The remains of Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, would be interred in his hometown, Oko, Anambra State, today, marking the end of an earthly sojourn for a patriot and statesman.
The pioneer chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT), who was vice president between 1979 and 1983, passed on, November 19, 2017 in London at the age of 85.
A man of many parts, Ekwueme was a renowned architect, an accomplished intellectual and a professional per excellence, with chains of academic degrees cutting across various disciplines. To cap these feats, he was a true statesman.
Besides his intellectual prowess, the former vice president was a paragon of unusual courage. Though gentle, the Ide Oko never hesitated to stand up and fight for any cause he believed in.
It was in pursuit of one these causes that he rallied likeminded politicians and statesmen under the auspices of G-34, who put their lives on the line to stand up against the regime of General Sani Abacha.
At a time most of their contemporaries were scrambling to curry the favour of the then junta, Ekwueme led the group not only to speak up for democracy, but serve the late dictator a red card in 1998. That singular effort is responsible for the democracy Nigeria is enjoying today.
If the former vice president’s display of courage marked him out as a hero of democracy, his strength of conviction, undying belief in party supremacy and the principle of politics without bitterness came to the fore at the PDP presidential primaries in February 1999.
He had been tipped to emerge the party’s presidential candidate, but a last-minute political horse-trading denied him the ticket. He was defeated by former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was not in any way near the calculation as at then.
But, Ekwueme never allowed the loss to becloud his belief that Nigeria needed to be freed from the shackles of the military. Rather than hop into the next political party as most Nigerian politicians would do, the former vice president displayed a rare sense of statesmanship and sportsmanship by working for the party’s victory in the presidential election.
And when in 2017, the PDP was threatened by internal wrangling; the former vice president was called upon to head the party’s National Reconciliation Committee. He never dwelt on the 1999 “betrayal” as he immediately swung into action with members of his committee, criss-crossed the country to ensure lasting peace in the party.
To the Igbo nation, where he hails from, he was a rallying point. His struggle for the emancipation of the race explained his insistence over time that individual effort or success is not enough if the Igbo hope to expand their stake and relevance in the country as well as assert more influence in its polity.
He was persistent in his belief that Ndigbo must come together and speak with one voice as self-pity is not an option neither is it in putting the blame on someone else.
As a selfless leader, it is on record that Ekwueme, until his death was among few public office holders, past and present, who never dipped their hands in the public coffers. He was said to have left office in 1983 after the coup that sacked the Second Republic, poorer than when he came in. No one has contradicted this till date.
This explains why he served as a model of strength and character in leadership to many, years after he left office and a clear testimony to the probity, transparency, selflessness, commitment to democracy and good governance that characterised his public life.
As a firm believer in the Nigeria project, Ekwueme’s role in the 1994 National Constitutional Conference (NCC) was remarkable. He served in the Committee on the Structure and Framework of the Constitution and his famous proposal for a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on six geo-political zones led to the acceptability of the present structure being operated in the country.
The former vice president’s penchant for democratic governance was not limited to Nigeria. He led a team known as the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which was involved in pre-election monitoring of parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000. He also led the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU) observer team to the Tanzanian presidential and parliamentary elections in 2000 as well as co-led the 28-member NDI/Carter Centre sponsored Observer Team to the Liberian presidential run-off election in 2005.
Following Ekwueme’s track record on nation building, he was honoured with second highest National Honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). He also holds the Order of the Republic of Guinea.
As we join millions of Nigerians to bid a well-deserved farewell to the statesman, we align with well-meaning citizens and groups, who have called on the Federal Government to immortalise him.
No doubt, Ekwueme’s contribution to the growth of Nigeria’s democracy earns him a place in the country’s Hall of Fame, but the greatest honour he deserves is for present day leaders to emulate the ideals he lived for.
Saraki’s call, governance and the 2019 elections
In the past two weeks, preparations have gone into top gear by political actors towards the 2019 elections. With the release of the timetable for the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), all political actors, both in the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other political parties, have revved up their political engines, gearing towards the general elections.
While that is on-going, INEC, on its own, is also preparing for the elections, registering more political parties.
The result of all these is that the battle for who becomes the president of Nigeria and governors in most states of the federation has started. Add that to the national and state assemblies, Nigeria again is on the march for its four-yearly ritual that started in 1999.
Perhaps, that was what the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, saw last week when he warned that governance should not be ignored for electioneering this year.
Saraki said: “This is my appeal: It is too early for 2019 politicking to override the legislative agenda and the larger work of governance. We have begun a good thing with the recovery of the economy as the core of our agenda. Let us see it to its proper conclusion.”
Saraki’s words of caution could not have come at a better time. It is also very instructive.
Coming at a period the security agencies in the country have their hands full with the mass murders that have happened in Rivers, Benue, Taraba, Borno, Nasarawa and Adamawa states since January in the form of killer herdsmen, Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappers and other forms of crimes that have made the country a theatre of blood, nothing could be more apt.
Apart from the killings, there are also the issues of the lingering fuel scarcity and, of course, the economic downturn that is almost becoming a part of Nigerians.
