Two blows landed last week, almost simultaneously, on what were thought to be some of this country’s most venerable heads. One blow landed in Kano on the wig of the judiciary, while another one landed at Iseyin, Oyo State, right on the elaborate head gear of Yoruba Obas.
The tribunal adjudicating on Kano State’s governorship election case is nearing the end of its assignment and tension is high between NNPP, whose candidate was declared winner of the election last March, and APC, whose candidate finished second and is hoping to overturn the results at the tribunal. One would have thought that the decent thing for either side to do is to get good lawyers, marshal their evidence and legal arguments and present them as best they could before the judges. In a high stakes matter such as this, it is understandable if either party kneels down in private and seeks the help of the Almighty God. One can even go further and seek the help of marabouts to pray and recite some incantations, if he believes that they have the ears of God. They should however do so privately. Prayer’s efficacy becomes a little bit difficult if the person to whom it is directed gets to hear about it.
I was amazed therefore that in recent weeks, both NNPP and APC supporters in Kano collected thousands of their supporters and publicly staged prayers for success at the election tribunal. I thought that was indecent. What will the judges think, to see pictures on television of people publicly praying in order to swing their votes on what is supposed to be a purely legal and evidence-based matter? As a litigant, you have no confidence in the ability of your lawyers or in the evidence they tendered before the court. Instead, you are counting on supernatural intervention to swing the hand of judges in order to accomplish what your legal team is unable to do?
Ok, since both sides publicly appealed to God to weigh in on their side of the election case, how are the judges to know which of the two opposing prayers the Almighty decided to accede to? When the tribunal finally delivers its ruling, is the losing side going to agree that God granted the prayer of the other side, or will they believe that God actually granted their own side of the prayer but that the judges disobeyed God and delivered their ruling in favour of the other side? These are some of the dangers inherent in what is happening in Kano, with congregational prayers to seek God’s intervention in an election case.
From prayers to death threats. It was no surprise last week that during an NNPP prayer session, state Commissioner for Land and Physical Planning, Adamu Kibiya, easily went further. He said, “People voted for us and some people are attempting to do injustice. We want to tell the judges that we will not accept this. Any judge that is willing to deprive us of our rights will regret it. Whatever will happen, we won’t care.”
What? Threaten to kill a judge if a ruling does not favour your side of the case? There is an assumption here, that if your side loses the case, it must be because the judges accepted bribes from the other side. By logical extrapolation, should we assume that every public officer and every public institution that carries out its duty, must have done so because it was bribed? Are we to assume, for example, that the Returning Officer who declared NNPP’s Abba Kabir Yusuf winner of the governorship election, was bribed to do so?
In the event, Governor Abba Yusuf acted in the best way possible and with the utmost dispatch. He disowned the threat by Kibiya and promptly sacked him as commissioner. He also sacked his Special Adviser on Youths and Sports, Aliyu Yusuf Imam alias Ogan Boye, who was said to have shown much disrespect to the Vice President of the Federal Republic at the same occasion. While the governor’s prompt action was commendable, NNPP leaders still have more work to do to reign in their overzealous supporters because on the very day Kibiya was sacked, another party chieftain issued a viral video reiterating what Kibiya said in an even more virulent manner and repeating the same threats to kill judges if they rule against NNPP and its candidate. He said Kano will burn if Abba loses the case; that if Kano burns, the North will burn and that if the North burns, Nigeria will burn! All because of one man’s election.
Kibiya has already inflicted great damage to the outcome of the tribunal ruling, whichever way it goes. If it rules in Governor Abba Gida Gida’s favour, some people will say it was fear due to Kibiya’s threat that got the favourable ruling. On the other hand, if NNPP loses, Kibiya and his co-travelers will say well, they said so, that APC bribed the judges to secure a ruling in its favour.
