Opinion: Theatricals, illegalities all over

By Duro Onabule

Senate President Bukola Saraki’s eventual defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), as expected, raised issues of morality and indeed legality of his continued stay in office. Even before Saraki’s defection, there were demands for his resignation or, alternatively, expulsion from the party, all of which were aimed at removing him from office.

In the circumstances of his clandestine emergency as Senate President in June 2015, much to the shock of his party’s hierarchy, Saraki was most suspected, most distrusted and most thumbed down by fellow party members. Even as late as hours before Saraki’s defection, a fellow senator/former governor alleged that, all along, Saraki was plotting to replace Buhari all in the hope that the Nigerian President would not recover from his illness. Even then, whatever sanction aimed at Saraki should be within logic and loyalty.

By the way, Saraki timed his defection to tie with that of his (home) state governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, and virtually along with 23 of the 24 members of the Kwara State House of Assembly. They were the latest in the series of political theatricals, absurdities and, in some cases, possible self-immolation in Imo State controversies. But first, the focus is on Senate President Saraki, who, ironically, is the safest among those being targeted to be booted out of office for defecting from APC to PDP.

In all matters of Senate Presidency since June 2015, Saraki does not owe the APC any obligation since he neither sought nor obtained APC nomination for the post. No matter how condemnably, he outsmarted the APC, which never considered him for the Senate Presidency. Instead, the party’s choice was Senator Ahmed Lawan. Originally, APC zoned the Senate Presidency to the South-East, which did not produce a single senator. Accordingly, the Senate Presidency was tipped for Lawan, but Saraki is from the North-Central.

In the political atmosphere of June 2015, which clandestinely brought Saraki to the Senate Presidency, you don’t demand or recover what you did not give. Neither do you return nor surrender what was not given to you. Simple logic and/or even law. In all similar circumstances, whatever secures Saraki as Senate President also secures Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of the House of Representatives. APC, by the way, has not been helping itself since the June 2015 episode by embracing blatant carpet-crossers, chairmen of powerful National Assembly committees in allocation to rival parties.

The core of the argument in favour of Saraki and Dogara completely disables state governors Abdulfatah Ahmed, Aminu Tambuwal and Samuel Ortom, all elected by the grace of APC. All such state governors and their conspirators in national and state Houses of Assembly contested in 2015 and were duly elected on the platform of APC. As free citizens, they are free to associate with fellow citizens in other parties but strictly on the condition of resigning to recontest their national and state House of Assembly seats on the platform of their new party. It can only be added that national and state houses of assembly carpet-crossers from other parties to the APC must similarly resign and re-contest their seats in line with provisions of Nigerian Constitution. Otherwise, all the political parties affected must neutralise one another.

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Newly-elected ward, local government and state executives of APC in Kwara State (or any state for that matter), after crossing the carpet, will be impersonating as representing further interests of their abandoned party.

It will be all the more absurd as such impersonators had earlier disparaged their former party and also stage-managed the exit of Saraki and Kwara State governor Ahmed to cross to the PDP. There is no law to stop the APC national executive from recovering their party organs in Kwara State. PDP cannot run APC anywhere in the country.

As much as Governor Ortom should resign and re-contest after crossing the carpet from APC to PDP (provided the APC had not all along forfeited that right by embracing carpet-crossers from PDP) police in Benue (poor Lagos boy Fatai Owoseni) have been providing relief and public sympathy for Governor Ortom. Police, in complicity with APC remnants in the Benue State House

of Assembly ensured that only eight, even if 12 members met and passed what was he state governor. Worse still, the House of Assembly was already on recess. If the House was to be recalled by the ex or new Speaker, all the House members should have been re-called and the recognised venue, the chambers, should have been accessible to all elected willing members to exhibit police neutrality, which is imperative in the circumstances.

On the other hand, the partisanship displayed by the police in the pranks towards the serving of notice of impeachment on Benue State governor is an illegality. And from that illegality can never emerge an unimpeachable impeachment process in which a majority of the sate House of Assembly members were deliberately obstructed by the police from participating.

