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Goodluck Jonathan is constitutionally qualified to run for President

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By Chuef Mike Ozekhome

Introduction

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;

  1. 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).

CONCLUSION

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.

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Opinion

Rivers political crisis: Fubara raves as Wike likely retreats (2)

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

As noted in part one under this header on Monday, April 29, 2024, Governor Siminalayi Fubara voluntarily and freely signed the peace agreement emanating from his solicitation for President Bola Tinubu to intervene in the political crisis in Rivers State that’s pitted the governor against his predecessor in office and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Chief Nyesom Wike.
Fubara signed the “Eight-point Resolutions” in the presence of his backers, such as former Rivers Governor Peter Odili, Deputy Governor Ngozi Odu and chairman of Rivers chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Aaron Chukwuemeka, and with Prof. Odu and Mr Chukwuemeka also appending the document.
When Fubara’s newfound political allies railed and raised hell against the agreement, claiming the governor didn’t sign it – and if he did, it’s under duress from the almighty Presidency, and a betrayal of the Rivers people, who’ve lined behind him in his fight for political supremacy with Wike – Fubara confirmed that he endorsed the document willingly.
The governor, in a Christmas message on Monday, December 25, 2023, said the resolution brokered by Tinubu to resolve the crisis was “not a death sentence,” but would ensure lasting peace, and he’d implement it in a way to restore political stability in Rivers.
But implementating the peace accord appears a “death sentence” to Fubara, who – short of repudiating the document as urged by his supporters – is dilly-dallying, signalling that he might not honour the spirit and letter of the agreement, so as not to hand victory to his opponents.
Looking at the items in the agreement, it’s evident that Fubara’s sidetracking the sticky issues that caused and fueled the crisis in Rivers. For example, Fubara and his team – as urged in the peace agreement – haven’t withdrawn matters they filed in court against the Rivers Assembly and others.
The likely Fubara-engineered cases in court triggered the resignation of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor, who, in an April 23 letter, accused Fubara as barring him from cases against the Attorney-General, and Government of Rivers State.
Adangor’s letter reads in part: “It is important to mention that the Governor of Rivers State had, in the past couple of weeks, willfully interfered with the performance of my duties as the Hon. Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Rivers State, by directing me not to defend, oppose, or appear in suits instituted against the Hon. Attorney-General and the Government of Rivers State by persons admittedly hired and sponsored by the Government of Rivers State.” However, Fubara – in a no-holds-barred speech on Monday, May 6, when he received a delegation of political and traditional leaders from Bayelsa State, led by former Governor and Senator Seriake Dickson – alluded to Prof. Adangor sabotaging the interest of his administration and that of Rivers State, as reason for redeploying him to the Ministry of Special Duties (Governor’s Office), which Adangor declined and quit the government within 24 hours of the letter of redeployment issued on April 22 by Secretary to the State Government, Dr Tammy Danagogo.
Recall that Mr Isaac Kamalu, Commissioner of Finance, moved to the Ministry of Employment Generation and Economic Empowerment, resigned his post same day, citing “inability to function properly in an atmosphere devoid of peace,” and disputed Fubara’s claim of doubling the Rivers internally-generated revenue in 10 months, noting a steady rise in internal revenue receipts for years, “culminating in what the state is presently generating though not the figures (Fubara) erroneously claimed in the media.”
Drafting this piece the upper week, I posited that the Rivers Assembly, led by Martin Amaewhule, maybe in name and in place, and sitting in a location of their choice, but wasn’t recognised by Fubara because 27 of its members had dumped the PDP for APC when there’s allegedly “no fictionalisation of the party nationally.” Hence Fubara’s vetoed bills passed by the Assembly, which then overrode the governor, and passed the bills into law.
Fubara’s now publicly proclaimed the pro-Wike 27 APC members in the Rivers Assembly as “not existing,” going by law, and stressed he only accommodated them as his former political allies, and for the sake of peace in Rivers. Also, Fubara, during the Bayelsa delegation’s visit, dismissed the Tinubu brokered peace deal between him and Wike “as not constitutional.”
Fubara’s words: “It (peace deal) is a political solution to a problem. I accepted it because these (APC lawmakers) are people that were visiting me and we were together in my house. These are people that I have helped in many ways even when I wasn’t a governor.
“Yes, we might have our disagreements, but I believe that one day, we could also come together. That was the reason I did it. But, I think it has gotten to a time when I need to make a statement on this thing, so that they understand that they are not existing.
“Their existence and whatever they have been doing is because I allowed them to do so. If I don’t recognise them, they are nowhere. That is the truth. So, I want you (the visitors) to see the sacrifice I have made to allow peace to be in our state.
“I can say here, with all amount of boldness, I have never called any police man anywhere to go and harass anybody. I have never gone anywhere to ask anybody to do anything against anybody.
“But what happens to the people that are supporting me? They are being harassed, they are being arrested and detained. There is no week that somebody doesn’t come here with one letter of invitation for trump-up charges and all those things.”
