Dino Melaye and democracy in Nigeria

By Olusegun Adeniyi

In September 2004, the then Governor of Plateau State, Mr. Joshua Dariye was arrested in London by officers of the Metropolitan Police on allegations bordering on money laundering. But before he could be arraigned in court, he jumped bail. The moment Dariye arrived Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo, working in concert with then Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, moved in to get the governor impeached. The idea was to strip Dariye of his constitutional immunity so he could be tried for corruption. But they met a brick wall in the then Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr Simon Bako Lalong, who is now governor of the state.

For his refusal to play ball, some do-gooders conjured thousands of signatures from the Shendam state constituency that Lalong was representing in a bid to have him recalled. After a controversial verification exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a referendum expected to seal Lalong’s political fate was slated for 28th August 2005. But the people of his constituency were equally determined. At the end of the exercise, Lalong secured 30,873 ‘No’ votes as against 10,988 ‘Yes’ votes. With 74 per cent of the total votes cast in his favour, Lalong won the battle to retain his seat. Eventually, Dariye was impeached on 13th November 2006 by five of the 24 assembly members who sat at 6.00am and were immediately escorted to Abuja after the hatchet job. His deputy, the late Michael Botmang, was immediately sworn-in as Governor.

The foregoing background is important so that we can properly situate the politics and drama that have always followed attempts to recall a lawmaker in Nigeria and the fact that after more than 20 attempts and hundreds of millions of Naira wasted, not a single one has been successfully recalled to date. That background is also important before I deal with the substantive issue of the failed attempt to recall the Senator representing Kogi West, Dino Melaye who is now on ‘medical detention’ at the National Hospital, Abuja.

The whole drama started on 21st June last year when INEC received a petition from representatives of the three federal constituencies that make up the Kogi West Senatorial District: Hon. John D. Anjorin for Yagba; Chief (Hon.) Olowo Cornelius for Kabba-Bunu/Ijumu and Mallam Yusuf Adamu for Lokoja/Koto. These petitioners, who came with ‘Ghana-Must-Go’ bags containing signatures of the constituents they said want Melaye recalled, gave their joint address as c/o Emmanuel Ayo Aledare, 60 Obaro Way, Yagba, Kogi State.

Meanwhile, under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the processes (verification, referendum and by-election) must be concluded within 90 days. But the moment INEC issued the timetable for the recall, Melaye dragged the commission to court, seeking an order to stop the process. Incidentally, this happened to be a familiar game. Several recall exercises in the past were also challenged in court with cases that lasted the 90-day period provided for by the constitution. Examples include the aborted attempts to recall Senators Jubril Aminu and Arthur Nzeribe in 2005 and 2006 respectively among several others.

Melaye’s tactic therefore was to drag the case beyond the 90-day period in the hope that the process would collapse for what lawyers call ‘effluxion of time’. That hope might have been raised when Justice John Tsoho of the federal high court, Abuja granted an injunction restraining INEC from proceeding with the process pending the determination of the case and shortly thereafter, the judiciary proceeded on its annual holiday. In celebrating that injunction on the floor of the Senate at the time, some of Melaye’s colleagues sensationally described the recall process as “dead on arrival”.

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However, following a petition by INEC, the case was later assigned to Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the same federal high court, Abuja who ordered the commission to proceed with the recall, arguing that the 90-day period had paused from the day the case was filed in court thereby giving a new life to the case. Dissatisfied, Melaye proceeded to the appeal court where he was again told that the 90-day time limit does not include the period of litigation. The other leg of Melaye’s argument that the signatures were fictitious and that they included dead persons were similarly dismissed as premature.

Interestingly, the judgement of the court is similar to that given in the case of Hon. George Okoye, a former member representing Njikoka 2 federal constituency of Anambra State who sought for redress on similar grounds. The court dismissed the case based on the logic that Okoye should have no fear at all since dead petitioners on the register would not be around at the polling units on referendum day to vote against him. What that also suggests is that INEC cannot willfully decide to ignore the signatures submitted by constituents, however dubious they may seem. The only way the commission can authenticate the genuineness or otherwise of the signatures is by conducting a transparent verification process.

Following that Court of Appeal judgement, INEC re-issued the timetable for the recall. Again, dissatisfied, Melaye approached the Supreme Court but the apex court refused to restrain the commission which then proceeded with the first step. At the end of the exercise, only 5.34 percent of the signatures were verified. With that, all the attempts to recall Senator Melaye collapsed. But we must commend the judiciary which has interpreted the law on the side of the people with the recent judgements that the 90-day time limit prescribed by the constitution does not include the period of litigation. From now, no lawmaker can use the court to frustrate any recall process. They will have to look for other ways and means.

However, what is also very clear from the Melaye case is that the system has been rigged against the people because our elected representatives have tinkered with the law to make the process of their recall practically impossible. In plenary on 4th July last year, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu explained how new provisions that were not in the original 1999 Constitution were added by the National Assembly, of course with the concurrence of the state assemblies: “In 2010, this parliament amended the constitution regarding section 69. It states that the number of those who are supposed to have requested his (Melaye) recall are supposed to line up somewhere in Kogi, while Melaye and his lawyers and each person would verify their signature. When they are done with that, they go back to section 68 which states that the president of the senate receives from the chairman of INEC the recall of the member. They would also present evidence satisfactory to the house. So, they need to come back here and convince each and every one of us that they have done the correct thing. Unless they do that, they cannot even give effect to it. So, why are we wasting our time? Let us move on and allow them to waste their time.”

