Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Dozie Ikem Ezeife, Esq.
Oakland, CA, USA

Impeach Olusegun Obasanjo - Let the heavens fall

r. Ejike Onuogu's latest piece on the Obasanjo impeachment saga is a breadth of fresh air in today's murky waters of doomsday prophesies.

For three years now President Obasanjo has refused to fully implement annual budgets. Eight months into 2002, the year's budget is yet to be implemented even though the President duly signed the Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly. His reason for refusing to implement the budget I will leave for another day and another article.

The president has consistently used the funding meant for other branches of government and departments created by law as a strong-arm instrument. He funds only those who are willing to play by his rules and starve those he disagrees with. The President seems to miss the point that his is not a military dictatorship. Democracy is a system of rules. A leader who is unable and unwilling to play by the rules deserves to be removed.

The President has deliberately frustrated INEC from discharging its constitutional responsibility because it is not in the interest of his political future to allow INEC to succeed. Up to this moment the President has refused to sign the Electoral Bill into law since his clumsy machination to doctor the earlier Bill blew up in his face. He will not sign the Bill because the Bill in its present format will throw spanners into his re-election works. It is all about the President and what will feather his personal nest. What is best for the nation or the nascent democratic experience is immaterial unless it furthers his interest in succeeding himself.

Nigeria is spending billions of Naira constructing an unnecessary and over-priced Stadium as a conduit to build a war chest for PDP in 2003. We are pouring a ton of cash into a national identity program because some people think it would improve their chances of beating the North in 2003. Nigeria's privatization program is only a pretext to sell off the nation to a few connected individuals, their children and foreign fronts.

Throughout the nation workers are not being paid, pensioners are not receiving their pensions, unemployment has hit stratospheric heights and violent crimes are at an all-time high. Meanwhile our president has spent 33% of his time in government on a plane or on some foreign soil attending cocktail functions or some meaningless international conference that our diplomats can cover. Lest than 10% of Nigerians can identify Nigeria's Ministers for External Affairs because their responsibilities have been hijacked by our President. Yes we have two of them.

The government is unlawfully continuing to detain Mohammed Abacha without any criminal charges filed against him in a court of law. Much as I detest the Abacha clan for benefiting from their father's kleptomania, the fact still remains that in a society that operates by rule of law, you cannot detain a citizen for months on end because he refuses to abide by a civil contract struck with the government. If Mohammed Abacha is refusing to release the money he agreed to release to the government in exchange for cessation of litigation over his father's loot, the government has a number of options. He can be sued in civil court for specific performance. The government can re-open recovery efforts that were terminated pursuant to the deal with Mohammed. By continuing to detain him, the government is engaging in precisely the same brutal and irresponsible practices that his late father is now famous for. Sani Abacha had a reason for his brutality and his inclination to operate outside the norms of decency; he was a dictator in a military regime. What is Obasanjo's excuse? The present posture of the government can only lose it the moral high ground.

My thesis is that Impeachment is a valid and necessary tool in a democratic process and should be allowed to play itself out. The action Governor of Lagos state Senator Bola Tinubu said as much in a recent interview with the news media at Murtala Mohammed Airport in Ikeja. According to his Excellency:

"We are bound to go through this experience and finally we are going to get our act together, have an understanding and look at the two sides dispassionately. People cannot just panic because of threat of impeachment and so forth. It is not good. I have spoken that we cannot resort to all sorts of blackmail, characterization and name-calling in this process.

There is always the mechanism of checks and balances in the system. There will be twists and turns in our democratic process, particularly the young ones. It has happened in every civilized democracy. What is the panic about? People should not even mention military or any sort of intervention. You don't put ideas into people's head. Look at India. In one year they changed three heads of state and there was no military intervention."

Governor Tinubu's words were re-echoed by Admiral Augustus Aikhomu. He said that:

"We are too sentimental in this country. People are raising all kinds of sentiments. But if you ask me, my honest view is that nobody is untouchable, and therefore, the legislators should do their job. The law is very clear on these issues. Some Nigerians should therefore stop expressing unnecessary sentiments."

