The Constitutional Crisis In Kogi, By Reuben Abati
It is a rape of the Constitution, a slap on the rule of law. Members of the Kogi State House of Assembly should cover their heads in shame for projecting themselves as law breakers and persons who do not have the interest of the nation at heart. But the biggest scandal is that of the chief judge of Kogi State, Nasir Ajanah.
Since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999, deputy governors have always tended to have issues with their bosses, the governors, and the governors in turn have often had problems with their godfathers. Whatever shape the conflict takes, it has been more of a blight on our democratic process and the health of the polity. Mini-dictators converting a democratic dispensation into an opportunity for self-aggrandisement and childish power games end up hurting us all.
As governor of Anambra State in 2003, Chris Ngige, now minister of Labour and Productivity, had problems with a certain godfather known as Chris Uba. In those days, Uba had the ears and eyes of the Nigerian Presidency. Ngige’s offence was his refusal to do the bidding of the godfather and the godfather of the mini-godfather in his State. In July 2003, a letter of resignation from office was circulated on Ngige’s behalf. He was also abducted by a faction of the Nigeria Police (the then inspector general of Police would later disown that “faction”). Ngige insisted that he had not resigned. Subsequently, he was shown half-naked, purportedly swearing to an oath of allegiance at what was then known as the notorious Okija shrine. He was named. He was shamed. The spectacle of a sitting governor in shamanic garb looked really ugly. Ngige’s detractors finally got him out of office in 2006. They made him. They unmade him.
In Oyo State in 2006, Rashidi Ladoja, now the Osi Olubadan, meaning a potential Olubadan of Ibadanland, was pushed out of office because he refused to share the State’s security vote with Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the famous originator and promoter of alimentary politics in Ibadan and the South-West. Alimentary politics is known locally as “amala politics.” It was re-defined in Ekiti State by Governor Ayo Fayose as “stomach infrastructure.” Real meaning: “you-chop-I-chop” politics.
Fayose himself fell foul of the powers that be when in his first term as governor of Ekiti State, he made the fatal mistake of saying openly that he would not support a Third Term agenda for the Obasanjo administration. The witches and wizards of Aso Rock went after him. Fayose, who is ordinarily very boisterous, had to escape from the Ekiti State Government House in the trunk of a car. He was chased out of office in an overnight raid by a specially assigned police squad. He took the famous NADECO route and gave Nigeria a wide berth for a while. Again in 2006, Joshua Dariye, serving a second term as governor of Plateau State, was impeached by eight members of the state’s 24-member House of Assembly. He protested the fact that eight out of 24 members did not form a quorum to make the impeachment legal. Nobody listened. His supporters protested. Two of them were gunned down by the police. Dariye’s offence, warranting the impeachment, was his refusal to respect the powers that be. The Supreme Court later returned him and Ladoja of Oyo State to office, but I doubt very much if they have both recovered fully from taking on those secret manipulators of the Nigerian political process.
But while state governors often get into trouble with their godfathers, what we have seen is that the governors themselves are just as power drunk as their godfathers. The target of their fascism is usually the persons they choose or who are appointed to serve as their deputies. Since 1999, no governor has made any conscious effort to hand over to his deputy. In Plateau and Oyo States, deputies became governors by sheer default: Michael Botmang in Plateau (2006-2007) and Adebayo Alao-Akala in Oyo State (January–December 2006), not because their bosses wanted them as successors. In an exception to the rule in Kano State where Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was succeeded by his two-time deputy (1999-2003; 2011-2015), the deputy as governor has shown great contempt and animosity towards his former boss, clearly indicating that there was never any love lost between them while they worked together. The kind of passion that Abdullahi Ganduje has devoted to rubbishing and undoing his former boss is astonishing.
…of all the things that I have heard and seen in the last 20 years, permit me to say that the most shocking, the most objectionable, the most fearful happened in Kogi State the other day with the purported removal from office of the deputy governor, Simon Achuba. Achuba’s offence was that he was no longer in good terms with his governor, Yahaya Bello.
