By Chuef Mike Ozekhome
Nigeria is a country of one major news item per day. The issue in the polity currently generating national ruckus, hoopla and bedlam is the presumed intention of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to run for the 2023 presidency. It does not matter that he has never confirmed to anyone, the rumour of his planned defection from his opposition PDP party under which he was once elected President, to the ruling APC party. They are prepared, as ever, to shave his hair in his absence.
I have carefully read the arguments of those who believe that Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is disqualified from contesting the 2023 presidential election, because according to them, he had already done two terms and will thus be ineligible to contest for a third term. They cite the Fourth Alteration (No 16) Act, which was signed into an Act by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 11th of June, 2018. The section they are relying on is section 137(3) of the said Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution, which provides that “a person who was sworn in to complete the term for which another person was elected as president shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term”.
THE ANTAGONISTS ARE DEAD WRONG IN THEIR LEGAL POSTULATIONS
The truth of the matter is that the antagonists of Jonathan running in 2022, in their strange line of argument, are mainly relying on the above section 137(3). They have probably not adverted their minds to sections 141 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, and section 285(13) of the same Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which they are relying on. More revealing is that these antagonists are probably not aware of an extant and subsisting Court of Appeal decision where Jonathan was frontallly confronted and challenged before the 2015 presidential election, on the same ground of being ineligible to contest the said 2015 election, having allegedly been elected for two previous terms of office. The section 137(3) being relied upon by the antagonists was signed into law in 2018, three years after Jonathan had left office. Can he be caught in its web retrospectively? We shall see that anon.
The case in question is CYRIACUS NJOKU V GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN (2015) LPELR-244496 (CA). In that case, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, held that President Goodluck Jonathan had only taken the oath of office once and therefore upheld his eligibility to contest the then Nigeria’s presidential election slated for March 28, 2015.
The intermediate court held that the oath of office President Jonathan took in 2010 was merely to complete the “unexpired tenure” of late President Umar Yar’Adua, who died while in office as President.
The appeal had been brought before the court by one Cyriacus Njoku, who was challenging the ruling of the High Court of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which on March 1, 2013, had dismissed the suit he filed to stop President Jonathan from contesting the 2015 polls.
In a lead judgement delivered by Justice Abubakar Yahaya, the full panel of the court unanimously held that President Jonathan had only spent one term in office as President, going by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
President Jonathan had been empowered as acting President on February 9, 2010, following a motion for operation of the “doctrine of necessity” by the Senate, owing to the protracted stay of late President Umaru Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia on medical grounds.
When President Yar’Adua eventually died on May 5, 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as president to serve the unexpired residue of office of Yar’Adua. Jonathan was later elected President in 2011 for the first time, on his own merit.
Mr. Njoku had contended that Jonathan had already sworn to the oath of office and allegiance twice and therefore, should be disqualified from contesting the 2015 election, as any victory he secured would amount to being sworn in thrice.
However, the court ruled that the oath that Jonathan took in 2010 was merely to complete the unexpired tenure of late Yar’Adua; adding that by virtue of Section 135 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, Jonathan only took his first oath in May, 2011. The Court of Appeal further held that disqualification is through election, not oath taking.
The intermediate court’s judgement read in part:
“In this appeal, it is not controverted by the appellant that the first oath taken by the first defendant (Jonathan) was the oath he took as the Vice President and not as President… But he took the oath in May 2010 to complete unexpired tenure of late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Section 37(1)(b) disqualifies a person from contesting for president if he had been elected twice. Disqualification is through election and not oath taking. Election is a process of choosing a person to occupy a position by voting. When election is given its literal meaning, it connotes when a voting is employed to choose a person for political office. This did not take place when Jonathan stepped into the shoes of his Principal who went to the great beyond. To say these things were done is to import words not used by the constitution. Section 146(1) of the constitution cannot be deemed an election for a VP to step into the office of a President. Election involves conducting primaries by party, nomination, election and announcement of results. All these processes were not done. If a VP succeeds a President that dies, that cannot be challenged. It is a mode of stepping into the vacant office provided for by the constitution. When a President dies, the Vice President automatically becomes President as provided for by S130 (1)(2) of the 1999 constitution… It was not election that produced the first respondent in May 2010, the oath he took then was not an oath of elected President as provided for by Section 180 of the constitution. The process of election was followed in 2011. The oath of office taken in 2011 was the first oath taking by the first respondent as an elected President having fulfilled all the process of election.… Again, the succession of a Vice-President to the office of a President who died, in accordance with Section 146(1) of the 1999 Constitution, cannot be “deemed an election”, especially for the purpose of taking away a right that has been vested. As stated earlier, an election under the 1999 Constitution involves primaries, nominations, voting and declaration of results. That is the mode prescribed in electing a President, and once it is so prescribed, it must be followed, and no other method can be employed. All these processes can be challenged in a Court of law and if successful, the election would be annulled. But if a Vice-President succeeds a President who died, that cannot be challenged because it is a Constitutional provision, and the succession cannot be annulled. It is a mode of assumption to the office of the demised President, an ‘appointment’ by the Constitution, as it were, as no letter of appointment is necessary from anybody. The Vice-President automatically becomes the President, by virtue of his being the Vice-President. An example can be found in Section 130(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.” Per ABUBAKAR DATTI YAHAYA, JCA (Pp 40 – 41 Paras E – D)
The Court of Appeal further upheld the decision of the lower court which had dismissed Mr. Njoku’s suit for lack of locus standi. It noted that “it is fundamental that where a party lacks locus, the court cannot assume jurisdiction….We agree with the lower court that the appellant has no locus to sue”.
