20 October 2006

Nigeria: Ekiti - Emergency Rule Changes Political Calculations


With the imposition of a state of emergency on Ekiti State by president Olusegun Obasanjo. By that singular act, the course and nature of politics in the satte has been altered ahead of the 2007 General election. The opposition which had gained steam over the past few months now has to devise other means of sustaining the support of the people up to April next year.

ONLY on two occasions have the provisions of the successive Nigerian constitutions on declaration of a state of emergency in the country or any part thereof been given effect and the circumstances were similarly controversial and debatable. In February 1962, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the Action Group and his deputy who was also the Premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola were literally at war. The simmering crisis aborted the AG National Congress held in Jos, the Plateau State capital and both men adopted a scorched earth disposition to the crisi. The result was the declaration of a state of emergency by the Prime Minister on May 29. Note the date.

The similarity with the other emergency declared in Plateau State May 19, 2004 did not end there. The sequence is equally interesting. On May 19, 1962, Chief Awolowo released a 24-point charge against his deputy. The following day, SLA reacted by firing a letter to the governor, Sir Adesoji Aderemi mandating him to dissolve the Region's Parliament and declare a State of Emergency. Consequently, the AG Parliamentary Caucus met to elect Alhaji Dauda Soroye Adegbenro as the Premier in place of SLA and he was sworn in same day.

On May 23, Alhaji Adegbenro named his cabinet and, the following day, the eastern Region Premier, Dr. Michael Okpara recognised Adegbenro as Premier of the West even as Chief Akintola continued to claim that he remained the governor.

Realising that legal approach would not resolve the crisis in his favour, SLA approached the Prime Ministaer, Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa for intervention.

On May 29, 1962, a state of emergency was declared in the West, both Awo and SLA had their activities restricted, alongside DS and five others. Chief Moses Majekodunmi was appointed the Administrator and he assumed duty on May 31.

Forty-two years later, in very similar circumstances, General Chris Alli was appointed Administrator of Plateau State in Central Nigeria following declaration of a state of emergency by President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 19, 2004. The AG crisis blew into the open as AG met in Jos, now capital of Plateau State in 1962, the 2004 crisis was in Plateau

Now, another crisis is brewing in Ekiti State. As it was in the West in the First Republic, there are two persons laying claims to the office of the governor of the state. While Mr. Ayo Fayose who was elected in 2003 insists that his tenure is yet to expire, another man, previously Speaker, Hon. Friday Aderemi had been sworn in on October 16 as Acting Governor.

Again, the judiciary is the pawn in the game. As dictated by the impeachment procedure, the Chief Judge of Ekiti State was mandated to set up a Panel to probe allegations against the governor. The Panel soon became an object of controversy. The state legislature assumed power that was unavailable to it, dissolved the Panel, suspended the Chief Judge and appointed another, Justice Jide Aladejana in acting capacity. Legal arguments on the impropriety of the Assembly's action got a boost with the opinion of Justice Alfa Belgore, the Chief Justice of Nigeria that Justice Aladejana's appointment was improper, unconstitutional, null and void. He also said the Panel set up bu the "Acting Chief Judge" was illegal. That opinion by the highest judicial authority in the country has been challenged, too, by some eminent lawyers who argued that it was a mere opinion, wrongly expressed while a case on the matter had been filed by Justice Kayode Bamishile.

But, whatever the merit of the arguments, there are in Ekiti State, at least by the time of going to press on Wednesday, two persons laying claim to the office of the Chief Judge, at least two to the office of the governor, with the deputy governor, Mrs Biodun Olujimi who was heaved out with her boss by the legislature also claiming to have the authority to act as governor in the absence of the governor, claiming that her removal was illegal. It would however be recalled that the deputy governor appeared before the "illegal" panel, thus conferring legitimacy on it, at least as far as it concerned the case against Mrs. Olujimi.

At press time, there were indications that the federal government was setting the machinery in motion to declare a state of emergency in Ekiti State, citing a total breakdown of law and order in the state. As President Olusegun Obasanjo said in 2004, Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution gives him the powers to declare a state of emergency in any part of the constitution.

Section 305-(1) Subject to the provisions of this constitution, the President may by instrument published in the Official Gazette of the government of the federation isue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the Federation or any part thereof.

(2) The President shall immediately after the publication, transmit copies of the Official gazette of the Government of the Federation containing the Proclamation including the details of the emergency to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, each of whom shall forthwith convene or arrange for a meeting of the House of which he is President or Speaker, as the case may be, to consider the situation and decide whether or not to pass the resolution approving the Proclamation.

(3) The President shall have power to issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency only when-

(a) the Federation is at war;

(b) the Federation is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war;

(C) there is actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof to such extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security;

(d) there is a clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert such danger;

(e) there is an occurrence or imminent danger, or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity, affecting the community or a section of the community in the Federation;

(f) there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of the Federation; or (g) the President receives a request to do so in accordance with the provisions of subsection (4) of this section.

(4) The governor of a state, with the sanction of a resolution supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly, request the President to issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the State where there is in existence within the State any of the situations specified in subsection 3 (c) (d) and (e) of this section and such situation does not extend beyond the boundaries of the State.

(5) The President shall not issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in any case to which the provisions of subsection (4) apply unless the Governor of the State fails within a reasonable time to make a request to the President to make such a Proclamation.

