By RICHARD MAMMAH
For anyone who has followed the Nigerian political process in the past three decades, the name Bola Ahmed Tinubu would simply not be strange. He has, to use Nigerian-speak, been around.
And indeed, not only has Mr Tinubu been around, but he has also played very strongly at the commanding heights of the process. From the late 1980s when he enlisted as one of the new breed politicians spawned by the Ibrahim Babangida transition and was to be rewarded with a senatorial seat, through the events of June 12, the formation of the Interim National Government, the NADECO days, the Alliance for Democracy, two-terms as Lagos Governor, the founding of the ACN, and then becoming National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, it has indeed been a very busy time at the Nigerian political hustings.
While the jury would remain out on the enduring political merit or otherwise emanating from these three decades of engagement, our more immediate concern now is on his recent comments on the political process in Edo State, and more directly his public riposte to Governor Godwin Obaseki, who only a few weeks ago, had sought his help in defraying the ‘tough costs’ that he then saw looming should his (Obaseki’s) predecessor in office, former mentor and then National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, get away with plans to ensure that Obaseki would be denied a chance of flying the APC flag for a second time. Well, as the public records have it, that meeting was duly held but it failed to prevent the looming catastrophe whose commencement and expansion has now forced everyone’s hand and encouraged Tinubu to take a public position on Obaseki. Talk about that which is done in secret ultimately coming out into the open! Such is life!
Anyway, politicians move on, and so should we. Obaseki has since moved over to the rival Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, obtained the latter’s ticket and is now paradoxically running against the PDP candidate he had defeated in 2016, Mr Osaze Ize-Iyamu.
As was feared also, the contest has been quite acrimonious and continued to degenerate to the present situation where the theatre of battle has shifted to one goal: gaining the upper hand at the Edo State House of Assembly. And this is where Tinubu has personally and publicly entered into the fray.
In a series of tweets on his verified twitter handle, the leader of the All Progressives Congress made several points in respect to the brickbats in Edo. And for good measure, he titled the series: IN DEFENCE OF CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY.’
Let us walk with him:
‘The recent actions of the Governor of Edo State represent the gravest possible assault on constitutional democracy and the rule of law and escalation of violence and tension in the state he purports to govern.
Not satisfied with making a mockery of our constitution by blocking the timely inauguration of two-thirds of the elected members of the Edo State House of Assembly, Governor Obaseki has now resorted to the strong-arm tactics of dictators.
First, he sponsors hoodlums to deface, indeed destroy, parts of the House of Assembly Building in Benin, feigning the building is undergoing renovation. Then, he imports sand and gravels to prevent access to the assembly complex.
In effect, the man has spent state funds to thwart the very apparatus of the state government he was sworn to uphold. He has squandered public money to defeat the very will of the public. This is tragic beyond words.
As a pretext for his refusal to allow the Edo House of Assembly to function, Governor Obaseki’s actions are perverse. This is a cowardly act and a move to thwart representative democracy in Edo.
No renovation has been planned for the statehouse building. No appropriation was made in the state’s budget. The only reason any renovation could be deemed necessary is the destruction wrought by his goons.
Governor Obaseki’s governance of Edo State recalls the worst excesses of our military past and represents a direct threat to the democratic order. By his refusal to permit duly elected members of the Edo State House of Assembly to perform their constitutional duties,
Governor Obaseki betrayed contempt for the people of his state and, unfortunately, his ignorance of Nigeria’s constitutional order. As a Governor he ought to know better than to obstruct the functioning of his legislature, but perhaps he needs a quick lesson.
Indeed, it is no coincidence that of the three arms of government, the powers of the legislature are enumerated first, in our Constitution. The legislature is the authority imbued with the power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the federation and states
Indeed, the Constitution makes clear that a Governor’s role primarily extends to the maintenance and implementation of the laws set down for him by his state’s legislature.
Although Governor Obaseki’s conduct in the past year is undoubtedly impeachable, these legislators have made no threat to impeach the Governor. Their only desire is to peacefully perform the duties asked of them by the constituents who elected them.
The rule of law and preservation of democracy is too important to sacrifice at the altar of any one man’s ambition. Governor Obaseki’s woeful leadership of Edo State will hopefully be brought to an end soon by the very people whose rights he has so carelessly trampled upon.
One can only hope that the damage he is doing to the most important of the state’s democratic institutions can just as easily be repaired.
Now, ‘I come in peace.’ On the face of things, the Tinubu response to Obaseki on the Edo House of Assembly fiasco is basically in order. But there are also gaps.
Let us stay with the principles. For over one year, and a quarter of their tenure at that, elected representatives played very strange politics of avoidance and did not show up to represent the people who had elected them. While the matter had gone to court and both sides continued to defend their positions, the heart of the matter is that literally, all the affected persons belonged to the same ruling party from which Tinubu is National Leader. How much did he do in over one year to resolve the face-off and ensure that the public interest of representation was served? If Tinubu and friends had worked at gifting us with a more principled democracy, those absentee lawmakers should very plainly have been recalled. But even at that, the Jagaban did not also speak out publicly on this in all of the time it took to make this gargantuan bonfire that is now threatening to bring down the house.
Again, there are regularly alleged breaches of the constructs of democracy by the same government that he has helped to install and continues to lend his massive weight to its continued perpetuation, including most recently, the clampdown on the #RevolutionNow protests. We also did not hear from the Lion of Bourdllion in these instances.
Without any equivocation, this column is of the view that Team Obaseki is wrong in the ‘urgent re-roofing’ saga and therefore should stand censured for it. But even more than that, the bigger takeaway in this crisis now is the point that enduring and beneficial democracy is best built on a framework of broad and all-encompassing commitment to justiceable principles across the board than the selective outrage and Amnesia that Tinubu is presently demonstrating.
As things stand now and going forward, the reality of our situation is that the nation needs to be comprehensively reset. And the proper and time-tested way such matters are addressed is to organize the resetting process around a basket of viable principles that can be put at the doorsteps of Nigerians for them to accept, embrace and adopt.
Rather than this, what has however continued to happen is that bands of people aggregate in ill-defined political constructs and pretend to be pursuing some kind of nebulous national purpose that they now ‘railroad’ the citizenry into accepting and endorsing through polling processes whose objectivity and honesty continue to be willfully compromised.
If the present Tinubu intervention is pointing us to the fact that going forward he can be counted upon to join in the march towards this comprehensive resetting of the current obtuse construct that he has been a very visible and prominent enabler of, that would be worth observing. But then the logic of things is that there first has to be some Damascus repentance before being admitted into the Council of Jerusalem. And from all that we can see presently, that has not happened.
So what this entire tirade sadly comes to then is that it is basically ‘hot air, a lot of sound and fury, sadly signifying nothing.’ This is because it is chiefly being deployed, not to the purpose of the comprehensive resetting of the compromised democracy that Tinubu and friends have presently saddled us with, but towards yet another farcical and factional projection of yet another lame-footed arm of the entire chicanery as the ideal that we should gladly have! No sir, the problem is deeper than this and we will ‘have no inheritance in a house’ like this. The Nigerian political edifice needs require and must have comprehensive resetting. And that alone must we have.
Richard Mammah is a writer and public affairs commentator.