Fubara boasted that with the powers at his disposal, he knows what to do to put in check those that don’t want peace but to destroy Rivers State. “I know that I have always taken the path of peace. I have shown respect. I’ve subjected myself to every meeting of reconciliation for peace. And what happens, each time we come out from such meetings, we are faced with one thunder or lightning,” Fubara said.
“Even when I have all the instruments of State powers, I have shown restraint, and I believe that whoever is alive, and has been following the activities of our dear state, knows that I have acted as a big brother in the course of this crisis.
“I have not acted like a young man that may want the house to be destroyed but, I have behaved like a mature young man that I am. This is because I know that no meaningful development will be achieved in an atmosphere of crisis.
“And because our intention for Rivers State is to build on the foundation that had been laid by our past leaders, it will be wrong for me to take the path of promoting crisis. That is why we are still recording the development that you are hearing around Rivers State.”
In line with his declaration of “non-existence” of the 27 pro-Wike members, and the leadership of the Rivers Assembly, Fubara’s refused – contrary to the peace deal – to represent the state budget of N800bn he presented on December 13, 2023, to his loyal five PDP lawmakers, headed by former “Speaker Edison Ehie,” who passed the budget within 24 hours, and signed by Fubara the next day. A 48-hour wonder!
But on Monday, January 22, the law came on the side of the Rivers Assembly – and by extension the presidential peace agreement – when a Federal High Court in Abuja set aside the N800bn budget because both the presentation and passage of the appropriation “amounted to nullity, and a wilful breach of the court order made on November 30, 2023,” the court ruled. Justice Omotosho also restrained Governor Fubara from frustrating the Amaewhule-led Rivers Assembly from sitting or interfering in its constitutional and legislative functions, and barred the National Assembly, the police and any member of the state executive arm from interfering in the assembly’s affairs.
Similarly, a Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, January 30, dismissed a suit seeking to stop Governor Fubara from re-presenting the N800bn 2024 budget of Rivers State, with Justice Joyce Abdulmalik, ruling that a similar suit in the matter had been decided by a sister court on the day she had granted an interim order (which she subsequently set aside) to the plaintiffs, who claimed that Tinubu, Fubara and the Rivers assembly have no right nor entitled to enter into any agreement that has the effect of nullifying or undermining the provisions of Section 109(I)(g) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal has reserved judgment on appeal by some Rivers elders, led by a member of the Rivers State Elders Council, Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, and nine others, questioning the legality of the peace agreement that they asked to be declared unconstitutional, and the representation of the Rivers 2024 N800bn budget to “a properly-constituted Rivers State House of Assembly for approval,” as demanded in the peace deal.
A Rivers High Court, presided by Justice Chinwendu Nworgu, had struck out the suit, seeking interpretation of the Constitution on whether the president has the legal right to direct Fubara to re-present the budget to 24 lawmakers, led by Amaewhule, “even after their seats were declared vacant.”
As first reported by PUNCH, the dissatisfied claimants appealed the high court ruling, joining President Tinubu, Governor Fubara, Rivers Assembly Speaker, Martin Amaewhule, the state House of Assembly and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
On Wednesday, May 1, the three-man panel of the Appeal Court, led by Justice Elfreda Oluwayamisi-Dawodu, reserved judgment to a date to be communicated to parties after they’d adopted their final written addresses. While the counsel for President Tinubu and Governor Fubara didn’t file any brief of argument in the suit, no lawyer represented the PDP during the proceeding.
In support of his adopted written address, counsel for the claimants, Wilcox Agberetor (SAN), argued that the appeal be allowed, and the matter transferred back to the Chief Judge of Rivers State, for reassignment to another judge, while counsel for the House of Assembly, K.C Njemanze (SAN), urged dismissal of the appeal.
Equally unimplemented in the eight-point peace accord between Fubara and Wike are issues of the caretaker committees in Rivers local governments, and dissolution of the Local Government administration, which the peace deal declared “null and void and shall not be recognised.”
This has added a fresh layer to the power tussle between the governor and Rivers Assembly, which’s overriden five bills Fubara’s vetoed, including the revised Local Government Law that paves way for election into the local government areas of Rivers State.
Is Governor Fubara intent on honouring the peace resolutions? If he does, what’s worth doing at all is worth doing well! No need to continue digging in; it only profits the puppeteers and “where-belly-face” politicians egging him on to renounce the agreement. Many of them were with Wike yesterday, they’re with Fubara today, and will be with another governor tomorrow for “stomach infrastructure.”
Fubara should free himself of the sycophants and bootlickers in and about the corridors of power in Rivers State, so he can clearly see and directly hear from the masses, who suffer more as his fight-to-finish with Wike lingers! Or does he want a no-end to the Rivers crisis?
Fubara talks about being patient, tolerant and restrained in his dealing with the Rivers crisis. Will his patience snap, and pull off completely the gloves, and bare-knuckle his traducers in Abuja and Rivers? How will he carry out the struggle? Defensive or a blitzkrieg?
That’ll be taking a page or two from former Rivers governors, who hounded and/or probed their predecessor-governors over real or phantom allegations! And he’s at liberty to tread that path in Rivers peculiar, firebrand politics. More in the next piece under this header!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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Opinion