Judiciary in disarray

Unlike the Plateau crisis, the clear victim of the Ekiti saga is the state judiciary. A state where there are two Chief Judges, each attracting the support of some brother and sister judges is unlikely to witness peace with or without the declaration of a state of emergency unless the principal characters are shown the way out to pave the way for sanity.

Beyond Ekiti

It is no longer news that the constitutional crisis in the country did not start with Ekiti. Before Ekiti, there were Bayelsa and Oyo States. Other state governors are being probed. This has prompted Action Congress, touted as a mega party, to warn that the country was sliding towards a dictatorship.

According to the party's national chairman, Mallam Hassan Zurmi at a press conference on Wednesday, "Never in our national life, not even at the height of undiluted military dictatorship, have we witnessed this level of flagrant, callous and unbridled dictatorship. Nigeria today is a private estate with one ruthless landlord who does with and to his hapless tenants as he pleases. It is no longer relevant that Nigeria is a federation and that the federating states must enjoy a certain modicum of relative sovereignty within the larger Nigerian sovereignty.

"The constitution of Nigeria implies this by allotting to each state an elected executive, an elected legislature and an established judiciary. In total violation of our constitution, President Obasanjo and his group have blatantly turned this into a unitary constitutional state where the centre reserves the right to remove elected leaders by reckless deployment of soldiers and mobile policemen...and of course the infamous EFCC, an agency to investigate, arrest, try, imprison, override court orders and detain in prison for months without trial, all in the name of fighting corruption."

Flanked by national leaders of the party, including Chief Audu Ogbeh, Chief Tom Ikimi, former Governors Bisi Akande, Segun Osoba and Lam Adesina, former Speaker Umar Ghali Na'aba, Mr John Nwodo, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, Mrs. Titi Ajanaku and Alhaji Abubakar Rimi among others, the AC Chairman said, "the Obasanjo administration has virtually suspended the Nigerian Constitution...In Oyo and Bayelsa States, President Olusegun Obasanjo personally supervised the removal of state governors in flagrant violation of the constitution. In Anambra and Plateau states today, the President's wish is clashing with those of the electorate and the constitution."

The AC chairman expressed worries over plans by the Independent National Electoral Commission to declare vacant seats of 14 Plateau State legislators who recently decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party to the AC, warning that the action would be vigorously legally challenged."

Mallam Zurmi asked: "Whatever happened to governors who left their parties to join the PDP. Whatever happened to other legislators who left their parties to in similar circumstances? Where is justice, where is fair play? Where is respect for constitutionalism?"

Between the First and Fourth Republics

Under the Independence and Republican Constitutions of 1960 and 1963, there were only three and four regions respectively. The party leaders were as highly regarded, if not more so, as the prime Minister. It was inconceivable that Chief Obafemi Awolowo would regard Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as superior to him. Nor would Dr Michael Okpara or Sir Dennis Osadebay. Even when a change was effected in the leadership of the West, Chief Akintola who succeeded Awo was an accomplished journalist, lawyer and politician.

It was therefore difficult to contemplate that the prime Minister could simply summon the Premiers with a view to passing down instructions as is done today. Each region had its own constitution and knew exactly how far it could go. There were so few regions that the Premiers could easily meet formally or informally to take decisions.

Even in the Second Republic, after 13 years of military interregnum, there were 13 states. While the number of states had strengthened the centre, especially with the introduction of the Presidential system and gradual erosion of the base of federalism, the presence of the masters on the political scene as leaders of the registered political parties made it practically impossible for President Shehu Shagari to dominate the scenes and seek to pass down instructions to the parties. At the head of the Unity party of Nigeria was Chief Awolowo who had 28 of the 95 members of the Senate and control of the five contiguous states in the South West. Dr. Azikiwe remained relevant as Leader of the Nigerian Peoples party, NPP, and controller of political affairs in the old Igbo speaking East Central States of Imo and Anambra States. He was also lord of the political situation in Plateau where Chief Solomon Lar was elected the governor. Mallam Aminu Kano's words were laws in Kano and Kaduna States where ideologues were produced as governors and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim's Great Nigeria Peoples party was in control of Gongola and Borno States.

Many of the governors were not minions, either. They had paid their dues in partisan politics. Chief Bola Ige was, for example, a member of the national Executive of AG in the First Republic. He participated actively in the events of 1962 and 1965 and considered himself intellectually and politically senior to Alhaji Shehu Shagari who was junior with the Northern Peoples Congress fold in the First Republic. The same could be said of Chief Adekunle Ajasin who was the first Vice President of the Action Group in 1951. He was older than Chief Awolowo and had been self made as an educationist. That was the setting in the Second Republic.

Things have since changes. Now, President Obasanjo is seen as father of the governors. He could summon them at will. By the time Obasanjo was President in 1976, many of the current set of governors were in secondary schools and knew had no firm political views. They matured under military rule where orders were given from the centre and simply implemented by junior officers at the state level.

The sheer number of states, 36, has strengthened the hands of the President in dealing with the states. The constitution puts almost all the important issues on the exclusive legislative list. Others are on the concurrent list where the centre takes precedence over the states.

It is against this background of distorted federalism that the federal government has been dictating the pace under this dispensation. The President as Chief Executive deals with the governors as his prefects and can get away with almost anything.

The law is clear on issues, but the country is adrift because cardinal rules in federal administration have been breached. In Nigeria today, might is right and that is the situation only in a jungle. In the jungle that Nigeria has turned into, more breaches and the unexpected should be expected.

Today, it is Ekiti where the governor is believed to have failed to live up to expectations, but as the train continues to move, no one know where next the train would stop.

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