Connect with us

Opinion

Legal, moral implications of granting pardon to ex- convicts, serving prisoners

Published

on

Share this story

By Chief Mike Ozekhome,

INTRODUCTION

Crimes are vices that should not be tolerated in any society. They are offences against the state and are punishable under the law. The essence of punishing people convicted of crimes is to serve the criminal just desert, make restitution to the victims and deter other people from engaging in criminal activities, amongst others.

Sometimes, the President and Governor of a state may decide to show the milk of human kindness to people already found guilty of crimes. This practice is, respectively, sanctioned by sections 175 and 212 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as altered. This practice is even Biblical. For example, Pontius Pilate wanted to grant pardon to Jesus Christ. But, when the mob protested, he released Barnabas instead of Jesus, and washed his hands off the baying at the blood of an innocent man already exonerated by him and King Herod, in preference of Barnabas who had been accused of treason and other heinous crimes (Mark 15:6). Pardon is an unusual show of kindness to people whom the State has already condemned for certain ignoble acts they committed.

Pardon is a loud statement. The meaning of the statement is determined by the context and circumstances of the act. For example, in a state where there is a high record of kidnapping and cyber fraud, showing mercy to people convicted of kidnapping and cyber fraud could be construed as State connivance, or an impetus for offenders to commit more of such crimes. Nigeria, for example, is rated the 149th out of 180 most corrupt countries in the world, and the second most corrupt country in West Africa, by Transparency International (TI), under its anti-Corruption Perception Index. Granting pardon to people convicted of corrupt practices, whether still serving or having served, may be construed as a tacit approval of such corrupt practices. This becomes more worrisome under a government which made fighting corruption one of its tripodal mantras.

MEANING OF PRESIDENTIAL PARDON

A pardon is an executive order granting clemency for a conviction. It may be granted “at any time” after the commission of the crime.

This right of pardon is granted to the Governor and the President, respectively, under sections 212(1) and 175(1) and (2) of the Constitution, and is legally available to all classes of convicts in Nigeria. It can be obtained by a convict who applies to a Governor or the President, as the case may be, for grant of the prerogative of mercy or pardon in his favour, either personally or through a Solicitor, or even through the prison authorities where he or she is incarcerated and is serving term of imprisonment.

For the purpose of exercising this power, section 153(1)(b) of the Constitution establishes the “Council of State,” which advises the President in the exercise of his prerogative of mercy. The council, as a government agency, is composed of high- heeled and distinguished Nigerians who are believed to be the have full complement of the country’s ethos.

Thus, although the President’s powers in this area are not subject to the strict approval of the Council of State, he cannot act unilaterally, whimsically, capriciously and arbitrarily. The usage of the word ‘shall’ in the phrase, “The President’s powers under paragraph (1) of this section shall be utilized by him after consultation with the Council of State”, demonstrates this. The exact legal force that the advice of the Council of State bears, i.e., whether it should be taken as limiting the President’s powers of pardon, or whether it is merely a courteous procedure to abide by, is a thorny issue amongst analysts. The President’s obligatory gazetting in the Official Public Notice of the Government of the Federation concludes the pardoning process. The President, including the Governor, by extant constitutional provisions, have no constraints or hurdles whatsoever on whom they can grant pardon to.

State pardon is therefore a discretionary power that must be utilized with utmost caution and must accord with the law. It must never be used as a tool of political patronage, nepotic purposes, monetary benefits, or for self-aggrandizement. It must be used in a fair and impartial manner, free of prejudices, bias and public disapproval. It must be strictly in accordance with the best interest of the nation, and the letter and spirit of the Constitution and the code of conduct applicable to all public officers in Nigeria.

