Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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It was a historic victory that caught both the victor and the vanquished off guard. Never in the history of democratic elections had a challenger thoroughly thrashed an incumbent as Muhammadu Buhari did Goodluck Jonathan on 28 March 2015.
Amazingly, the President elect who was making his third attempt at the high office appeared to be the greatest victim of his goodluck. His faulting first steps gave the impression that he was expecting to be pronounced the loser again as it happened in 2003 and 2011. His inability to assemble his own team in the executive branch, even for offices that did not need legislative approval was embarrassing even to his ardent supporters.
And then came the more tricky aspect of democratic governance as provided for in the 1999 Constitution – balancing the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The constitution assigns the role of making the laws of Nigeria to the legislature; the interpretation of such laws to the judiciary while responsibility for executing the laws goes to the executive.
In the campaigns that led to the election of 2015, Buhari’s top agenda and in fact his selling point was the war against corruption. The overwhelming support he enjoyed at the election was the perception by the electorate that he was Mr. Clean in an environment of filth. To be able to cleanse the society, he had to work hand in gloves with the law makers and the interpreters of the law.
Sadly, he demonstrated grave political naivety when he announced publicly that he was ready to work with whoever emerged as the leader of the legislature. He did not have to commit himself to that principle in that manner, not even at gun point. The harvest of our political experience under the presidential system is that the president cannot be indifferent to who emerges as the President of Senate – the leader of the legislature.
In 1979, Shehu Shagari emerged as President after the elections. The Senate was however dominated by the four other political parties. If the four decided join forces and work against him, they would have crippled his government. That was how an idea was born of an accord with the NPP.
I have had the rare opportunity to discuss the process of reaching that accord with Wantaregh Paul Unongo, who as the NPP National Secretary General played a major role in fashioning out the accord. I have also discussed same with Dr. Joseph Wayas, who became Senate President and Chief Edwin Ume Ezeoke and Benjamin Chaha who became House Speakers.
What emerged from these discussions which are meant for a book I’ am writing is that Shehu Shagari was an astute political tactician. He knew what he wanted and even as he operated from a disadvantaged position, he insisted on what he wanted and got it. He did not do this by shouting from the roof top. He embarked on quiet, clever diplomacy and political brinkmanship.
As an elected president, Olusegun Obasanjo did not have the infinite patience nor political finesse of Shehu Shagari. He had his own crude and militant ways. He installed Senate Presidents and removed them the way he changed his under wears. Dr. Chuba Okadigbo granted me his first exclusive interview after he lost the race to the Senate Presidency in 1999. What he told me off record reveals a lot about the extent to which Obasanjo can go in damaging those he disagrees with politically.
No elected president in Nigeria, more so one with a crucial election promise like fighting corruption can go home and sleep saying “let any Tom, Dick and Harry emerge as Senate President. I am ready to work with him.” Buhari made that fatal mistake and paid for it very dearly. Outwitted by Senator Bukola Saraki, he was caught flatfooted and his novel exercise of dragging the Senate president to court and putting him in a dock did not help matters. The horse had bolted out already. There was little use securing the gate.
The good news today is that the President and his fellow travelers have learnt a lesson from that grave mistake. The current efforts at sorting out the leadership question in the Senate early enough is a wise move.
Still, the President needs the judiciary. This is another area where his government erred rather woefully. Whoever advised his government to send armed troops to invade the houses of serving judges in the middle of the night did his government a great disservice. The man who gave such an advice is a quack and if he is still in government should be dismissed with ignominy and immediate effect.
In the 70’s we used to hear of Idi Amin Dada of Uganda and Jean Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Empire doing such things to their judges. We used to say then that such things cannot happen in Nigeria. For such a thing to happen in Nigeria in 2000+ was a big shame.
The person under whose presidency it happened has a not too pleasant relationship with the judiciary. When he came to power as a Military Head of State in 1984, General Buhari set up the Special Military Tribunals. The Nigerian Bar Association challenged the composition of the Tribunals and their mandate. They were headed by serving military men and their mandate was to treat all politicians and political office holders as criminals. The onus was on the people so accused to prove that they were innocent. The NBA did not only disagree with Buhari at that time, all members of the Bar were barred from appearing before the Tribunals.
As a reporter covering the Kaduna zone of the Special Military Tribunals 1984-5, I had first-hand experience in the way they functioned. I was there when Abubakar Rimi exploded against his sentencing. He told the Tribunal that with such system of judicial administration, Nigeria had no reason to complain about Apartheid in South Africa. Commodore Elegbede the chairman of the Tribunal shouted on Rimi to shut up. Rimi said he was not going to shut up and continued with his tirade against the government and the Tribunal regardless. The two men almost went physical against each other before the Tribunal broke up abruptly.
Worse still, the judgments of the Tribunals were rather grotesque. Sabo Bakin Zuwo who was already over 50 years was handed a 200 year jail term. In response, he prayed for God to grant Elegbede the age of Metassula so that he would be alive to make sure he Bakin Zuwo served out his sentence. In any case, he said he did not blame Elegbede much because the Nigerian Judiciary was at that time “under judicial hara – hara- hara” then the final word came out “harakari”. Whatever Bakin Zuwo meant by the term judicial harakari, they were not very complementary of the Judiciary under Buhari’s military government.
The point’s man of the judiciary under our 1999 Constitution is the Attorney General and Minster of Justice. The Constitution takes that office so seriously that it is the only cabinet office that is mentioned in the supreme law of the land. The capacity of the man holding such an office to discharge his duties should not be open to question. Shagari had Richard Akinjide, a widely experienced SAN with a capacity for creative mischief. Obasanjo had Chef Bola Ige, a man of unfathomable intellect and experience. Even Yaradua had Michael Aondokaa who did not have the experience or intellect of Akinjide and Bola Ige but had the knuckle head, energy and capacity to fight legal rascality with legal rascality, even on the streets.
The current holder of that office has a fine face. That is all he has going for him. The judiciary at the moment is up in arms against the government of Buhari because of his wholesale incompetence in handling that office. That office is a serious office. It is not a place for beauty pageants.