What’s Gwan with Ajuri Ngelale

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By Maikudi Tanko Yahaya

Many of my generation can relate with a very popular song; What’s Gwan released in the early ’90s by Aniocha North-born Okeleke Elumelu, better known by his stage name, Ras Kimono. The dread locked wearing reggae exponent who brought his rustic village, Onicha Olona in Delta state to national, regional, and to reasonable extent global recognition ruled the airwaves along his other colleagues like Mandators, late Majek Fashek, Orits Williki and few others. The wide-eyed dance hall crooner who by the way would have being 66 years old this month, according to news reports slumped at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos while waiting to board a flight to the United States of America was pronounced died moments later at an Ikeja-based hospital on 10th June 2018 at the age of 60.

While working on this article, the title of that lyrically strong and masterful produced song which by every standard was a marketing success came to mind. With the frequency of snide remarks and subtle attacks on the presidential media adviser, Ajuri Ngelale, one can’t help but ask “what’s Gwan.”

During campaigns and after his emergence as the president-elect of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu was equivocal and unapologetic about his intentions to include youths in sensitive positions in his government. Weeks after his inauguration on May 29, 2023, Tinubu set the ball rolling by putting action to his promise with the appointment of Ajuri Ngelale as his Special Adviser, Media. This to a large extent, came as a huge surprise to many in the country’s media fraternity. Hitherto, some familiar names had being flying around as likely choice for the position.

Indeed, with the emergence of Ngelale as the chief spokesman and publicist, Tinubu, in some ways has ingeniously created history, and broke away from the norm. Appointing Ngelale, in his late ’30s to such high-profiled position further confirms Tinubu’s commitment to youth inclusivity in his government. Also, Ngelale when juxtaposed with his predecessors, since 1999, from Doyin Okupe to Late Tunji Oseni, Late Remi Oyo, Segun Adeniyi, Reuben Abari, and Femi Adesina seems to be less popular, accomplished and experienced. All but one of these former media advisers are (were) distinguished fellows and members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE). That Tinubu entrusted the management of his media and publicity to someone derogatorily regarded as “rookie” by some people speaks volume about his penchant for youth-growth, and capacity development.

Further to this, Tinubu has shown that he is conscientiously committed to grooming the younger generation for leadership with the appointments of more youths into his government. Betta Edu, suspended Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation Minister; Khalil Halilu, Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive of National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, (NASENI); Jamila Bio-Ibrahim, Minister of Youths Affairs and her colleague the Minister of state; and few others are all in their 30s. The appointment of 37 year old Ngelale, and that of his contemporaries succinctly confirms Tinubu’s status as a leader passionate about grooming youths for the future.

Despite Tinubu’s noble, novel initiative, and determination to encourage the participation, involvement, and elevation of youths in his government, it thus appears that some people are opposed to Ngelale. From careful analysis, he has being subject of criticism, complaints, and characterisation by people who somehow detest his ambitious, audacious, and unusual confidence and operations. For some people, they feast on any issue to not only pour their frustrations and anger on Ngelale but also throw tantrums and invectives to mischievously whittle down his hardwork. Any unintended slip from the United Arab Emirates issue to USA’s NASDAQ and Maersk incident are used as avenues to roll out salacious and jealousy-imbeded comments and statements.