THE LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE GRANT OF A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON

The Legal effect of presidential pardon was expatiated upon in EX-PARTE GARLAND 71 U.S. 333 (1866) thus:

“The inquiry arises as to the effect of a pardon, and on this point the authorities concur. A pardon in the eye of the law, cleanses the offender and make him as innocent as if had never committed the offence”. Such a convict is like Naaman the leper who deeped himself in the River Jordan and became cleansed of his leprosy. In FALAE V OBASANJO (1999) 3 LLER 1(CA), the Court of Appeal held that a pardon relieves the person of all sins. Musdapher, JCA (as he then was) said:

“In my view, under Nigerian law there is no distinction between “pardon” and “a full pardon.” A pardon is an act of grace by the appropriate authority which mitigates or obliterates the punishment the law demands for the offence and restores the rights and the privileges on account of the offence. The effect of a pardon is to make the offender a new man, or novus homo, to acquit him of all corporal penalties and forfeitures annexed to the offence pardoned”.

In the same vein, the court in OKONGWU V STATE, (1986) 5 NWLR (Pt. 44) 721, held that a free pardon had the effect of erasing “all suffering, consequences, and punishments whatsoever that the said conviction may ensure, but not to wipe out the conviction itself” from the pardonee. Thus, even where the fines have been vacated, the conviction will forever remain on the record of the court. Thus, even if a person has been pardoned, he can still legally appeal his conviction.

This was why in OKONGWU V STATE (1986) 5 NWLR (Pt. 44) 721, it was held that a free pardon has the effect of blotting out “all suffering, consequences, and punishments whatsoever that the said conviction may ensure, but not to wipe out the conviction itself”.

The 1999 Constitution in sections 175 and 212, have made provisions for the grant of pardon, respite, or clemency to any person, either free, or subject to lawful conditions as may be determined by the President or the Governor, respectively. Such pardon could be for an indefinite or specified period. They could substitute a lesser form of punishment or remit the whole or any part of such punishment, or substitute a less severe form of punishment. While under section 175 (2), the President shall carry out such an exercise after consultation with the Council of State, the state Governor shall carry his out “after consultation with such advisory council of the State on prerogative of mercy as may be established by the law of the State”.

There is the more worrisome legal conundrum in the entire presidential pardon as it pertains to the two Governors. This is whether the president could have legally granted pardon to former Governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba States respectively, having regards to the fact that both men were convicted for offences allegedly committed between November 2000 and May 2007. The offences under which they were tried and convicted fall under State laws which took place after the promulgation of the1999 Constitution during which time they were Governors. Specifically, they were tried and convicted under sections 115,119 and 309 of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, LFN, 1990, obviously an existing State law within the meaning, import and true purport of sections 315(1)(b) and 318 of the 1999 Constitution. This Act which became effective as a state law is applicable to the FCT and the Northern States. This Penal Code Act ,not being a federal legislation of the NASS, became an existing state law deemed duly enacted by the 19 Northern States by virtue of section 315(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution. It becomes clear therefore that only the Governors of Plateau and Taraba States could have legally and rightly granted pardon to Dariye and Nyame,invoking section 212 of the Constitution; and not Mr President under section 175 of the Constitution.

The doctrine of separation of powers ably propounded in 1748 by Baron de Montesque and which is accorded constitutional imprimatur in sections 4,5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution operate here. Should anyone challenge their pardon, an interesting constitutional issue would have been thrown up for constitutional pundits and legal analysts like yours sincerely. Let us now look at the moral implications.

THE MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE PRESIDENTIAL PARDON

The moral implications of granting pardon to people may send different messages and signals to different people. The messages could either be seen as genuine forgiveness, connivance, condonation, conspiracy, or impetus, etc.

There is this aphorism often credited to Benjamin Franklin, to the effect that “to err is human, to forgive is divine and to persist is devilish.” This saying is true. It is Biblical that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Jesus also admonished that if ‘we’ say that ‘we’ have no sin, ‘we’ make Him (Christ) a liar and the truth is not in us. In the case of a woman caught in the act of adultery brought to Jesus Christ for just determination, Christ demonstrated forgiveness by challenging the mob to first cast a stone at the woman if they had no sin. Shortly after the mob departed, Jesus forgave the woman and commanded her not to go back to her sinful lifestyle. Christ gave this woman who was about to be stoned to death a second chance to mend her ways.

