Prof. Mike A.A. Ozekhome, SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb, LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D
It was on Saturday, 22nd April, 2023, that it happened. At 12:30pm, I was airborne on Ibom Air, flight VM1601, from Lagos to Abuja. My seat was 16E. We were simply about 10 minutes, or thereabout, to landing in Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. Then the unexpected happened. The Pilot announced to bewildered passengers something we did not want to hear about. The flight will not land yet. Oh my God! Why? Hearts in our now dry mouths, we waited with bated breath; in suspended animation. The calm voice of the Pilot announcer said something which I considered to be at par with, perhaps, INEC’s now infamous ”glitches”. Yes, “glitches” that would not allow us to land as scheduled! The type of “glitches” that would enable INEC miraculously (through Prof. Peller’s abracadabra magic) transmit results of the Senate and House of Representatives elections held on Saturday, 25th February, 2023, straight ELECTRONICALLY from the POLLING UNITS to it’s IReV; but could not do same for the Presidential election held simultaneously for the same voters at the same time, on the same date, at the same venue, and with the same Bimodal accreditation. I have vainly searched for answers through all forms of logic, philosophy, scriptures, permutations, scientific and literary thoughts – some OUTSIDE the box, and even some WITHOUT the box – (thanks to my good friend, CR State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, who told me it is better to think WITHOUT THE BOX than merely thinking OUTSIDE THE BOX). The former, he carefully explained to me, is boundless; while the latter is circumscribed. I have since been using this template up to this moment. But till date, I have not been able to appreciate or digest this INEC’s contradiction, duplicity, equivocation and ambivalence. Or, can you?
THE AIR “GLITCH”- THE “VIP MOVEMENT”
Then, the pilot explained what he meant: “We are sorry to inform you that we cannot land yet. The Control tower has just informed us about “VIP movement”. We are therefore going to circle round till we are cleared to land. We estimate that this will take us about 20 to 25 minutes. But, there is nothing to worry about”. His voice was soothing and calming. But the pilot announcer did not tell us who the VIP or VIPs was or were. Pilots and crew announcers never ever disclose the names of such oppressors. Otherwise, passengers would lynch some of them; or pelt them with pure water and tomatoes. It was sufficient that some top brass, kahunas or head honchos was flying; and we lesser mortals must be held up in the skies. “Here was the Pilot telling us that there was nothing to worry about” for being held in the air against our will, under looming danger, fear of death, fear of the unknown, and fear of fear. In William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Cassius (the jealous “lean and hungry look” of a man), said to Brutus, “Men at some time are masters of their fate: The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings” (Act 1 Scene II). This may well have been between these two vile conspirators who schemed amongst themselves thousands of years ago to assassinate the flamboyant and overconfident Julius Caesar. Was it in our stars or ourselves, that in 2023, we were being held up in the air against our wish and will? Were we to blame? Certainly not. But, here we were nonetheless in the air, at the mercy of God- helpless and hapless. Did we hear the pilot announcer correctly? As expected, some passengers immediately panicked. Some sweated. Others prayed. Some eyes popped. Some other eyes closed. A passenger sitting close by me brought out his Viks inhaler, to inhale some fresh breath and perhaps, clear his probably congested lungs. One could hear some passengers’ murmurs of visible disproval and disappointment at being held up in the air by unknown “VIPs of waste”. Who was he/she? Who were they? We were never told. Nor do I know till date.
THE TENSION; THE ANXIETY
Our tension, anxiety, curiosity and fears were soon justified. The aircraft started experiencing some slight turbulence. Why was this turbulence, which in my first flight in the 90’s I had called gallop in the air? Was it because the aircraft was within range of heavy clouds which it was piercing through as a result of its low altitude before the sudden alert about VIP movement? Was it because it was attempting to fly higher, above the clouds? Was it because it was circling? Was there sufficient aviation fuel to withstand the extra forced time in the air? Too many thoughts swirled in our minds. Not being aeronautical engineers or pilots, we did not know why. We were scared stiff. As turbulence and bumps increased, I was equally scared. But because many passengers on board had immediately recognized me as I entered the aircraft (including those sitting nearby), I had to deliberately put on a bold face as if I was not frightened. But, I was agitated and terrified. Lizards crawling on their bellies surely do have stomach ache; but their flat position does not allow us to notice. Yes, fowls do sweat, but their feathers hide the sweat from us human beings. So, I hid my fears in smiles, affability and geniality. Edo no dey carry last.
