On Thursday, 25 June, 2015, the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, announced the ‘restoration’ of the ‘rights’ of Celestine Omehia as a ‘former Governor’ of Rivers State, the largest economy in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. By that executive fiat, Governor Wike created a former Governor out of a man the full panel of the Supreme Court of Nigeria unequivocally stated was never a Governor under the laws and Constitution of Nigeria. Thus, not only was Omehia made entitled to have his portrait hung perennially in the pavilion of former Governors of the State and to have all the State’s official publications and history books amended to reflect that ‘fact’, he will also be entitled to a pension for life at the same rate as the remuneration of any sitting Governor: all as reward for his brief 3 months of wrongfully, according to the Supreme Court, parading as Governor.
Is ‘witch-hunting’ former Governor Chibuike Amaechi the whole or even main reason for Wike’s incredulous gambit? Or is Wike a little bit more sophisticated than he wants the watching public to believe? Part I of this article distilled out the soundness and game-changing implications of the judgment which restored Chibuike Amaechi to his legal mandate as Governor of Rivers State in 2007 while dismissing Amaechi’s cousin, Celestine Omehia. There was no spin: just the original voice of eminent jurist, Justice George Oguntade, JSC who wrote the leading judgment showing unambiguously that the Supreme Court expressly precluded Omehia from parading himself as Governor or a former-Governor ever except if he can win another election subsequently. He has not.
In part II, find two fact-backed reasons Wike may have embarked on the very curious course of ridiculing the Supreme Court.
- THE COURTS HELPED TO MAKE – AND MAY UNMAKE – NYESOM WIKE
This is a well-guarded secret of Nyesom Wike, the politicopreneur. He prefers the narrative that the Supreme Court made Governor Chibuike Amaechi – while Wike, played Amaechi’s shinning Knight who picked up the tabs for the judicial alchemy. But numbers don’t lie. CA/PH/EP/66/99; CA/PH/EP/65/99; and CA/PH/EP/145/99. Those are the three docket numbers of the Court Appeal – the final court over local government elections – which launched the career of Wike as the Chairman, Obio-Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.
This was 1999 – about 9 years before Amaechi’s case was decided in 2007. Wike was 33, unmarried and raring to rumble in the pig-pen of the then known world of Nigerian politics. All three cases related to the fallout of the election for the Chairmanship of Obio-Akpor Local Government Area (the mainland to the Ikeja of Rivers State – Port Harcourt, capital of the largest economy in the entire Niger Delta region of Nigeria). Wike was interested in the head-start opportunity that elections into local governments offered ahead of the expected civilians led democratic governance of Nigeria and did put himself forward for nominations at the primaries as a candidate of the PDP. As a politicopreneurial start-up without the requisite financial and network capital, he was astute enough to know what control of Obio-Akpor could translate to in a few years down the line. Those were early days too when the wheels of civilian-led politics was not just dirty but rusty after 27 years of unbroken military dictatorship. Party supremacy, or what it was assumed to be – Mafioso dictatorship – was alive and feverishly at work.
According to the refined records of the Court of Appeal:
“The [Rivers State PDP] did not quite decide between [Wike and his rival – Samuel Ichenwo] who was to be its candidate for the December 5th 1998 chairmanship election for Obio/Akpor Local Government Area and so it wrote a number of letters to the Resident Electoral Commissioner in-charge of the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC], Rivers State [successively] submitting the name of either [Wike] or [his rival – Ichenwo] as its candidate for the chairmanship election. Although Wike’s name was submitted to the State Security Service Port Harcourt for screening, it was [Ichenwo] who was cleared to stand for the election which he won with 40, 370 votes while the [candidate of the party who came second scored] 11,441 votes.”
That was the stage for the 3 judicial battles above. Two of them were curiously decided on the same day by different panels of the Court of Appeal without being consolidated– a fact queried by the same court when the third case was brought to interpret the first two, weeks later. The one challenging the eligibility of the winner of the election – Ichenwo – was dismissed: a loss for Wike. But, Wike was to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat same day when the second panel considering the validity of the nomination of Ichenwo as candidate of the PDP ahead of Wike declared the latter the rightful nominee after a painstaking – almost laborious – judicial analysis. Thus, the election and its results were annulled (a precedent the Supreme Court disavowed in the Amaechi’s case 9 years later) – while a new election was ordered with Wike as candidate of the PDP (which he won). The third case subsequently brought by Ichenwo asking for the interpretation of the two separate judgments so as to revalidate his annulled mandate was rightly dismissed: being eligible was not the same as being validly nominated, the court said.