These are issues that should occupy the minds of government at all levels, going into the elections.
This is even more for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. For a government that would be seeking a re-election from Nigerians next year, the task is ardours and daunting. Nigeria must be stable for the elections to hold next year.
We recall that events in the run-up to the 2015 general elections that ushered in Buhari necessitated a postponement of the elections for some weeks on the advice of the then National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, just because of the menace of Boko Haram.
We also recall that the postponement of that election by the then Goodluck Jonathan administration was seen by the then opposition APC as a move to avert defeat. But when the election eventually held, Jonathan lost.
We regret to note that three years after that episode, going into the 2019 elections, the situation, unfortunately, has not changed much. The ominous signs that caused that postponement are still there, gaping at the nation. Although, the Federal Government wants Nigerians to believe that Boko Haram has been degraded and only attacking soft targets, the resurgence of terrorist herdsmen in parts of the country demands security agencies and governments to keep their eyes on the ball.
We insist that re-election for an incumbent government in a free and fair setting revolves around performance, delivery and the satisfaction of the people with what happened and would happen before the election.
Instructively, last week, two former governors alluded to the fact that elections would not be won merely by propaganda and mere promises.
The national leader of the ruling APC and former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said: “Mr. President won the 2015 election on a platform that included economic recovery, job creation and improved welfare for workers.
“But we must insist on a better life for our people. As such, the electoral politics of 2019 cannot be played as if a game that has no end other than itself. Here again, we must insist on politics having a nobler and larger goal than just registering certain people into the fraternity of office holders.”
A former PDP Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, stated that the 2019 general elections would not be won on lies and propaganda from a political party.
Nigeria, he said, as a failed state, has been made more manifest in the APC’s three years government.
That is exactly the point Saraki made at the return of senators to the New Year plenary.
We maintain that governance and not elections and re-elections should be of prime importance now. Nigeria has not moved much in the last three years that the APC took over from PDP. The frenzy for the election must be subdued by visible performance by those currently saddled with the responsibility. As things stands currently, the elections, if it comes now, may be a disservice to the ruling party. That is not to say that the major opposition PDP would appeal to Nigerians more. The truth is that the two major parties need to convince Nigerians on their value for the 2019 elections.
Enough of these killer herdsmen
Each passing day, Nigeria has witnessed the killing of her citizens in cold blood. Hundreds of people have been killed, many others wounded and battling for their lives. Not even children and pregnant women are spared in this orgy of violence perpetrated by armed herdsmen across the country.
Just on Tuesday, February 13, 30 herdsmen, wielding dangerous weapons, invaded Akure South Local Government Secretariat in Akure, the Ondo State capital, chased away the workers and paralysed activities at the council. The attack in Akure came a few days after the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Sulyman Abdulkareem, accused herdsmen of poisoning the university’s dam with chemicals.
The herdsmen also destroyed the varsity’s multi-million naira research and training farms by illegally grazing on the campus. The university has given the herdsmen notice to quit its campus. The violent herdsmen have not spared security operatives. SARS commander, policemen, and Civil Defence officers have been killed in Benue, Nasarawa, Oyo and other states.
On January 1st, 73 people were brutally murdered and their homes razed in Benue State as Nigerians were ushering in the New Year. The violence had all the telltale signs of a band of terrorists, but the attacks have been linked to some marauding herdsmen who were apparently resisting the Open Grazing Prohibition Law, which was enacted in Benue State recently. Prior to the enactment of the law, the people of Benue State have been under constant siege of the herdsmen for several years.
The massacre in Agatu, Benue State, is still fresh in our memories. The herdsmen have tactically seized Benue State and several other states in the Middle Belt as grazing reserve for their cattle. These herdsmen, many of who bear arms, operate with impunity and have shown neither regard for the rights of farmers nor remorse for the pains that they usually inflict on these agrarian communities.
These herders and their cattle have become harbingers of violence, misfortune, bloodletting, sorrows and tears wherever they set their feet, because their quest for pasture and water for their animals have often brought them in collision with the locals. For nearly a decade, the contest for land by herdsmen seeking control of cattle routes and grazing reserves has pitched them against crop farmers, not just in the Middle Belt, but across the country.
A good number of herdsmen have relocated to the Southern Nigeria in the same search of water and green pasture for their cows. Here, the conflict has even been fierce because of urbanisation and socio-cultural differences.
These herdsmen have been linked to several bloody attacks on local communities in Enugu, Abia, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo and Oyo states. They have been accused of leading their cattle to graze on farmlands, thereby trampling upon the crops and destroying valuable farm produce. It is regrettable that each time the herdsmen strike on communities and lives are lost, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MCBAN) has always risen to their defence by describing these acts of violence as reprisals. In some instances, Miyetti wants us to believe that the itinerant armed herdsmen must have been victims of cattle rustlers and have no other option than to seek revenge. In many instances, we have been told that the average Fulani herder holds his cows so dearly that they could raze a whole community and kill as many people as possible just to avenge the loss of a cow.