On the question of the cause of action, the court held that the case of the appellant was “speculative and imaginary as none of the reliefs he sought accrued to him any benefit”.
Indeed, the Court of Appeal had awarded the sum of N50,000 each as cost to the defendant, President Jonathan.
RETROSPECTIVITY OF LEGISLATION
Aside Jonathan being completely cleansed of the virus of ineligibility to contest the 2023 presidential election by the Court of Appeal decision in Njoku’s case, as Naaman the leper was, after dipping himself in the River Jordan seven times, Jonathan is also aided by the golden canon of interpretation to the effect that an enactment does not operate retrospectively or retroactively to take away from citizens enured rights.
We may now ask the question: What is the effect of Buhari signing into law section 137(3) of the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution in 2018? The answer is found in section 2 of the Interpretation Act which provides that:
“1. An Act is passed when the President assents to the Bill for the Act, whether or not the Act then comes into force;
- Where no other provision is made as to the time when a particular enactment is to come into force, it shall, subject to the following subsection, came into force –
a. In the case of an enactment contained in an Act of the National Assembly, on the day when the Act is passed;
b.In any other case, on the day when the enactment is made”.
It is therefore clear that section 137(3) of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution took effect from 11th June, 2018, when President Muhammadu Buhari assented to it. Section 137(3) is subject to section 318(4) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that, “the Interpretation Act shall apply for the purposes of interpreting (its) provisions”.
Section 137(3) is one piece of legislation that can be termed retrospective or retroactive legislation.
On retrospectivity of legislation, the apex court, coram Justice Kekere-Ekun, J.S.C, held in the case of SPDC V. ANARO & ORS (2015) LPELR-24750(SC) at (Pp. 64 paras. B), thus:
“There is a general presumption against retrospective legislation. It is presumed that the legislature does not intend injustice or absurdity. Courts therefore lean against giving certain statutes retrospective operation. Generally, statutes are construed as operating only in cases or on facts, which come into existence after the statutes were passed unless a retrospective effect is clearly intended. It was held inter alia, in: Ojokolobo Vs Alamu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.61) 377 @ 402 F-H that it is a fundamental rule of Nigerian law that no statute shall be construed to have a retrospective operation unless such a construction appears very clearly in the terms of the Act or Law; or arises by necessary and distinct implication. See also: Udoh Vs O.H.M.B. (1993) 7 NWLR (Pt.304) 39 @ 149 F – G; Adegbenro Vs Akintola (1963) All NLR 305 @ 308.”
Similarly, in ALEWA V. SOKOTO STATE INEC (2007) LPELR-8388(CA) (PP. 32 PARAS. A), the Court of Appeal, per Ariwoola JCA ( as he then was), held thus:
“It is however settled law that, unless the law makers expressly state otherwise, a statute operates prospectively but not retrospectively. It is a cardinal principle of English Law that no statute shall be construed to have retrospective operation unless such a construction appears very clearly in the terms of the Act, or arises by necessary and distinct implications. The position is the same in this Country. In Olaniyi vs. Aroyehun (1991) 5 NWLR (pt 194) 652, the Supreme Court held that:- “A construction like other statutes operates prospectively and not retrospectively, unless it is expressly provided to be otherwise. Such legislation affects only rights which came into existence after it has been passed.” See also; Chief C. Odumegwu Ojukwu vs. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo & Ors. (2004) 7 SCM 53 at 93, Afolabi & Ors. v. Governor of Oyo State (1985) 2 NWLR (pt 9) 734, Ojokolobo vs. Aremu (supra).”
