By Charles Ohia
The screening of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the immediate past Governor of Rivers State, as a ministerial nominee by the Senate was supposed to be the highlight of a process that has kept Nigerians wondering if they made a judgemental error in voting the present All Progressives Congress (APC) into power. This is because six months after the inauguration of the head of the government, President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians are at sea as to what is up, in spite of his avowal to timely constitute his cabinet. Not only has a cabinet not been formed, the failure thereof has had calamitous economic and socio-political effects on the country.
Watching Amaechi mount the podium, one had expected fireworks, especially as he, of all the other nominees, had the highest number of petitions bordering on high level financial malfeasance and corruption against his person. However, it turned out to be an anti-climax. It was an insipid display that was an absolute exemplification of how dour Amaechi’s last four years as governor turned out on the one hand, and a reflection of how his diluted curriculum vitae looks when juxtaposed with some of the high-fliers that went through the same screening process.
A critical aspect of the screening was when he was asked to define the concept of corruption. After skirting around the question like a kid looking for his lost candy, Amaechi finally told the Honourable Senators that he could not define corruption, and opted instead to explain his understanding by the usage of an analogy. For a man who swears by his life that he has nothing but revulsion for corruption, it was a shocking revelation that he couldn’t string words together to define that which he abhors.
I guess Amaechi is not alone in this quagmire. A lot of people simply view the concept of corruption through the myopic prisms of misappropriation of public funds. Recall that President Jonathan had during his time as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic tried to distinguish between corruption and stealing, an attempt that earned him public opprobrium and for which he is still maligned till this day. Corruption, simply put, is the abuse of bestowed power or position to acquire a personal benefit. The concept of corruption has become commonplace in the Nigerian political landscape particularly as a result of the desperation to acquire political power: a special purpose vehicle for amassing wealth.
Nowhere has this desperation been made manifest by the ruling APC than in the oil-rich Rivers State where the election of Nyesom Wike was penultimate weekend nullified by the elections petition tribunal sitting in Abuja. For starters, the Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) was hounded and locked up by the Department of State Services (DSS) for more than two weeks. Acting on a script which could aptly be titled: ‘’Desperado’’, the tribunal was relocated from Port-Harcourt to Abuja. And finally, the tribunal Judge Mu’azu Pindiga was replaced on the flimsy accusation of receiving a N200 million bribe from Governor Wike. There were claims that the DSS has valid proof of the bribe. The question that any intelligent person ought to ask is why a government, whose anti-corruption hit song is topping the billboard charts, has failed to arrest and prosecute him based on this evidence. The answer is simple: There is no such evidence!
It is interesting to note that no other state has had its election tribunal judge changed. More befuddling is the revelation last week by one of the ministerial nominees, Professor Anwukah, that his wife was one of the judges on the three-man panel that was vested with the responsibility of upturning the decision of the Rivers people in the last elections. In the desperation to have the election annulled, ruling was made on a Saturday, in a move that has clearly been shown to have been made in order to pre-empt the Supreme Court judgement which Wike had filed questioning the jurisdiction of the tribunal that sat in Abuja.
Essentially, what is going on right now can best be described as a gang-up against Governor Wike and the people of Rivers State. It is an affront on democracy and a blight disregard for the collective will of the people as evinced in the April 11 statewide election. The courts are setting pernicious precedents by hinging their verdicts on inane premises. The Rivers people overwhelmingly furnished Governor Wike with their mandate but a microscopic few want to wring that mandate from him through means that are everything but altruistic.
I may not be as schooled as a lawyer, but l do know for a fact that the principle of hierarchy of courts and judicial precedence stipulates that if a superior court has taken a particular decision on a particular matter, every lower court is automatically bound by that decision. It is therefore utterly mystifying that though the Appeal Court ruling in the Agbaje vs. Ambode Lagos election tribunal matter had unambiguously stated that the use, or lack thereof, of card reader does not form a basis for the nullification of an election; the Rivers State election tribunal nullified Wike’s election based on this same argument. More perplexing is the fact that the Supreme Court a few days later ruled in Ihedioha vs. Okorocha, that non usage of card reader cannot invalidate any election.
Corroborating these assertions, the former Nigerian Bar Association President and former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Rivers State, O.C.J Okocha (S.A.N.), in an interview stated that he finds the ruling of the Rivers State election tribunal strange because the Court of Appeal had already ruled on this matter- that card reader and accreditation by the machine are not part of the electoral laws.
According to him: “Nobody ever alleged malpractices, the other thing they alleged was that the election was marred by violence and thuggery: that is a criminal conduct and in my own understanding, that is a fact that has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. I am baffled why the panel based judgment on card reader after a superior court has ruled on it.”
If anyone should understand the letters of the law, OCJ Okocha should.
You may be forgiven for relapsing into political naivety if you inquire why there is such desperation for Rivers State. The financial backbone of the APC going into the general elections earlier this year was primarily provided by the Rivers State treasury; a development that has led to the corruption charges against Amaechi. As the maxim goes, if you are looking for a black goat, you set off in the morning. It does seem that for the APC, this is the time to start laying the financial foundations for the 2019 general elections. And what better place to start than the oil-rich Rivers State?
That there is such desperation to achieve this dubious aim is not in doubt. However, it could yet turn out to be a strategic blunder. With the terrorist activities ravaging the North East, the last thing the government wants is another insurgency in the South-South in the event that the temptation of Rivers State is too much to resist.
For now, the APC can continue to operate in a torturously confounding kaleidoscope of delusions that Rivers State is theirs for the taking.
In the final analysis, one of the variants of the concept of corruption is the abuse of office. Leveraging the levers of power for egocentric objectives is tantamount to abuse of office.
If it quacks like a duck, it surely must be a duck.
Charles Ohia is an Environmental Management Consultant and his tweet prints can be found via his Twitter handle: @9jaBloke
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Happenings.com.ng in any way, whatsoever.