I had expected that Kogi State Chief Judge was marching into a hall of fame as the man of the year. The story had rippled through the news pages that Nasiru Ajana was going to plant the bench against the tide of the kangaroo APC elite led by Governor Yahaya Bello and his cohorts of the state House of Assembly.
Barely 24 hours later, he fell to the tide. Ajana lacked the fire-in-the-belly to stand for justice. He became one of a medley crowd of judges who kowtows to a narrative of impunity. Was he caught between personal survival and country? Did he wince or wean himself from the law? Was it ideological or existential? Was he principled or frightened? Did he cave in to that ideological and existential dilemma that we have seen over the centuries? In the Greek play, Iphigenia at Aulis, Euripides reflects this chasm when Agamemnon opts for country over his daughter who dies in the ambiguity of nationalism. In another work, Sophie’s Choice, novelist William Styron casts a Catholic mother in Nazi concentration camp to surrender one of her children, a son or daughter, to burn to ashes in the thermal terror of the gas chamber.
Ajana’s choice did not carry such consequential weight, some may say. But he did. Imagine the model persona he could have invoked if he looked the partisanship in the eye like the great Justice Salami a few years ago? He would have cast a backwater state like Kogi to the grand square of Nigeria’s moral drumbeat. He would have evangelised a version of judicial veracity from which many a dignified jurist has ducked away. It’s like the Abiku syndrome in Soyinka and Clark’s poems in which the child has to choose whether to stay or go, life or death, truth or lies, principle or fright, fear or courage. Ajana did not take the better side of Abiku.
The choice was not a factor for the members of the Kogi legislature, neither was it for Governor Bello. The governor had failed in many areas, in economy, in infrastructure, in the rule of law. He failed the lawyer by not following the rule of law. He failed the sick with the hospitals on life support. He failed the civil servant who has had to assert life without the lifeblood of workers: the salary. Now, he failed the impossible: himself. By giving a nod to a panel to investigate the deputy governor, he committed a sort of career suicide.
He saved himself like a phoenix, and he has his foot soldiers to thank. At the head of it was his speaker, Hassan Abdullahi. He had gathered his sheepish lawmakers in a secret chamber and within half an hour, they had declared deputy governor Simon Achuba a yesterday’s man. They must have been quick and voracious readers to gulp down the massive report and deliberated in so short an order. They must have the brains of gods to have exhibited such acuity of understanding and the nobility of deities to have established such depth of consent.
They did that, though, in travesty like the ones that the Owu chief had bequeathed to us. Do we remember how a former Bayelsa governor was whisked from office? Remember the case of Plateau State when a half a dozen persons became a majority? We have made impunity a legacy of democracy and there is no way we can escape the blood trail in our democracy. Achuba is no one’s hero. As deputy governor, he was not with any powers, so he was unable to do much.
That exactly accounts for why it was easy for the panel to set him free. He was not a criminal because the governor, in his monarchical impulses, did not empower him to be one. He was, as it were, sainted by the governor’s tight hold on authoritarian power. So, the heroes were not the politicians in this case. It was the panel that Governor Bello failed.
Led by John Baiyeshea (SAN), the panel released its report to the public domain, and dissected the facts of Achuba’s stewardship. Like the Pontius Pilate, who echoed his wife’s nightmare, the panel said, they saw no basis for crucifying the deputy governor. But like the priests, the state legislators took it upon themselves to undermine substance and process, and impeached the fellow anyway. The speaker and his lawmakers have pitched an apocryphal line of argument that the panel was not expected to give a verdict. That was fuelled by their canine loyalty to Bello, not to conscience or truth, and obviously not to the constitution.
We had a certain gang-up a few years ago against the cool-headed former governor of Nasarawa State, Tanko Al-Makura, when the panel found him guiltless. The state house of assembly knew it was over, and he rode into the sunshine. But it might be sunset for Achuba; it is the constitution that has the shadows of impunity all over its sanguine pages. The Nasarawa legislators were nobler than the unthinking conscience of the Kogi lawmakers.
We must also say that by acting in secret they also borrowed a leaf from Edo State Governor’s men of political underworld who formed a quorum by capsising the definition of the law and made a fashion faux pas by appearing in shorts. Governor Godwin Obaseki’s endorsement of his lawmakers was akin to Governor Bello’s nod of Kogi impunity.
Our democracy can learn from what Jesus told Pilate:”I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.” This is a paragon of openness and transparency for democracy.
In the ongoing impeachment hearings on United States President Donald Trump, the Republicans have been stressing process over substance. It shows impeachment is always political. A good man may be a bad man, in the politics of impeachment. The definition of gross misconduct is values based, and it depends on the legislative mind-set and, therefore, partisanship. As John Milton writes in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place/ it can make hell of heaven and heaven of hell.” Governor Bello and his canine hooters spelt hell for the deputy governor.
We cannot say that the chief judge did not know all of these narratives and their moral evocations. Now Bello is on a political high. He is eminently unpopular, but he now has an intimidating war chest for his re-election bid. Many say with billions flowing in from Abuja he is guaranteed a return. It is a story of money over civic dissent, war chest flourishing over bad governance. But we don’t know yet.
He has now paid salary backlogs, and he has amassed support from and knitted together a divided APC elite. The scent of money is making Bello a saint, suddenly. But the people have a chance to show whether democracy will this time canonise bad governance. History has shown that a genius in the politics of governance does not guarantee victory in elections. The polls require a different kind of politics. If Bello wins, it will, again, show how our people are a victim of the most cynical type of politics. But who to blame but the people themselves!
Time, however, shall tell.
Credits: Sam Omatseye | The Nation