ON Friday, hours after the John Baiyeshea-led seven-man judicial panel exculpated Kogi State deputy governor Simon Achuba of allegations of gross misconduct, the Kogi House of Assembly, which was not even in session, simply hissed at the report and proceeded posthaste to impeach him. The travesty and criminal impersonation were superintended by the Speaker, Kolawole Matthew, but inspired by the governor who for over one year had been at daggers drawn with his deputy. From the very beginning of the misunderstanding, there was really no substance to the allegations against the beleaguered Mr Achuba, but in accordance with the constitution, and given the enormous pressures from the legislature and the executive, the state’s chief judge, Nasiru Ajana, empanelled seven men to investigate the allegations. They returned a not-guilty verdict against the deputy governor, but it is not even clear whether the Assembly in their indecent haste to write their names in infamy had time to fully read the report, let alone digest it, before impeaching him.
The constitution does not prescribe any further action against a candidate slated for impeachment after a judicial panel had found him innocent. It expects that the inspirations behind the impeachment would hold their peace until another expedient time. But since the foisting of Yahaya Bello as governor of Kogi State nearly four years ago by the All Progressives Congress (APC) acting in concert with at least two northern governors and the boneless electoral commission, neither the state nor the constitution has known peace. Mr Bello is a delicate egg in the hands of Aso Villa which is trying to give the spendthrift governor N10bn said to be a refund for federal projects executed by the state on behalf of the federal government, and in the hands of the leadership of the APC which since the John Odigie-Oyegun leadership had indulged the exuberant governor no end. Yet the egg is rotten, and it is not even being handled with care. Kogi State, by their parochialism and repeated election of bad leaders, may deserve Mr Bello, but the buffoonery playing out in Lokoja also soils the image of the country.
Despite the imperfections of the Nigerian constitution, it still contains a few provisions that should make tyranny impossible. The constitution may not preclude a governor like Mr Bello from nursing unprovoked grudges, but it bars him from supervising the process of translating his malice into reality and making it a state policy. The governor had trained his guns on Mr Achuba for reasons many Kogites believe to be frivolous, and tried to harry him into resignation. But the deputy governor is a fighter whose grit has enabled him to withstand all the salvoes of a governor who is often undeterred by his own poor logic, groundless assertions, mistaken beliefs, and inconveniencing provisions of the law and constitution. The more Mr Achuba resisted him and stoically endured the punishment inflicted by the governor, the more Mr Bello became desperate and irrational. It was not surprising, therefore, that the animosity between the two grew to the point that the governor finally contemplated impeachment.
A more rational politician would have left bad enough alone by limiting himself to emasculating the deputy governor. But Mr Bello is not gifted in anything, not to talk of moderation. He was dissatisfied with not paying the salary and allowances of Mr Achuba, and with depriving him of all his entitlements, including imprests to run the deputy governor’s office, and restricting his official activities. So he pines for more pain to inflict on his enemies. It takes a stupendous amount of foolishness and recklessness to insist on impeaching his deputy three months to the state’s governorship election, especially knowing that the charges against Mr Achuba were trumped-up. It takes even more astounding folly to prompt the Assembly to defy the constitution and the report of the judicial panel less than a month to the November 16 election. But if the governor is reckless and unwise, what of the mannequins in the Assembly, that group of so-called lawmakers who are completely empty of conviction and devoid of soul?
For four years, Mr Bello showed contempt for democracy and the constitution, and oppressed and belittled Kogites by his acts of commission and omission, both of which were inspired by his unmitigated incompetence. His four-year developmental record is also threadbare and unremarkable, pockmarked as it is by half-hearted projects, fractionalised salary payments, absenteeism, Aso Villa fawning, and the worst forms of mendacity any governor can concoct. But it is precisely Mr Bello that the APC is backing enthusiastically for re-election in November, except of course they are pretending. If they are not pretending, how can they look Kogites in the face, and how can they peruse their party’s founding principles and goals and go on to back the governor? Aso Villa backs him because they cannot feel the pains he inflicts on the state, while the anguish of the people is too distant from their expressionless faces to behold. But the party under the uppity and gregarious Adams Oshiomhole does not seem to be too far away from the disease and squalor imposed on Kogi by Mr Bello. So how is it possible for the same Mr Oshiomhole’s APC to supervise a primary that rewards a failure?