I needed to put up this courageous and fearless visage to assure and reassure my more frightened neighbours that all was well. But, was all really well? Whoever has never experienced turbulence in the air may not know and appreciate God. When you do, you will become an emergency Cleric, an Imam, or a tested Sango worshipper. You will suddenly become a “prayer warrior”, reciting from your memory, rich verses of the Holy Bible and Holy Quran. You will speak in tongues. You will suddenly remember your spouse, children, parents, loved ones and friends. You will even remember your enemies, traducers, benefactors and beneficiaries, you will recall your wealth, money starched away in secret banks; vaults and hidden steel safes. at that moment, you will remember hell and heaven; and then pray silently to God for the forgiveness of your sins. The vanity of life will stare you in the face like an apparition. (See Ecclesiastes 1: 2-8).
FACTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR AIR TURBULENCE
On a later date after our safe delivery (thank God), (a man who also knows much about aerodynamics), upon my inquiry, told me that turbulence (or gallop in the air as I called it during my first N15 flight from Benin to Lagos in the early 90s), could be caused by a combination of factors: turbulent air on earth atmosphere, as the streaming around the earth can cause sudden changes in the wind speed, thus rocking the airplane. There is also thermal turbulence which is said to be created by hot rising air from thunderstorms or cumulus clouds. My friend lectured that turbulence may also occur when tall buildings, mountains or landscapes distort the wind flow in the sky above the objects. This is called mechanical turbulence, he said. He finalized that airplanes’ wings can cause turbulence when planes fly closely behind one another, or take the same flight part, during taking-offs and landings. He however assured me that risk is very low during turbulence, as modern aircraft are designed to withstand sudden rises and falls (even nearly 100ft at a time). God forbid! Thus technological advancement has ensured that turbulence has not caused any plane crash in over 40 years; though turbulence has risen up to between 40% and 90% since 1958 over Europe and America, he lectured. Please, lecturer, I don’t like turbulence. I am not (and I believe all flyers) interested in lectures about weight, lift, thrust and brag of that massive piece of iron and steel in the air. We are simply interested in our safety. Sikena! Opoo!
Who cared about this scientific analysis at a time we were literally “dancing” in the air for the next 22 minutes in the hands of a very capable and competent pilot whose reassuring voice had at least lowered blood pressures and calmed frayed nerves? Who cared?
“VIPs OF WASTE” INDEED
These so-called VIPs who endangered our lives in the air are, in my humble opinion, “VIPs of waste”. They fit squarely into the solemn words during the Radio Nigeria broadcast of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu when he led the first Nigerian military putsch of 15th January, 1966. Said the handsome, … Sandhurst-trained, fire-eating, bold and idealist Okpanam, Delta State-born, devout catholic and teetotaler, “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as Ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds”. Conceding the coupists were “not promising anything miraculous or spectacular”, he, however, promised “every law-abiding citizen …freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from genual inefficacy …..We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian”.
Major Gideon Orka, in 7 am April, 22, 1990 coup broadcast to tyrannical Nigerians, heralding the aborted overthrow of the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida military junta, had identified the elite cliquism as those responsible for the “intrigues combination and internal colonization of the Nigerian state by the so-called chosen few”. He identified this group as being “responsible for 90% of the problems of Nigerians.
Majors Nzeogwu and Orka must be turning in their 57 and 33 years (respectively) cold graves to know that all the problem areas they identified in his coup broadcast have since magnified and increased geometrically; not arithmetically. He would be shocked to hear that kick-back is no longer 10% today, but between 50% and 80%. He would shudder to know that corruption now walks on steroids, strutting about like a proud peacock. They will grimace to know that state captors have tightened their asphyxiating grip on the dry throats of conquered Nigerians. Otherwise, why would any sane leader (of whatever post or position), endanger the lives of his/her people in the air just to be seen flying the airspace alone? What special security would such a leader require that should also not avail the people? Were such a leader’s handlers not aware of the schedule of his take-off and landing time such as to alert all airlines and tarmacs to delay their flights (on ground) for that period of his flight, rather than allow them to first take off and be hung in the air? Why this crass sense of irresponsibility, insensitivity and insensateness? Do such leaders appreciate how many hundreds (or even thousands) of Nigerians and Nigerian families whose lives they endanger by their sheer megalomania and narcissism?
