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Politics of ransom



Politics of ransom


In the middle of the most tumultuous period in Nigerian politics since 2014/2015, the legislature, judiciary and the president of the country are all currently on vacation. In their wake, they have left uncertainty and discord amongst the people, as the country stands by for more political drama in the coming weeks. Some say our democracy is going through a necessary learning curve, while others see the recent gale of defections and political rigmarole as signs of a system in decline.

Whatever one believes, the impact of the intense political activity of the last couple of weeks will fall on ordinary citizens and that is why we must look very closely at the unfolding events. There are many talking points, but none can be as bothersome as the case of abuse of power that has featured repeatedly in the last few weeks. It appears that the idea of “federal might” is being taken too seriously, with the brazen and unapologetic deployment of security agents in purely political ‘manoeuvres’.

The nation woke up to the news of the blockade by the police and other security agents on Senate President Bukola Saraki’s residence and that of his deputy, Ike Ikweremadu, on the morning of July 24, the day the defection of a large number of legislators from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, was to be announced. Although the presidency has denied any involvement or interference with investigations, the timing and the manner of the supposed “invitations” that led to the blockade was very suspect. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, also issued an invitation to the deputy senate president on the same morning requesting that he report to the agency on that same day.

Days after that incident, there was trouble involving the police again in Benue State, after Governor Samuel Ortom announced his defection from the APC to the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. Scores of police officers reportedly cleared out and cordoned off the Benue State House of Assembly to pave way for eight members of the house to carry out a shambolic impeachment of Governor Ortom. Their futile efforts were not only ridiculous because of lack of majority to carry out such a step in a 30-man assembly, it was also in direct contravention of a court order served on impeached speaker of the house, Terkibir Ikyange and the seven others he led to disobey the law. While the trend of misapplied impeachment is not new to the Nigerian political scene, the heavy involvement of the police was the most troubling issue about that episode.

Hours after Ortom’s defection, allegations about his misappropriation of around N22 billion based on investigations by the EFCC also resurfaced. This follows in the same line as the Code of Conduct Tribunal trial of Saraki which began after he defied the ruling party to grab the seat of senate president. After Saraki was vindicated by the courts, he was ‘co-incidentally’ roped into another investigation by the police of a bloody robbery operation that took place in Offa, in Kwara State, as his supposed anti-party activities continued. Not to forget also, that Senator Dino Melaye who displayed similar anti-party behaviour is still the subject of prosecution by the police over similar allegations in Kogi State.

The picture that is emerging from all of this is that of misuse of power to hound political rivals. There is always a tendency for this kind of power play in politics, but the brazen manner in which it has been carried out in recent years, especially by the police, leaves one to wonder whether the security agents are familiar with their core duty, which is to the people and not as pawns to politicians or those in power.  Too many instances of misuse of force by security agencies have been reported. Even though there are denials for most of these allegations of high-handed and vindictive policing, the recurrence of similar incidents prove that bad decisions are being made at some level and it is reflecting badly on the government in power, no matter where responsibility lies.

Abuse of power is an unfortunate feature of Nigerian politics. Our politicians focus more on the force of power and authority and use it as a weapon where it serves their interests. There is no room for real politicking, where compromises are made and common ground is found. This is why impeachment is on the lips of federal and state legislators at the slightest sign of trouble. There have been many ‘attempted impeachments’ in the history of Nigerian politics, rushed into by angry legislators who, blinded by their vindictive appetites, pay no mind to the law, stability or amicable settlement. The recent impeachment of Eze Madumere, Imo State deputy governor, may yet be added to the list of failed attempts if the courts overturn the 17 members of the Imo State House of Assembly.

The senate president’s defection from the APC to the PDP has also added fuel to the already raging fire in Nigerian politics in recent weeks. Although it has been a long time coming, the actual act has caused predictable ripples at high levels. Not surprisingly, there is talk of impeachment of the senate president for crossing over to the opposition. The debate now raging in the senate is as to which of the two leading political parties holds a majority. With uncertainty about exactly who has defected to where, the nation waits patiently for the senate to return from recess to see how this situation unfolds.

In the meantime, rumour is still afloat about reverse defections and the role of threats in those defections. Akwa-Ibom’s strongman, Godswill Akpabio, is reportedly in the process of defecting to the APC. Akpabio was a key member of PDP in the last dispensation who went silent on the floor of the senate in this administration after the anti-graft authorities called him in. He is believed by some to have been involved in extensive corruption during his time as Akwa-Ibom State governor and an EFCC dossier on his activities is now being used as leverage against him.

If the APC takes in Akpabio, it will be a validation of the popular belief that the APC and PDP are birds of the same feather and that the authorities adopt selective prosecution as a tool for maintaining power and putting the opposition in check. One wonders how many of our serving legislators and other officials have similar files that have been kept in the store for them or whether indeed there exists any politician or serving official without a dossier of corruption.

These types of political drama always happen very close to elections and caution is thrown to the wind in most cases. Many are of the opinion that the occurrences are necessary for the growth of our young democracy. In truth, there is absolutely no need for our democracy to pass through the rigours of maturing that old established systems went through centuries ago. If we are a young country as they say, we have the years of experience and examples from matured democracies to learn from, instead of stumbling through the same obstacles.

The law has also not kept up with our growing democracy. One would have expected that the issue of defection and its consequence should be a matter of settled law. Also, because of the rash of unlawful impeachments and the propensity of legislators to abuse the process, the appraisal and endorsement of a superior court, or a tribunal made of senior members of the judiciary should be a more prominent part of the impeachment process. This may forestall hasty and faulty impeachments and the waste of judicial time in contesting the process.

There may be no fool-proof way for preventing the misuse of power by a person in authority, but there may be a way to ensure that the consequences of abuse of power are suffered by the culprits instead of letting the matter drag on until it can be weaponised as an instrument of blackmail or for a political agenda. This should be the focus of political reforms in coming years.





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