For now, it’s apposite to ask those opposed to Ngelale, why now? Criticisms are good, necessary for effective and efficient deliveries and performances. But when hate, dislike, and anger are clothe and cloaked in garment of constructive engagement it impedes concentration, confidence, character, and capacity. For now, contrary to the moonlight tales and negative narratives of those who appears miffed with Ngelale, the Rivers-born publicist who is the youngest occupier of the position is not doing badly. Given his professional background as a hard-nosed and hardworking reporter in AIT, and CHANNELS before his transition to public service as aide on public affairs to former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and now as Tinubu’s spokesman, the light-skinned, and six-foot tall son of former water resources Minister, Precious Ngelale is improving on the job.

As someone who strikes as receptive to new ideas, professional initiatives, and constructive criticism from genuine quarters, the writer believes Ngelale would be willing to hear, listen to robust engagements from any person. Rather than resort to regular “exposure and vilification” of his “errors and gaffes” it is advised that these professionals should offer genuine counsel whenever necessary to help grow and nurture the career growth of their younger brother and colleague.

Maikudi Tanko Yahaya is a Public Affairs Analyst based in Kaduna

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Opinion

Rivers political crisis: Fubara raves as Wike likely retreats (1)

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

In my copy of Monday, January 15, 2024, entitled, “Shaibu’s talk about Obaseki’s betrayal laughable,” I posed the question, “Do politicians have conscience, and if they do, does it prick them?” This followed the declaration by the lately impeached Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu, that Governor Godwin Obaseki had betrayed him by refusing to back his aspiration to succeed him on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Comrade Shaibu had reckoned that Obaseki supporting his ambition would be reciprocal for what he did to aid his first and second term elections, and his governments (under All Progressives Congress (APC) and PDP, respectively). Rather, Obaseki “anointed” a Lagos-based lawyer and financier, Dr Asue Ighodalo, to succeed him in November 2024.
In the article, I likened Shaibu’s accusation to “the kettle calling the pot black,” nudging him to recall “how he betrayed former Governor Adams Oshiomhole – whom he still addresses as ‘my father,’ perhaps to humour him – in order to ingratiate Mr Obaseki, who also betrayed Comrade Oshiomhole.”
Then, I took Shaibu through Oshiomhole’s unilateral endorsement of Obaseki against opposition from formidable foundation members of the defunct Action Congress (AC) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), “and did a yeoman’s campaign” for him to win the 2016 governorship.
But not long after, Obaseki broke with Oshiomhole for allegedly “attempting to lord it over him and his government as a ‘godfather,’ – which Oshiomhole really assumed in 2016 to swing the candidacy for and ‘crown’ Obaseki as Governor of Edo State.”
In closing, I noted that, if Obaseki could undermine “Oshiomhole’s benevolent spirit that broke his palm kernel for him,” and reward Oshiomhole with a series of betrayals, who’s Shaibu to escape retribution from Obaseki, who’s already “anointed” by Governor Oshiomhole as ‘Governor-in-waiting’ before Shaibu’s picked as his running mate?
That intro question of whether politicians have conscience, and if it pricks them, needs emphasising, owing to what’s happening in Rivers State between Governor Siminalayi Fubara and his “political godfathers” and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr Nyesom Wike, who Fubara’s rebelled against for alleged overbearing influence on his government that came into office on May 29, 2023.
Ahead of the general election – and the March 18, 2023, governorship poll that ushered in Fubara – Wike had “anointed” him against opposition from PDP chieftains, who’d assumed that Wike would pick one of them for governor after he’d “encouraged” them to so dream. They accused Wike of picking Fubara because he’s of his Ikwerre ethnic stock, whereas Fubara’s an Ijaw.
During the campaigns, Wike’s everywhere, as if he’s gunning for a “third term” in office. Like the mother-hen that protects her chicken from the predator-hawk, Wike shielded Fubara from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which declared him wanted for alleged financial sleaze perpetrated in his office as the Accountant General of Rivers State. Due to EFCC’s intense manhunt for Fubara, Wike literally assumed the candidate for the election.
Wike took all the arrows, darts and bullets aimed at Fubara, and made him governor under the PDP even when Wike – in support of the candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (now President of Nigeria) – worked against the interest of the PDP presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
This was similar to what former President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) did for the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (2007-2010), when his bid for president was hampered by ailments that kept him mostly overseas from the campaign trail. Obasanjo more or less “swapped” position with Yar’Adua and campaigned for him to win the 2007 presidential poll.
