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Saturday, 13 July 2013

Yet Another Brigandage in Rivers

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The Horizon By KAYODE KOMOLAFE.  Email:

It is exactly 10 years today that some policemen abducted Dr. Chris Ngige from the Government House in Awka, Anambra State. The policemen led by the late Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Raphael Ige, simply ignored the immunity of Ngige as the state governor to carry out this infamy. This act was, perhaps, the climax of the brigandage that reigned supreme in the state, which is home to many eminent and decent Nigerians.

On that occasion, the police was used by some actors who were close enough to Aso Rock to peddle influence and be lawless in Anambra. The activities of the brigands in Anambra put liberal democracy to a severe test in the era of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Celebrated storyteller, Chinua Achebe, spoke out loudly against this lawlessness foisted on his home state. To demonstrate his rejection of brigandage as politics, the icon categorically rejected the honour bestowed on him by the Obasanjo administration. The resonance of the protest was felt nationally. The moral weight of Achebe’s voice was widely acknowledged in the torrents of tributes paid to his memory during his funeral recently. You would ordinarily expect that the lessons of official tacit support for anarchy have been learnt from those days of infamy in Anambra.

However, there was a dramatic irony in Port Harcourt yesterday, the eve of the 10th Anniversary of the Anambra brigandage. The drama has shown that no lesson has been learnt in the politics without principle that is prevalent in this republic. Five of the 32 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly attempted to impeach the speaker, Hon. Otelemaba Amachree. In the violence that resulted from this mockery of democracy, the deputy governor, Mr. Tele Ikuru, was allegedly attacked and some members of the House and other persons were reportedly injured. A reign of confusion is being imposed on the state, which like any other state needs stability for good governance to flourish. This portends an extreme threat to peace in the state.

As it was in Anambra in 10 years ago, so it is in Rivers today. The attempt to impeach the speaker is believed to be a prelude to the moves to impeach the state governor, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi. Governor Amaechi is not in the good books of Aso Rock just like Ngige fell out of favour with the powers that be in Abuja in 2003.
The politicians who are demonstrating their power and influence in Rivers State today enjoy the favour of President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Mrs. Patience Jonathan. Yet the constitution is clear on how a state governor could be removed from office. It remains to be seen how those who don’t want Amaechi anymore in the State House in Port Harcourt would achieve their aim with five members in the House of Assembly! It is all a continuation of the ridicule of the democratic process.  The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under the leadership of Jonathan has suspended Amaechi from the party following his election as the Chairman of the Governors Forum. Before then, the state executive council of the party was dissolved and another one constituted. The matter is still in court. Meanwhile, the President received this state executive committee of PDP the other day in Aso Rock with harsh words for Amaechi.

While anarchy was being inaugurated in the legislative chamber, the police reportedly looked the other way. The state commissioner of police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, was reported yesterday as saying that he elected to ignore the request from the House of Assembly for special “police security” because such a request was “unusual”. This same police officer has verbally attacked the governor. His hostility towards Amaechi is an open secrete. He has arrogated to himself the power to “ban public protest”, a power that he does not have constitutionally. His activities in the state are all too reminiscent of the ignoble role of the police in Anambra 10 years ago. Since the governor cannot be moved for Mbu, it would be proper in the circumstance for Inspector-General Mohammed Abubakar to transfer this commissioner of police from Rivers State to another place.
By his conduct, Mbu has certainly lost the confidence of the state government with which he is supposed to work professionally. It is unacceptable that a police officer should treat a governor the way Mbu has treated Amaechi. You don’t have to like Amaechi’s face to admit that this is absurdity in a federation. This abuse is possible because policing is on the exclusive list. By the way, one of the arguments against the creation of state police is that governors would use the force against their opponents. A counter-argument is that the federal government could also use the police against its opponents. The conduct of Mbu so far seems to have vindicated those who make this counter-argument. The other 35 state governors should also be interested in the unfolding events in Rivers State regardless to which side they belong in the politics of 2015. It is Amaechi’s lot today; it could be that of any other governor tomorrow.

Beyond this, it is important for all those who support the building of democratic institutions in Nigeria to speak out against the recklessness that is becoming normative in Rivers State. Politicians should be told to play their game according to the rules. President Jonathan should remember that peace and stability in Rivers State are in the long run more important to Nigeria than the narrow calculation of any politician.  