On March 23, 2022, one Obiora Okonkwo, representing the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) at the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, publicly hearing, bemoaned VIP movement as one of the major reasons for the delays and disruption of flights. He said regulations only allow them to announce that flight delays are “due to operational reasons”, and no more. This is to mask the real reasons, including VIP movement. He explained: “You can imagine when you have waited one hour or one and a half hours in Lagos and you have taken off to land in Abuja. And when you get to Abuja airspace and there is VIP movement, you cannot control that,”…….
“You have to wait as long as it takes the VIP movement before you are cleared for landing. And when you land, before now operators could say because of VIP movement, but today, we have been restricted not to mention VIP so that the blame should not go to somebody else.”
No wonder passengers often hear of delayed and disrupted flights due to only “operational reasons”.
For those VIPs who also keep hapless citizens standing under the sun and rain while their long convoys snake their way through crowded cities do they ever reckon with how many citizens die prematurely, in the process, for not getting to hospitals in time to get urgent medical attention? Have they ever thought of how many students have missed their examinations; or entrepreneurs who have missed crucial corporate meetings and appointments by being held hostage through such reckless VIP movements? Do they even care? Do they still have the attributes of humanity?
MY FREE LEGAL ADVICE
For those VIPs who do not know, let me give you free legal advice here. Anyone who causes the death of, or damage to, any air passenger, road- user, or train commuter, who thereby suffers damages due to being held down by VIP movement, you are legally liable for such recklessness. Such VIPs could be damnified in huge punitive, aggravated, exemplary, consequential and compensatory damages in negligence, for individual and corporate liability.
The Court of Appeal was quite emphatic about both the rulers and the led observing the Rule of law. In JAMES v. GOV. OF EDO STATE & ORS (2021) LPELR-54203 (CA). It held:
“Above all and when all is said and done, in law as in every society governed by democratic norms in which the Government is of the people, by the people and for the people, every offence, every restriction on movement and every penalty to be imposed thereon must be within the confines and ambits of the operation of the Rule of Law in a democratic society such as Nigeria. See Raymond Temisan Omatseye V. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR -42719 (CA) per Georgewill, J.C.A. In modem contemporary jurisprudence, the rule of law is the condition in which all members of the society, including the rulers and the led accept the supremacy of the law. It is neither an option nor one of choice. It is a concept in which the citizen is entitled to the observance of the principles of natural justice in the determination of any question involving his rights and obligations under the law. It denotes absolute supremacy or predominance of law. Thus, under it, the Constitution is the supreme law and the observance of the laws of the land must be the guiding code in the daily life of both the Rulers and the Led, so much so that none whosoever is exempted from the observance of the laws of the land. This is indeed the true essence of the rule of law.”
In APPH & ORS v. OTURIE (2019)LPELR-46301(CA), the Court of Appeal was again on song when it held that the “rights of freedom of movement and residence pursuant to Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) guarantee unhindered residence and movement to all citizens all over Nigeria and except on suspicion of commission of a criminal offence. The said rights protect against expulsion of citizens except in pursuance of valid extradition proceedings. See WILLIAMS V MAJEKODUNMI (1962) 1 ALL NLR 413 and FEDERAL MINISTER OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS V SHUGABA DARMAN (1982)3 NCLR 915.” Per MUHAMMED LAWAL SHUAIBU, JCA (Pp 14 – 15 Paras D – B)”
In EZIEGBO & ANOR v. ASCO INVESTMENT LTD & ANOR (2022) LPELR-56864 (SC), the apex Court dilated on the importance of section 41 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees freedom of movement throughout Nigeria. It held that: “The primary aim of the section is to generally protect persons from abuse of power; official and individual. See Onwo v. Oko (1996)6 NWLR (ppt. 456) 587.” Per MOHAMMED LAWAL GARBA, JSC (Pp 7 – 8 Paras F – C)”
A CAVEAT TO VIPS
Those who are President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governors should stop wallowing in shielded VIP movement aggrandizement by feeling protected with immunity under section 308 of the 1999 Constitution. This is self-delusion. I laugh. I guffaw. Protection? Not so fast. Only temporary relief. The ephemerality of power and its destined expiration would sooner stare them in the face. Let them read the powerful statement of the Supreme Court in IMB Securities v Tinubu (2001) All NLR 264, to the effect that although this set of people cannot be prosecuted while in office because of their immunity, they can however be investigated. And such investigation can always be used against them after they leave office. See also the case. In Fawehinmi v IGP (2002) All NLR 357, the Hon. Justice Samson Odemwingie Uwaifo, an iconic Jurist of immense intellectual fecundity, said with great erudition, as follows:
