14 February 2010

Nigeria: Peter Obi - The Making of an Enigma


Lagos — Like a puzzle waiting to be solved, Peter Obi, governor of Anambra state has defied and deflected from the common and abhorrent appellation associated with 'the Nigerian politician'. In all his travails and experiences as a governor, he has strangely resorted to the courts as the final arbiter to settle the issues. Whether affected directly or indirectly, Obi has never resorted to other means outside the law courts to get justice done. This is rather unlike the average Nigerian politician who would resort to any form of tactic, whether legal or illegal, dubious or holy, violent or peaceful, it does not matter, so long as they get to remain in power.

During his political expedition Obi was governor from March 17, 2006 to November 2, 2006, when he was impeached and from February 9, 2007 to May 29, 2007 after his impeachment was overturned. Although a fresh election was held on 29 April 2007, he was reappointed governor on June 14, 2007 after a court ruling that he should be allowed to complete a four-year term. He again won the February 6 election for a second term as governor.

Peter Obi first contested for the number one seat in the state as candidate for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) party in 2003. He was thought to have won. However, in a twist of events, his rival, Dr. Chris Ngige of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The declaration sent shock waves down the spines of Anambra people who unfortunately merely withdrew and sulked in the privacy of their homes, leaving Obi like an orphan in the cold. He, however, used the due process of law to achieve the 'impossible' in our political clime: Unseating a governor who was almost completing a four year term on stolen mandate.

After about three years of litigation, Ngige's victory was overturned by the Court of Appeal on March, 15 2006 and Obi took office on March17, 2006.

He had barely settled down when it dawned on him that, though, he may have won a judicial victory, he had just started a political battle. The state House of Assembly was firmly in the hand of the opposition PDP. Eight months later, the import of that arrangement in the legislature was felt as Obi was impeached on November 2, 2006 by the PDP-controlled Assembly and replaced with his deputy, Dame Virginia Etiaba, his deputy, making her the first ever female Governor in the state and Nigeria's history. Once again, the enigma known as Obi opted to follow due process. He began another round of judicial battle which ended with the judgment of the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu, which voided his impeachment on the basis of non-compliance with constitutional stipulations on impeachment by the Assembly. He was returned to office on February 9, 2007.

Once again, he reclaimed his mandate as Etiaba handed over power back to him after the court ruling.

He again left office on May 29, 2007 following the general elections, which Andy Uba won. Obi once more returned to the courts. This time contending that the four-year tenure he had won in the 2003 elections only started to run when he took office in March 2006. Worried that the 2007 election was fast approaching, Obi filed a suit at the Supreme Court seeking to stop INEC from conducting election in Anambra in 2007 and a declaration that his tenure would end in 2010. But the apex court threw out the suit on the ground that it could not be the court of first instance in that case. Obi had to begin his litigation from the High Court at a time the election he was seeking to stop was just around the corner.

While his litigation was on, Andy Uba of the PDP, a former aide to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was elected governor and assumed office on May 29, 2007, thus terminating Obi's tenure. With renewed vigour, he continued with the pursuit of his case and on June 14, 2007, the Supreme Court, in another landmark judgment declared Uba's election a nullity and upheld Obi's contention that his four-year tenure started from February 17, 2006 when he took oath of office.

This brought Uba's tenure to an abrupt end.

Not long after his judicial victory, he was back in the trench battling to secure his political platform-APGA. Two factions had emerged in the party. One headed by Chief Chekwas Okorie, the founder of the party, and the other led by Chief Victor Umeh, who was the national treasurer. Obi pitched his tent with the Umeh faction which also had the backing of former Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. But surprisingly, INEC, under the leadership of Prof. Maurice Iwu took sides with the Okorie faction, even in spite of the fact that he had been expelled from the party and his expulsion, endorsed by the courts.

Obi's political battles became intense as INEC gave the party's governorship nomination forms to the Okorie faction, a development, which would have put an end to his aspiration on the platform of APGA. Watchers then stated that the by this action, INEC wittingly or unwittingly planned to make Obi a political orphan so he would be unable to seek re-election on the platform of his party, APGA.

The typical Nigerian politician would have conveniently shifted loyalty with ample reasoning, either to another party, which would have been very willing to receive him, or to the other faction that seemed to be favored by the electoral. Not Obi. He stood firm depending on the court to deliver judgment based on rule of law and what is right.

It took another court pronouncement for INEC to officially recognise Umeh's leadership, thus paving the way for Obi's participation in the election.

A panoramic view of events surrounding the government of Mr. Obi vis-à-vis his concept of governance gives a keen observer so much to study. His emergence amplified the supremacy of the two major ingredients in the making and sustenance of true democracy: the superior voice of the majority of the people replicated in the popular votes cast at elections; and the supremacy of the judiciary as the final arbiter in the preservation of sanity in a democratic society. And in all his victories, Obi constantly demystified the invincibility of the hawks who repeatedly hijacked the electoral system, and consequently, the affairs of state.

Surely, when the story of electoral development of the nation would be told, Obi's contributions, through the dogged pursuit of his political rights using the courts, which led to various landmark judicial rulings that had helped to strengthen the nation's democracy and improved her jurisprudence, would occupy a considerable space.

With tenure which had been abridged twice and his re-election, in the recent poll that had been adjudged free and fair, and violence-free in spite of all odds, Obi as an unrepentant believer in the rule of law and the judiciary has proved that due process can actually get things done.

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