By Nairalovers Nigeria
ONDO State governor Rotimi Akeredolu is a very fortunate man. Referencing the split decision of four to three that gave him victory at the Supreme Court last week, he went back to judicial history to insinuate that he didn’t just win by the skin of his teeth, but that counting from the tribunal judgement through to the unanimous Appeal Court decision in his favour, his victory becomes more substantial and very legitimate than the apex court decision suggests on the surface. His explanations are superfluous. Victory is victory, whether by a hair’s breadth or by a landslide. If his main opponent in the October 10, 2020 governorship election, Eyitayo Jegede, had secured an upset at the apex court, after winning just three local governments out of 18, it would have been an undeserved technical victory. Mr Akeredolu won 15 local governments and beat Mr Jegede by almost 100,000 votes.
It is understandable why Mr Akeredolu is mortified by the Supreme Court’s split decision. While he dithered considerably in his first term, and even seemed lethargic, aloof and inconsiderate, indeed apolitical, he has come into his own in his second term, a seemingly consummate politician with an uncanny feel for the yearnings and agonies of Ondo people. He reminds the Southwest and Ondo of the boldness and courage of former Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governors and politicians, a man with the character to face up to the manipulations and hegemonic drivel of the central government in Abuja. But it was not even the vivification of his governorship that gave him victory last October; what stood him well with the electorate was that he had begun to stir himself, seemed more reliable, and had immersed himself in some infrastructural renewal of Ondo that persuaded the electorate to stay with a somewhat safe and tested hand.
Mr Jegede is no pushover himself. A lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) like Mr Akeredolu, he seemed strangely more eloquent, more self-assured, very urbane, and a team player who was quaintly more cosmopolitan. There was no indication that he put up a facade during the election. Undoubtedly, he fought a good fight, and if he had won, would possibly have made a great governor. But perhaps his party was the albatross around his neck. Ondo State was, in short, fortunate in the last governorship election to have two eminently qualified candidates facing each other. Either one would have deserved victory. Mr Akeredolu probably recognizes this fact, and has spoken to his opponent in conciliatory tones and related with him suavely. Judging from Mr Jegede’s reaction to the Supreme Court decision, in which he has congratulated the governor and managed to not damn the judiciary with faint praise, the state may experience more boisterous politics in the next polls.
However, it was not the personality and character of the candidates that made the apex court decision reverberate around the country. Reporters, analysts, and aggrieved APC chieftains have quoted the minority judgement with gusto, inflicted it upon the polity, and weaponised it against scheming APC leaders who hijacked the party from former chairman Adams Oshiomhole, and turned it into a stepping stone for the elevation of a wing of the ruling party, the belittlement of other wings and leaders, and the erasure of the party’s vibrant culture. Lawyers do not tend to place so much weight on minority judgements, except for academic purposes, let alone cite them as precedents. But for reasons that are not too puzzling, the country is abuzz over the minority judgement read by Justice Mary Odili.
The petitioners wanted the apex court to disqualify the caretaker chairman, Mai Mala Buni, and nullify all he had done for functioning as governor and party chairman at the same time on the grounds that both Section 183 of the Constitution and Article 17(4) of the APC Constitution bar him from doing so. And if he could not exercise both powers, it meant that he had no right to author the nomination of Candidate Akeredolu in last year’s election. Both the majority and minority judgements do not disagree on the interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions guiding the nomination of party candidates. Their disagreement centres on whether the petitioners joined or did not join Mr Buni as party to the suit. In finding the petitioners’ case incompetent, the majority judgement insisted that not joining the Yobe governor as a party to the suit, when all the issues in the appeal revolved around him, was fatal to their case. The party was already joined, argued the minority judgement on the other hand, and since Mr Buni was nothing more than an agent of the APC, it was superfluous to join him. Surely, it could not be this delicate difference that is now being weaponised by Buni haters.