But the battle between governors and their deputies is not just at the state level; at the level of the Presidency, the story is not much different. During President Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term, Nigeria was saddled with a divided Presidency. I covered the politics of that crisis in a series of columns tilted “The Bolekaja Presidency”. Going further, the story is often told of how under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, his then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan was completely sidelined by a cabal that hijacked presidential power and authority. The only job President Yar’Adua’s people wanted Dr. Jonathan to do was to read newspapers. They made sure his office got a good supply of newspapers and a short supply of state news. They showed their hands when they made it clear that they didn’t want him to succeed his boss who fell ill and had become incapacitated. President Yar’Adua died in office. It was a great ordeal to get Dr. Jonathan to succeed him. Concerned Nigerians had to stand up physically and emotionally, for the letter and spirit of the Constitution to be respected. Even when Jonathan became president, the cabal did not leave him alone. They made every day difficult for him.
I have gone on this long, retrospective, voyage to draw attention to a few points: One, that Nigerian politics, even with the exit from military rule in 1999, is still based on a principle of clientelism and godfatherism. Some people just assume that Nigeria belongs to them and they must dictate what happens within its borders. Two, people get into offices, not because they are the best persons for the job but because they are the right clients. How many got elected because they swore to an oath in Okija or elsewhere? How many paid fees to get a nomination form? How many of these guys have become big men and women today because they had to trade off? When such persons try to stand up and assert themselves, they are shot down. Three, Nigerian politicians have little regard for the Constitution.
It is also important to note that in real terms, deputies in Nigerian politics are at best spare tyres. The Constitution gives them no real roles. This is why it is possible for governors and presidents to treat their deputies shabbily. In Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu trashed two deputy governors between 1999 and 2007. When Mrs Kofo Bucknor Akerele tried to stand up to him, she was shut down. Otunba Femi Pedro, her replacement, also thought he could act like a man. He was shown the exit door. He would later return to beg and genuflect. His own assistant, someone he brought into the party, is now the governor of Lagos State, obviously in an attempt to complete his humiliation. I don’t see the current governor of Lagos State fighting the powers that be. He only needs to look at Bucknor-Akerele, Femi Pedro and Akinwunmi Ambode, the immediate past governor in the mirror.
What am I trying to say? I am saying that Nigerian politics is dirty, crazy and incomprehensible. In the last 20 years, it has been overtaken by godfathers, cabalists and fascists. They do what they like. If you stand in their way, they crush you. In effect, fear rules the land. In an environment dominated by power-mongers who parade themselves as good men and women, you can no longer trust anybody. Nigerian politics has never been so terrible. In politics, as in society, the picture of a mentally ill community looms large.
But of all the things that I have heard and seen in the last 20 years, permit me to say that the most shocking, the most objectionable, the most fearful happened in Kogi State the other day with the purported removal from office of the deputy governor, Simon Achuba. Achuba’s offence was that he was no longer in good terms with his governor, Yahaya Bello. When a State governor no longer likes his deputy, he tells him to jump, if the guy refuses to jump, he pushes him. If the guy refuses to be pushed, the governor gets the House of Assembly, obviously the largest collection of nitwits since 2019, to help push the deputy governor through the vehicle of impeachment. We have seen one or the other strategy adopted in Lagos State with Kofo Bucknor-Akerele and Femi Pedro by Bola Tinubu; also by Rochas Okorocha in Imo State against his deputies – Jude Agbaso and Eze Madumere, and Ibikunle Amosun against Segun Adesegun in Ogun State. In the case of Achuba in Kogi State, they just threw the Constitution completely out of the window. The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria spells out the procedure for the removal of a governor or deputy governor from office. In Kogi State, the State House of Assembly just decided to do whatever suited it. State Houses of Assembly are appendages of Government House. The governors in the process become so powerful that once they don’t like anybody’s face they can get rid of him politically or buy him or her. Nigerian politicians can be bought and converted like commodities. Nigerian politics is a market.