Hear my Lord Kekere-Ekun JCA, (as he then was) in ALEWA V. SOKOTO STATE INEC (2007) LPELR-8388(CA) (PP. 21-22 PARAS. D):
“There is a presumption that the legislature does not intend what is unjust. Thus, although under our legal system, the Legislature is competent to make retrospective laws, the Courts generally lean against giving a statute retrospective effect unless the terms of the statute so state in clear and unequivocal language. In Afolabi v. Governor of Oyo State (1985) 2 NWLR (9) 734 at 752 E, Aniagolu, JSC stated thus, “The Courts have always leaned against giving statutes a retrospective effect and usually regard them as applying to facts or matters which came into existence after the statutes were passed, unless it is clearly shown that a retrospective effect was intended by the Legislature.” Underlining supplied. See alsoAdesanoye v. Adewole (supra) at 147 B-C & D-E; West v. Gwyne (1911) 2 CH 1; A.G. Federation v. A.N.P.P. (2003) 15 NWLR (844) 600 at 648 G -H; Sa’ad v. Nyame (2004) All FWLR (201)1678.”
His Lordship Muhammad, J.S.C, in EGUNJOBI V. FRN (2012) LPELR-15537(SC), (PP. 34-35 PARAS. F), held that:
“…It is trite law that the Courts frown at retrospective and retroactive legislations. Ojokolobo v. Alamu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.61) 377 at 34 406; Afolabi v. Governor of Oyo State (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt 9) 734. Although under Nigeria Law, there is a presumption against retrospectivity, where a retrospective operation is clearly spelt out, that legislation must not be declared incompetent; Adegbenro v. Akintola (1963) 2 SCNLR 216; Adeshina v. Lemonu (1965) 1 All NLR 233; The Swiss Air Transport Co. Ltd v. African Continental Bank Ltd (1971) 1 All NLR 37; Attorney General East Central State v. Ugwuh (1975) 5 SC 13…”
Indeed, section 4(9) of the Constitution denies the NASS “in relation to any criminal offence”, the power to “make any law which shall have retrospective effect”. Though this section specifically deals with criminal offences, judicial decisions clearly show that it operates with equal force to civil matters.
Thus, the court held in the case of the ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION V. ALL NIGERIAN PEOPLES PARTY (ANPP) & 2 ORS. (2003) 15 NWLR (Pt. 844) 600 @ pages 648-649, paras. E-B, that:
“A statute is deemed to be retrospective where it takes away any vested right acquired under existing laws or creates a new obligation or imposes a new duty or attaches a new disability in respect of transactions or considerations already past… Based on the presumption that a legislature does not intend what is unjust, the courts have always leaned against giving statutes a retrospective effect and usually regard them as applying to facts or matters which came into existence after the statutes were passed unless it is clearly shown that a retrospective effect was intended by the legislature. In the instant case the constitution came into being on 29th May, 1999 and all rights, liabilities and privileges as contemplated by the circumstance of the arose as of that day. Consequently, its provisions can only be read prospectively.”
Furthermore, the court held at page 649, paras. C-D; 661-662, paras. F-C; 665, paras. A-B as follows:
“One of the cardinal principles of interpretation of statutes is that no rule of construction is that a retrospective operation is not to be given to a statute so as to impair an existing right or obligation otherwise that as regards matters of procedure, unless that effect cannot be avoided without doing violence to the language of the enactment…”.
The court nailed it when it held at page 667, paras. C-D that:
“A constitution, like other statutes, operates prospectively and not retrospectively unless it is expressly provided to be otherwise. Such legislations affect only rights which came into existence after it has been passed.”
A cursory examination of the various provisions of the constitution and all the appellate court decisions cited above make it crystal clear that the purported disqualification of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is grossly misconceived by the antagonists, as the Constitution must be progressively and not retrogressively construed. More significantly, the Alteration Act itself does not make any express provision that the said inserted sub-section 137(3) would operate retrospectively. The principle of expressio unius est exclusio alterius (the express mention of one thing is the exclusion of others) applies here. See MADUMERE & ANOR V. OKWARA & ANOR (2013) LPELR-20752(SC).
It is clear that those deliberately misinterpreting the clear position of the law may be baying for Jonathan’s blood, possibly as a potential candidate who may subvert the chances of their preferred candidates. I do not view issues from such a narrow ad homine prism and blurred binoculars. It will be grossly unfair, unconstitutional, unconscionable and inequitable to deny Jonathan of the right to contest the 2023 presidential election when our extant laws and appellate court decisions permit him to. The question of whether Jonathan really needs to subject his glittering and internationally acclaimed reputation and credentials to the muddy waters of a fresh competition with persons, some of whom were his personal appointees as president, is another matter altogether. Only him, and not the present state of the laws in Nigeria, can answer that question and decide his own fate. But, as regards his eligibility to contest, Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan is pre-eminently constitutionally, morally and legally qualified to contest the 2023 presidential election.
Bayelsa 2023: Sylva’s undoing partly self-inflicted
By Ehichioya Ezomon
Because of the deck stacked against him – or more aptly, due to the deck he stacked against himself – it’s illusory to project the November 11, 2023, governorship in Bayelsa State as a walkover for former Governor Timipre Sylva.