Pardon is however an exercise that should be exercised sparingly after due consideration of the fuller implications and after full contrition and penance on the part of the offender. For example, during the military junta, some human rights activists were prosecuted unfairly and executed, some under retroactive laws. Such was the unforgettable grieving fate of the trio of Bartholomew Owoh (26), Lawal Akanni Ojulope (30) and Benard Ogedegbe (29), who were accused of drug peddling, but whose execution was sanctioned by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) as military ruler. This, notwithstanding the intervention the heart-rending pleas by Playwrites Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and J.P Clarke. Granting pardon to people should be viewed by the society as a recognition of a cause worth celebrating, not offensive and fouling the air.

This brings us to the case of Senators Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, both former Governors, who had been convicted and imprisoned for stealing billions of naira from the coffers of their state treasuries and thus impoverished the very people they were elected to govern. These individuals were the Chief Executives of their states. They had sworn oaths of office and allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and vowed that they would govern their states with utmost good faith. However, they betrayed their people by stealing from them. They breached the trust reposed in them. None of them admitted their guilt or wrongdoings until the courts found them guilty, up to the Supreme Court. As a matter of fact, Joshua Dariye was a sitting Senator when the Supreme Court affirmed the 10 year jail term earlier passed on him. What then is the basis for granting pardon to these individuals in a country where corruption is the bane and struts around imperiously like a peacock?

I had noted severally since 2013 (after my release from a 3 week horrific ordeal in the hands of kidnappers), that we must kill corruption which had become the 37th richest and most potent state in Nigeria, before it kills us. By granting pardon to these treasury looters, Buhari is reviving, nurturing and watering corruption with State powers.

When former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreiye Alamieyeigha (DSP) whom I had defended throughout his State-sanctioned ordeal was granted pardon by former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, I wrote and justified it. I did so for the following reasons: DSP had fully served his term of imprisonment after his conviction. He had earlier been pardoned by late president Yar’Adua who later died before consummating the pardon, until Jonathan succeeded him under the “doctrine of necessity”. As noted by former Attorney General, Mohammed Bello Adoke, at page 62 in his 270 page book, titled ” The Burden of Service”, DSP had also shown contrition, remorse and repentance. He had also earlier been pardoned by Yar’Adua, though not gazetted before his death. DSP had also helped greatly in brokering the peace process that led to amnesty in the restive Niger Delta region that halted oil production. This in turn led to stability in the area and reduce pipeline vandalism, kidnapping of expatriates, and thus improved oil production which had plummeted to a state of nadir, leading to national ruckus and impoverishment. He had evidently demonstrated that he believed in one stable Nigeria.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that Alamieyeigha was gravely ill with life-threatening ailment, from which he later died barely 2 years after the pardon was granted him.DSP had thus earned the state pardon after the Council of State recommended approved it. The same cannot be said of these two Governors who were still serving their jail terms.

Thus, the act of granting amnesty or pardon though discretionary, this discretion must be exercised judiciously and in the best interest of the country, so as not to create doubts in and dampen the confidence of, the citizenry in the national moral fabric, and in the fight against corruption.

So, when the Council of State recently authorized the pardon of 159 convicts, including Senator Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and ex-Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba State, who were both imprisoned for stealing N1.16 billion and N1.6 billion respectively, many Nigerians justifiably showed anger, because these two political leaders had been duly tried and convicted for stealing money belonging to their respective states. The courts in Nigeria were unanimous in their verdicts that they were corrupt and had corruptly enriched themselves while serving as governors of their respective states. They were still serving their sentences.

These men had betrayed the trust their people reposed in them by stealing money meant for the development of their respective states while serving as their chief executives.

Many Nigerians thus viewed the action of Mr president in granting them pardon as recommended by the Council of States, which is a body peopled mostly by friends and political benefactors or allies of the convicts, as an action taken in bad faith. This is more so that President Buhari had assumed office on the goodwill of the Nigerian people, largely fuelled by his avowed commitment to fight corruption in all its ramifications, to a standstill.