NGF, NBA and Impunity
Femi Falana

The National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association held its last bi-monthly meeting from July 5 to July 7, 2013 at Yenogoa, Bayelsa State. At the end of the meeting the NBA President, Mr. Okey Wali, SAN, was reported to have called for the proscription of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) in view of the controversy, which had trailed the outcome of the re-election of Governor Rotimi Amaechi as its Chairman. Mr. Wali, SAN, must have forgotten that his own election was seriously contested by his major opponent, Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN. In spite of the fact that the allegations of malpractice (including the fact that some lawyers who died several years ago voted from the grave!) were proved beyond reasonable doubt no one ever suggested that the NBA be proscribed.  However, while I reject the insinuation in certain legal circles that the call for the proscription of the NGF was influenced by the fund collected from the government to host the last NBA NEC meeting I am of the strong view that the liquidationist call should not go unchallenged.

In his characteristically forthright manner, the Edo state governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, exposed the NBA leadership to ridicule when he said that: “the environment and the overall circumstance known and unknown that led the NBA president to call for the freezing of the right of Governors to associate borders on corrupt practice.” Although another governor has joined issues with Mr. Wali, SAN, I deem it pertinent to challenge his reactionary call before it is adopted by the forces of annulment in the country.
More so that the call is a sad reminder of the fate that befell some progressive professional bodies and trade unions which were either corruptly taken over or decimated by the Ibrahim Babangida junta. It would be recalled that the NBA was once a target.  Under the leadership of the late Mr. Alao Aka-Bashorun (1987-1989) the NBA was in the forefront of the struggle for the observance of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic governance in the country. The junta did not disguise its plot to hijack the leadership of the Bar at the 1992 Annual Bar Conference, which held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
But some of us successfully frustrated the imposition of the official candidate as the leader of the NBA. A few months later, the Legal Practitioners  (Amendment) of 1993 was enacted and backdated to 1992. In the main, the decree sacked the National Executive Committee members of the NBA led by Chief Priscilla Kuye and replaced them with a caretaker committee headed by the late Chief FRA Williams, SAN, to manage the affairs of Nigerian lawyers. Although the decree ousted the jurisdiction of the courts and criminalised the institution of any suit which might question “anything done or purported to be done” under it I was prepared to challenge it. But the Ikeja branch of the NBA instructed me to file the suit on behalf of all its members. Of course, I did.

In the suit we challenged the legal validity of the proscription decree.  The Lagos High Court presided over by Obadina J (as he then was) granted an injunction against the caretaker committee. Dissatisfied with the injunction the defendants rushed to the Court of Appeal. Owing to the constitutional significance of the case the request of the appellants’ counsel, Chief Williams, SAN, for a special panel of five Justices of the Court of Appeal to hear the appeal was granted. However, the appeal was dismissed. In upholding our submissions their lordships unanimously declared the amendment decree illegal and struck down it down for violating the fundamental right of Nigerian lawyers to associate freely and assemble without interference. See FRA Williams & Ors V Akintunde & Ors (1995) 3 NWLR (PT 381) 101.

In the same vein, the complaint filed by Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights at Banjul, The Gambia, on the proscription was equally determined in favour of Nigerian lawyers. Thus, in Civil Liberties Organisation (in respect of the Nigerian Bar Association) v Nigeria (2000) AHRLR 186, the African Commission found that the official interference “with the free association of the Nigerian Bar Association is inconsistent with the preamble of the African Charter in conjunction with UN Basic Principles on the independence of the Judiciary and thereby constitutes a violation of article 10 of the African Charter”. Both decisions have confirmed that some Nigerian lawyers went all out to defend the autonomy of the NBA and resisted the official imposition of leaders on it, even under a fascistic military dictatorship. It is therefore ironical that the current leadership of the NBA has, for some inexplicable reasons, colluded with the forces of retrogression to constrict the democratic space in Nigeria. 

It is particularly sad to note that the NBA, which used to be the defender of the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people, has thrown up leaders who are campaigning for the proscription of friendly societies and clubs. Even if Mr. Wali does not like the NGF he is duty bound, as a lawyer, to respect the right of the members to associate without external interference.
In the light of the foregoing it is hoped that concerned lawyers will urgently adopt decisive measures to free the NBA from the grip of anti-democratic forces and reposition it to resume its traditional role of defending the rule of law and the expansion of the democratic space in the country. Otherwise the NBA will soon lose its relevance in the struggle of the Nigerian people for the transformation of the country from civil rule to democracy under the rule of law. I am, however, convinced that that will not happen as majority of lawyers do not share the perspective of bar leaders who have contempt for the democratic rights of Nigerians.
•Mr. Falana, SAN, is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board.

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