Just Before Sunset


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Just Before Sunset




Godwin Agbroko





culled from THISDAY, October 17, 2006


Iím not too sure whether the exit of Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State will not overtake this column. At the time of writing, there were speculations that the strong man of Ekiti politics had fled the comfort of the gubernatorial palace into God knows where. One paper even reported that Fayose is in Ghana right now.

People like Dr. Kayode Fayemi, an Ekiti governorship aspirant, can't vouch that Fayose has truly disappeared because the governor is a political cat with nine lives. "Yes, what we have heard is that the man has disappeared", Dr. Kayode said sceptically before putting his finger on the Fayose phenomenon: "They cannot find him at the Government House; they cannot find him at the Governor's Office. But you cannot be too sure that the man has disappeared because he may emerge tomorrow to claim another glory from speculations that he has disappeared."

That is just the problem. No one is sure of anything, any more. Nobody can say for sure whether democracy is being re-invigorated or slaughtered in Ekiti, and Plateau States. In fact, it is difficult to gauge whether what we are witnessing right round the country is morning yet on democracy day, or the twilight just before sunset.

For sure, democracy, for the brief periods it had existed in Nigeria since independence, has never been in short supply of strange ways. But what is happening today in both Ekiti and Plateau States has taken democracy from the narrow groove of strange ways smack into the highway of lunacy.

When Ekiti lawmakers came back to Ado Ekiti from the embrace of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) huffing and puffing, everyone thought Fayose's end had finally come. Everyone knew that the stench from the Ekiti poultry farm project  was enough to drive any public official from office. And to seal it all up, 24 out of the 26 members of the House were ready to impeach.

The only thing that didn't quite fit was Fayose's Biblical rhapsodies, such as arriving and seeking God's face at the Red Sea, and God throwing the enemy's camp into confusion. How? Will God wash away the poultry stench? Will He rain down Ghana-Must-Go bags to dissuade the 24 legislators? Just how?

Just how Fayose's God works in mysterious ways was revealed when Ekiti Chief Judge, Justice Kayode Bamisile, inveiled members of the seven-man panel to investigate the charges of corruption and money laudering against Governor Fayose and his deputy, Abiodun Olujimi. The chairman of the panel was said to be the governor's in-law; a member is not only the governor's cousin but his sister is personal assistant to the governor's wife; another, a lawyer of four years at the bar works in the chambers of the man, who until a few months back, was Fayose's attorney-general; yet another is the best friend to the governor's wife; not to talk of the one who was earlier fetched by Fayose from forceful retirement from the civil service rehabilitated, made a permanent secretary and now pencilled down as a commissioner at the time of the constitution of the panel. In short, every member of the panel was the governor's close associate.

In a stroke, Fayose now at the Red Sea, had literally turned the tables on his legislative pursuers. Faced with this absurdity from the judiciary, the Ekiti legislature decided on an equal absurdity of its own. After all, as they say in Warri, cunny man die, cunny man bury am. Its summons to Justice Bamisile to explain his perfidy of setting up a panel of Fayose's cronies rather than one of persons with iron-cast integrity as demanded by the constitution having been ignored by the chief judge, the House suspended him peremptorily and appointed another to take his place, equally in contravention of the constitution. I reckon that being an engineer, the Ekiti Speaker, Hon. Friday Aderemi must have decided to mathematicise the politics of Fayose's impeachment to produce the desired result. Bamisile's panel being a negative constitutional quantity, Aderemi decided to neutralise it by another negative, namely the unconstitutional suspension of the chief judge so that a positive outcome, that is, the impeachment of Fayose can result. In mathematics, two negatives will always produce a positive.

Unfortunatley, we are not in the world of science where such signs as negative and positive don't have values of their own. In the real world we live, the two negatives meant to produce the positive outcome of impeaching a corrupt governor carry a moral baggage with serious consequences. Nothing tells the story more than the work of the two panels one, set up by a purportedly suspended chief judge, and the other by a purportedly acting chief judge. The first was named on Monday, sworn in on Tuesday and after only a three-hour sitting, absolved the governor of all charges. I'm told the greater part of the three hours was spent waiting for Fayose's accusers to come to press their case and when they didn't show up, the panel, used the principle of he who asserts must prove, to exonerate the governor. The second panel performed even better, beating the record of the first. It sat for just 15 minutes and in that time established Fayose's guilt. I'm sure the panel's supersonic speed must have frightened Fayose into taking flight.