The purpose of criminal prosecution is to secure justice, not only for the accused, but also for the victims of crimes and the State; and to some extent get reparation and restitution for the victims, while deterring others from going the same route.

Where lies the justice for the impoverished people of Plateau and Taraba States who will now watch their tormentors stroll out with red carpet treatment?

The government budgets huge sums of money for the prosecution of such accused persons from the tax players’ sweat; and if after the rigorous period of trial and subsequent conviction, the guilty are simply let off the hook in such a brazen manner, the little remaining lean hope the citizens have in the system is further diminished.

I dare say that in these two instances, both the President and the Council of State goofed and abused their undoubted constitutional powers and privileges.

A constitutional issue as volatile as this could have been better managed if the minders of the president had told him the embarrassment this could cause the government in the estimation the comity of nations. And it is doing just that.

This brazen abuse of power will definitely ricochet and erode the confidence of our international partners in the fight against corruption. It will also dampen the morale of the agencies fighting corruption, such as EFCC, the Nigeria Police Force, and the ICPC, amongst others.

This singular ill-advised act of abuse of power will also definitely embolden political thieves and unrepentant pilferers of our national commonwealth. It shows that once you are a friend of the President or a member of his political party, or his acolyte and supporter, you can get away with any crime. In other words, in Nigeria, corruption surely pays!

With this action, the fight against corruption appears forlorn and a mirage. What is the essence of spending scarce resources in the name of fighting corruption if at the end of the day the convicts will be pardoned and stroll into their palatial homes in splendour in this ugly manner?

Granted that the constitution gives the President and the Governors the power of prerogative to pardon criminals in deserving circumstances, must it be done in the vulgar way and manner the instant case was handled?

In fairness to the president, not all the 159 convicts and ex-convicts granted presidential pardon are politicians. But, the most prominent of them are the two former Governors. That is what has led to the national rockus,bedlam and hoopla. This is because it could be argued ( and rightly too), that the main essence of the last meeting of the Council of State was to give imprimatur to, and grant pardon to the two political heavy weights, while making up the number with some insignificant lightweight ones, using garnished veneer and sleight of hand .

The president by so doing has certainly violated the provisions of the Constitution and his oaths of office and allegiance to defend the Constitution. This recent pardon, in my humble view, is the worst way to fight corruption. It will further water, nurture and elevate corruption to a fundamental objective and directive principle of State policy. It is so sad and counterproductive.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion

Rivers political crisis: Fubara raves as Wike likely retreats (3)

