Fayemi in a handshake with Fayose.

Not a few were surprised about the outcome of an inquiry panel, set up by Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State to probe the administration of his predecessor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. Victor Ogunje writes

The 10 years ban placed on the Minister of Mines and Steel Development from contesting political offices has elicited a lot of mixed reactions among Nigerians. Some pundits perceived the action as a vivid show of enmity between Governor Ayodele Fayose of the state and his predecessor, which they opined could have a pernicious effect on the peaceful co-existence among Ekiti indigenes across political divides.

In actual fact, Fayose has not hidden his hatred for Fayemi since he felt betrayed by the latter’s refusal to concede to him a senatorial ticket to contest in 2011 on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). It was a taken within Fayose’s political family that the ticket was part of the secret pact signed between Fayemi and the governor during the highly-pulsating rerun election of April 26, 2009 elections.

Fayose, who felt aggrieved with the PDP and the then governor, Chief Segun Oni over alleged alienation in the party worked with Fayemi during the rerun and he held an unwavering view that he ought to have been compensated with that senatorial ticket. Many Fayose’s political cronies at that time were emotional about the treatment meted out to their principal and they were desperately searching for a payback time, which the 2014 governorship election gleefully availed them.

The widespread belief among the people had been that the outcome of the 2014 election, which Fayose won would have sufficed to end the hostility, but that seemed to be the beginning of an unending rivalry between the duo. The twosome had at various times shown to be arch enemies, both in actions and utterances.

Since Fayose ascended the governorship on October 16, 2014, he has always been hinging his inability to deliver democratic dividends on huge debt left behind by Fayemi’s government. This, he often does derisively to cast aspersion on his predecessor’s records.

Initially, the governor was hesitant to wield the big stick against his predecessor, because of his promise on the day of his inauguration not to probe the past administrations and that had restrained him until the 2018 succession plan came to the front burner, where contending forces have to struggle for survival using instruments available at their disposals.

The Panel as an Option

Probably because of the rumour that Fayemi was interested in the gubernatorial race, Fayose swiftly mooted the idea of a judicial panel of enquiry to probe his administration. To make the panel wear a toga of credibility and acceptability, he made the former Acting Chief Judge of Ekiti State, Justice Silas Oyewole its chairman among other six members sworn in on May 7, 2017.

While inaugurating the panel, Fayose urged them to be fair by inviting the former governor, so that Ekiti and Nigerians could have clearer pictures of the state’s finances. Terms of references included: Probe of the N825 Universal Basic Education Fund and how the N25 billion bond taken by that government was expended among other issues like the amount spent on the legacy projects, the state pavilion, governor’s lodge on Oke Ayoba and the civic centre.

“I want you to be diligent in your work. Be fair and don’t infuse personal grudges into the probe. Invite all those that are concerned and come up with recommendations that will be fair, just and credible”, Fayose advised.

 However, citing cases of political bias against the panelists, Fayemi didn’t appear before it and he immediately approached the court to seek the disbandment of the commission. He said he had no confidence in the chairman of the panel, whom he described as a PDP dye-in-the-wool apologist. The governor, in his deposition at the state High Court, averred that other members like Blessing Oladele and Barrister Gbemiga Adaramola had deep hatred for his personality, which he said had vitiated the entire process.

Thus, on Monday, January 15, the State Executive Council released the damning white paper report on the outcome of the commission and banned Fayemi and his commissioner for Finance, Dapo Vincent Kolawole from holding political office for 10 years in Ekiti and anywhere in Nigeria due to an indictment in alleged corruption, when he was a governor.

Addressing newsmen after the state executive council took delivery of the report, the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Lanre Ogunsuyi, said: “Their disrespect to the constituted authority and the undignified roles they played in the whole contracts saga were obviously against the interest of the state they were supposed to protect. They are banned from holding public office in Ekiti and any part of Nigeria.”

 Other highlights of the white paper mandated Fayemi and his Finance Commissioner to refund N2.7 billion allegedly allocated for the execution of the contract for ultra-modern market that was said not to have been executed. The government further directed the Ministry of Justice to institute appropriate legal actions to this effect.

Undertone of Political Vendetta

The Minister and its party, All Progressives Congress (APC) didn’t treat the white paper with kid’s gloves. They reacted swiftly to the report, branding it as a political vendetta against the former governor. It is no longer news that Fayemi might be interested in seeking re-election this year and what was reverberating on the lips of many Ekiti residents has been that the timing was suspicious and seems to be more of a political vendetta than a fact-finding mission.

 To corroborate the widespread impression that Fayose was out to nail Fayemi, the Minister, in his reaction said: “The attention of the Media Office of the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has been drawn to the pre-meditated verdict of the Ekiti State Government, as contained in the white paper submitted by the panel set up by Governor Ayo Fayose to investigate the finances of the state between 2010 and 2014.”

