting and sometimes very hurtful. I wonder what they would tell their children with the kind of political communications they come on radio and television to spew. It does not encourage growth.
Let us rally around the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I am an absolute believer in the will of God. It is the will of God that he emerged, so let us rally round him and see how we can make the country move on and become better.
Let us also allow those pursuing cases in courts, like Atiku, Obi, Sowore and the rest to continue, but let us begin to put our hands together and move this country forward.
We are in crisis. Our reputation is not good in the international community. We have domestic and economic issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible. We have challenges in the health, security, education, economy and oil and gas sectors. Let us see how we can pull ourselves from the crisis and rally round the president-elect and move forward.
I am not a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), but I am a Nigerian; I want peace. I want us to move forward as a country.
What do you suggest should be done to ensure religious balance in the leadership of this country, especially in the next administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
God did not make a mistake in bringing all of us in this country together. We need to live in peace, ethnic and religious wise. So, if we have had a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket, the position of the Senate president should go to a Christian. Let us have the number three position in this country to go to a Christian.
What have you achieved in the last four years?
First, I thank God who gave me the opportunity. And I am very appreciative of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and the entire leadership of the House of Representatives for finding me worthy enough to chair the Committee on Judiciary. That opportunity gave me an opportunity to interact with the judicial system in this country and identify the challenges therein and be able to bring them to the front burner for discussion. I am happy that we have been able to do that.
I won’t begin to count achievements; I will leave it for those who have actually seen what we have done to assess us. However, we have been able to champion the course of better welfare, living and working conditions for our judicial officers. We have been at the forefront of reforms in the judiciary.
We got some other reforms, which we believe would find its way to the president’s table for assent. We made some amendments in the constitution to reflect the composition of the National Judicial Council. We also found a way to see how we could bring about uniformity in the retirement age and pension rights of judicial officers. These are some of the things we were able to bring on board.
We also undertook oversight visits to some judicial formations, during which we saw things firsthand and made sure we got this to reflect in the judiciary budget we brought before the National Assembly. We were quite vocal in advocating the increase for budgetary allocations to the judiciary. And I appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari for seeing the need to increase budgetary allocations for the judiciary.