Nigeria: A Nation In Crisis

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A Nation in Crisis

 

By

 

Mahmud Jega
 


 

Three "governors", two Chief Judges and two impeachment panels existed side by side in one state. Two more governors received impeachment notices. Then emergency rule was clamped in Ekiti state. Confusion, contrivance, contraption and chaos may be the new names of the game in the Fourth Republic.

No wonder that, in the past week, stories and editorial comments in Nigerian newspapers painted a very gloomy picture of the Republic and many suggested that its downfall was imminent. Words such as anarchy, chaos, crisis and doomsday featured prominently on the pages of newspapers and on the airwaves of independent radio and television stations.

The shattering climax arrived very early in the morning last Thursday, October 19. Addressing the nation in a husky voice on radio and television, President Olusegun Obasanjo said he was declaring a state of emergency in Ekiti State in order to "ensure that peace and orderliness return to the state". Emergency rule will last for six months in the first instance, he said. He also said the state House of Assembly had been suspended and retired Major General Tunji Olurin was appointed the Administrator of Ekiti State, a move with a precedent in Plateau State but of uncertain constitutional legality.

The weeks leading up to emergency rule in Ekiti State had been Nigerians' most tense, most anxious and most critical probably since the June 12 crisis of the early 1990s. In two short weeks, a state House of Assembly sacked a Chief Judge and ignored warnings from the Nigeria Bar Association, the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice and even the Chief Justice of Nigeria that it had no power to do so. Within those two weeks too, a state governor and his deputy were impeached by the House of Assembly in flagrant violation of constitutional procedure, two more governors were served with impeachment notices, another five were said to be about to receive similar notices, 15 governors were set to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for allegedly falsifying their declaration of assets, and a full 31 governors out of 36 were facing various probes by the increasingly arbitrary Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC]. In the wake of last May's defeat of the infamous third term constitutional amendment bill, many pundits had predicted that the Presidency could throw the nation into a contrived turmoil in order to be able to declare a national state of emergency, abort next year's scheduled elections and perpetuate its rule. Recent events indicate that the crisis hour has arrived.

The normally placid state of Ekiti was the eye of this political hurricane. As far as could be determined, the crisis began when the youthful Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose quarrelled with some of President Obasanjo's close associates, including the president's personal friend and lawyer, Chief Afe Babalola. Not long afterwards, Fayose began to have problems with the EFCC, the powerful anti-corruption agency that selectively deals with the president's political enemies. Soon, the newspapers were awash with stories, leaked by the EFCC, about Fayose's corruption. The stories were spectacular, revealing that the governor and many of his close aides defrauded the state of millions of naira through the controversial multi-billion naira Ekiti Poultry Project. Many of these aides were rounded up and charged to court, though not Fayose, who has immunity from prosecution.

Three weeks ago, EFCC upped the ante by rounding up all 26 members of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, including the speaker, Friday Aderemi. Up to that point, all the legislators were in Fayose's political camp and had even helped him to impeach his deputy, Chief Aluko, only a few months earlier and to appoint a new one, Mrs Abiodun Olujimi. However, in a pattern that is increasingly becoming familiar, the legislators emerged from EFCC, returned to Ado Ekiti and promptly served the governor with an impeachment notice. Fayose cried foul, saying the EFCC had forced the action.

The Presidency and EFCC had already gathered valuable experience in that kind of undertaking. Last year and earlier this year, they had similarly forced legislators in Bayelsa and Oyo States to remove Governors Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Rashidi Ladoja. The Oyo operation had problems because the Obasanjo-Lamidi Adedibu camp that pushed for Ladoja's removal failed to get enough members to make up the two-thirds majority required by the constitution to remove a governor. They made up for it by other extra-legal manoeuvres, saying they had suspended the 13 members who refused to cooperate.

In Ekiti, the EFCC managed to coerce 23 of the 26 members to sign the impeachment notice. They however ran into an even bigger problem because the state's Chief Judge, Justice Kehinde Bamisele, could not be incorporated into the conspiracy, as was successfully done in Bayelsa and Oyo. This is because, in Nigeria, it usually requires a kangaroo panel to speedily return a guilty verdict so that the governor can be removed immediately.