From Ekiti, let's move over to Plateau. I'm sure that everyone, including the EFCC must be terribly exasperated by the stubornness of the legislators on the Plateau. Governor Joshua Dariye's case started long before that of Diepreye (Alam) Alamieyeseigha, and is as clear if not clearer than that of the former Bayelsa State Governor. After all, Alam was only imitating Dariye when he got arrested in London and subsequently jumped bail. But while the Bayelsa legislators had since cooperated and threw Alam to the anti-coprruption sharks, Joshua (courtesy of the Plateau legislators) is still sitting tight, trying to prove that he is the incarnation of that man of war in the Bible.

Finally, preparing Dariye to be barbecued (that is what impeachment is all about) has proved to be more messy than that of Fayose. Of the 24 members of the Plateau House, only a miserable eight have agreed to do the job. Even so, two are dissociating themselves from the grisly job. To justify this improbable figure for impeachment, the eight (minus two) butchers of Plateau had to rationalise that 14 of their PDP colleagues (in EFCC custody?) have ceased  to be members of the House because they have abandoned the original party that brought them into the legislature and decamped to another.

Of course, one would have laughed the foolish (legislative) virgins to scorn because they were speaking from either constitutional ignorance or mischief or both. But that was before the electoral authorities added a bizarre twist to the Plateau drama. While the 14 legislators were in court to uphold their continued membership of the House, the Independent National Electoral Commission declared their seats vacant last Saturday and, according to reports, it is about to conduct by-elections into those seats any time from now. If that happens, then the legislative gang of six or eight out of an original membership of 24 might just be able to pull the job through. In other words, both Fayose and Dariye may as well be contemplating life after government house.

That may be good but at what cost? None can say exactly for now. What we can say is that we have set up a chain reaction whose end is anybody's guess. As for me, I have no doubt at all about the guilt of the two governors in question. But that cannot obviate the terrible dilemma we face. Why can't the system work the way it was envisioned, smoothly and efficiently? Why must we have to use illegal and unconstitutional means to achieve otherwise noble ends?

These are the perplexing demons we must exorcise if we are to survive for long, first as a nation, and then as a democracy.
One of the things we least appreciate is the human element in all democratic projects. If the human element isn't right, then democracy becomes one huge folly. That is what is at the root of our current impeachment saga. Framers of the constitution envisaged, in line with proper democratic practice, that only a particular kind of people will ever get elected as lawmakers, governors and presidents. And at any rate, if there was any mistake in the matter, the institutions of democracy will make amends.

It hasn't quite happened that way in Nigeria. Instead of serving as checks, we have seen legislators that are merely accomplices to executive roguery. And instead of serving due process and rule of law, we have seen judges murdering these twin pillars of democracy and social order without any compunction.

In the midst of this miasma, I can feel intensely the exasperation and frustration of men like Nuhu Ribadu watching those  pillaging the public treasury, using the very apparel of due process, rule of law and constitutionality, meant to protect the innocent, as a shield to cover themselves from their just dessert.

At such agonising moments, it is tempting to adopt the same unwholesome tactics being used by the felons to get at them, which is what Ekiti and Plateau are all about. Such temptation must be resisted for the simple reason that the user is not only brought to the same moral level as the felon, but it is fraught with dire consequences for all, both for the innocent and the guilty.

At this democratic crossroads, we need to chew on the words of that judge who admonished that more than any other time, the people should be on their utmost guard when the government is well-intentioned and appears to be doing good because everyone can see through a bad government that sets out to do evil and oppose it immediately. But it is when a government sets out to do good that the people let down their guards until the greatest harm has been done.

That is already happening in the United States with the war on international terrorism leading to Guantanamo Bay and the severing of suspects from American soil and justice system to foreign countries for torture and intimidation. And that is what we are witnessing in the war against corruption in which unconsitutional and illegal weapons now constitute impeachment arsenal. If our guards remain lowered for too long, it may spell sunset for our battered democracy.



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