From the get go, Mr Sylva faced numerous huddles, to reach the Creek Haven Government House in Yenagoa, capital city of Bayelsa, which he left in 2012. Foremost were headwinds from Governor Douye Diri of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and aggrieved members in Bayelsa’s All Progressives Congress (APC).
The odds likely favoured Mr Diri seeking re-election to the seat he got on a platter on February 13, 2020, when the Supreme Court nullified election of Chief David Lyon on the eve of his swearing-in.
Mr Lyon won the November 16, 2019, poll by a landslide, but Diri’s gifted the governorship when the court barred APC’s Deputy Governor-elect Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo over discrepancies in his credentials to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the election. Diri therein nicknamed himself as a “Miracle Governor.”
Lyon, who saw the “Promised Land” of Government House on February 13, 2020 – during final rehearsals for his swearing-in the next day – regarded himself as the “candidate-in-waiting” for 2023, and APC’s ticket his for the asking.
Members of the Bayelsa chapter, especially the youths, regarded Lyon as “our next Governor,” and urged the APC leadership to “award” him the ticket without a primary contest, and they hit the streets when the party threw the nomination open for a direct primary by registered members.
Lyon won the September 4, 2019, primaries with 42,138 votes, to defeat five aspirants, including current Minister of Petroleum Resources (Oil), Dr Heineken Lokpobiri, who scored 571 votes, but went to court, to be declared the candidate on the grounds of irregularities at the primaries.
A Supreme Court ruling halted Lokpobiri on February 11, 2020, three days to inauguration of Lyon, whose election was voided two days later when the same court disqualified Mr Degi-Eremienyo.
Though he won the November 2019 poll, Lyon’s supporters had no illusion he’d defeat Sylva – also a former Minister of Petroleum Resources with a large warchest – in the April 14, 2023, primaries, which Lyon boycotted as the APC rejected his “sense of entertainment” to the ticket.
From 58,171 accredited among 142,031 registered APC members for the primaries, Sylva secured 52,061 votes, while Lyon scored 1,582 votes to place third behind ex-agitator Joshua Maciver, who came second with 2,078 votes.
Sylva, acclaimed “sole financier of Bayelsa APC,” reportedly preferred Lyon, and “threw his weight behind him” in the 2019 primaries for the APC ticket for the governorship of that year.
After Lyon’s dramatic ouster by the Supreme Court in 2020, Sylva allegedly pledged to back his second bid in 2023, even as he promised supports for other APC chieftains for the governorship he reportedly excluded himself.
But ahead 2023, Sylva “reneged on the promises,” declared for the governorship, took the primaries by a landslide, and told primarygoers he’d replicate same on November 11 against Diri, who mocked him as “dishonest and insincere” for allegedly deceiving members of the APC over his ambition, and his disqualification by an Abuja Federal High Court.
In a statement, “Bayelsa Doesn’t Deserve Serial Deceiver As Governor,” Diri said: “Bayelsa needs an honest and sincere leader that is focused on its development and not a man widely known for deception.
“Timipre Sylva is a man you cannot trust. He displaced all those he promised that he would give the governorship ticket and turned around to become the candidate himself.”
Diri’s accusingly behind the court cases by APC members, to ensure Sylva didn’t participate in the governorship. Sylva’s lawyers in his disqualification appeal, and even some of the three-member panel of Justices of the Appeal Court, hinted about such a possibility.
An APC member in Bayelsa, Mr Demesuoyefa Kolomo, filed a suit on June 6, asking the high court to determine – given sections 180(2)(a) and 182(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution – whether Sylva was qualified to contest in the poll, having occupied the governorship from May 2007 to April 2008 and May 2008 to January 2012.
Ruling on the night of October 9, trial Justice Donatus Okorowo held that having been inaugurated twice and ruled as governor for five years, allowing Sylva to contest would amount to expansion of the constitution or its scope.
Justice Okorowo directed INEC to remove the names of Sylva and his running mate, Mr Maciver, from the list of candidates for the poll, to prevent Sylva from exceeding the eight-year tenure for governor if he won the November 11 election.
But Sylva argued that he’s elected once as governor – citing an April 2008 Court of Appeal ruling that nullified his 2007 election – and filed a three-ground notice of appeal, through a team of lawyers, led by Dr. Ahmed Raji (SAN).
When the case was called on October 27, Sylva’s lawyer, Akinlolu Kehinde (SAN), and APC’s counsel, K.O. Balogun, urged the appellate court to allow the appeals, set aside the high court judgment and affirm Sylva’s candidacy.
Arguing Sylva’s position of having been sworn-in once as governor, Mr Kehinde described the high court judgment as “a hatchet job just to tie this man (Sylva) not to campaign and participate in the election.”