Beyond whether Mr Buni was joined or not joined as a party to the suit, or whether he was thus afforded the opportunity to defend himself or not as the lead judgement implied, is the far more central and now weaponised issue of whether an unelected National Executive Committee (NEC) could author the nomination of party candidates, and by extension the organisation of congresses. The APC constitution does not envisage the party could do without an elected NEC for a whole year. Indeed, originally, scheming party leaders who kicked out the Oshiomhole-led executives had intended the caretaker committee to, in six months, organise the election of national officers, which would in turn organise the congresses. But soon after assuming responsibility for the party, the caretaker committee expanded its mandate and operations to include updating party registers and other ancillary matters. After extending their tenure twice in circumstances that may eventually be litigated, party leaders (read, the president) as well as members are no longer sure when a national convention would be organised. Everything has become tentative and drawn-out in the party.
The apex court decision may have alerted the APC to just how fraught with litigious uncertainties their cavalier approach to party affairs and their future have become. They may recognise that the court’s split decision could have gone either way, but they have chosen to be sanguine about their future standing with members and the electorate. Judging by their defiant resistance to the ramifying import of the apex court decision, they appear determined to persist in their set ways. The leaders see themselves as the owners of the party, especially having captured the heights of the party and neutralised all opposition. They also think that the issue of whether the caretaker chairman was joined or not joined as a party to the suit does not vitiate the mutually reinforcing provisions of the Nigerian and APC constitutions which unambiguously prohibit the governor or party official from holding any executive position in the party or government respectively.
If the congresses go on as planned, the party seems to have advised itself, along the meddlesome legal subterfuges of Justice minister Abubakar Malami, that the pronouncements of the majority and minority decisions of the apex court bear no relevance to their undertakings. It is a big gamble to take. But perhaps they are convinced that they have so mastered the judiciary that they can browbeat or even blackmail judges into doing their biddings. What if their arm-twisting tactic fails? Having spent months scheming supremacy and exclusion in the party, they may now have opened themselves to terrible repercussions, including possible catastrophic and distractive litigations, in the near future. Their overthrow of the Oshiomhole leadership was not legally tidy in the first instance; and had the former chairman and his supporters taken the risk to litigate their sack, they would either have won or at least fettered the party. In any case, the party must now brace for lawsuits in the months ahead, despite Mr Malami’s obtrusion, for too many party members and leaders remain aggrieved and had forborne heading for the courts only because they feared what cudgels the presidency might bring upon their dainty heads.
Of all the inanities the PDP is embroiled in, the most telling seems to be its tactless wading into the APC fray. After the apex court decided the Ondo case, the opposition immediately asked the Yobe State governor Buni to resign his position as APC caretaker chairman. What is their business with who heads the ruling party? Would it not be in their interest if the APC serially violates the constitution? Instead of planning to take future advantage of the APC’s contravention of the law, the obtruding opposition party prefers to nudge its rival into rectitude. Fortunately, Mr Oshiomhole and those who denounced the way the former APC chairman was dethroned have not said a word since the fateful judgement. They should resist the temptation to say anything. When he fought Governor Godwin Obaseki in the last Edo governorship election, having realised the threat the governor constituted to democracy and good governance, the electorate rose in fury to thrash him and the APC candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu. When he also fought some serving governors before the last polls in order to recalibrate the APC but was defeated, he was held in derision and beaten black and blue. Barely a year after the charade began in the APC, Mr Oshiomhole is in many ways being proved right, despite his private failings. More than anything, the apex court decision on the Ondo governorship may indicate that the APC could be heading for an implosion. Apocalypse can, however, be averted if the party would humble itself and make amends. But the incentive and culture for amelioration simply do not exist for APC leaders who today see themselves above the law.