“That a person protected under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, going by its provisions, can be investigated by the police for an alleged crime or offence is, in my view, beyond dispute. To hold otherwise is to create a monstrous situation whose manifestation may not be fully appreciated until illustrated…Now, if the police became aware, could it be suggested in an open and democratic society like ours that they would be precluded by Section 308 from investigating?… The Police clearly have a duty under Section 4 of the Police Act to do all they can to investigate and preserve whatever evidence is available. The evidence or some aspect of it may be the type which might be lost forever if not preserved while it is available… The evidence may be useful for impeachment purposes if the House (of Assembly) may have need of it. It may no doubt be used for prosecution of the said incumbent Governor after he has left office… But to do nothing under the pretext that a Governor cannot be investigated is a disservice to the society”.
A word is enough for the wise. As our elders tell us, it is only the stubborn fly that follows the corpse into the grave. To say more will be otiose. VIPs, please, leave us alone in the air. Go your way. Let us go ours. We also have our lives to live. Do you hear, hear, hear me? Haba!
NASS welcome moves to amend Electoral Act 2022
By Ehichioya Ezomon
Many Nigerians agreed – and had hoped – that the amended Electoral Act 2022 would be a game changer in terms of its dynamism and innovation to cure obvious lapses in the electoral system, and ensure credibility and transparency of elections.
But as shown in the process, outcome and aftermath of the February-March 2023 General Election conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a lot of loopholes and wiggle room still exist in the system.
Trust politicians, they’ve exploited these flaws for selfish ends. Even those that’d long shot – or no shot at all – at the offices they vied for, have taken undue advantage of the inadequacies in the electoral law to blame their opponents – and not themselves – for their defeats at the poll.
Particularly excoriated are INEC and the All Progressives Congress (APC) for alleged connivance – that’s largely unproven in courts when the accusers were given opportunities to do so – to deny members of the opposition the reported mandate Nigerians gave to them on poll day.
Hence the refrain, “We will retrieve our ‘stolen mandate’ in court,” which they failed to achieve, as the courts dismissed most petitions and/or appeals as “incompetent and lacking in merit” – judgments that’ve given rise to further allegations of compromise of Judges handling electoral matters.
No court – from the High Court to the Supreme Court – is spared these odious allegations bandied by defeated candidates, their cronies, supporters and political parties because there’re no sanctions – and if there’re, no one has been held to account – for such spurious charges against political opponents, the governing party, Judges and the entire Judiciary.
To the extent that lately, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, was hard-pressed to urge Judges not to abandon the law for “emotions of the mob” in the consideration of matters before them.
At the swearing-in of 58 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in Abuja, Justice Ariwoola said: “I expect every judicial officer to work very hard and also be very honest and courteous to the litigants, witnesses and members of the bar, and discharge all your judicial functions with all the humility at your command.
“Even while doing this, it is still necessary to have at the back of your minds that public opinions, sentiments or emotions can never take the place of the law in deciding the cases that come before you.
“The law remains the law, no matter whose interest is involved. In all we do, as interpreters of the law, we should endeavour to severe the strings of emotion from logic and assumption from fact.
“We should never be overwhelmed by the actions or loud voices of the mob or crowd and now begin to confuse law with sentiment or something else in deciding our cases.”
Nonetheless, the moves by the National Assembly (NASS) to review the Electoral Act – soon after the courts have put to rest the virulently-contentious February 25 presidential poll – should appease those aggrieved over the fallouts from the elections.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Electoral Matters, Sharafadeen Alli, on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily on November 21, hinted about the Senate musing on extensive review of the Electoral Act 2022.
Senator Alli (APC, Oyo South) – affirming that the 2022 Act was a game changer, and yet, not a perfect legislation – listed some areas (for amendments) that drew the ire of the electorate during the 2023 elections.