Also faulting the decision of the high court, Mr Balogun said, “What the 1st respondent (Kolomo) is asking this court to do is to deem the nullified months as four years.”
He accused Kolomo of “fighting a proxy war” (for Sylva’s opponents at the poll), because “he cannot be a member of the APC and be fighting to destroy its candidate and chances at the election.”
Similarly during the proceedings, some members of the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led panel wondered why Kolomo, who claimed to be an APC member, but not an aspirant at the primaries, would want to destroy his party’s chance in an election!
Noting that Kolomo could’ve voted for another party in the November poll “if he assumed Mr Sylva did not deserve his vote,” the panel condemned the attitude of lawyers, who failed to advice their clients appropriately, saying, “it is a moral issue.”
Kolomo’s lawyer, Mr Abiodun Amuda-Kanike (SAN), and INEC’s lawyer, Mr Ahmed Mohamed, prayed the court to dismiss the appeals, and affirm the judgment of the trial court.
However, on October 31, the court set aside the high court decision for lack of jurisdiction, and awarded N1 million cost against Kolomo for lack of legal right to seek Sylva’s disqualification from the election.
Again on November 9 – two days to election – the Appeal Court in Abuja came to Sylva’s rescue, dismissing an appeal, seeking to prevent him from the poll, as without merit.
Reading the lead judgment, Justice Binta Zubar held that the subject matter of the appeal by Hon. Isikima Ogbomade Johnson was non-justiceable, adding that “the case was brought in bad faith.”
The court held that having been sacked by the courts in his first election, Sylva couldn’t have taken the oath of office as a governor twice, which informed the conduct of another election that Sylva won in 2008, and governed till 2012.
On the issue of Sylva not duly nominated as candidate, the court held that overwhelming evidence presented by the INEC and APC showed that no legal provision was violated in the primaries.
“From the uncontroverted independent report of INEC, it was clear beyond any doubt that a valid primary election was conducted by APC and monitored by the electoral umpire as required by law,” the court said.
The court upheld the judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja, which on September 26, dismissed Mrs Johnson’s suit for lacking in merit and substance, and imposed a cost of N1 million against her.
Noting that the appellant’s case was statute-barred, having been instituted outside the 14 days allowed by law, the court upheld the judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja which on September 26, dismissed Mrs Johnson’s suit for lacking in merit and substance, and imposed a cost of N1 million against the appellant.
The court cases against Sylva definitely put a wrench to the efforts of Dr Abdullahi Ganduje-led National Working Committee (NWC) to return APC to power in Bayelsa.
Yet, besisde court’s barring of Sylva, and INEC’s delisting of his name, prompting the APC to suspend campaigns for weeks, Sylva owns his undoing by incurring enemies in Messrs Lyon and Lokpobiri prior to the primaries, and election, leading to cries of their sellout to, and a deal with Diri for the poll.
As reported by an online portal quoting sources, Diri conceded 50 slots of Senior Special Assistants (SSAs) each to Lokpobiri and Lyon, and also promised them some measure of influence in decision-making if he won re-election.
The APC dismissed the alleged Lokpobiri and Lyon’s alliance with Diri, with the Secretary, Media and Publicity Committee of the National Campaign Council of the APC, Hon. Yekini Nabena, on October 9, releasing pictures of Lokpobiri and Lyon recommitting themselves before the National Chairman, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, to deliver Sylva and APC in Bayelsa.
Nabena’s words in a statement: “Our attention has been drawn to a sponsored propaganda in some quarters suggesting cracks in the solid camp of the Bayelsa APC ahead of the November 11 governorship election in the State.
“We will not be distracted because we are fully aware how desperate the incumbent Governor Douye Diri has become, therefore employing all manner of tactics including propaganda and lies just to cause confusion.
“For the benefit of the doubt, the attached pictures will tell doubters that the Minister of State for Petroleum (Oil), Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, and the 2019 governorship candidate, David Lyon, most recently held a strategic meeting with our candidate in the presence of our National Chairman, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, where everyone recommitted himself, and massive mobilization has since begun.
“We, however, sympathize with the restless Governor Diri and his camp for acting too late, bearing in mind that their days are numbered in the Bayelsa state Government House.
“We urge all our party members, supporters and Bayelsans in general to remain calm, expectant of landslide victory and disregard lies suggesting cracks in our camp.”
Lokpobiri, via his Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Nneamaka Okafor, denied the allegation same day as baseless, and reaffirmed his commitment to the APC success at the poll.
“We categorically state that these allegations lack credibility and are merely propaganda,” Okafor said, adding, “Senator Lokpobiri’s dedication to the APC’s principles and values is unquestionable, and he remains steadfast in his commitment to the party’s success in Bayelsa State.”