Ditto for Senator and former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State (1999-2007), who campaigned for his then Chief of Staff, Theodore Orji, who’s detained in a Lagos jailhouse over corrupion allegation. On the strength of Dr Kalu’s campaign under the defunct Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), Orji won the governorship from prison, and was released to assume office in 2007.
In 2016, Oshiomhole, so to speak, “carried on his back” Godwin Obaseki – the nominal chairman of his government’s Economic Strategy Team (EST) – while campaigning for him to succeed him as governor in November of that year, which Obaseki did.
There’s no crystal ball to foretell if Yar’Adua would’ve estranged Obasanjo had he lived beyond 2010 when he died, but he’s beginning to question some of Obasanjo’s policies, and even the election that brought him (Yar’Adua) to power in 2007 as indeed “rigged” in his favour. But Governors Obaseki, and Orji dealt with their political benefactors, Comrade Oshiomhole and Dr Kalu, accordingly.
Not surprising – given the MO of Nigerian politicians, Governor Fubara’s toeing a likely line, forgotting so soon Wike’s political sacrifices for him, and thus proving a liner from a book by former Rivers Governor Peter Odili (1999-2007) – and quoted by Wike – that, “Give a man power and money, that’s when you will know the person.” 
“If you have not given a man power and money, do not say you know the person,” Wike adds in an interview on African Independent Television (AIT), in reaction to the torching of the Rivers State House of Assembly on October 9, 2023, in attempts by pro-Wike lawmakers to impeach Fubara, who pulled down the complex to prevent the lawmakers’ action against him.
With power and money, Fubara’s graduated from “bended knee” (sevant) to straightened knee (master), and daily challenges Wike’s political clout, and his professed love for Rivers State. For instance, on April 27, on a visit to condole with “former Governor Celestine Omehia” on the death of his mother, Mrs Ezinne Cecilia Omehia, Fubara vowed he’d not kneel (to Wike) to govern Rivers.
(By law, Omehia’s never a governor of Rivers State, as his few weeks/months in office was vitiated by the Supreme Court, which declared Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as the duly-elected governor of the PDP in 2007, sworn-in and ruled for eight years (2007-2015) – even though he only won the PDP primary, and didn’t participate in the governorship election, as he’s exiled in Ghana, afraid for his life from alleged officially-backed political goons. It’s Omehia who, supported by Wike, that campaigned and “won” the poll, which the Supreme Court voided because Amaechi won the primary for the governorship poll.)
Fubara’s words: “Anybody who claims to love this state should not be party to anything, directly or indirectly, that will bring us backwards. We will continue to support every course (cause) that will advance the interest of our dear Rivers State.
“And I am happy to say, and I’ve said it over and again, it doesn’t matter the number of people that are standing with me, I will stand on the side of truth. I will not, I repeat, I will not govern our dear state on my knees. If that was the purpose, I will not do that. I will stand to govern our dear state and stand continually on the side of (what’s) right.”
In response, Omehia expressed appreciation, on behalf of his family, to Governor Fubara, his delegation and other friends, among whom were those he described as “mature elders,” for the show of love.”
Then, Omehia massaged Fubara’s ego, saying, “I have taken a decision to be SIMplified (an alias derived from the governor’s name, Siminalayi). Wherever you (Fubara) go is where I will go. If you say tomorrow you are no more interested in this position, I will also stop fighting for anything in Rivers State.”
Omehia stated emphatically that almost the entire people of the State, including chiefs, elders, opinion leaders, women, youths, civil society groups and professionals across all spectrums, “were praying and working assiduously for the success of the Fubara administration,” stressing it was that support and prayers of the people that he needed to succeed, because, “one with God, is with majority, and would always excel and succeed.”
The inevitable questions: Wasn’t Fubara on “his knees” when he’s aspiring to be governor of Rivers State? Didn’t he bow, cower, crawl, cringe, flatter and genuflet to Wike to achieve his ambition? If Wike had asked him to commit a criminal act against Rivers State, would Fubara be his own man he claims, and stand straight and look the governor in the face and say, “no, I won’t do it?” 
Why does Fubara think he loves Rivers more than Wike; that only a few Rivers people, like Omehia, “understand that Rivers State belongs to everyone of us,” and “we must, therefore, fight together to sustain the soul of this state,” and that, “anybody who claims to love this state should not be party to anything, directly or indirectly, that will bring us backwards?”
Really? Because Wike – who single-handedly brought Fubara into his government, appointed him Accountant General, and anointed and crowned him as governor – asked him to honour a behind-the-scenes gentleman’s agreement Fubara entered into, Wike’s become an enemy intent on destroying Rivers State he’s helped to develop in his eight-tenure as governor (2015-2023)?
