THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
(08035892325 sms only) | email@example.com
By Mohammed Adamu
Between 1999 and 2008 I had the privilege of working as an Aide to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first and second Special Advisers on National Assembly Matters, beginning with Ambassador Aminu Bashir Wali and followed almost immediately, with Senator Florence Ita-Giwa. By the way my baptism of fire was the onerous task, in 1999, of having to assist my Principal re-establish this vital office; that is, since its fleeting existence as far back as the late seventies up to the early eighties when the late Chuba Okadigbo was appointed to man it as Shehu Shagari’s Presidential Liaison Officer, PLO.
And although the job may have been more omnibus then, encompassing legislative and other political matters, nonetheless Okadigbo himself was as ‘green’ even then on the job as the legislative terrain itself was virgin –fresh that is, from a return to civil rule after over a decade of three successive military interregnums. Reason being that this particular executive office alone had always suffered abolishment with the entire legislative arm whenever the Military had mis-adventured into governance -because the law-making institution of military juntas had always been subsumed by its Executive high command. They would not brook the luxury of such time-wasting executive-legislature diplomacy that democratic governance affords before laws are made.
By the way, by 1999 Obasanjo had now reconfigured and upgraded this office into a ‘Department For Legislative Liaison’ headed by a ‘Presidential Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters’ –referred to by bureaucratic nomenclature as SAP/NASS- who had the unenviable lot of operating side by side with two coordinate Presidential Liaison Offices duplicitously created and headed by PLOs, one each to the Senate and the House of Representatives, and both of whom were not only independent of each other but were also unwittingly ranked co-equally with the SAP/NASS as Ministers of State ‘designate’.
This appointive error by an equally-green horn President with the atavism of military antecedent would make subordination, coordination or even cooperation between and among these legislative agents practically impossible. And this actually would be the undoing, technically, of Obasanjo’s Presidential initiative at the legislative arena in his first four years -because if there is anything that the legislative terrain abhors, it is the existence of disparate approaches and discordant executive voices in this all-important task of a mutually-beneficial ‘checks and balance’ governmental duty. A multiplicity of executive voices and approaches at the legislature cannot hope, effectively to court a legislature that is itself a Babel of discordant voices from a multi-cultural milieu.
But this exactly was what had inevitably happened all through Obasanjo’s first term in office: a multiplicity of voices inadvertently created by the President himself, were unrestrainedly allowed also to operate in a manner that would pitch the Obasanjo, almost daily, and on virtually every issue, against a manifestly egotistic NASS which, alas, was headed too, in de facto capacity, by a cantankerously ego-tripping Speaker Ghalli Umar Na’Abba. The wonder was not whether there could be problem between the two arms, rather the question was: when?
While a more politically mature Aminu Wali, the SAP/NASS, was left with the short end of the legislative stick, the two PLOs, Kashim Imam and Esther Oduehi had both counterproductively moved on pulling their lonely furrows at the NASS and making enemies for the President, -until the House would ban Oduehi from its legislative activities and the Senate would give the President ultimatum to withdraw Kashim. And although an unexpectedly patronizing Obasanjo had caved in especially to the Senate’s demand and replaced Kashim with a certain Phill Agbasi from Rivers who would pledge the allegiance of his office to my Principal’s, this welcomed sign of cooperation was still too little and too late. The relationship between the Executive and the Legislature was already at its nadir as Presidential bills were already receiving the scantest regards at both the Senate and the House, even as many of his requests especially for approval of appointments were either being rejected or unduly delayed.
And to make matters worse, many of the President’s Ministers -unwittingly believing that they owed their Principal the duty to fight his war with the NASS by proxy- decided also to scantily regard –by refusing to cooperate with- legislators on oversight duties. In the end the unintended consequence, inevitably, was that the National Assembly decided it would impeach the President. And thanks to a Constitution which –although it has preconditioned this constitutional remedy only on the commission of ‘gross misconduct’- ironically it has also given Parliament, fairly or foully, the power to be the one to determine what constitutes ‘gross misconduct’. In no time a malevolently angry NASS had compiled and served the President an impeachment notice containing over 30 areas in which they alleged that Obasanjo had ‘grossly mis-conducted’ himself.
Soon, the whole country was on the pell-mell, as political gladiators either covertly stoked the impeachment fire or desperately importuned the NASS to forgive him. This was Speaker Ghalli’s finest hour, -the House being the arrow head of the impeachment move- and as delegations after delegations of politicians, traditional rulers and so called leaders of thought paid him courtesy calls pleading that the NASS sheath its sword and release the stranglehold on the President. The President would allow his presumptive archest political enemy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, to officially visit Ghalli at the NASS and to intercede for his Principal ironically behind closed doors, and many Nigerians would say thereafter, that the visit, rather thaw the Speaker’s intransigence, emboldened it.
And after virtually all overtures had failed to save the President, it had to take the unsung intervention of the most unlikely quarters, namely the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, SAP/NASS, to cause the appropriate lobby initiative that would end the attempt to impeach President Obasanjo. The ‘Shehu Shagari World Institute’ a non-governmental body on democracy and good governance had been Aminu Wali’s choice for an NGO that had regularly handled our multi-zonal legislative advocacy initiative on a pet enlightenment campaign to educate especially lawmakers at both federal and state levels on the importance of constituent-action in a democracy.
The late Shehu Shagari had personally written to thank Aminu Wali profusely for this patronage, and in fact it was this technical relationship between the SAP/NASS and the Shagari World Institute that had entitled Aminu Wali both the privilege and the confidence to personally place a call to request the intervention of Shehu Shagari in the attempt to resolve his Principal’s impeachment saga. And the former President obliged. The only condition Shagari had attached to his acceptance was that a reverent statesman and a gentleman, namely Yakubu Gowon, should be lobbied to join him on the project or else he was not disposed to a solo initiative.
And in less than twenty four hours surprisingly, Aminu Wali, through the intervention of many respected political allies, had succeeded in securing the kind acceptance of Yakubu Gowon who, ironically too, had said that the only reason he was accepting to participate was that a statesman and a reverent gentleman like Shehu Shagari was involved in it. Call it para-psychic telepathy, how these two former leaders independently affirmed the profound admiration, almost bordering on mutual hero-worship, that existed between them. And the rest was history. It had taken these two barely a visit to the National Assembly to end the months-long shenanigans about impeaching Obasanjo.
In retrospect, when some of the hawk-iest pro-impeachment foot soldiers of Ghalli heard what Aminu Wali was planning, many of them had trooped to our office pleading desperately with my Principal not to take the wind off the sail of their determination to impeachment the President. And the first time I would witness this attempts to get my boss discontinue with the plan, I had wondered aloud to him why they were this almost hysterically desperate, and my Principal said to me “They know that if these two men come to plead with them not to carry on with the impeachment process, they cannot say no. That is why.”
To be continued