Friday, 21 February 2020 14:15

[OPINION]: Oshiomhole, APC and Bayelsa conundrum - Muiz Banire

Just a few days ago, the apex court in Nigeria upheld the disqualification of the Deputy Governor-elect of Bayelsa State who came on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Consequently, the court voided the election of the party’s candidates in the gubernatorial election on the simple ground that no valid ticket existed at the time of the election by the ruling party. The electoral jurisprudence is settled for decades now that, for there to be a valid ticket, both the governorship and deputy governorship candidates sponsored by a political party must be qualified in all ramifications. Once there is an affliction on one, the candidature of the party collapses in its entirety, rendering a joint ticket to be no ticket at all. The two subsections of Section 187 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered), carry neither ambiguity nor vagueness in this regard. Little wonder, therefore, that the votes accrued by the ruling party were discountenanced on the ground that there was no valid nomination as at the time of the election.

The propriety or, if you like, legality or correctness of the decision I do not intend to interrogate, as this is certainly not my destination, and the legal analysis has been sufficiently interrogated by several analysts, both informed and uninformed. The query is: who is actually to be blamed? Without mincing words, I stand with the Supreme Court in all the decisions made so far. Therefore, I share in the confidence reposed in the apex court by my brother silk and Honourable Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo. In fact, I am glad that someone else is thinking right on this issue. The party leadership, in my very strong view, is the most culpable in this regard. Coincidentally, as at Tuesday, there were several comments in this regard and along the same direction that the blame be heaped on the party’s leadership.

I equally share their position on the ineptitude of the leadership in the circumstances of this case and other issues alluded to in the various statements. For a short while, I have resisted the attempt to say anything about the party, not because there is nothing to say or lack of courage to say it, but because the party is now an arena where truth is regarded as poison and must, therefore, not be administered. This explains why there is huge deficit of good people in the conclave. However, as remarked by a great philosopher, one of my favourite ones at that, John Stuart Mill, all it takes for a nation to decay is for the good people there to keep quiet. You may want to ask, what is the nexus between the party (APC) and the nation, Nigeria? It is simply because APC birthed the government that runs the nation. It is loaded substantially with her members who have the capacity to make or mar the nation. However, with the deluge of losses continuously suffered by the APC since last year, I am beginning to be worried that the labour of the founding fathers of the party, one of who I am, might end up in vain. Hence, the need to lend a voice to the call for an urgent halt of the disintegration of the party and the electoral misfortunes. By the current Electoral Act, unlike in the past, the responsibility for the screening of candidates devolves on the political parties. As a matter of fact, by Section 31(1) of the Electoral Act (as amended), once a political party submits its list of candidates to INEC, in accordance with the statutory stipulations, INEC does not have the power to reject or disqualify candidates for any reason whatsoever. Thus, it is expected that the leadership of each political party carry out diligent verification of her candidates’ credentials, apart from integrity and fitness into the manifesto of the party criteria. Where a political party fails in the screening of the candidates and presents an unqualified candidate, the sanction is not only disqualification but also penalty of N500,000, which the Supreme Court probably forgot to impose on the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Bayelsa case. In the circumstance of this nature, therefore, rather than the ranting and unremarkable volte-face of the all-knowing national chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole, who few weeks ago was full of praises for the Supreme Court after its decision on the Imo State governorship election, one would have expected the party to embark on a careful postmortem of its process that led to the presentation of the unqualified candidate in Bayelsa, even after the Federal High Court’s verdict. That this is not happening is not a shock to me, having observed the fact that the party structures are either comatose or failing to operate optimally in recent times. I reliably learnt that just as the national chairman was the chairman of the appeal body of the party for the complaints from primaries, he equally headed the appeal screening committee from which appeals arising from the screening exercises terminated. The deliberate fusion of these vital responsibilities in one man must also reflect the standards expected of him: if he has failed so calamitously, in other climes, he would immediately step down and institute a review of the entire process.