Does Fubara equate his fight over personal political and other hidden interests as a fight for the soul of Rivers? No, Mr Governor! Your fight isn’t for Rivers State nor for Rivers people, who weren’t there when you probably signed an agreement(s) you knew would mortgage the state! Now, you claim victimhood, stirring up, and blackmailing the innocent, but gullible citizens of Rivers to assist you to fight your self-induced battles with Wike! 
If Fubara actually believes “politics of bitterness will not take us anywhere,” he should shealth the sword, stop rattling the sabre and threatening fire and brimstone everywhere and at any opportune moment – such as he did during a solemn occasion of condoling with Sir Omehia over the death of his beloved mother.
There’re no half measures for peace. It’s holistic and enduring. If you want peace, you continually talk peace. If you talk peace, you cultivate peace. If you cultivate peace, you walk peace. If you walk peace, you drop the stick for the carrot. If you preach peace, you don’t pursue war. For war doesn’t achieve peace, but eternal enmity. 
You don’t pretend to preach peace, and do the opposite. It amounts to betrayal of trust, and the cause. It cuts deeply, even in politics where there’s no permanent friend or permanent enemy but permanent interest.
The road to peace – which Fubara preaches openly while also fanny the embers of discord – is to honour another gentleman’s agreement he publicly endorsed at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on December 19, 2023, before President Bola Tinubu, his (Fubara’s) representatives, and Wike and those in his camp.
Agreed that controversy trailed the eight-point agreement, which’s the outcome of Fubara’s reported personal invitation to Tinubu, to intervene in the crisis in the Rivers polity. Yet, contrary to claims by newfound political allies, Fubara didn’t object to any of the items, and he signed the document in the presence of his backers, some of whom also signed the agreement.
Fubara, in a Christmas broadcast on Monday, December 25, 2023, said the resolution brokered by Tinubu to resolve the crisis was “not a death sentence,” but would ensure lasting peace in the state, and pledged to implement the agreement in such a way that would restore political stability in Rivers.
This was as the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP warned Fubara against implementing the accord without its input, while some Rivers elders filed writs against President Tinubu and others for allegedly violating the amended 1999 Constitution, by finding political, rather than legal solutions to the Rivers crisis. Just imagine, faulting the deployment of a political strategy to solving a political issue!
Present on the government side at the parley were President Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima, National Security Adviser (NSA), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and the president’s Chief of Staff, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila; and on Wike’s side we’re Wike, Rivers Assembly Speaker Martin Amaewhule, and APC Chairman, Rivers State, Mr Tony Okocha
From the governor’s camp were Fubara, former Governor Odili, Deputy Governor Ngozi Odu, and PDP Chairman, Rivers State, Mr Aaron Chukwuemeka; and those who signed the agreement included Fubara, Wike, Prof. Odu, Ribadu, Amaewhule, Okocha and Chukwuemeka. 
As a governor, who claims to “stand by the side of truth and the side of (what’s) right,” it behoves, and is incumbent on Fubara to wholeheartedly respect President Tinubu and his intervention in the Rivers palaver, and honour the “peace agreement” fully, and not pick-and-choose for piecemeal implementation that’s the potential to exacerbate tension in Rivers State. The eight-point Resolutions are as follows: 
• All matters instituted in the courts by Fubara, and his team shall be withdrawn immediately.
• All impeachment proceedings initiated against Fubara by Rivers Assembly should be dropped immediately.
• The leadership of the Rivers Assembly, as led by Amaewhule, shall be recognised alongside the 27 members who resigned from the PDP to APC.
• Remunerations and benefits of members of Rivers Assembly and their staff should be reinstated immediately and the Rivers governor shall, henceforth, not interfere with the full funding of the Assembly.
• The Rivers Assembly shall choose where to sit and conduct legislative business without interference and/or hindrance from the Executive arm.
• Governor Fubara shall represent the state budget to a properly-constituted Rivers State House of Assembly.
• The names of commissioners, who resigned their appointments due to the political crisis in Rivers, should be resubmitted to the Assembly for approval.
• There should be no caretaker committees for Rivers State local governments. The dissolution of the Local Government administration is null and void and shall not be recognised.”
Looking through the items in the agreement, it’s evident that Governor Fubara’s continued to sidetrack the sticky issues that backgrounded the political crisis in Rivers. This, and other matters will be treated in the next installment!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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