Whichever, Sylva, who allegedly went into the campaigns as his own director-general – either he’d no confidence or trust in others to lead the team or those he approached turned down the offer – was literally a lone ranger, starved of the necessary backing from party chieftains, such as Lyon and Lokpobiri, with his eventual defeat at the poll glaring in the strongholds of APC’s topshots.
So, for Sylva to win the November 11 election would’ve been nothing short of a miracle, which, like that of Mr Diri, could still happen via the instrumentality of the courts. Till then, it’s another four-year wait for the APC to break the 24-year rule of the PDP in Bayelsa State!
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria
ATIKU @ 77: Glorious homecoming for homeboy
By Tunde Olusunle
His best efforts to observe his birthday quietly as has been his preference over time, differed from the thinking of many others. I had indeed asked him two weeks before the date if he would approve of a public presentation of my handy, newly published compendium of essays on him, as part of the event. He intoned that the President of the American University of Nigeria, (AUN), Dr DeWayne Frazier, indeed created a window for cake cutting on the draft programme of the “Founders Day” scheduled for Saturday November 25, 2023. The event is held in his honour on the 25th day of November every year, to commemorate his birthday. He said he advised Frazier who is fairly new on his schedule, that the Founder’s Day lecture itself sufficient commemoration of a day that is very special to him.
The public presentation of the book of essays he advised, should be planned for the first quarter of the new year. By that time according to his wise counsel, subsisting electoral litigations arising from the 2023 polls would have been substantially dispensed with. The national political temperature aggravated by unprecedented ballot thefts, unrivalled judicial indiscretions, and unthinkable disenfranchisement of the electorate in several instances, would have calmed somewhat, especially with the imminent yuletide. If he thought he had wriggled free of plans to celebrate him, however, his eldest son, Adamu Atiku-Abubakar and some of his siblings had other ideas.
Adamu, incumbent commissioner for Works and Energy Development in the administration of Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa State is growing into a good student and budding exemplar of his father in politics and public service. He surreptitiously convened a meeting of critical stakeholders from four contiguous local government areas in the southern zone of Adamawa State to discuss and buy-into a suggestion by his peers and good self. Enthusiastic participants came from Toungo, Ganye, Jada and Mayo Belwa local government areas, to articulate a week-long series of events to mark the 77th birthday of the older Atiku Abubakar. These included council chairpersons, commissioners and the Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mohammed Jidjiwa, from the aforementioned four local government areas.
The lineup of activities for the “Atiku week” included: a football tournament tagged the “Atiku Unity Cup;” a day to reach out specifically to the indigent and an “Empowerment Day” for would-be entrepreneurs. Specific days were also set aside for “community service,” “visitations to educational institutions within Atiku’s primordial catchment;” “finals of the Atiku Unity Cup” and a jum’at service to round up the festivities. Each of these activities were scheduled for different days between Friday November 17 and Friday November 24, 2023. Not too many people would wished for a better, richer, activity-packed birthday programme.
Atiku arrived to tumultuous reception at the Yola International Airport on Monday November 20. It was his first visit since his hard-fought judicial battle challenging the declaration of Bola Tinubu as winner of the Saturday February 25, 2023 presidential election in which he contested and felt arguably robbed. Deputy Governor of Adamawa State, the first woman to occupy such a position in Nigeria’s north east, Professor Kaletapwa Farauta, led the reception party on behalf of Governor Fintiri. She was accompanied by members of the Adamawa State executive council and senior state officials. Farauta extolled Atiku’s uncommon grit and zeal in bolstering democracy and popular rule in Nigeria. She noted that the former Vice President had etched his name in the documentation of Nigerian politics as a brave battler for fairness, justice, equity, rule of law and best practices in the nation’s fledgling democracy. Her speech was intermittently interrupted by loud applause by the audience and approving nods as she delivered her homily about the presidential flagbearer of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), at the last general polls.
Atiku thanked the Adamawa State Government for putting up such a grand reception for him on what was supposed to be an innocuous and routine visit to his home. He applauded the Fintiri-led government for its notable strides in the provision of infrastructure in the state, and for the attention it is paying to education and healthcare development. He assured of his availability at all times, to offer guidance and admonition. He restated the place of Adamawa in his heart, a state he desired to serve as governor, won the applicable election in December 1998, before fate intervened in his political course. Atiku noted he was thankful to God for his modest contributions to the socioeconomic life of the state and expressed the hope that other well-meaning patriots will contribute their tokens by continuing to investment in Adamawa State.
Wednesday November 22, Atiku visited his boyhood school, the Central Primary School, Jada. In his post on his *X* handle, (hitherto twitter), Atiku wrote: “Nostalgic: Today I returned where it all started, my alma mater.” The quality of buildings and facilities in the school suggest it has benefitted from Atiku’s legendary large heart. Not too many public schools in rural Nigeria are anything close to the new storey buildings in the school. The former Vice President toured the premises even as excited school children poured to the balconies of their classrooms and waved happily at him, a gesture he returned. He subsequently presented scholarships and awards to outstanding students in the Ganye chiefdom of the state, a gesture he enthused, brought him tremendous joy and fulfilment.