Apart from the suggestions of various compromises in the screening and clearance processes, by way of common sense, the enormity of the assignment, coupled with time constraints, can certainly not allow for any proper scrutiny. I could recall the rife allegations that the Directorate of State Services (DSS) uncovered bribery of several millions of dollars against Adams Oshiomhole during the 2019 primaries that prefaced the general election (see <http://saharareporters.com/2018/11/15/glance-dss-breakdown-how-politicians-bribed-oshiomhole-dollars>). It still disturbs me today that, despite the gravity of the allegations, including the patent criminal element inherent in them, the issue went under the carpet without any whimper to convince the public of a proof otherwise. Thank God no such allegation has been vividly laid to the public in the process that led to the Bayelsa governorship election. It will appear, however, that no thorough investigation of credentials of the candidates was ever carried out by the party before the election held. A situation where all manner of questionable characters succeed in representing the party, even those who do not even believe in the ideals of the party speaks volumes of the screening mechanism of the party. I recall vividly my days in the National Working Committee of the party; multiple screening committees existed with two levels of appeals, unlike the singular appeal panel that now exists in the party. How would there not be this kind of slips, putting it diplomatically? I give it to Chief John Oyegun and Chief Bisi Akande, the latter of whom I worked with both as chairman of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria and interim chairman of the ruling party during its formative days. In those days, no major decision was ever taken without reference to the national legal adviser. Even when I was out of the country, my opinion would always be sought. I read the writeup of the current national legal adviser sometime ago, about how the office of the national legal adviser had been rendered redundant by the national chairman and decisions were being taken without recourse to him or to the constitution of the party. This is appalling, to say the least. The office of national legal adviser is a professional office constitutionally insulated against the vagaries of politics. It is the party’s own office of the chief law officer from whom legal guidance must always be sought. It is the office of the attorney-general of the party. Law remains law regardless of the political parties or personalities involved. Under the current constitution of the APC, the office of the national legal adviser is an independent office not subservient to the office of the national chairman and meant to be so in the wisdom of the drafters of the party’s constitution.

This brings me to the rule of law. As I have always said, the only substitute for the rule of law is the rule of man. The import of the latter is anarchy and, as put by Thomas Hobbes, it is a return to the state of nature, where life becomes nasty, brutish and short, with the strong devouring the weak. From the candidate nomination angle, the Constitution of Nigeria, the Electoral Act, the party constitution, both the INEC and party guidelines govern the nomination process. These instruments bind all members of the party, including the leadership, as held by the Supreme Court in an avalanche of cases.

However, what do we find? The elevation of personalities and processes above the dictates of these rules.

In several instances, the apex court has warned politicians against violation of these sacred documents, but they will not listen.

It is when the Supreme Court now does its job by enforcing the compliance with the instruments that politicians commence their shenanigans. As conventional with our people, particularly politicians, they search for where to deposit the blame. It is never in their character to be humble enough to admit their faults. Again, we must remember that building institutions, much more, strong institutions, largely depends on the upholding of the rule of law. The party itself will continue to be weak until it collapses except the rule of law is respected. A party is a conglomeration of people and not the exclusive preserve of one man or a few. It is in order to eliminate conflicts and build an enduring institution that the constitution exists. No act or omission must be taken outside the confines of the constitution. As the Supreme Court rightly admonished in the case of PDP v. Sherrif [2017] 15 NWLR (Part 1588) 219 at 287, para. B, (per I. T. Muhammad, JSC) that: “Where a member or members of the party feel too powerful to be governed or controlled by the party constitution or guidelines, and in contravention of such control mechanisms, then, certainly, democracy is thrown overboard by anarchy.”

What more can I say? We have all assumed a comfy sitting posture while we idly watch some “powerful” individuals’ inglorious effort to throw democracy (internal or otherwise) overboard. Let me add that the woes suffered by APC in Zamfara, Rivers, Bayelsa and several others in which elections were lost were substantially due to the infraction of internal democracy and party discipline. I have interrogated the issue of internal democracy in several writeups so I do not intend to bore you with it again in this piece. You may read my earlier column of September 19, 2019, “Nigeria: How did we get here? (Part 3)”  “The Courts And Internal Democracy In Nigerian Political Parties”.