Ok, given the current difficult socio-economic situation in the country and the unbridled hurry of many young persons to book a ticket out of poverty and powerlessness, one must sympathise with a young commissioner who fears the possible loss of his boss’ position due to a court case. Removal of a governor in Nigeria is very traumatic, not just for the governor himself but for the hundreds or even thousands of people who could come crashing down with his removal. Fact however is, it has happened many times already in Nigeria and the world did not come to an end.
Prof Oserheimen Osunbor was already getting used to the taste of power in Edo State Government House when an election appeal tribunal removed him in November 2008 and installed Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. In terms of political restiveness, Edo State is only slightly less volatile than Kano, but people took the change in their stride and Comrade ruled for eight [volatile] years. Three months earlier in Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu had been in the governorship saddle for 5 years already when a tribunal yanked it away and handed it over to Olusegun Mimiko, even after President Obasanjo had declared the 2007 election in the state to be a do-or-die affair to keep Mimiko out. In Osun State too in 2010, an appeals tribunal snatched the governorship away from Olagunsoye Oyinlola and gave it to Rauf Aregbesola. It couldn’t have been any less painful in Ekiti State in 2010 when Dr. Segun Oni was yanked off his seat by a tribunal and Dr. Kayode Fayemi took over in his place.
Look here Kibiya, you are only a commissioner. Where were you in 2014 when Alhaji Garba Umar UTC, who had been acting Governor of Taraba State since Governor Danbaba Suntai’s plane accident in 2012, was yanked off when Supreme Court said Muhammadu Sani Danladi was improperly impeached as deputy governor? Many people did not believe the ruling, and said it was General T.Y. Danjuma that threw around his weight to prevent UTC from succeeding Suntai.
UTC walked away quietly and did not threaten any judge’s life. How painful could it be, that Emeka Ihedioha had been governor of Imo State for seven months, but was yanked off by Supreme Court in January 2020 to make way for Hope Uzodinma, who came fourth in the election declared by INEC? Look, things cannot get any more painful than Yenagoa in 2019. Governor-elect David Lyon was inspecting the parade ground ahead of his swearing in the following day when he heard that Supreme Court had annulled his election, due to his deputy governor’s mixed-up names, and handed over the seat to Duoye Diri. Why didn’t he threaten to kill any judge?
Ok, so much for the blow at judges’ wigs. On Thursday last week, former President Olusegun Obasanjo caused a major stir during an event at Iseyin, Oyo State when he suddenly told Oyo State Obas present at the event to stand up to greet him, and then ordered them to sit down. According to Obasanjo, who is supposed to know protocol and etiquette having been a top Federal officer for a cumulative 20 years including 11 years as Head of State, royal fathers and everyone else are supposed to stand up and greet a former Head of State when he walks into an event. If it happens, it must be voluntary. I remember participating in an Arewa Consultative Forum committee meeting at Kaduna’s Trade Fair Complex in 2001 when suddenly, the door opened and General Yakubu Gowon walked in unannounced. Everyone in the hall sprang to their feet. The ever-gentlemanly Gowon pleaded with us to remain seated.
To put President Obasanjo’s demand in perspective, let us go back to the historical roots of Executive Presidency and presidential succession for some guidance as to the protocol position of a former president in the scheme of things. Americans invented Executive Presidential system in the late 18th century. On March 4, 1897, delegates and VIPs were filing out of the hall in Philadelphia, where John Adams had just narrowly won election as second President of the United States [the vote was by state electors, not universal suffrage]. As they approached the door, everyone stood aside for the first US President, George Washington, to leave first. Washington, like Obasanjo an Army General who fought in the American War of Independence, also stood aside. He beckoned to new President, John Adams, pointed at the door and said, “President of the United States.” Adams went out, then Washington beckoned to new Vice President Thomas Jefferson and said, “Vice President of the United States.” Jefferson followed Adams, then the former president and father of the American nation said, “George Washington, private citizen.” And he went out next. He didn’t ask anyone to stand up or sit down. A former president is a private citizen. That is how great men set precedence.