Fayemi’s reaction, which was signed by his Media Aide, Yinka Oyebode, said: “While we believe it is part of the responsibilities of the state administration to look into the finances of the state at any point in time, we are also of the belief that such must be done in a very responsible manner devoid of prejudice, witch-hunting and a calculated attempt to victimise a citizen.

“In this particular case, the entire process is discredited right from the beginning, as the only agenda of the panel was to rubbish Dr. Fayemi’s public service record. One is therefore not surprised at the recommendations of the White Paper. It only goes to confirm our initial position that the panel was compromised right from inception and targeted against Dr. Fayemi.”

The APC also perceived the sanction as a booby trap to either stop Fayemi from contesting or cast indelible dent on the image of its leaders.

Reacting through its State Publicity Secretary, Taiwo Olatunbosun, the party said the Access Bank had appeared before the panel to exonerate Fayemi, explaining that the minister never stole that but that it (the bank) took back the loan to its vault, when the state government failed to firm up agreement on loan repayment.

“A situation where Fayose assembled PDP members and pliable civil servants as a panel with a strict directive to indict Fayemi at all costs and thereafter issue a White Paper banning him from holding public office cannot hold water in a society where the law works. With the way he is conducting himself desperately to stop Fayemi from holding public office, we are convinced that Fayose is seriously going through a political haemorrhage and therefore his resorting to political desperation and unconstitutional means to nail our leader and a serving Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by any means possible.

“Neither Fayose nor Ekiti State Government has the power to bar or prevent Dr. Fayemi or any other citizen from holding public office but a competent court of law. Such wishful thinking cannot stand judicial scrutiny and we advise Fayose and his pitiable undertakers to read the Supreme Court judgment and Atiku Abubakar in similar matter.”

Understanding the Propriety of the Ban

Governor Fayose stoutly defended the government’s decision on the white paper, saying it has not violated any section of the law and claimed it has done what was right.

“We are doing what is right within the ambit of the law by appointing competent people for the assignment. We must be seen to be doing the right thing and it is not wrong to ask how the finances of the state have been appropriated within a given time and we are following due process.

 “The APC government could probe this and that, even if you say they are biased, what can anyone do? I am not part of the panel that sat for the inquiry, they submitted the report to me and I presented it to appropriate organ and I will do the same with this document. This is not personal in any way. We are only doing the right thing and following due process.

The Legal Crucible

Prominent lawyers in Ekiti and beyond have spoken against the action taken by the state government. An Ilorin-based lawyer, Mr. Rahman Balogun, contended that the government action had further shown that the commission was orchestrated to tarnish the image of his client.

He stated that the commission lacked powers to issue such sanctions against any individual adding that it could only recommend any public figure for trial. Balogun, who described the whole scenario as laughable hinted that he has gotten the clearance from Fayemi to challenge the alleged arbitrariness. I have written to Ekiti State Attorney General to get full details of the reports.

“The commission can only recommend them for trial in a competent court of law. But my client was not given fair hearing on the matter. Although we have challenged the composition of the commission before, this is a new case and we are not resting on our oars.”

In the same vein, a Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana agreed that even though the commission lacked the powers to bar the two public officers, Fayemi and his erstwhile Commissioner have a duty to address some of the issues raised.

Falana reiterated that this has become imperative since Fayemi is serving under a government, whose cardinal objective is to fight corruption and corrupt officials.

Also, an Akure-based lawyer and rights activist, Morakinyo Ogele described the white paper as a ‘beautiful nonsense’ which would not hold water.

“I have not seen the beautiful nonsense called White Paper but want to say that only competent court of law can bar or ban any individual from holding public office. I want to believe that the members of the commission are suffering from ignorance. “

The Waiting Game

The people are now in suspense on whether or not Fayemi would go to court to challenge the report, the same way they expected the government to take further actions. People however hold these views because of the directive allegedly given by Fayose to the Ministry of justice to take further actions on the white paper.

But how powerful could a judicial commission or administrative panel be to stop anyone from contesting? The fact of this may have been strongly established with some of the legal precedents.

For instance, former President Olusegun Obasanjo set up a panel against Atiku in 2007 and the Supreme Court quashed the indictment. There was an Ibrahim Shekarau arrangement against a Rabiu Kwankwaso in Kano which failed too. The House of Representatives once said it banned the current Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-rufai, it turned out that such illegal ban could not stand any legal test. Even fayose himself was once a victim of such a politically motivated ban and it failed. Other similar instances abound in different parts of the country, all of which could not stand legal scrutiny. That notwithstanding, Fayemi cannot also take chances.

Ekiti people are therefore patiently waiting on how this well contrived political trap set by Fayose against Fayemi would play out.