MORE than five years after he was arrested and detained for various offences, including the alleged killing of Corporal Yakubu Dankaduna during a clash between Shiites and soldiers in Zaria, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, has finally been discharged and acquitted by a Kaduna High Court presided over by Justice Gideon Kurada. The Shiite leader was charged in court in Kaduna in 2017, a few months after a contempt proceeding was brought against the government for failing to release him despite court orders. He had been arrested in December 2015, ordered released in December 2016 by a Federal High Court in Abuja in addition to the government building him a replacement house and paying him and his wife N50m as general damages, and arraigned again in 2017, but finally discharged and acquitted last Wednesday after the court upheld his no-case submission. It speaks volumes about the temper of the Nigerian government and the fragility of the justice system that it has taken nearly all of six years to do justice in that sorry case of repression and executive lawlessness perpetrated in Kaduna and abetted by the federal government.
There are indications that Kaduna may appeal the acquittal, and has obtained the judgement in order to study it. Other sources indicate that the Shiite leader would in fact be charged with treason and terrorism. If an appeal is filed, it would demonstrate that the government is listening only to itself, and has constituted itself above the law and constitution. If he is hauled before another court for terrorism, it would mean that state power has become horribly polluted and discredited in Kaduna. In acquitting Sheikh El-Zakzaky, Justice Kurada had noted that he was charged in court in 2018 pursuant to a penal law enacted in 2017 and for an offence allegedly committed in 2015. How does a state, except it desires to persecute a citizen, begin to appeal that acquittal?
The leitmotif of the Nigerian government and Kaduna State is repression or personification of executive power. That is the only way to explain their goal of keeping the Shiite leader out of circulation or their ungracious decision to file terrorism and treason charges against him. They are helped by the public’s sentimental conflation of the person and religious ideology of Sheikh El-Zakzaky with his alleged crimes against the state. The people of Zaria were believed to have an axe to grind with the flamboyant and sometimes excessive demonstrations of Shiites, particularly during their annual Arba’een walk, which in the first instance provoked the clash with soldiers in December 2015. It is also noted that Zaria and Kaduna seemed to have heaved a sigh of relief at the castration of the Shiites.
Kaduna State is reportedly toying with the idea of appealing the acquittal or bringing fresh charges against the sheikh. It is unlikely they expect a different judicial outcome; they simply and remorselessly want to punish the Shiite leader and remove him from circulation. In the December 2015 clash in question, a clash that was spontaneous and which was neither inspired nor directed by the sheikh, one soldier allegedly died by the hands of Shiites while 347 Shiite members were massacred by soldiers. The victims included women and children. Shiite members themselves put the death toll at nearly a thousand. So far, no soldier or officer has been put on trial; and indeed, no state agent has been blamed for the massacre, excessive use of force and mass burial in a democracy. Both the public and Kaduna State government, not to say the federal government, refused to empathise with the families of the slain; instead they accused the Shiites of running a state within a state. At the time, there was a distressing and galling justification of the use of extraordinary force on the Shiites on the grounds that their exuberance grated on the nerves and sensibilities of the public.
Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, may want to seek better medical attention abroad. But while the state is still breathing repression against the sheikh, it is time Shiites themselves began seriously to think of suing the Kaduna State government, the Army and some of its officers, and the federal government for crimes against humanity. It is time they had their backs to the wall. The massacre must be requited; it should not be allowed to pass into history as an unexplained event. When the Zaria clash occurred in the opening months of the Muhammadu Buhari and Nasir el-Rufai administrations, it gave a disturbing indication that Nigeria was headed for a horrendous era of repression. Subsequent events show that those fears were not misplaced.
Though Nigeria is a democracy, the dictatorial instincts of some state and federal officials are far worse than those of a fascist government. It is shameful that there was no federal probe of the Zaria massacre, just like the country glossed over the Odi (Bayelsa) and Zaki Biam (Benue) military invasions. It is even more shameful that neither the federal administration nor the state government empathised with the families of the massacred Shiites. After defying court orders for almost six years, the Kaduna government is now peeved that Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his wife got a belated reprieve. Just how low and how callous can a government get?