Was Wike expecting such judicial good fortune of being declared the political champion of the local government with the largest ‘registered voters’ in the whole State – which he has since parlayed onto national name recognition?
Yes is easy – but ‘No’ seems to be the right answer. Again this was 1999 when ‘I would sue you’ was equal to ‘Go to court’: a proverb reducing to being in a bad place with no viable lawful deal on the table except mutually assured paralysis, MAP. The courts were clogged up and often deliberately so by litigating toreadors, corrupt court workers and counsels whose vaunted expertise was to maintain the ‘status quo ante’ through endless court motions amounting to no more than preambles before the preamble. In 1999, the realistic and indeed prevalent idea of justice through the courts of Nigeria – moreso in the effervescent Niger Delta – was not the resolution of conflicts or determinations of issues: it was often to ensure that the conflict or confusion became the status quo shifting the balance of power to the party currently with the bigger or more lethal self-help gun. Thus, going to court was not to lay down the arms, it was a signal to stockpile and escalate.
In that sense, Wike did not secure the justice expected but rather experienced an intriguing judicial experience. He came face to face with the dormant potential of the judiciary (enslaved by military jackboot) stirring to activate: he saw firsthand the massive power the judiciary in a democracy may wield over the entire politcopreneurial industry if not stopped or derailed. He even saw the precursor of the idea of fast-track justice and sui-generis processes of judicial proceedings associated with the career path he had chosen in Nigeria. This was not like striking gold or oil: this was literally speaking, encountering an institutionalised alchemist, nay a deity, which could ‘deem’ something more than gold or oil – political power – into existence. This was something more powerful than the as yet unbridled horse of party supremacy. A horse formally bridled by the Supreme Court in the Amaechi V. INEC/PDP/Omehia case in 2007.
In the context of the customs of the indigenous peoples of Nigeria, the judiciary with that kind of power was a god worthy of its own shrine, its system of rituals – and more importantly a form of worship necessarily designed to give the worshipper a unique control over the worshipped by making the ends of the worshipper the peremptory object of the relationship. Shrines, across the villages of Africa, necessarily fall into disrepair when a god becomes intractable and out of the control of its worshipper to the point where neither priest nor token appeasements designed to stampede the god to keep performing on demand – works.
Did Wike build a shrine to the new judicial god? May be – but certainly not as loving adherent but as a piece of curiosity that needs to be understood so as to diminish its spoil-sport quotient for the enterprise Wike had embraced. He certainly studied law and became a non-practising but licensed member of its outer temple – the bar: to know this god – just enough. He even married, thereafter, a beautiful lawyer whose heart was set [or directed] to the inner temples of the judicial god– the bench. Then he bided his time to see if the latin-speaking god could deliver on the big stage. In 8 years, it did. Amaechi happened. The perfect case with the perfect background that even a judicial-god atheist –with insider information and half the history of Wike – would have been too happy to sell all he has just to bet on.
Of course, Wike was better than that – and so rode with aplomb on the back of Amaechi, parlaying his good fortunes into the office of the Governor, first as Chief of Staff, then Director General of Governor Amaechi’s re-election campaign (the most strategic asset he has ever controlled), then federal Minister and now back as Governor.
The only problem is: the judiciary-god now seems poised to scramble the Wike epic at its finest plot featuring Wike as tough-talking hero. Another perfect story is on the judicial table and has a certain Peterside Dakuku all over it – with nought but the villains role for Wike.
How do you solve a problem like Maria: a benign but independent Spirit that once –unwittingly – cracked your palm kernels but now seems set on cracking another person’s basketful of nuts with your head wedged under the stone? Is it not ridiculous to build up and then tear down? Will a public celebration of the mascot of judicial rage, Omehia, riding on the sleigh of Wike embarrass the Courts into a paradigm shift enough for it to seek to purge and redeem itself of its ‘naive’ judicial ‘idealism’ and embrace the reality: the gospel according to PDP and Wike? It certainly works well on campuses across the world with the bad boys making out with the beautiful ones – or so the legend goes.
- IT COULD BE A STRATEGIC MOVE – TO UNMAKE THE COURTS
A politicopreneur set on the big league settles for a lifetime of strategic prospecting after power. There is really no naive and successful politician in Nigeria. As Tonye Princewill, Labour Party’s Governorship candidate for Rivers State pointed out during the run-up to the 2015 elections, there are only analogue and digital politicians with none possessing a deficit of common sense strategies. “Take it from me”, Tonye had reportedly said, perhaps with a tinge of bitterness, “village sense is still sense”.
