Has the Clampdown on Opposition Begun?

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Monday Discourse

The stealing of the mace at the Senate, the move to seize properties of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and the arrest of Senators Dino Melaye and Peter Nwaoboshi are not mere coincidence, reports Tobi Soniyi

This month, four separate but related events took place. Even though, the events appeared unrelated, those who can read in between the lines should not have difficulty arriving identifying a pattern.

After several failed attempts to change the leadership of the Senate, there are fresh but subtle moves to torpedo the leadership of the Senate.

While the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki was abroad, some thugs allegedly accompanied by a senator brazenly walked into the Senate’s Chamber and took away the mace. The mace is seen as a symbol of authority. The plan obviously was not just to steal the mace but to effect a leadership change in the Senate.
Two weeks after the invasion, the country is carrying on as if the invasion did not happen. Nigeria will certainly serve as a good case study in illegality and absurdity.

Interestingly, all the three arms of government were involved in the plot.

Legislature Involvement
To begin with, some members of the National Assembly are behind the illegality. Apart from the suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
Investigation revealed that the plot was hatched by about 15 Senators, who met at the residence of a Senator from Nasarawa State the night before the invasion. The plan, according to people familiar with the plot was to reinstate Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and to sack the Senate leadership.
Members of the Senate know the senators involved. At the meeting, they first decided to allow the court to determine whether the Senate has the power to suspend its members. They eventually concluded that there was a court judgment to the effect that the Senate has no power to suspend its members. So, those at the meeting resolved to get thugs to invade the Senate.

To achieve the dual purpose of removing the Senate leadership, especially with the absence of the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is on an official trip to Washington DC, USA, and the reinstatement of Senator Omo-Agege, it was concluded that the mace should be forcefully taken away.
Without the support of some members of the Senate, no thug would have the temerity to come right inside the Senate chambers to snatch a mace.

Executive Behind the Plot
No doubt, the Senators involved were working hand in glove with the executive. Obviously the stealing of the mace happened because security agents chose not to stop it. They did not only allow the illegality to take place, their action after it the stealing should leave no one in doubt that they were willing collaborators. The Senator who led the thugs in is walking free, the security men who allowed this to happen are keeping their jobs. Nobody is being prosecuted.
A former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, raised some fundamental questions but no one is providing answers to them. Reacting to the invasion, he said: “There should be a high-level investigation. Is there any complicity? What happened to the police guarding the place? What about the SSS?
“One person could not have planned this thing. They came in, took the mace and left. Did they disappear with helicopter? What were the police doing? What were the security agencies doing? We should set up a high-level investigation before apportioning any blame.”
The executive obviously wanted to stop the Senate from been harsh on President Muhammadu Buhari who paid $496 million for fighter jets without appropriation. Replacing Saraki with a new leadership that is favourably disposed to the executive isn’t a bad idea, the executive reasoned.
Besides, the amendment of the Electoral Act to change the sequence of the 2019 elections has further created enmity between the legislature and the executive. This has caused a division within the Senate.
The executive had not forgotten how Saraki pulled a surprise to emerge as Senate President while Ike Ekweremadu emerged as his deputy.
It was made worse with the executive’s insistence on retaining Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the anti-graft agency, EFCC, despite Senate twice rejecting his nomination.

The Judiciary Aiding Illegality
The speed with which the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello granted an exparte order stopping the police from arresting Omo-Agege should be of concern to right thinking Nigerians.
He then took another bizarre judicial decision by transferring the case to another judge without first setting aside his order stopping the police from arresting the Senator. A judge stopped the police from performing their statutory duty without hearing them and then transferred the case to another judge? Tomorrow, an armed robber will get an order from the court to stop the police from arresting him. The court that should have been an independent arbiter has taken side. Welcome to Banana Republic. Many litigants would wish that their cases be treated with the dispatch with which the judge handled Omo-Agege’s case.

Saraki’s Loyalists Targeted
Aside from the invasion of the Senate, there are other ongoing action to deal with the Senate leadership. Some of Saraki’s supporters, especially those who support the amendment of the Electoral Act are being targeted for prosecution.
But first, the point must be made. Anyone who has done anything contrary to the law should have his days in court. Nevertheless, a government who provides cover for people who should be arrested and charged to court will have difficulty defending its decision to charge only those opposed to it. A former Secretary to the Government of Federation, Babachir Lawal and former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke are enjoying their freedom despite the findings against them.

Ekweremadu
The get the Senate President out of the way, one of his staunchest supporters, who also happens to be his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu must be crushed. The Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property (SPIPRPP) is handling that.
The panel had asked a Federal High Court, Abuja, for an interim forfeiture order on 22 properties allegedly owned by Ekweremadu in Nigeria and abroad, but which he allegedly refused to declare. He denied owning the properties and has challenged the court’s jurisdiction, claiming among others, that the SPIPRPP was an illegitimate body.
As the general elections draw nearer, it is expected that the clampdown will continue.