However, I am unable to gloss over the latter. In most of the cases that the party has lost seats technically, it is not a third party that has dragged the party to court but members of the same party. For some years now, it has become difficult for a stranger to a political party process, particularly in pre-election matters, to challenge the candidates of the party as the law makes it the exclusive preserve of a party member who also participated in the primary election to challenge the results. It is only in cases of making false statements or forgery of documents submitted for qualification of an aspirant, for instance, under Section 31(5) and (6) of the Electoral Act that a stranger may challenge the qualification of a party’s candidate to make the rule of law prevail. Therefore, it is the internal wranglings, mostly due to party constitution infractions, that have given birth to various electoral misfortunes suffered by the party. In Rivers, we had Amaechi and Magnus Abe; Zamfara, we had Marafa and Yari. In Bayelsa, although the current situation is different in that the litigation was initiated by PDP pursuant to Section 31(5) of the Electoral Act (claiming that the APC’s nominated running mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, made false declaration in his Form CF001, the current situation), there was also the internal case of Sen. Lokpobiri that he, and not David Lyon, won the APC gubernatorial primaries in Bayelsa.

In all of these, what stands out is the falling of the roof as the house is on fire. I am not unaware of multitudes of several other aberrations, past and approaching in the party, but chose not to meddle so as not to becloud my message. However, we must not allow the leadership of the party to fiddle while the party burns. For the sake of clarity, my position is that politicians must stop laying blame at the door of the courts after their misconduct or misbehaviors. Let the leaderships of the various parties retrace their steps and engage in propriety from now on. As for the ruling party, just as predicted by many, the survival of the party depends on how urgent a major restructuring is carried out in its leadership structure.

I believe that the relevance of the leadership has expired, particularly in the face of its apparent painful failures and the degree of fractionalization within. The embarrassing one is even that in the backyard of the national chairman himself. There is fire on the mountain as things are hastily falling apart and, if I may further restructure the words of William Butler Yeats in his poem, “The Second Coming,” the falcon does not hear the falconer; things are falling apart, and the centre can barely hold any more between the national chairman and the incumbent governor in Edo State. Whatever prejudices may dictate political activities of politicians, the judiciary is the last hope of the common man and the theatre where I operate. Any attempt to desecrate the institution unjustifiably must, therefore, be resisted. As I was drafting this piece, I stumbled on the tweet from my brother silk, Mr. Festus Keyamo, which gladdened my heart and to whom I referred earlier in this piece. The tweet summarised the entirety of my message that members of the political class must desist from laying blame of their failures at the doorstep of the judiciary and must review their activities towards remedying their deficiencies. Furthermore, I would not have been much bothered by the various uninformed comments I was reading but for the speech of the national chairman of APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, who virtually assumed the role of the judiciary in interpreting the judgment and pouring vituperations on the Law Lords, particularly stating that the Bayelsa judgment lacks the fruit of justice. He, therefore, supplied the required juice by declaring that nobody would be sworn in come the 14th day of February, 2020. The inflammatory statements contained in the speech allegedly led to the arson and burning that subsequently took place in Bayelsa, rightly or wrongly, immediately after the judgment of the Supreme Court. The temerity and indiscretion exercised in the circumstances fell short of that of a statesman, much less, the chairman of the ruling party. The judiciary is an important arbiter when it comes to political party’s administration and dispute resolution. Just a few weeks ago, the same national chairman of APC condemned the People’s Democratic Party’s leadership for similar statements and protests in Imo State. This about-face is unhealthy for the polity. A party that had the guts to do this would not have been expected to descend to that level by joining the fray of the opposition in attacking the judiciary, which, few weeks ago, the party praised when it obtained a favourable judgment in Imo State. Where now lies the difference between the indiscretions voiced by the PDP leadership and the thrash spewed by the APC national chairman? It is like the differential usefulness of a broken mortar and a rotten palm nut. The chairman needs to appreciate the reality that different wars attract distinct strategies. If the speech of Oshiomhole represents the APC’s position, then I am worried for the nation (and you should be too). Why did I say so? A sensitive issue of that nature warrants convening an emergency meeting of the National Working Committee of the party, if not that of the National Executive Committee, to review the development, critically engage the process that led to this disgraceful outcome with a view to remedying the wrong. It is at such a meeting that a party statement would be made, laced with intellectual considerations and deep political maturity expected of a leadership-providing party of a populous country like Nigeria; a statement that the international community would respect and would accord much recognition showing that the party does not condone criminal tendencies in producing leaders for the country. Unfortunately, I must confess that I get disheartened these days about the party’s position as a lot of juvenile tantrums are represented as the party’s position, and on many occasions such would come from the national chairman. Officials of the party need to know that their personal opinions must not be made to represent the party’s position. Party’s positions are derivable from outcomes of the sober deliberations of the organs and not personal unrefined thoughts of an individual whose state of senility on occasions may be queried. I reckon that if the appropriate meeting had been held, the national legal adviser would or should have pointed out to the leadership of the party the legal options available to adopt rather than engaging in area boy “appellate” condemnation of a judicial determination. Glad, however, that INEC eventually humbled the party/chairman in compelling the consideration of the decent option of legal process. I am not, however, disappointed by the party chairman when I reckon with the occurrences in his home state, where decency and decorum have been made victims of political imbroglio.