At other times, we have been told that the killer herdsmen are not part of the indigenous Fulani population, but must have been herders from other West African countries. It is also very embarrassing that the Federal Government has continued to handle these incidents with kid gloves.
The Police have treated the bloody attacks of the herdsmen as petty crimes, which do not deserve much attention beyond advocacy for peaceful coexistence among the populace. Also, the Nigeria Armed Forces and the intelligence community have simply looked the other way while Nigerian citizens are mowed down by a visibly armed group. The deployment of troops to the affected states is a welcome development.
We also commend the initiative of National Economic Council (NEC) in the setting up of Yemi Osinbajo-led committee peopled by governors to find a solution to this national crisis. We are of firm belief that this challenge requires a holistic solution now or anarchy will be let loose upon the land.
It is not enough for the Federal Government to commiserate with victims and order the deployment of the military or police to a village attacked by the herdsmen to restore law and order. Government must identify the root cause(s) of the problem and summon the courage to confront them. We strongly believe that the best way to prevent these clashes is to develop ranches where the herdsmen could breed and raise their cattle.
Abia and the sack of Chief Judge
The recurrent spectacle of assault on the judiciary, in recent time, is not only an embarrassment to administration of justice in the country, but a cause to worry, especially not only at a time a series of reforms introduced by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, are beginning to yield result.
First, like never before in history has agents of government intruded into the privacy of judicial officers in the dead of the night in the name of fighting corruption as witnessed on October 8 and 9, 2016 when no fewer than eight judges, including two Justices of the Supreme Court, were hauled into detention over allegations of bribery and corruption.
With the raid on the judges’ homes by government’s agents in 2016 and the subsequent detention of the judges under whatever guise brought the hallowed temple into disrepute.
The law is supreme and no one should be seen as above the law including its interpreter – the judiciary and, by extension, its officers. But due process under a transparent procedure must be followed.
As the judiciary is yet to recover from this onslaught by the executive, the worse has again happened in Abia State, where a group of lawmakers in tandem with the state executive, arrogated powers they do not possess and removed a sitting Chief Judge.
It is still ridiculous to again hear the lawmakers boasting that their decision to sack the Chief Judge is irreversible as if they have enormous power under the Constitution to wield such big stick on the Chief Judge or any judge without recourse to the judiciary’s highest hierarchy – the National Judicial Council (NJC), especially when its officers are involved.
NJC is the only body saddled with the responsibility of disciplining judicial officers found culpable of any misconduct.
For the lawmakers to sack the Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Nzokwe, while acting on a petition accusing her of misconduct, smacks of executive lawlessness and legislative recklessness.
The Abia State House of Assembly had, on January 26, passed a resolution suspending Justice Uzokwe following a petition allegedly submitted by a group, the Global Centre for Peace and Justice.
In the petition, the group accused Justice Uzokwe of tyranny and obstruction of administration of justice, gross misconduct, denigration of the Office of the Chief Judge and embezzlement, amongst others.
These, however, snowballed into the removal of the Chief Judge without any input from the NJC.
The removal of the Chief Judge has, again, raised the dust on how not to remove a Chief Judge. The Supreme Court had, in a unanimous judgement in 2012, ordered Kwara State to reinstate the Chief Judge, Justice Raliat Elelu-Habeeb, who was sacked in 2009 by former Governor Bukola Saraki.
The apex court said no governor was empowered under the 1999 Constitution to sack any judge, including Chief Judges, without the approval of the NJC.
Sections 292(1)(a)(ii) of the 1999 Constitution as amended explains how a judge of the state High Court or the Chief Judge can be removed from office.
It is unfortunate that the lawmakers who are supposed to know the nitty-gritty of the law are the ones breaking the law and that is why it looked bizarre for the Abia State House of Assembly to still declare that its decision to remove Chief Judge Uzokwe remains sacrosanct.
Its deputy speaker, Cosmos Ndukwe, said the decision was “in line with the constitutional responsibility bestowed on them by the 1999 Constitution,” even when the National Judicial Council had declared the Chief Judge’s removal unconstitutional.
We believe that rather than using their executive and legislative powers to promote good governance and abolish laws granting double emoluments and large severance benefits to former governors, the Abia State government is still boasting on its illegal act, denigrating the judiciary and displaying contempt for the rule of law.
We say that the National Judicial Council’s recommendations and verdict in the instance case must be complied with as its decision on the Chief Judge was a clear violation of Sections 292(1)(a)(ii) and 21(d) Part 11 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), and a blatant attack on the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
It is crystal clear that no judge anywhere in the country can be removed without the involvement of the NJC regardless of the level of allegations of misconduct against the judge.
We believe that the House’s decision had infringed on the constitutional principle of separation of powers as constitutional provisions are to protect the judiciary from the political intrigues which such removal power often engenders.
The benefits of the integrity of the judiciary should never be supplanted by the temerity and excessiveness which political powers often breed.
And now that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu had complied partially with the National Judicial Council’s directive by swearing-in the second most senior judge in acting capacity, sanity should return to the state’s judiciary while we insist that a transparent mechanism also must be put in place to get to the root of the allegations against Justice Theresa Uzokwe.
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