I agree.

I do not intend to go into the legal basis for and ramifications of impeachment under the current Constitution. A lot of other knowledgeable pundits have done enough work on that. Suffice it to say that there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about impeachment. I will therefore restrict my comments on the political aspects of the current impeachment saga.

Should the National Assembly find the President guilty of the charges laid against him, he ought to be impeached. All these doomsday noisemakers that are screaming themselves hoarse about the Armageddon that will descend on Nigeria should Obasanjo be impeached deserve only contempt. Believe me the heavens will not fall if the President is impeached. These charlatans that are now hurling threats and accusations of conspiracy will quietly crawl into the rocks from which they emerged. His Excellency obviously understands that which is why he made his Sunday national broadcast to calm nerves and possibly persuade the assemblymen to soft pedal.

The accusation by some people that the National Assembly will scuttle the nascent democratic exercise if they proceed with the impeachment is nothing but desperate blackmail tactic. Nigeria's democracy does not rest on any one individual. It will survive with or without any one player. Hon. Nya Asuquo made a valid point in a recent interview. He said:

"Let me say that this impeachment is a constitutional provision and nobody should scare us. Heavens will not fall if we impeach the president provided we do so out of altruistic reasons…. We hope the president takes urgent steps to address the issues raised. People must stop reading tribal meanings into all these.

Recall that Alhaji Balarabe Musa was impeached in the second republic; Kaduna State did not go up in flames. Several speakers of the various State Houses of Assembly have been removed and replaced, but those states survived. The National Assembly had weathered the removal of one speaker and two senate presidents. The heavens did not fall on Abuja. Obasanjo's impeachment will only make newspaper headlines and gossip columns and nothing more. And it would be business as usual the Monday after his impeachment.

What troubles me is that some people are making this impeachment exercise a tribal issue. It is not a coincidence that a disproportionate number of the people lining up behind the theory that Nigeria will disintegrate if Obasanjo is impeached come from a particular section of the country. What is even more sickening with this tribal slant is the fact that in the recent past Obasanjo's present "attorneys" accused him of precisely the very same misdeeds that the National Assembly laid against him. Some of his present apologists in the recent past even called for his removal. What has changed? Nothing has changed. It is simply the same old tribal instinct to protect one's own, even if he is a tribal reject. When Dr. Chuba Okadigbo was hounded out of office, none of these prophets of doom spoke out for him. He was not of the right parentage and was therefore expendable. None of these people said anything for the past three years that the Presidency spent millions of Naira and thousands of man-hours attempting unsuccessfully to topple Ghali Umar Na'abba.

The allegation by a certain governor that those seeking to impeach the President were working in concert with elements in the armed forces is pathetic. It is a gross exhibition of irresponsibility for somebody who holds the distinguished post of a state Governor. It shows how desperate politicians are and how low they can crawl just to come up ahead. This Governor claims he was alerted of the plot by House members with elements in the armed forces to topple the presidency by Olusegun Obasanjo. This kind of reckless claim by the President is reminiscent of the monarch in Chief Osadebe's song. This king was in the habit of raising false alarm just to amuse himself at the expense of his loyal subjects. When eventually a lion appeared none of his subjects bothered to heed his cries for help and the beast devoured him. Enough said. People like Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Senator Bola Tinubu will continue to enjoy the respect and admiration of Nigerians for their abilities to continue to call a fair play. One hopes that some of the traditional rulers, politicians and activists from a certain section of the country would borrow a leaf from Chief Fawehinmi.

We should not allow Nigeria to be led to the brink by an insensitive and totally unteachable leader simply because of his tribesmen's maternal instinct to protect their own. Rather than make empty and irresponsible threats, they should sit their son down and give him a pep talk. They should arrange an apparatus to engage the National Assembly in a meaningful dialogue so as to work out a deal for him. Threats and scare tactics cannot cut it. Abacha-like trumped up accusation of coup attempts and reckless accusation of conspiratorial liaison with elements in the armed forces will only be counter-productive.

Dozie Ikem Ezeife, Esq. is an Attorney-At-Law in Oakland, California