It is so bad that a Ward Executive Committee is suspending the national chairman of the party. My counsel here is simply that the chairman needs to start exercising restraints in view of the pre-eminent office he occupies. He must recognise that he is no more Adams Oshiomhole of the labour unions, where pretence to toughness is used by some to project self-image into national recognition. He ought to have learnt from his utterance in Benin against a widow in 2013 for which he had to apologise after a national embarrassment. A political party chairman only makes occasional speeches since he is not the publicity secretary. Remember, your actions that have attracted commendations to you several times could be the source of your condemnation on another occasion. Caution is, therefore, the word. In fact, putting it in a pedestrian manner, too much talking renders your utterances eventually impotent. Please, guard against it. Beyond all these, did the chairman watch himself in the mirror before staging that market drama? If this had been done, I am sure wise counsel would have compelled the party to conduct an autopsy before the aggressive attacks on the judiciary. May I, therefore, advise that he learns from our leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on this point. As recent as a few weeks ago, he did not only uphold the sanctity of the judiciary but counseled against any attack on the institution. The chairman certainly needs a course in Tolerance 001 from him. A person that cannot stand the heat must get out of the kitchen. If the chairman is not receptive to contrary views, he needs to excuse himself from the arena. Let him learn from great leaders how they developed huge shock absorbers against insults and are ever receptive to dissenting views. If suspension and expulsion had been their ways, there probably would not be any member in their fold again. The current mood in the party alone, quite apart from the misfortunes, justifies a major intervention. I am certainly not optimistic about anything good coming out of the Akande Reconciliation Committee. Already, there have been mountains of oppositions against the leadership as well as composition from various states, particularly Oyo, Ondo, and Edo etc. I hope to be proved wrong. I say that it is not out of place, with time still on the side of the party before the next major elections, to dissolve the National Working Committee of the party, particularly when vacancies already exist in about four to five positions. In the alternative, I appeal to the chairman to honorably step aside. The party needs urgent reorganization towards strengthening its capacities and doing the right thing. A stitch in time saves nine! I am unable to conclude this piece without quote the immortal word of the Supreme Court in the case of C.P.C. v. Ombugadu [2013] 18 NWLR (Part 1385) 66 at 129 to 130, paras. F-E where the My Lord, Ngwuta, JSC, admonished thus:

“An army is greater than the numerical strength of its soldiers. In the same vein, a political party is greater than the numerical strength of its membership, just like a country, for instance, Nigeria, is greater than the totality of its citizens. It follows that in the case of a political party, such as the 1st appellant herein, the interest of an individual member or a group of members or a group of members within the party, irrespective of the place of such member or a group in the hierarchy of the party, must yield place to the interest of the party. It is the greed, borne of inordinate ambition to own, control and manipulate their own political parties by individuals and groups therein and the expected reaction by other party members that result to the internal wrangling and want of internal democracy that constitute the bane of political parties in Nigeria. If the party primary that produced the 1st respondent whose name and particulars were duly sent to INEC by the party that conducted it was not conclusive, it could not have produced a candidate. The second primary election conducted by the 1st appellant was a farce, subterfuge to accommodate a new entrant and a latecomer to the party to the detriment of the party and its duly nominated candidate. May be if another higher bidder had come up before the election, the purported second primaries would have been discarded in favour of a third one to accommodate the latecomer.

This shows lack of principle, sincerity of purpose and patriotism dictated by excessive materialism. It is apparent that a few powerful elements therein hijacked the parties and arrogated to themselves right to sell elective and appointive positions to the party member who can afford same…. There is a popular saying that politics is a dirty game. I do not share this view. It is the players who are dirty and they inflict their filth on their members and, by implication on the society. Politicians must learn to play the game of politics in strict compliance with its rules of organised society. I need not say more.

 

 

Dr.Muiz Banire (@Mbanire)

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