What is more, the nullification of the purported impeachment of ex-Plateau State governor by only five members of the state House of Assembly should have restrained those behind the so-called filing of notice of impeachment on Benue State governor by eight members of the Benue State House of Assembly. Nothing from that rascality would stand in a court of law. By all means, should any governor merit impeachment, so it must be but strictly by two-thirds of members of any state House of Assembly.

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Equally, another set of rascals met at a private venue and claimed to have suspended their rivals in Benue State House of Assembly. Yes, they might have been prevented by police from sitting in the House of Assembly chambers. But that fact should have been established clearly to form part of any litigation that police authorities were obstructing tenets of democracy in Nigeria. And by the way, was Benue House of Assembly not on recess?

Benue State legislators who met at a private venue had better face the futility of their joke. Their counterparts in the past in Oyo State who met at a private hotel in Ibadan in their stage-managed impeachment of ex-governor Rasheed Ladoja, had their exercise nullified on the ground that the only legal venue of legislators is the Assembly Chambers. That also nullifies all the proceedings of majority Benue legislators at a private venue at which some of their colleagues were said to have been suspended for six months.

Are Benue legislators also ignorant of the ruling of Abuja High Court that the Senate could not suspend a member for six months?

Meant to toughen the 2019 election for APC, the defection of governor Tambuwal of Sokoto State initially made the choice of PDP candidate for the race tighter. Are there still three presidential aspirants in the party? It is most unlikely that two of them will step down – former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Governor Tambuwa. If the much speculated presidential ambition of Saraki is still part of the equation, the defeat of any two of the three at the primaries will be hard-put. The stepping down of any two of the three is even unthinkable or questions will arise on the “yanga” of the past 30 months. The newly proclaimed internal democracy of PDP must cope with the big task. Stepping down of one aspirant may ease the task. But who will that be?

The theatricals and a possible latent illegality in APC politics in Imo State can neither be ignored nor even be underestimated. For the second time in the two-term tenure of Governor Rochas Okorocha, a deputy governor is to be impeached. That should not be seen as peculiar. Lagos State first set the record with the impeachment of Akerele-Bucknor and Femi Pedro. But the drama around the Imo episode may dignify that of Lagos State.

In the run-up to the (now) suspended swearing-in of a new deputy governor of Imo State, a high court judge restrained his boss, the state Chief Judge Paschal Nnadi from swearing in the new deputy governor Callistus Ekenze. The state Chief Judge must have been embarrassed finding himself performing an inescapable official duty only to be restrained by a court order from his junior. The Chief Judge duly obeyed as any judge in his position would or he would have been cited by a junior judicial officer for alleged contempt. That is the fine side.

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The other side is disturbing because of possible implications. Series of allegations were made against a former deputy governor leading to his impeachment. Among others, the former deputy governor was accused of concealing felonious acts in the United States. There was no way of confirming the alleged criminal offence or if he escaped conviction. But if he did not escape and was convicted in United States, the instant impact, indeed indelible stain, would have been on the eligibility of his candidacy as the running mate of a governorship candidate. If a deputy governor was impeached for concealing a felonious offence anywhere in the word, the deputy governor must have violated section 182 (e) of Nigerian Constitution, if the sanction was less than 10 years before the election as governor or deputy governor.

The problem now is that such sanction for such an offence as confirmed by the investigation panel against the Imo deputy governor affects the eligibility of a governor. That is, since a deputy governor has now been exposed to have been ineligible as a running mate, it means, in effect, the governorship candidate was not a validly nominated candidate on account of having no validly nominated running mate. How far could the ineligibility of a running mate have affected the validity or eligibility of the governorship candidate himself?

Better still, could a running mate have necessarily, on account of concealing a felonious act, been a convict to have rendered him ineligible as a running mate? If so, was the governorship candidate validly nominated and/or elected without a running mate? What could be the status of the governor so elected?

That should be a case study for Nigerian laws and the judiciary in furtherance of our jurisprudence. Even at this stage, the current Imo State controversy can be tested along this line.

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