Published

on

By

Share this story

By Ehichioya Ezomon

As the Rivers political crisis reaches – or being pushed by the feuding parties to – its crescendo, Governor Siminalayi Fubara’s adopted a strategy of one-day, one-taunt, one-threat, one-allegation to deal with his opponents, or enemies of Rivers State, as decreed by the governor.
Hence such headlines as, “Rivers crisis: ‘I have defeated my enemies, they now sleep with two eyes open’ — Fubara,” “Fubara: ‘Small thing I did they no longer sleep,'” “You haven’t seen anything yet, wait for joker, says Fubara,” “We’re battling huge debts left behind by Wike’s government — Fubara,” “Fubara vows to probe Wike, says ‘jungle is mature,'” “I’ll liberate Rivers from oppression, says Fubara,” “Rivers crisis: ‘Conduct yourselves, nobody has monopoly of violence,’ Fubara warns LG chairmen.”
To rein in his traducers, Fubara’s decided to probe the administration of former Governor and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Chief Nyesom Wike – ironically his political godfather-turned nemesis accusingly fueling the Rivers crisis.
On Monday, May 13, at the inauguration of Dagogo Israel Iboroma (SAN) as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, to replace Prof. Zaccheaus Adangor, who resigned after he’s redeployed to the Ministry of Special Duties (Governor’s Office), Fubara vowed he’s “not going back on it (probe).”
He told Mr Iboroma – who’s sworn in after screening by the pro-Fubara three-member House of Assembly, presided by Victor Oko-Jumbo – that he’s brought on board as the Attorney-General to tackle the legal matters faced by the government “with bravery and courage.”
Fubara’s words: “My brother, Dagogo Iboroma, you are going to be the brand new Attorney-General of our dear State. SSG (Secretary to the State Government), give him his letter, he is the Attorney-General
“Why are we bringing you at this very critical time? We have a lot of issues around us. We believe that you are not going to be the one that, when they send (court) service to you, you go and file ‘nolle prosequi’ (a formal notice of discontinuance) or you go and file one thing that would kill us here.
“Let me also say this. You have a big task. We will be setting up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the affairs of governance. So, brace up, I am not going back on it (probe).
“Please, defend us. We know that you are going to defend us because your record is clean. You are a gentleman and peaceful. You are not a noise maker. People like you are endowed, and they have the fear of God.”
Prof. Adangor didn’t escape Fubara’s censor for allegedly sabotaging the administration “he served as chief law officer,” even as Adangor, in his resignation letter, claimed Fubara interfered in the discharge of his duties.
Adangor’s letter reads: “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.”
But as Fubara said: “It is good that you (Iboroma) were already a SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) before your appointment. This means that you’re a very thorough lawyer and has earned your appointment. Not like the one (Adangor) we had here.
“Instead of you (Adangor) to close your mouth, you go publicly to claim that you are a learned person, and go publicly to tell people that you were the chief law officer. Chief law officer?
“You were here and you went to stand before a Magistrates’ court. At that time, you didn’t remember that you were a chief law officer, going against the ethics of your job. Like I said, you will get your reward, not in the next world, but in this world.”
Though Fubara’s elated to’ve found “a well- constituted House of Assembly” (of only three members out of 31) to discharge legislative duties, and “the appointment of a seasoned lawyer as Attorney-General,” he doubts the resolution of Rivers’ crisis amicably due to alleged “deliberate sabotage” of his government.
“It has become very clear that… there is no way to resolve it (crisis) amicably, and for a lot of reasons. There is visible evidence that there is sabotage, deliberate attempt to sabotage this administration,” Fubara said, adding, “for that reason, we have to move forward, and moving forward, if it means taking decisions that are going to hurt anybody, we are not going back.”
One such decision is Fubara’s avowal to rehabilitate the Rivers State House of Assembly Residential Quarters in Port Harcourt, launched in 2022, thus pre-empting the report of experts he’s commissioned to carry out integrity tests on the quarters that houses the lawmakers and their families, and also serves as a legislative house, which Fubara’s lately relocated to the Government House via an Executive Order.
With opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers alleging the governor intends to demolish the structures, as he reportedly did to the House of Assembly complex, Fubara, on Thursday, May 9, displayed the attitude of the typical politician to regard – and appropriate – state resources: financial and material as theirs.
After he “stormed” the residential quarters – and journalists wanted to know his mission to the place, Fubara asked what’s amiss if he visited his own property. He said: “Is the assembly quarters not part of ‘my property’? Is there anything wrong in going to check how things are going on there? You are aware of the developments. We have a new Speaker, and I went there to see for myself how things are. There might be a few things I want to do there for the good of our people.”
Fubara’s query reminds of the late media sensation and Kano State Governor Sabo Bakin Zuwo, during the short-lived Second Republic (1979-1983). Sen. Zuwo had hardly spent a few weeks in his three-month stay in power (October 1 to December 31, 1983) when he appropriated the state resources to the Government House for quick disbursements.