They include, mandatory conclusion of pre and post-election matters before inauguration of election winners; binding electronic transmission, and upload of results to the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal realtime; and conclusion of petitions and appeals before swearing-in of poll winners.
He said: “I must say this, there can not be a perfect legislation. After every legislation, you see gaps and that is when power that is given to the judiciary will tap into this clause.
“We must praise the 9th (National) Assembly under Senator (Ahmad) Lawan (former Senate President) for coming out boldly to pass the Electoral Act; it is the fundamental change in our electoral system.
“BVAS (Biomodal Voter Accreditation System) machine is like a game changer, unlike the Card Reader. When the card reader does not work, we will fill the incident form, and we knew (what voters) used that for. But as soon as you bypass the BVAS this time around, the election is null and void. That is one of the things that we are doing going forward.
“And whatever we say on every legislation, there has been an improvement on the previous ones, and we say things are getting better (even if) there are errors there as well.
“Under the current law, it is not mandatory for INEC to upload (poll results). That is what the courts have said: ‘Enter the law.’
“But as we are going forward, it (upload of results) is going to be mandatory. It is just to ask INEC to make sure we improve our technology and ensure that the thing is there.”
The Senate, in its retreat in Akwa Ibom State in October – which precursored the Lagos retreat by the Joint Committee of the National Assembly on Electoral Matters – set up a committee to attend to electoral reforms in advance of the 2027 polls.
Rising from the three-day Lagos parley, the committee – which demonstrated the seriousness of observed lapses in the Electoral Act, and the importance of remedying them for the 2027 electons – resolved to pursue and conclude the amendments before the end of 2024.
In the course of its deliberations, the committee took cognisance of, and reviewed recommendations from local and international election observers, who elaborated on citizens’ experiences with the 2023 elections.
Areas for amendments include: * The challenge of appointment of non-partisan persons into INEC that hinders its independence and integrity. * Issue of minimum educational qualification of candidates for elective offices. * Conflicts arising from decisions of the courts over pre or post-election matters.
Others are: * The use of BVAS technology in electoral process. * INEC’s recourse to reconfiguring the BVAS machines (wiping prior data) before fresh election. * Lack of clarity in documentary proof of non-compliance with the electoral law. * Operational challenges in INEC as per electoral offences. * Issue of internal democracy that splinters parties, and breeds anti-party activities.
To success in its task, the Joint Committee will carry out extensive consultations with constituents, the public, and other stakeholders, to ensure inclusive participation; collaborate with the NASS Constitutional Review Committee, to address areas of elections that require alteration to the amended 1999 Constitution; and work with technical experts to prioritise and articulate issues for amendment.
The NASS leadership has given the assurance for a timely amendment of the Electoral Act, to enhance transparency and accountability in the electoral processes.
The November 29 commitment comes in Abuja at a “Citizens’ Townhall on Electoral Reform,” organised by Yiaga Africa in collaboration with the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on Electoral Matters.
Senate President Godswill Akpabio said: “For the electoral process, we are committed not only to go along with the people on the call for reforms on electoral framework, but at the same time protect the independence of the electoral commission and restore the trust of the people in the electoral process.
“This administration is ready to work with anyone and everyone that is interested in the progress and development of this nation. This is not only on issues on electoral reform, but also in formulating initiatives and policies that will revamp our economy and put us on the driving seat of industrial and economic advancement.”
Similarly, House of Representatives Speaker Tejudeen Abbas said: “There is no gainsaying the fact that credible elections are the bedrock of any democracy, and Nigeria stands the risk of reversing the gains of the last two decades if we do not fix our elections.
“The 10th House of Representatives is committed to championing legislative initiatives that promote fairness, transparency and accountability in our electoral processes.”
Critics, who, in the wake of the 2023 elections, shredded the entire Electoral Act 2022, have the opportunity now to contribute their quota to making the law a “perfect” one of their dream.
This is as Nigerians, and the global community look forward to the NASS, to translate its zeal, commitment, and timely commencement of reforming the electoral process into enhancing credility and acceptability of our elections.
