• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Rivers, Ondo crises: Tinubu’s unconstitutional intervention is abuse of power

Shall we tell the President?

I have strong affinities with the two states currently embroiled in political crises in Nigeria. One, Ondo, is my state of origin. The other, Rivers, is where I did my national youth service decades ago and for which I have undiminished affection. Sadly, while the citizens of both states are decent people, their political leaders are charlatans. They abuse public office and political power, acting with impunity as if they’re greater than the state and the people.

Yet, the rules of the game work differently. In a democracy, a few are elected to govern in the best interests of the people, in whom political power and authority must be firmly rooted. But politicians in Rivers and Ondo states and, indeed, across Nigeria control power and use it in deleterious ways. They rule over the people, not for the people. Unfortunately, Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s president, is complicit in elevating selfish individual interests above the common good in both states.

Let’s start with Ondo State. John Adams, second US President, was right: “Trust no man living with power.” Before he became governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu was a radical lawyer, who made his name as the activist president of the Nigerian Bar Association. He was a thorn in the flesh of the government of the day, haranguing them on issues ranging from good governance to human rights and the rule of law. But as governor, Akeredolu turned those principles on their heads. He ran Ondo State as his personal fiefdom.

In 2020, Akeredolu’s first and later estranged deputy, Agboola Ajayi, said: “Akeredolu and members of his family skim off the purse of our state with reckless abandon,” adding that his wife and son were collecting regular “imprests” from the state, “apart from millions and millions they get from inflated contracts.” Those allegations are unproven, but it’s common knowledge that Akeredolu’s wife and son were active in running the state. That’s far removed from Akeredolu, the fierce advocate of good governance and integrity politics. In power, he abandoned those values, and conflated the public interest and private gain.

As NBA president, Akeredolu was vociferous in asking the ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to resign in 2010, saying: “If our President is not capable of performing his duties anymore, he must resign.” But now, in a similar situation himself, Akeredolu has refused to take his own advice. Earlier this year, he spent 117 days in a German hospital. But when he returned on September 6, he cocooned himself in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, not Akure, capital of the state he was elected to govern. Instead of stepping down for his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, or transferring power to him as acting governor, Akeredolu got the State’s House of Assembly to start impeachment proceedings against him.

 But while the Ondo State crisis has, so far, been confined to intrigues and cold calculations, that of Rivers State has degenerated into violence. Well, Tinubu is also culpable.

Then, Tinubu intervened. However, he sidelined the Constitution and ordered the deputy governor to sign an undated resignation letter. Why Tinubu would force the deputy governor to resign extra-constitutionally beggars belief. Had Akeredolu’s illness not deteriorated, forcing him to transfer power to his deputy and return overseas for further treatment, Tinubu would have insisted on maintaining the status quo, saying “Akeredolu remains governor”, even though Akeredolu was so incapacitated that his signature was being forged on official documents, as alleged by one of his commissioners who cited forensic evidence. It’s a betrayal of Ondo State and its people!

But while the Ondo State crisis has, so far, been confined to intrigues and cold calculations, that of Rivers State has degenerated into violence. Well, Tinubu is also culpable. As I wrote in this column recently, Tinubu’s politically-motivated appointment of Nyesom Wike as the powerful Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, gives the narcissistic and bullying former Rivers State governor the political clout to foment trouble in the state.

As Wike himself said, he’s fighting for his “political structure”. But without political power and access to public funds politicians can’t oil their support machine. Thus, the powerful office of FCT Minister gives Wike extraordinary leverage as it allows him to build and maintain extensive patronage-clientage networks, award multi-billion-naira contracts and grandstand as Nigeria’s “37th state governor”. Truth is, Wike is a destructive force in Nigerian politics. That’s why Tinubu betrayed the national interest by making Wike the FCT Minister, thus enabling him to use Abuja, Nigeria’s symbol of unity and neutrality, to pursue his selfish political agenda and fuel anarchy in Rivers State.

Let’s face it, Wike’s attempt to force the impeachment of his anointed successor, Governor Siminalayi Fubara, is the proximate cause of the political turmoil in Rivers State. It’s inconceivable that a governor would be impeached within less than six months in office unless there’s more to it than meets the eye. Well, there is. Wike wanted to turn Fubara into his poodle and give him orders from Abuja. Fubara’s resistance was, to Wike, such insolence that warranted his impeachment. But when political godfathers and their empowered godsons fall apart, everything is imperilled, as we’ve witnessed in Rivers.

First, the State’s House of Assembly was set ablaze. The governor reacted by ordering the destruction of the charred building. Then, 27 of the 32 House of Assembly members decamped from the PDP to the APC. In tow, nine commissioners resigned from Fubara’s government. They were all dancing to Wike’s tune. After all, he handed the PDP’s House of Assembly tickets to the defectors like gifts to children at a birthday party, and he single-handedly appointed the nine commissioners. But, as if nothing had happened, Governor Fubara presented his N800bn 2024 budget to the four remaining PDP members, and later signed the appropriation bill into law. If there’s another definition of anarchy, I can’t find it!

But last week, Tinubu intervened again. After a meeting with Wike, Fubara and former Governor Peter Odili, among others, Tinubu got them to sign a so-called eight-point peace deal. However, the “peace” deal brokered by Tinubu is so patently one-sided and heavily loaded against Governor Fubara that it won’t guarantee lasting truce in Rivers State.

Think about it. Governor Fubara must withdraw all court actions and recognise the 27 House of Assembly members who defected to the APC. But would they remain APC members? If so, are their defections constitutional? Why should an APC-dominated assembly be imposed on Fubara, a PDP governor, if the defections are unconstitutional? The deal ordered Fubara to recognise Martins Amaewhule, leader of the defected legislators, as the Speaker even though a High Court had declared Edison Ehim as the Speaker. Fubara must also welcome back the nine commissioners who resigned, but they will never be loyal to him or even respect him. So, Fubara is lumbered with a disloyal cabinet. Furthermore, Fubara must re-present the 2024 budget he has already signed into law: it is a humiliation. Finally, he cannot appoint caretakers for local governments in Rivers State. The only concession to Fubara is that the impeachment proceedings against him be dropped. But, overall, the deal hobbles Fubara: he’s a Governor-In-Name-Only, a GINO!
As Rivers State’s Elders and Leaders rightly said in their communique, the deal contravenes the Nigerian Constitution, and may, indeed, escalate the problem. The Tinubu-brokered deal relegates and denigrates the constitutional office of Governor but elevates and privileges the unconstitutional position of “godfather”. That’s perverse and unacceptable in a supposed constitutional democracy.

Yet, the way forward is simple. No individual must be greater than the State. Wike must accept he can’t simultaneously be Emperor of Abuja and Emperor of Rivers State. Akeredolu must accept he doesn’t own Ondo State. If he’s incapacitated, he must resign. Any extra-constitutional solution is, simply put, unconstitutional!
Merry Christmas everyone!