When anti-graft operatives had intel about – and actually saw – the stacked amount of Kano State’s money in the government house – where Zuwo handed it out at his whim and fancy – and was asked for an explanation, the following dialogue ensued:
Zuwo: “Whose money is this?” Security operatives: “Kano State’s money.” Zuwo: Whose house is this?” Security operatives: “Kano State’s Government House.” Zuwo: “You found Kano State’s money in Kano State’s Government House, is there any problem with that?” Security operatives: Tongue-tied, no response!
Fubara’s claim of Rivers property as his also recalls an apocryphal (unverified) saying, attributed to Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre, “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the state,” literally, “the state, that is me”) – allegedly said on April 13, 1655, before the Parliament of Paris – is a phrase that “symbolises absolute monarchy and absolutism,” according to Wikipedia.
In the context of Nigeria’s politics, the President and Governor act as absolute monarchs, who equate themselves as the State, and do what they like with its resources, without questioning from the legislative arm of government under their stranglehold. That’s where Fubara’s veered lately with his proclamation of a three-man Rivers State House of Assembly, to make laws for the state, and oversight the executive that installed the chamber itself.
Getting away with a five-member Rivers Assembly that passed a hefty N800bn budget within 24 hours, and signed into law the next day – a 48-hour wonder – Fubara gambles now with three members in a 31-member assembly, to “guard” his government in the next three years before the 2027 general election.
And seemingly free of the political bondage he’s been held by Wike, Fubara’s ploy – barring any unforeseen circumstances – is to put the final nail into the political coffin of his opponents: Wike and his sacked loyal members of the Rivers Assembly, depending on several factors, chiefly, the direction of cases in court, resistance from the sacked pro-Wike lawmakers, and local council chairmen, whose tenure ends in June, and the courage by Fubara’s three-member legislature to go the whole hog with the governor for the ultimate showdown with Wike.
Top of these challenges is the Wike probe, which sing-song Fubara took a notch higher on Tuesday, May 14, when he alleged that Rivers’ huge debt overhang was incurred by Wike, who also didn’t pay contractors for projects executed for the state, as reported by Premium Times on May 15.
Fubara revealed this at the commissioning of reconstructed 10.89km Aleto-Ogale-Ebubu-Eteo road at Ebubu community, Eleme local government area, where he said he’d lived and worked to get to Level 14 in the Rivers civil service.
His words: “This is to let the world know that if there is one problem this administration has, it is the huge debt burden. Most of the projects being commissioned, the contractors are coming for their balance-payment, and it is running into billions.
“I have said that I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to talk because I was part of that system. But, when you (Wike) keep pushing me to talk, I will say it so that the people will know the true situation of things and be properly informed.”
Fubara’s charge counters claims by then Governor Wike in November 2022, that he’s fully funding the multi-billion naira projects executed by his administration, and that he wouldn’t leave any debts behind for his successor.
Wike said he’s deploying arrears of 13 per cent of oil revenue – (later with additional refunds of N78bn incurred by the prior Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi government (2007-2015) to rebuild federal roads in Rivers) – paid by then President Muhammadu Buhari to Rivers State.
Wike, inaugurating the Rivers State campus of the Nigeria Law School (NLS) declared: “That is why, since 2019 till now, we have been commissioning projects in the state,” and threw a challenge to other governors in the South-South zone “to account for the oil revenue they have received.”
Whatever, Fubara’s poured cold water on Wike’s claim of financial prudence and accountability, as he’s in a postion to know – as then Accountant General of Rivers – the actual financial health of the state, and challenges Wike to account for how he spent Rivers resources in eight years!
On the launching of the road, Fubara said he’s happy to be there (Ebubu community), and “to join the good people of Rivers State to start this wonderful celebration of our first anniversary in the face of all the troubles. It shows that we are still focused, not minding the level of distractions.”
“This project was awarded at the cost of N6.7 billion, and I can say boldly that no kobo is remaining. We’ve paid the contractor its complete sum. Our gathering here is to tell our people that their problem is our problem,” Fubara said.
Obviously as a parting shot at Wike, Fubara said he’d invited Abia State Governor, Dr Alex Otti, to inaugurate the road because Otti is not a man of “artificial integrity,” but a “pragmatic man.”
Now that the die is cast for the probe of the eight-year tenure of governance of Rivers State by Nyesom Wike, how will Governor Fubara proceed with the task? This and other issues will form the next installment of this article!

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

Continue Reading

Opinion

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

Published

on

By

Share this story

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

Continue Reading

Opinion

What’s Gwan with Ajuri Ngelale

Published

on

By

Share this story

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

Continue Reading

Trending