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria
Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan: Beauty, brains, brawn on eve of 44
Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan: Beauty, brains, brawn on eve of 44
By Tunde Olusunle
She was a breath of fresh air when she joined the political fray in Kogi State. She’s an attorney who is reputed for her efforts in advocacy. She is also a multitasking entrepreneur and dedicated philanthropist. She certainly was not the first woman to aspire to elective office in the “confluence state,” an alias which derives from the convergence of Nigeria’s largest two rivers in the capital of her state. She came, however, with distinctive flair, style, guts, grit and elocution. The trademark veil over her head re-echoes memories of the iconic former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazair Bhutto. Like Bhutto, Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan is cerebral, self-confident, articulate, charismatic and strong-willed. Recall she outrightly rejected the congratulatory message of Yahaya Bello, outgoing governor of Kogi State, after she floored Sadiku Ohere, the former’s candidate for the Kogi Central senatorial seat at the appellate court weeks ago. Akpoti-Uduaghan alluded to attempts on her life by Bello’s henchmen in the run-up to the February 25, 2023 general elections. On that occasion, she ran for the Senate on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), against Bello’s candidate, Ohere, who contested on the banner of the All Progressives Congress, (APC).
Akpoti-Uduaghan started out years ago as a member of the APC in Kogi State. She aspired for the governorship ticket of the party in the lead up to the 2019 poll to no avail. Frozen out of the APC scheme, she moved over to the Social Democratic Party, (SDP), and made serious waves on her campaign outings. As she prepared to launch out on her second political advent and participation in the 2023 polls, Bello, according to Akpoti-Uduaghan, offered her the sum of N50million to jettison her ambition. She turned it down without batting an eyelid. She was similarly unimpressed with Bello’s increment of his offer to N70million. She told him she was not in politics for primitive fiscal acquisition, but was driven by a genuine conviction to serve her people. Bello, she confirmed, was furious at her unbending resolve.
And so she was back again on the campaign dais like the proverbial phoenix ahead of the 2023 political cycle. The proverbial ram in Yoruba folklore which took a few steps backwards in a contest with its challenger did not back out of the duel out of cowardice. No. It retreated to gather more steam and velocity to fight more pointedly and more determinedly. Akpoti-Uduaghan undertook due diligence about the most appropriate political vehicle to help the actualization of her quest. Despite efforts to annihilate the PDP at all levels by the incumbent APC, she was convinced that that party would serve her purposes. And so, she was on the road again, repeatedly touring the five local government areas in her senatorial district and spreading the gospel of the kind of impact she would bring to bear on her people if voted into office. She severally toured Adavi, Ajaokuta, Okehi, Okene and Ogori-Magongo council areas within her senatorial catchment sensitising her people and requesting their support for her bid.
The APC was paranoid on the eve of the February election on account of Akpoti-Uduaghan’s ever rising political profile. Totally bereft of ideas about how to stop the rampaging amazon, agents of the APC excavated all three accesses to the PDP senatorial candidate’s home. The idea was to prevent electoral officials from reaching her community and its environs, with the aim of disenfranchising that critical constituency in the poll. Akpoti-Uduaghan also noted that that orchestrated action could compromise her personal security and the safety of her people in the event that they had emergencies. Bello would thereafter concur to the act, saying the action was taken in the PDP senatorial candidate’s best interests, to prevent intending terrorists from attacking her on the eve of the election, a most unintelligent alibi.
After the senatorial election of Saturday February 25, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), declared Abubakar Sadiku Ohere of the APC as winner of the contest. INEC’s Returning Officer for Kogi Central, Rotimi Ajayi, a professor at the Federal University Lokoja, (FUL), stated that Ohere garnered 52,132 votes, while Akpoti-Uduaghan secured 51,763 votes. Ohere was thereafter issued a Certificate of Return by INEC and sworn in as a Member of the 10th Senate early June 2023. Undaunted and dogged, Akpoti-Uduaghan promptly sought justice at the Election Petitions Tribunal.