I think Tonye is correct up to a point. Like in the real world, it is not all black and white: there are shades of gray. So building on Tonye’s categorisation, in 2015, should rightly encompass the analogue, amalgam, hybrid and digital politicopreneurs – a robust re-categorisation made possible by the Nigerian judiciary and its civil society underbelly which is daily remaking the legal policy and administration frontiers of the legislative and judicial arms of the Federal government. Elements of each categories can be found across the differing political parties in Nigeria.
Analog computers changed the world and – hard as it may sound today – they are very sophisticated and resilient technology that could still be around for a very long time in spite of the apparent surge of their digital counterpart. The same applies to the average analog politicopreneur in Nigeria. They are highly sophisticated operators who conveniently adopt the personae of the rustic motor-park mafia chief because of the massive range of immodest expressions it guarantees without consequential career afflictions or repercussions. What’s more, as the awry state of all the motor-parks across Nigeria tellingly showcase, there is absolutely no obligation to improve the homestead once the rents keep coming. As a rule, each analog operator n Nigeria subscribes to the fundamental doctrine of Darwinism: the survival of the fittest who stays fittest keeping others less fitter. Winning is survival, the objective, the end – the only option. And politics is viewed as a jungle where you eat or be eaten. Processes, principles and ethics are irritations to be mouth-kissed awkwardly when the camera rolls but in camera, are the deadly Ebola virus – not worthy of a handshake.
Contrary to conventional propaganda, successful analogue operators are well drilled and committed complete with a parole business plan and years of apprenticeship in the art of control of strategic assets and platforms towards the hijack and control of political power. The business plan is exquisite in its pugnacious simplicity built as it is on four main control levers: control of relevant Police formations; Control of the majority of local community lords who control the human-heavies that bounce real voters from the voting process; control of the umpires and administrators of the electoral process who validate election outcomes; and control of the external elements required to keep the court running seriously on a spot maintaining the ‘status quo’.
Analogue politicopreneurs are the direct opposite of their digital counterparts: instructively, both do not allow for inter-operability or upgrades from or downgrade into each other. Like in the real world, you would need to totally disembowel the software or ethical infrastructure of one and replace with the other to effect any reasonable change and so the rise of one necessarily marks the progressive decline of the other. Periodic interaction between both are only possible through the strategic interference of amalgam and hybrid politicians.
Over the years, analogue politicopreneurship has proved a highly successful model that has dominated the political experience in Nigeria since 1960 up till the 2nd quarter of 2015 – and so has many disciples. In fact, by conservative estimates, that clan still controls almost 100% of the local government level of governance; over 90% of the State level of governance and until recently, about the same proportion of the federal government. But in spite of the seeming domination, the stranglehold of analog politicopreneurs over the control levers they need to survive – Police, Electoral umpire, Community leaders – is to differing degrees unravelling significantly in Nigeria: a very serious and fundamental set-back. More alarming is the inversely proportionate growth of the authority of the courts, independence and competence of electoral platforms and playing capital of the other three clans.
The albeit relatively insignificant but recent rise of the digital politicopreneurial clan is of course a big concern to the analog clan because digital politicopreneurs runs on the default theme of change. Analog is error. Control is so dinosaur. Small is good. Tiny great. Give them chips, invisible signals and strategically set-up mast stations and they are in bedrooms, offices, parlours and head of their elaborately indentified, analysed and profiled electorates. In place of the analog clan’s love of control, the digital aims for multi-hub resonance with principles, aspirations, and the observed or pitched needs of their profiled majority. Here winning is not everything, instead, everything – including successive failures is winning. What you do with setbacks- their preferred term for failure – is what counts. Winning is being in the game.
For instance, looking at the Nigerian political experience, whenever an analog politician loses an election, he loses face and disappears from political relevance if he is not able to find a covert leverage to stampede the winner into awarding him a redeeming publicly enjoyed privilege or office in the emergent administration. Conversely, if a digital politician loses an election, he would call a strategic session or head to the court – to understand why he lost, the weaknesses of the institution and processes involved which were ‘rigged’ by the opponent and how those lessons could be distilled into future legal and policy initiatives. So that he can win someday. An unlikely example of this tiny minority is of course, President Buhari (with his once scorned ‘useless’ court battles) and his Vice President (who was the ethical heart and legal shield of the Bola Tinubu government (1999-2007). The rest of the clan still labours as consultants, appointed technocrats or private sector/civil society advocates or crusading eking out the right opportunity to get involved with the public sector.