The answer may not be complicated at all. First, Mr Oshiomhole and other party leaders know that Aso Villa backs Mr Bello, and they had better fall in line. The APC is also not inured to the opinion that a bad APC governor in Kogi, nay a hopeless one, is to be desired far and above a good Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor, especially in view of future elections. It is obvious to most Nigerians by now that increasingly there is no distinction between the APC and PDP in terms of morality and ideology. What sets them apart is probably the idiosyncrasies of their members and leaders. Subjected to the same environment and issues, both parties would behave and react the same way, bar some minor, unimportant differences. Indeed, once the APC endorsed Mr Bello for re-election via a mischievously conducted governorship primary, there was no turning back. Both the party and its incompetent candidate will have to swim or sink together.
Neither the APC nor Mr Bello will be bothered about the law and the constitution. The governor will pretend that the legislature independently impeached the deputy governor. He has at any rate asked his running mate in next month’s election and former chief of staff, Edward Onoja, to be sworn in as Mr Achuba’s replacement. The party is unlikely to say anything about the travesty playing out in Kogi. It is too late for them to denounce the process that saw them buying a pig in a poke when they foisted the governor on the state. Mr Bello is their illegitimate child; they must cuddle him. Kogites would be too numbed by the dizzying speed of the tragedy they are witnessing and experiencing to even think of composing a proper or sensible response. And Justice Ajana, the state chief judge who is expected to swear in the replacement, Mr Onoja, must by now find himself walking on electric spikes. Being a sensible and studious man, he knows that after Mr Achuba has been dragged to the gallows, he is next; for the governor has dedicated himself to unseating him and pocketing the judiciary just as he has castrated the legislature.
The APC is preoccupied with the next elections. They have not spared any thought for having an incompetent and brutal man in office. Should Mr Bello win re-election, Kogites would gash their teeth and resign to hopelessness, cursing everyday of their lives, and cursing everyone that aided and abetted the governor’s return. Mr Bello is thoroughly loathed in Kogi; surely the APC cannot pretend not to know that. He has lied about salary payments, lied about projects, including the exaggerated rice mill he recently commissioned with fanfare, lied about his friends, lied about his enemies, and does not give a damn about democracy, the rule of law and the constitution. He in fact knows nothing about anything. It is such a man that Mr Oshimhole wants to persuade Kogites to return to office? Simply because of the next elections?
No one should see Mr Achuba’s impeachment purely from the legal or constitutional angle. It has little to do with both. It has everything to do with the governor, his flawed and unlikeable personality, his obsession with controlling the state totally and ruthlessly, his base desire to massage his own ego and pursue objects that no rational man can defend. He runs a confused and superfluous executive branch, has corrupted the soul of the legislature, pauperised the civil service, laid the state’s economy waste, and has begun the mother of all battles against the judiciary. The only arm of government still engaged in a principled stand against him is the judiciary. But his fight against them began barely two years into his governorship, and became pronounced last year. The state of the fight is hard to gauge, for at the moment it is doubtful whether Justice Ajana can confidently say the National Judicial Council (NJC) has his back as much as Mr Bello can say he has wide-ranging and top-level backing in judicial and security circles in the country.
