The Crisis In Ekiti State

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The Crisis In Ekiti State

 

GUARDIAN EDITORIAL

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, October 18, 2006

 

The impeachment of Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose and his deputy, Mrs. Abiodun Olujimi, brings to a climax a weeklong brazen display of unconstitutionality and illegality. Although the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Chief Friday Aderemi has been sworn in as acting governor, the political horizon in Ekiti remains unclear.

 

Both the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Modibo Belgore and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo have separately warned that the appointment of the acting Chief Judge in Ekiti contravened constitutional provisions. Consequently, all actions predicated upon such appointment are null and void and of no effect, the Chief Justice said . In the event, the good objective of removing an indicted and ignoble governor cannot be achieved through illegal means.

 

Nevertheless, the political class in Ekiti State is going on with little regard for the constitutional implications of the action. The country is thus faced with yet another crisis regarding the development of democracy as well as respect for rule of law and due process. Unfortunately, the crisis in Ekiti State is not the first of its kind. It is simply a re-enactment of attempts to subjugate due process as witnessed in Bayelsa, Oyo and Anambra states at different times.

 

Constitutionality and rule of law are being assaulted on two sides. Fayose on one side had sought to evade serious charges of corruption for which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) indicted him and the House of Assembly. Even then, the state Chief Judge, Justice Kayode Bamisile constituted a questionable panel to investigate the charges. The House challenged the composition of the panel on the grounds of likelihood of bias, but the Chief Judge in a fit of insensitivity, went ahead, insisting on the independence of the judiciary. Apparently, however, Justice Bamisile's exercise of his judicial discretion was not done judiciously. He could have handled the matter differently considering the complexion of the issue before him.

 

If that was an act of indiscretion and insensitivity, the action of the Assembly, headed by the Speaker, in suspending the Chief Judge and appointing Justice Jide Aladejana as acting Chief Judge was clearly unconstitutional. Aladejana's acceptance of an illegal assignment is worse. No less a judicial personality than Chief Justice Belgore had cause to point this out in his response to Aladejana's letter intimating him of the Ekiti crisis. No one is in doubt that section 271 of the 1999 Constitution, dealing with appointment of acting Chief Judge, has been breached. The Ekiti House of Assembly acted ultra vires; the Ekiti judiciary in allowing itself to be dragged into partisan politics subverted the ends of justice.

 

Since it is impossible for something to be built on nothing, it is hardly surprising that the Ekiti constitutional tragedy has sharply divided the country. A section saw Fayose's impeachment as good riddance, in the light of the controversy that has trailed his leadership, along with corruption charges levelled against him. Others cannot accept the invocation of illegality to correct another form of illegality. For, it was widely argued that Fayose could not be removed through legal means, and that any other means would do. The confusion thus engendered is annoying to say the least. And no one knows how this may end. The Ekiti crisis has occasioned much extremism on all sides, lending credence to the impression that this is not democracy at work, but something sinister, a mindless power-game in which the end justifies the means.

 

With the cynical contrivance of the first investigative panel and the obvious illegality of the second, the level of constitutional breaches in Ekiti has suddenly highlighted the looming danger facing the whole country. If the political class can get away with such brazen lawlessness as it earlier did in Bayelsa, Oyo and Anambra, no one should underplay the possibility of a certain descent into anomie.

 

The genesis of the present crisis is of course the inability to conduct free and fair elections, particularly in 2003 when elections were massively rigged and many rode on the back of illegal contrivances to power. The objectionable conduct of the ruling elite since then has exposed the depth of the crisis of leadership confronting the nation. In Ekiti, we have simply seen how power in the hands of the unconscionable can lead to anarchy. The resort to expediency, and broad daylight rascality on all fronts has thrown the country into a fit of messy, jungle politics. This is what all Nigerians should be concerned about.

 

We again state without equivocation that government's policy against corruption in public places is desirable and indeed should be supported by all. But corruption should not be used as an excuse for subverting due process or to undermine the country's young democracy. There must be ways within existing laws for government to fight corruption and still respect other laws of the land. The experience in Bayelsa, Oyo and now Ekiti cannot advance democracy; the removal of a governor and his deputy is a novelty; in Ekiti, democracy has been given a short-shrift, our collective over-arching objective should be to grow democracy, not to frustrate it.

 

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) must be singled out for blame, for the regression in the country's politics. So far the party has demonstrated that criticisms, accusations and suspicions hurled at it over the years have not been misplaced. Its deep involvement in Ekiti politics and erosion of rule of law is without pretension.

 

First, the party was notorious for its manipulation of elections on a massive scale to ensure its members won at all costs and by all means. Second was the series of assassinations that are yet to cease among its members. And now the party is determined to get rid of its non-conformist governors, with or without due process. The PDP is a disappointment to democracy and to the entire country. Interestingly, the party has always been partial even in its assault on the rule of law.

 

When it pleased it, the party branded crises occasioned by criminal acts as its "family affair", as in Anambra State. At other times, it set out to impeach allegedly corrupt governors without recourse to the constitution, as in Bayelsa and Ekiti. When Fayose himself employed less than elegant methods to impeach his former deputy governor, Chief Abiodun Aluko, or to commit other constitutional atrocities, the party conveniently looked away.

 

So far, we have not seen any attempt to defend the interests of the people of Ekiti in this sordid affair. Everyone seems to be acting selfishly. The people are the victims. Ekiti lawmakers have merely safeguarded their personal interests, since their decision to impeach the Governor and his Deputy came soon after the EFCC arrested and released them on charges of bribery and corruption. The legislators have given the impression that they acted the way they did because their hands were being squeezed.

 

The crisis in Ekiti has similarly put the judiciary on trial, as the advice of the Chief Justice who is also chairman of the National Judicial Council was ignored. Lawyers are openly disagreeing over a matter that is clearly defined by the constitution. And again, the Ekiti deputy governor Mrs. Olujimi has reportedly gone to court to challenge her impeachment. It is sad. Is it possible to have democracy without democrats, people who do not have the patience to allow due process to run its course?

 

The Ekiti crisis calls for concern, coming as it is, a few months to the 2007 general elections. The people of Ekiti have done well by remaining calm in the face of obvious provocation by the political elite. Now whatever happens, their interest must be defended.

 

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