Chief Judge Bamisele not only refused to appoint a rabidly anti-Fayose panel, he actually appointed a rabidly pro-Fayose one designed to return a not guilty verdict. The legislators cried foul, saying Bamisele had been compromised by the governor. They also asked the chief judge to appear before them with the CVs of the panel members he appointed. When he refused to do so, they took illegal steps of their own. They announced that they had suspended him from office, thereby usurping the powers of the governor and the National Judicial Council [NJC]. Next, the legislators appointed Justice Aladejana of the Ekiti High Court as acting chief judge, even though the constitution vests this power in the governor with approval from the NJC. Aladejana soon found this out because, when he wrote to Chief Justice of Nigeria Alfa Modibbo Belgore to announce that he was now acting chief judge, Belgore promptly replied that both Bamisele's removal and Aladejana's appointment were unconstitutional. It was not a court ruling, but coming from the Chief Justice, it carried immense legal, political and administrative weight.

 

Aladejana however chose to disregard it. He appointed another panel, this time of anti-Fayose people. The panel earlier appointed by Bamisele had rapidly cleared Fayose of all wrong doing; two days later, Aladejana's panel speedily sat and pronounced him guilty as charged. Last Monday, the Assembly sat, quickly adopted the second panel's report and impeached both the governor and his deputy. They then appointed the speaker, Aderemi, to act as governor.

As expected, there was a huge national uproar. The Nigeria Bar Association's [NBA] new leadership, led by its president Mr Olisa Agbakoba, cried foul and urged Federal authorities to intervene. NBA's statements made it clear that while it was not fond of Fayose, it insisted that the manner of his removal was a rape of the constitution. The National Governors Forum, led by Edo State Governor Lucky Igbenidion, also took a similar line, insisting that procedure was violated in Fayose's removal. The forum said "acting governor" Aderemi would not be allowed into its councils. When Igbenidion went to see President Obasanjo last Monday to lodge the governors' complaint, PDP national chairman Colonel Ahmadu Ali tagged along. Even though Ali had said nothing publicly while the Ekiti crisis unfolded-lending further credence to charges of Presidency collusion-he apparently agreed with the governors last Monday that the Ekiti crisis was getting out of hand.

The next day, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Bayo Ojo went public with his own objections. He said the removal of Chief Judge Bamisele by the Ekiti Assembly was unconstitutional. He did not however say what the Federal Government intended to do about it. In retrospect, it seems that Ojo was only furthering the impression of a constitutional crisis in Ekiti State in order to prepare the grounds for the President to impose emergency rule, as happened two days later. Police Inspector General Sunday Ehindero's statement on Tuesday night was even less precise than Ojo's. Barrister Ehindero, who for many years had been the police force's leading light on constitutional issues, nevertheless pretended to be totally confused by the situation, even asking the NTA reporter to tell him what the rightful government in Ekiti State was. He then said the police will provide protection "to all sides".

One actor in the drama who got such protection was Mrs Olujimi, the supposedly impeached deputy governor. Even though Governor Fayose himself fled the Government House and went into hiding, his deputy appeared at her office with two truckloads of mobile policemen in tow. She even chaired a cabinet meeting and pronounced herself as acting governor while Fayose was in hiding.

Mrs Olujimi's "bravery" apparently had powerful backing. It turned out that the real presidential script for Ekiti was to impeach Fayose and allow his deputy to take over. However, the over-ambitious Speaker Aderemi and his colleagues exceeded their brief and removed both of them. In fact, the Assembly followed up with even more actions; from suspension, it announced the sacking of Chief Judge Bamisele. Its majority leader was appointed the new "Secretary to the State Government", so it elected new leaders to replace the departed ones. All the appointments and counter appointments were however brought to a screeching halt on Thursday when Obasanjo appointed an Administrator.

Meanwhile, an even more bizarre drama was unfolding in Plateau State. For a combination of reasons, President Olusegun Obasanjo hates Governor Joshua Chibi Dariye. In May 2004, when sectarian strife engulfed Plateau State and spilled over into Kano State, Obasanjo declared emergency rule and suspended both Dariye and his state assembly. The president's speech announcing the emergency rule showed his complete dislike for Dariye, whom he accused of corruption, money laundering, jumping bail in Britain, unguarded utterances, travelling abroad without informing the presidency, complicity in sectarian conflict and neglecting his state's citizens who fled to refugee camps in other states.

Emergency rule however made Dariye somewhat popular among his people, who generally thought the president caved in to pressure from the Muslim community, which was at the receiving end of the Yelwa-Shendam massacres. After six months, it became politically untenable for Obasanjo to extend Dariye's suspension, especially since the administrator, Major General Chris Alli, had succeeded in ending the strife and restoring order.

So Dariye returned to office, but since then, the presidency and EFCC have been looking for one way or another to remove him. EFCC charged him and some of his aides to court for alleged money laundering, but could ......

 

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