From the attempted recall of my brother, Farouk Adamu Aliyu, a former member of the House of Representatives for Birnin Kudu/Buji constituency in Jigawa, which ended in a failed referendum after the signatures had been ‘verified’, to the dramatic case of the late Umar Buba Jibril, representing Lokoja/Kogi-Koton Karfe whose constituents filed a counter-petition protesting the inclusion of their names on grounds that their signatures were forged, no recall process has been successful since the return to democracy in 1999. Now, it is doubtful if any ever will, given the stringent provisions that were added to the constitution in 2010.

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Another important issue that the Melaye case has thrown up is the expensive nature of our democracy. INEC said last week that it spent more than a hundred million Naira on the failed process but what the commission did not say is that if that process had succeeded, it would have spent more than double that amount on a referendum that would include all the registered voters and if that also succeeded, INEC would have to cough out another like sum to conduct a by-election to replace Melaye. So, it invariably takes about three times the cost of electing a lawmaker to have them replaced!

No case typifies this sort of madness as succinctly as that of the former Yobe State First Lady and current Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mrs Khadija Abba Ibrahim. By the time she was nominated for a cabinet position by President Muhammadu Buhari late in 2015, she was already a member of the House of Representatives for Damatura/Gujba/Gulani/Tarmuwa federal constituency. A by-election was conducted by INEC to replace her. Then it turned out that the winner of the by-election was also a member of the state House of Assembly. That meant INEC had to conduct another by-election to replace the man who won a by-election! That accounts for why the commission has conducted about 200 by-elections in the past three years to replace either a dead lawmaker or those who lost at the tribunal or have taken appointments within the executive branch. These, we must bear in mind, are stand-alone elections with all its implications.

Finally, let me come to the most substantive of all the issues in the Melaye recall fiasco. The framers of the 1999 Constitution exercised tremendous wisdom in providing for the verification of the signatures submitted to INEC. In Nigeria, any political contractor or mischief maker can concoct signatures of any number of persons and present same to be true even under oath. These may include unwilling persons, induced signatories, fake signatures and even dead constituents. That, many wager, is exactly what has happened in the Melaye recall process. That only five percent of the signatures would be verified as genuine is an indication that something untoward happened and what you expect now is for the security agencies to move in by arresting those who instigated the process with signatures that have been confirmed to be fraudulent! But that is not going to happen.

Right from the beginning of the whole exercise, Melaye had said, and not without foundation, that it was orchestrated by the Kogi State Governor, Mr Yahaya Bello. He has also alleged forgery and financial inducements from the same source. Unfortunately, the police, which ordinarily should be interested in upholding the law, have been more interested in acting, in the words of Speaker Yakubu Dogara, “like a clan of tribesmen, a sort of upgraded barbarians” than as independent arbiter.

Dogara, who visited Melaye at the National Hospital on Tuesday along with his deputy, Yusuf Lasun and former Speaker, Mrs Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, decried a situation where the rights of citizens would be trampled upon by the police whose primary duty is to offer protection to those in distress. The speaker is apt in his summation of the degradation of the police in Nigeria, especially under the current dispensation when regime protection now seems to be far more important than the imperative of national security.

At a period the nation is challenged on all fronts, when gangs of killers have practically seized power in Zamfara, Kaduna and Benue States and you expect the police authorities to mobilize their officers and men to contain the situation, the Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris, is busy deploying most of his personnel and operational vehicles either to be holding vigil in Melaye’s hospital or to idle away at the Unity Fountain just to prevent the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) coalition members from holding their daily sit-out. Such is the level of his impunity and total disregard for constituted authority that he would shun invitation to appear before Senate, in the same manner he cynically disregarded a presidential directive without any consequence.

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What we can infer from the foregoing is that while Melaye–who is very notorious for juvenile behaviour aside flaunting the kind of wealth that will be difficult to explain in a society where transparency and accountability matter–cannot be said to be fighting for his constituents in Kogi West, those who make life very uncomfortable for him are also not doing so in the public interest. While it may therefore be very tempting to rejoice at Melaye’s current travails, I believe we should look beyond the lousy Senator to the bigger picture. Those who sanction the exercise of power that is neither deployed to foster social change nor restrained in the sinister pursuit of political opponents not only put our democracy at risk, they also endanger all of us.

$36.3BN IN 4 YEARS!

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Director of Research, Mr Ganiyu Amao, on Monday opened a new vista into how not to run a country when he disclosed at the House of Representatives that $36.3b was expended in four years just to import fuel. “Data from the CBN show that from 2013 to 2017, a total foreign exchange committed to imports in the country stood at $119.409b, while the total foreign exchange committed to imports in the oil sector stood at $36.3bn” said Amao before the House Ad hoc committee.

The disclosure came as the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) tries to justify why it must spend another whooping sum of $1.8 billion for the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) of the four refineries in Kaduna, Warri and Port Harcourt. Yet, the federal government ought to realise from the 600,000 barrels of crude per day (bpd) refinery being built by Alhaji Aliko Dangote (which is estimated to cost $9 billion and should be ready by next year), that it makes no sense to invest such a colossal amount on these moribund refineries when the NNPC monthly operations and financial reports reveal that they are operating below commercial thresholds.

However, to better understand the waste that the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil sector has become and the several billions of Dollars that have been frittered (or stolen) in the past decades, I enjoin readers to find time to download from my web portal, olusegunadeniyi.com, ‘The verbatim report of the ad hoc committee on the management of subsidy regime by the House of Representatives’.

Published in 2014, the 772-page report tells the complete story of the tragedy of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. Those interested in reading ‘The Last 100 Days of Abacha’, can also download it from my web portal rather than buy any of the pirated copies that are being hawked on the streets. Meanwhile, readers should look out for my coming book on irregular migration which should be out by July. It promises to be a bombshell!

This article was first published by ThisDay newspaper. You can follow the authour on Twitter @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com

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