The amalgam and the hybrid breeds of Nigeria’s politicopreneurial class are two structurally distinct but operationally similar categories. Their success is second only to the analog clan. The hardware and history of a member of the amalgamated breed is analogue but his software is not: he was raised analogue but somehow came away with enough space as to allow compartmentalisation and reverse-encoding with digital software. Hence his label of saboteur among dyed-in-the-wool members of the analo-politicopreneurial clan. The hybrid politician on the other hand suffers no similar labelling like amalgam-pol. He was raised studying and out-witting the analog clan. Often self-made, he is forced by force of habit to choose his encoding environment and constitutive elements carefully so as to integrate the comparative advantages of the analogue clan with those of the digital with the objective of transitioning fully onto the digital, someday, if possible. Historically, in Nigeria’s democratic dispensations, these two latter categories have had to alternate between opposition leadership directly –at the expense of analogue politicians – or lately facilitating movement into leadership platform for the digital clan again, at the expense of the analogue clan.
Critically, there is a difference between how the analogue clan has used the courts in distinction from the way their amalgam and hybrid counterparts do. While the former aims for mutually assured paralysis – or winning by default, the latter (unlike the ideals-driven digital clan) works on taking the perfect case to the judiciary –so as to win on merit. Their insider-knowledge and close history with the analogue orientation helps of course. Their commitment to knowing the judiciary frontally– by being part of and supporting the frontiers development impetus of the judiciary is another advantage. They are at home among policy and legal experts as they are on the streets and market places distilling feedbacks that give policy prescriptions the People’s feel. Most importantly, their sometimes public defence for politics with principles (the bastion of digital politicians)– which lends them to mockery as hypocrites by their analogue kiths – recommends amalgam/hybrid politicians to jurists on the bench who can connect to them. Above all, their repudiation of the analogue politician’s predilection towards the frustration of the wheels of justice reduces to the court lining up inexorably on their side in defence of their essence – to the chagrin of analog politicians.
Why would Wike want to ridicule the judiciary at a time when he clearly needs the court to rule favourably in the election petition against him? At a season when the other clans have combined to win Abuja, the political high-ground necessary to legitimately influence the other control pillars without which analogue politicians slip into obsolescence? Is he with the Omehia example, perhaps, mobilising the base by inaugurating a new order of martyrdom for analogue politicians who stay faithful to the cause even at the risk of obsolescence? Or is this a lateral cultivation of the human element of the judiciary to bend over backwards in trying to project a sense of impartiality and impermeableness to the idea of ridicule outside of the face of the court- which could conduce necessarily to bias in favour of Wike’s clan and case at the tribunal? Which might provoke the other sides –digital/amalgam/hybrid – to draw the ire of the court by suggesting a return to the conventional standards of judicial bias? Which might then set the court a new crusade – but not against Wike’s clan or case?
These are strange times in Nigeria. Unprecedented actually. So, what will a true analog politician in strange times wherein all the control levers he took for granted have been prised out of his reach? Seems a true analo-politicopreneur fighting for his survival will logically ridicule the judiciary, and hope for the unprecedented. It is a creative demonstration of self-help – their area of strength. To do otherwise would be to ridicule his base and his essence. To try the impossible: transfiguration into the clan of the digital.
So, what is Wike doing? May be, he is pitching his vision of a Nigerian future in which the judiciary has no jurisdiction over elections so that ‘facts] as contrived by strong political actors are allowed to stand in honour – no matter the means of attainment. By instigating the other three clans to commit political harakiri by ‘reviewing’ the rising role of the judiciary – if the judiciary does the unprecedented by handing judicial victory to Wike through Wike’s seemingly illogical goading. And that would restore Wike and Nigeria to the pre-1999 idea of the status quo before the Courts made him a local government Chairman – and before the Court restored Amaechi’s stolen mandate inside its chambers. The era when Party Supremacy meant mafia dictatorship (which might explain the catch-22 debacle they have orchestrated for the APC via the National Assembly). The past – so that Wike and his co-travellers would always win since he seems to have reduced what it takes to win without the Courts to a creed. In his own words:
“I was a Council Chairman. There is nowhere in this State that I do not know. There is no ward I do not know one person…As I sit down here, I can mention one person from each ward. I know the politicians in this State. I know who has strength and who does not have strength”.
[Sam Eleanya, an ethicist is the founder LawNigeria.com and Director of Strategy, Children and Women Law Center]
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