There is hardly anyone within or outside Kogi who thinks Mr Achuba’s impeachment will stand, not even the lawmakers who authored that nonsense. But the governor and the legislature know how disruptive impeachment can be, even though it does not win the governor any plaudits or extra votes. Should the governor be re-elected, he will do much worse than he has done so far. The APC has shown itself powerless to do anything about Mr Belo’s re-election bid. To impress Aso Villa, they may in fact make significant efforts to help the bungling governor. But what of Kogites themselves? Mr Bello is Ebira, a minority group from Kogi State Central senatorial district that cannot singlehandedly win him the coveted seat. Though he is their son, the Ebira do not think he has done anything substantial to endear himself to them. But whether they hate him enough within the context of the state’s extremely parochial politics to vote for his PDP opponent remains to be seen. The chances, however, are that the turnout from that area will be low, a low turnout that could become significant if the governor’s team does not fiddle with the votes.
The Yoruba Okun people from Kogi West loathe Mr Bello, and had proved it during the last senatorial election by voting for Dino Melaye whose theatrics they resent. Their son, Sam Aro, is running mate to the PDP’s Musa Wada, but are being lured by Mr Bello with the tenuous offer that after his next four years he would back the Okun for power rotation. A number of Okun leaders have taken the bait, but it is difficult to tell in the weeks ahead whether enough of them would still rally behind Mr Bello’s bloodied and unprincipled banner. The Okun are told that four more egregious years of Mr Bello should be more tolerable than possibly eight more years of Engr. Wada, an Igala from Kogi East. When they rejected Smart Adeyemi in the last senatorial election that has now been annulled, the Okun gave indication that their politics was becoming mature and discriminating, quite unlike their past ineffective and illogical politics during the founding of the state. If experience triumphs over hope in November, the Okun will repudiate Mr Bello again.
Mr Bello’s running mate, the mercurial Mr Onoja, is Igala. But he is regarded as uncouth and trusts in the Bello government’s ability to cajole voters to choose APC. He will, however, be countermanded by the Igala-born PDP candidate who is thought to be temperamentally better than Mr Bello. But he recently and unwisely appealed to the parochialism of the Igala, prompting fear that he is cut from the same cloth as the two past insular governors of the state, Ibrahim Idris and Idris Wada, two undistinguished political families to which Mr Wada is connected either by blood or by marriage. Mr Onoja thinks his people are venal enough to embrace him and the Bello ticket. Engr. Wada, however, thinks the Igala are self-seeking enough to embrace a ticket that has an Igala man as governorship candidate. Again, like the dilemma confronting the Okun, the Igala will find themselves choosing between two candidates on the grounds of either experience or hope. Their instincts may in the final analysis be driven by the terrible experience every Kogite has had under the Bello governorship, an experience that may likely be aggravated to an intolerable level in the coming years should the governor get an undeserved second term.
The law is in abeyance in Kogi State. Its legislature decided to simply brush aside both the constitution and decorum in order to unconstitutionally impeach the deputy governor. They want the chief judge to swear in the volatile and imperious Mr Onoja as deputy governor, just weeks to the end of the Bello governorship. Hopefully, Justice Ajana, or any other judicial officer to which the Bello government might make recourse, would decline to perform that ugly and unconstitutional task both in order to prove that the panel constituted to examine the allegations against the deputy governor was not nugatory, and also to prove that the allegiance of judicial officers is to the constitution, not the governor. In impeaching Mr Achuba, the constitution was criminally dishonoured. Swearing in Mr Onoja tomorrow would be a violation of the constitution. No judicial officer should be so indifferent to the constitution as to respect the governor’s wishes. In any case, the imprudent Mr Bello can be trusted to precipitate a bigger crisis in the near future to harass Justice Ajana and subdue the judiciary should the governorship poll favour him. Self-preservation should, therefore, dictate to the chief judge and all self-respecting judicial officers that adhering scrupulously to the constitution of the country is a far better option for them. Let the incautious Mr Bello blow his top then; and let him bring on the crisis he so desperately and foolishly covets less than four weeks to his fateful re-election. Justice Ajana has nothing to lose by ensuring that the judiciary stays out of Mr Bello’s self-created logjam.
Culled from The Nation