Simon Achuba should go to court. Whether the eventual determination would be academic or not, let him fight for his rights and put the matter on record. His seat is not vacant in the eyes of the law. Edward Onoja has merely usurped the seat of the deputy governor of Kogi State, illegally and without conscience. Political vendetta cannot replace the tenets of the law.
In Kogi State, Deputy Governor Simon Achuba chose to differ from his governor. He got accused of all kinds of things, which a House of Assembly in recess interpreted as “gross misconduct”, and then decided to put him up for impeachment and removal. A cash-and-carry House of Assembly set to work. The State chief judge was asked to set up a panel to impeach the deputy governor. A seven-man panel was indeed set up, led by Mr. John Baiyeshea, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN). The panel returned a verdict of not guilty on all the charges levelled against Achuba. What the Constitution says in Section 188, is that once the panel thus returns a verdict of not guilty on all counts, there shall be no further proceedings or process. The word “shall” in law is mandatory. It is a command. Still, in their wisdom, the House of Assembly in Kogi State, which was not even in session, proceeded to sack the deputy governor. If anyone is looking for a classical rubber stamp Assembly and the most conscienceless legislature in Nigeria’s democracy since 1999, the present Kogi State House of Assembly fits the bill. It has been more than a week since then and Kogi State is just hoping that this comedy of absurdity will disappear. It is a shame on all the people of Kogi who have chosen to keep silent, and the most worrisome is that the federal government and indeed the National Assembly and the attorney general of the federation, who is the chief law officer of the federation by virtue of Section 150 of the Constitution, have all chosen to be quiet in the face of this brazen abuse of the letter and spirit of the Constitution, thus setting a dangerous precedent for the continuous abuse of the Constitution, the very fabric that holds the nation together.
It is a rape of the Constitution, a slap on the rule of law. Members of the Kogi State House of Assembly should cover their heads in shame for projecting themselves as law breakers and persons who do not have the interest of the nation at heart. But the biggest scandal is that of the chief judge of Kogi State, Nasir Ajanah. The biggest problem with the Nigerian Bar and Bench is the cancerous proliferation of a body of lawyers and judges which believes that justice is a mere slogan, which thinks equity is sheer nonsense and which behaves as if conscience is for the religious and not the legally minded. This is precisely what happened in Kogi State the other day. The panel set up by the chief judge in accordance with the 1999 Constitution reported back to the House of Assembly a verdict of not guilty on all counts. There is no way the chief judge could have claimed ignorance of this finding. Having been aware of this, the chief judge should not have gone ahead to commit an act of illegality by standing the Constitution on its head. It is not enough for him to claim that he is not a Father Christmas to act, suo moto, on a matter that had not been properly placed before him.
Simon Achuba should go to court. Whether the eventual determination would be academic or not, let him fight for his rights and put the matter on record. His seat is not vacant in the eyes of the law. Edward Onoja has merely usurped the seat of the deputy governor of Kogi State, illegally and without conscience. Political vendetta cannot replace the tenets of the law. The fact that other Governors also behave badly does not justify the reign of idiocy in Kogi state.
When the Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello was elected in 2015, he was advertised as a poster boy for the No-Too- Young-To-Run Campaign. He was seen as the young man who would make a difference. He was the youngest Governor in Nigeria. But he has dropped the ball in the same manner in which one Elisha Abbo, youngest Senator in the 9th National Assembly (Adamawa North, PDP), has also dropped the ball. What’s the latest on Elisha Abbo? Young Nigerians want to be part of the governance process, but unfortunately, the ones who show up in the arena are the strange, unprepared types who gamble with the opportunities that they have been given. Our belief that young Nigerians in politics will turn out to be change agents is defeated daily. Yahaya Bello, playing dirty games with the removal of his Deputy, does not deserve a second term in office. The people of Kogi state would be stupid to vote for him on November 16. The absurdity in Kogi state should not be allowed to stand.
Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.