Saturday November 25, 2023, Steven Titus, President Emeritus of the Iowa Wesleyan University in the United States, delivered the inaugural address for the Founder’s Day. He described the university as “one of the greatest, boldest and most consequential universities on the entire continent of Africa.” He extolled the AUN as a “vibrant legacy of the founder, Atiku,” who was being honoured at the same event. He celebrated Atiku as “a man of peace and unity, a leader who listens more than he talks, who inspires those around him, who is empathetic and appreciates the dignity of every human being.” Dr Titus saluted Atiku’s abiding faith in his country Nigeria as a land of possibility, and his conviction that education is the fuel and inspiration for the crystallisation of that possibility.
Titus further noted: “The Founder was an 11 year-old orphan who had barely enough to eat. Today, the Founder is a world citizen and tested leader of the largest and most complex country on the continent.” Espousing on Atiku further, Titus submitted: “It was the gift of education, the gift of opportunity and teachers who cared, and the value of hardwork that ensured his pathway to success and service at the highest levels. Through the Founder’s vision becoming reality, AUN is offering you and those who came before you and those who will come after you, the gift of education and opportunity.
Atiku’s paper at the event was titled “AUN in the Age of Socioeconomic Crisis and Emerging Disruptive Technologies.” He thanked Dr Steven Titus and everyone who made out time to be at the event with his beautiful family. He welcomed DeWayne Frazier whom he noted had always been enthusiastic about Africa and heading the AUN. Atiku alluded to his two previous applications to be President, before his triumph at the third attempt. He expressed the hope that Frazier will demonstrate commitment to the ideals of the institution and changes in its overall administration. The era of deviation from the set goals of the university, arbitrariness in decision making and profligate management of resources, Atiku observed, must henceforth be consigned to the past. He expressed optimism in Frazier’s capacity and ability against his demonstrated interest in the university. Atiku enjoined Frazier to constantly remind the world that the AUN is alive and thriving albeit an oasis of excellence in its part of Nigeria.
The AUN, Atiku advised, must be heard in the crowded marketplace of private education in Nigeria, or painfully lose out. The university faculty he admonished, should be responsive to dynamics in the national and global economies so as to be guided in articulating its programmes and offerings needed by intending students. Atiku implored the university to grow its numbers and to buildup its finances in order to be more self-sustaining. He thanked the new AUN President for facilitating a few more programmes in the institution’s bouquet of courses, within his brief stint at the helm. Atiku reminded Frazier of the urgent need to “modify and update inherited practices to keep up with the changing financial situation of the unit and that of prospective parents and students.” According to Atiku, “new technologies are emerging that will completely change the face of education as we know it, and by implications, educational institutions. The direction of those changes is not entirely clear, but will include greater individualised learning.”
DeWayne Preston Frazier who was inducted as the sixth President of the AUN, confirmed his excitement and optimism for the future of the university. He expressed confidence that together, stakeholders in the university will achieve great things and continue to be a beacon of knowledge, enlightenment and progress. Dr Frazier explained: “I am committed to upholding the values and principles that have been the foundation of this university. Values such as excellence, integrity and service that permeate through the entire campus. I will follow and uphold our bylaws like never before as I accept them with great honour. When you do things rightly, God will bless you… this is a promise.” Frazier acknowledged Atiku as a man of big dreams who, 20 years ago, envisioned the very first university in Nigeria to “adopt the American model of higher educational, offering a liberal arts-based education that promotes critical thinking, creativity and experiential learning.”
At the Founder’s Day to honour Atiku were several dignitaries including Governor Fintiri and his Deputy Farauta; Chairman of AUN Board of Trustees and Governing Council, Ben Obi, CON; and Mustafa Barkindo Aliyu, (Kauran Adamawa) who represented the Lamido Adamawa. Former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoaka, SAN, as well as Members of AUN Board of Trustees and Governing Council, among others. The event was a befitting finale to a string of activities and events carefully planned and executed in honour of one of Adamawa State’s and Nigeria’s most prized prodigies. It was a cherished season of reconnection with his roots and origins for the “original homeboy.”
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA)
Atiku: A man for all seasons, by Phrank Shaibu
Champions are made from something they have deep inside of them – a desire, a dream, a vision, says the great Mahatma Gandhi. This typifies clearly the life and times of Waziri Atiku Abubakar, who, despite the odds against him from early childhood, overcame all the hurdles and vicissitudes of life.