September 6, 2023, the tribunal ruled that the PDP candidate was the rightful and authentic winner of the contest. Akpoti-Uduaghan actually polled 54,074 votes, as against Ohere’s 51,291 votes. The judges observed that results from “nine polling units in Ajaokuta local government area, were inflated, while the votes of Akpoti-Uduaghan were intentionally reduced by INEC ward collation officers.” Dissatisfied and prodded by his principal, Ohere proceeded to the Court of Appeal for further adjudication. Tuesday October 31, the court dismissed Ohere’s appeal as “lacking in merit.” It declared Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan as the “duly elected candidate for the Kogi Central senatorial election held in February 2023.” She was inaugurated as senator Thursday November 2, 2023, at a ceremony held during plenary, under the supervision of Godswill Akpabio, President of the Senate. She made history as the first female senator from Kogi State. Instructively too, she effectively dilutes the preceding Kogi all APC-cast in the senate of the federal republic.
Natasha Hadiza Akpoti-Uduaghan was born December 9, 1979, in Ilorin, Kwara State, to Jimoh Abdul Akpoti and Ludmila Kravchenko, a Ukrainian. Abdul Akpoti who hailed from Obeiba-Ihima, Okehi LGA in Kogi State, met his wife while training as a medical doctor in the Eastern European country of Ukraine, several decades ago. A “home girl,” she was educated at Christ the King Nursery and Primary School, Okene; Government Girls Unity School, Oboroke, and the Federal Government College, Idoani, Ondo State. She demonstrated leadership potentials even as a young girl, and was the “Head Girl” in her final year in secondary school. She was serially acknowledged as quiet, hardworking, disciplined and diligent, and always posted sterling academic performances. She studied law at the University of Abuja, enduring an intricate balance between her academics and early motherhood having gotten married at the tender age of 19. Her first son, Daniel was born within the period.
She attended the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja beginning from 2004, and was called to the Bar November 2005. She obtained a masters in business administration from the University of Dundee, Scotland, in 2012. She previously served as legal counsel at the Brass Liquefied Natural Gas, (LNG) complex during which she travelled expensively across the world. Akpoti-Uduaghan has acquired pluri-dimensional competencies in management, mediation, leadership and arbitration among others. Her soft, humane side has been influenced considerably by her father’s selflessness and generosity. He was famous for treating many of his patients free in the course of his private medical practice unconcerned about profit-making.
On Saturday March 5, 2022, Natasha Akpoti got wedded to the Itsekiri billionaire, Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan, the *Alema of Warri.* The event took place in Akpoti-Uduaghan’s primordial homestead in Ebiraland, Kogi State. The chief host was the recently departed *Ohinoyi of Ebiraland,* His Majesty, Ado Ibrahim. It was chaired by a former governor of Edo State, John Odigie-Oyegun, who also previously chaired the APC at the national level. Dignitaries at the high octane event included: Bukola Saraki, former Senate President; the *Olu of Warri,* His Majesty Tsola Emiko; the groom’s cousins and former governors of Delta State, James Ibori and Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan. Former Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa; incumbent Senate President, Godswill Akpabio; former PDP Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, among several dignitaries, honoured the event.
Akpoti-Uduaghan’s first contribution on the floor of the Senate was to request that the recently departed Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Ado Ibrahim be immortalised. She spoke of his disposition as an urbane father and patriarch, and an apostle of peace all through his 25-year reign. Within the period, his sociocultural domain witnessed some physical development. She canvassed the rechristening of the Federal College of Education, (FCE), Okene, after the transited royal. Akpoti-Uduaghan was recently named Senate Committee Chairman on Local Content as replacement for her former sparring partner, Ohere. She was concurrently appointed Vice Chairman of the Committee on Steel. That she is in leadership positions in both very important committees, attests to her qualities and capabilities. Akpoti-Uduaghan’s advocacy for the resuscitation of the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Project located in Kogi Central, her primary sphere of representation, will gain desired traction, courtesy of her placements in the upper parliament.
The multibillion dollar complex has been emblematic of abandonment, waste, greed, graft, mismanagement in the past four decades now. Akpoti-Uduaghan grew up in Ebiraland and is fully cognisant of the humongous resources in foreign exchange previously sunk into the project which, nonetheless, has remained dysfunctional. The decrepit, melancholy-eliciting condition of the sprawling steel city is best appreciated via a drive through the gargantuan, multidimensional “steel city” of Ajaokuta. Akpoti-Uduaghan wants to proceed beyond preceding peripherals and platitudes to add breadth to the strident advocacy for the functional resuscitation of the octopoidal complex. It is very close to her heart because of its potential to sustainably impact the economy of her people, her state and Nigeria at large.
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (FANA)
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
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