The tragedy of lack of a collective sense of history (2)
CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY
The impeachment and removal from office of Governor Dariye of Plateau State
THE subversion in Plateau State featured the use of the police, drafted as EFCC operatives, to lay a siege on the meeting place of the State Assembly. The siege laid on the meeting place of the Plateau State House of Assembly, on 5 October, 2006 has been described for us in graphic language by Chief Solomon Lar, the pioneer chairman of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an indigene and former Governor of the State,
“In the early hours of that day [he wrote], the Police in Jos surrounded the House of Assembly and blocked all roads leading to it. Later in the day, the EFCC arrived with seven of the legislators in its custody at Abuja under heavy police guard. They were marched into the House of Assembly where they were ordered to rehearse some actions which the public was later told was the removal of the Governor of the State by six of the members. The two who disagreed and attempted to move out were ordered back into the hall at gunpoint. The legislators were later herded into a bus and driven back to Abuja from whence they came – all under the supervision of the EFCC accompanied by well armed policemen.”
Again, Dariye’s impeachment and removal from office had been foreshadowed by the unconstitutional and illegal declaration of a state of emergency in the State for six months (later extended for a further six months), and by the equally unconstitutional and illegal suspension from office of the
Governor and House of Assembly during the state of emergency.
The physical maltreatment of Governor Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State and his impeachment and removal from office Obasanjo and Nuhu Ribadu disgraced and degraded the high office of the Governor of a State by having the Governor of Bayelsa State arrested and handcuffed inside an aircraft in London in the view of other passengers as he landed there from Germany, and again had him handcuffed as he was marched to prison in Lagos, when such action was not warranted by the offence of money laundering which he was alleged to have committed. Handcuffing a person in public view for a non-violent offence, like money laundering, is certainly a degrading treatment outlawed by section 34(1) of the Constitution. The handcuffing could not have been for any other reason than to disgrace or humiliate him in order to satisfy the vengefulness and spite of the power that be. What was involved was not just the arrest and handcuffing of an individual; it was, in a symbolic sense, the arrest and handcuffing in a foreign country of part of the sovereignty of Nigeria embodied or incarnated by the Governor. The impeachment and removal from office of the Bayelsa State Governor had nearly all the sordid features of the impeachmjent and removal of the other State Governors described above.
The freezing of all the bank accounts of the Plateau State Government and the seizure of Bayelsa State’s November 2005 allocation from the Federation Account
In the whole scenario of acts of victimization and vendetta by President Obasanjo and the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu, perhaps no other such act is more punitive or subversive of the Rule of Law than the freezing by the Commission on 13 January, 2006 of all the bank accounts, 23 altogether, of the Plateau State Government in four named banks for the offence of corruption allegedly committed, not by the Government or any of its agencies, but by Governor Dariye as an individual government functionary. The EFCC freezing order was made purportedly pursuant to section 34(1) of the EFCC Act which clearly does not authorise the making of such order. The freezing of the accounts was thus a brazen exhibition of extreme lawlessness.
The object intended to be achieved by the freezing order was to paralyse the entire operations and activities of the Plateau State Government and all its agencies. The purpose was to coerce Governor Dariye to quit office by creating disaffection and revolt against his Government by reason of its inability to pay the salaries and other emoluments of its workers and pensioners and to meet its obligations to the people of the State. They got a judge of the Federal High Court Lagos to bestow judicial authority on their action, and it took a petition to the National Judicial Council (NJC) to get the judge to reverse his own action by vacating his freezing order.
Comparable to the freezing of the bank accounts of the Plateau State Government was the seizure, four days before the impeachment of the Bayelsa State Governor, of the State’s allocation from the Federation Account for the month of November 2005. The State Government had, in a press statement, denounced the seizure as amounting to “the trampling upon the rights of the hard-working civil populace, and a clear travesty of justice.” The statement further protested that “the closure of the Bayelsa Broadcasting Corporation by the federal government is a clear and undisguised attempt to appropriate the corporate will of our people, and compel us to conform to an undemocratic ethos.”
Terrorism by the EFCC as an instrument of President Obasanjo
The lawless activities of the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu, aimed at subverting the autonomy of the State Governments in the name of the war against corruption, were increasingly assuming terroristic proportions. Its armed men terrorised State after State – Bayelsa, Plateau, Jigawa, Benue – rendering the terrorised State a helpless captive. From time to time reports appeared in the newspapers of state government offices being deserted and of commissioners and other functionaries fleeing in fear generated by the visit of an invading force of EFCC armed operatives.
The EFCC armed operatives consisted largely of members of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), drafted into its operations by virtue of the provision in section 6 of its constituent statute making it the sole agency “responsible” for the enforcement of all economic and financial crimes laws. The implication of this is that the entire organised coercive force of the Nigerian state represented primarily by the NPF is thereby put at the disposal of EFCC for this purpose. In the result, the Commission’s Chairman supplants the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) as the commander of the police force for the purposes of the enforcement of economic and financial crimes. The IGP cannot stop the EFCC Chairman from using the police as he likes for the purpose of the enforcement of such crimes, however much he (the IGP) may think the use of the force in any particular case or manner to be illegal or otherwise unjustified.
For this purpose, the Chairman of the EFCC means in effect the President, by whom the Chairman is appointed and may be removed, which enables the President to direct and control him as he likes. As far as the enforcement of economic and financial crimes law is concerned, the President has been enabled by the EFCC Act to re-appropriate the command of the police force which is withheld from him by the Constitution, except as regards the giving of direction for the maintenance of public safety and public order.
Will the history of the outrageous subversions of our federal system in the name of the War Against Corruption repeat itself under President Buhari, given that he has the same antecedents as former President Obasanjo?
In his Inaugural Speech on May 29, 2015, President Buhari has given a hint that he intends to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor in office, former President Obasanjo, by not letting the constitutional limitations on power arising from the federal system to inhibit his war on corruption. Such will be a tragedy, but it is a tragedy with an important lesson for us, namely, that we should not again elect a retired army general and former Head of the FMG as our civilian President.
All these subversions of our federal system by former President Obasanjo were perpetrated in the name of the war against corruption. What result did they achieve in terms of checking, reducing or eradicating the incidence of corruption in the country? The truth is that, far from being checked, reduced or eradicated, corruption has vastly increased in its incidence despite the subversions of the Constitution in the name of the war against it. The reasons for this are examined in my earlier write-up. This shows that Obasanjo’s so-called war is nothing but a futile and ill-motivated exercise.
•Nwabueze is a Constitutional lawyer and a Professor of Law