Born on November 25, 1946, to the family of Garba Abubakar – a Fulani trader and farmer – Atiku was the only child as his sister died at infancy. Before adolescence, his father died by drowning while crossing a river to Toungo, a neighbouring village in Jada. He was thus raised by his widowed mother, Aisha Kande, and his maternal relatives. As the man of the house, he did menial jobs while also schooling at the same time to provide for the family. He was a herder, a trader, and a farmer.
Of course, his life changed when he joined the Nigeria Customs Service in 1969 and quickly rose through the ranks to become one of the most senior officers within just 17 years of service. And through it all, Atiku never forgot his humble beginnings. This is one of the reasons he has continued to support several causes and foundations and has awarded dozens of scholarships to indigent students so that they can also have a chance of a bright future.
In the late 80s, he joined partisan politics even though he did not need to having fulfilled his immediate dream of lifting his family out of poverty. But out of this burning desire to lift millions more out of poverty so that they could achieve the Nigerian dream just like he had achieved his, he decided to join partisan politics. Despite winning the governorship election of Adamawa State back in 1991, his victory was questionably annulled by the powers that be.
He contested the presidential primary of the Social Democratic Party and lost. But he soldiered on. Even though he was not directly affected by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election since he was not on the ballot, he put everything he had on the line in order to fight for democracy and was almost killed by Abacha’s goons in the mid 90s. Despite getting his fingers burnt in politics, he decided to contest again in 1999 for governor of Adamawa State and won. But he was picked as running mate to General Olusegun Obasanjo and subsequently became Vice President.
As Vice President, he fought against attempts to amend the constitution and extend the tenure of executive office holders even though he could have been a beneficiary of such a move. By this move, he played a role in not just entrenching democracy but preventing Nigeria from becoming a failing state like some African countries that have removed term limits for their heads of state.
During his trying days as Vice President, his official privileges were revoked by the powers that be. But this did not stop the Waziri from paying salaries and allowances of his personal aides. He continued to look after them and tried as much as possible to shield them from persecution.
Many in government today are products of Atiku’s benevolence, including some in the country’s ruling party today who have gone on to become senators and governors. Simply put, he is a leader amongst leaders.
He also believes in the power of education as a liberating force for the individual and the country. He often says that education gave him all the advantages he had and that he will also stop at nothing to make sure that quality education becomes a priority in Nigeria. Atiku, also, is a deliberate educationist
As a family man, he is almost immaculate. His belief about family is that discipline should be the watchword. His children, of course, are well educated, and he enjoins them to be good ambassadors of the family who must not be associated with any immoral conduct that will tarnish the family name.
As a principal, I say without hesitation that Atiku Abubakar is a father figure. He is compassionate and humane. He is affectionate, too. It is almost impossible to be around him and not feel the energy of the goodness of his character.
He is also a deliberate politician. He sees political power as an instrument to create a progressive society. He is very deliberate about everything he does and takes time out to reach out to associates in their great moments and sad ones
Atiku has made several unsuccessful attempts at the presidency, which have cost him money and comforts but he continues to do so in the service of motherland.
He has made mistakes but has also been a victim of the fraudulent nature of Nigeria’s elections and the judicial malpractice associated with election cases. Despite his string of defeats, not a single life has been lost on his account. This is because he continues to have faith in Nigeria and its people and also believes that his ambition to serve the people of Nigeria cannot be done at the expense of human life.
This cannot be said of other politicians who have promoted violence because of electoral defeat. For some, Atiku’s many attempts at the number one seat in Nigeria smacks of desperation. They think he should remain a private businessman and retire from politics. He may not have succeeded at becoming president, but he has tried and has done so for the most altruistic of reasons.
Some had even argued that he should not have challenged the result of the presidential election in such a vociferous manner but congratulated the winner of the fraudulent election so that he could continue to enjoy government patronage. But he stood his ground and pursued the truth and made sure that Nigerians knew it. This is the height of bravery even though our courts decided to dwell on technicalities rather than substantial justice.
There are no regrets whatsoever. Because as Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is not the critic who counts… The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. If he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Without a doubt, the story of Atiku Abubakar is one of victory, success, and beating the odds. It’s about a man who was dealt a bad hand early in life but refused to be limited by his background and rose from the ashes like a phoenix. It is about a man who, despite his many defeats, has refused to lay flat on the canvas like a defeated boxer but continues to rise every time he falls. He is a man who has lifted others and has continued to trust in humanity despite the many betrayals he has faced.
His, indeed, is a life well spent. It is only fitting to conclude that Atiku Abubakar is a gift to the world. Waziri, your birthday deserves to be a national holiday,
because you are a special treasure
for all that you’ve done.
May the love you have shown to others
return to you in manifold measures.
I wish you the happiest of birthdays, Your Excellency
Phrank Shaibu is Special Assistant on Public Communication to Atiku Abubakar
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