Senator Peter Nwaoboshi
Peter Nwaoboshi, a Peoples Democratic Party senator representing Delta North, has been very critical of the government and supported the amendment of the Electoral Act to reorder election sequence.
He was arraigned by the EFCC on two counts of money laundering and conspiracy before Mohammed Idris, a judge of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
He pleaded not guilty to both counts. He has always insisted that the transaction which formed the basis of the criminal charge was a pure commercial transaction.
He was charged alongside two firms – Golden Touch Construction Project Limited and Suiming Electricals Limited.
Count one of the charge accused the senator and Golden Touch Construction Project Ltd of fraudulently acquiring a property known as Guinea House situated at Marine Road, Apapa in Lagos, between May and June 2014, at a cost N805 million.
The charge stated that the defendants ought to have known that N322 million out of the purchase price formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
Count two of the charge accused Suiming Electricals of aiding Mr Nwaoboshi and Golden Touch Construction Projects Ltd to commit money laundering.
He had since been granted bail though not after he had spent a couple of days at Ikoyi Prison in Lagos.

Senator Dino Melaye
Dino Melaye, the Senator representing Kogi West is considered Saraki’s attack God. To remove Saraki as Senate President, you will need to first get Melaye out of the way.
He faces double attacks. First, there is a petition before the Independent National Electoral Commission for his recall. The verification of those who signed the petition has already begun.

While he is battling to retain his seat, then allegation that he supplied arms to some suspects facing murder charge surfaced. He reportedly escaped from a moving police vehicle that landed him in a hospital in Abuja last Tuesday.

A statement signed by his media aide, Gideon Ayodele, said the senator voluntarily submitted himself to the police and, therefore, did not deserve to be forcibly taken to Kogi State to stand trial for some criminal offences.

Ayodele said: “Earlier in the morning, Senator Dino Melaye as a law-abiding citizen voluntarily submitted himself to the operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who had laid siege to his private residence since around 3.35pm of Monday, April 23, 2018.

“He, along with his lawyers and personal aides, was driven in his private car to the SARS office in Guzape district of Abuja, sandwiched among the numerous police vehicles earlier deployed to his house,” Mr Ayodele said.
He explained that shortly after Melaye entered the police custody in Abuja, officers dragged him in a vehicle and headed towards Lokoja, the Kogi State capital.
Melaye’s aide said the Senator feared that his life would be in danger if taken to Lokoja, amongst other alleged sinister motives of both the police and the state government there. He also said the senator refused to go to Lokoja because he had previously secured a court relief for the case to be moved to Abuja,

“The public will vividly recall that this same case involving Senator Dino Melaye had already been transferred to Abuja by the Chief Justice of the Federal High Court after Senator Melaye expressed worry about his safety in Lokoja. Now, the question is why will they want to forcefully take him to Lokoja? The Senator believes they are doing the Kogi Governor’s bidding in order to assassinate him.”

The aide said the police have never written to Melaye contrary to their claims in the media.

“For the avoidance of doubt, he had never evaded police invitation before now because there was none extended to him in the first place. Rather, what the Police PRO, Mr. Jimoh Moshood, had been doing was to summon the Senator through media briefings, a practice which is unconventional,” he said.
The police claimed that they wrote to Senate President Bukola Saraki requesting for permission to question Melaye over the criminal cases allegedly linked to him.

The police said that they wrote to Saraki and the Clerk of the National Assembly for permission to interrogate Melaye after some arrested criminal suspects named the senator as their financier and armed supplier.

The police therefore accused Melaye of frustrating all attempts to get him in for interrogation, although the senator denied this and all other criminal allegations against him.

After some of the suspects escaped from police custody, the police launched a nationwide manhunt and added Mr Melaye amongst the suspects who were at large.

The police also said Mr Melaye and other suspects had been placed on the Interpol red alert, but Interpol quickly. distanced itself from the claim saying it would not place Melaye on its watch list because of the political undertone of his case.
Although, there are conflicting accounts of how he got out of the police vehicle taking to Lokoja, no one should be left in doubt that his case has political undertone.

After the Interpol had declined to place Melaye on its red alert, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) held him at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport while on his way to Morocco on a federal government-sponsored assignment in the morning of April 23.
However, Melaye again escaped. Melaye said he snatched his passport from an official of the NIS who had taken it from him. After waiting at the airport for a while without being arrested, the senator then proceeded to his residence in Maitama District, Abuja.

Hours after he arrived at home, police officers stormed his residence and laid a siege that lasted for almost 24 hours before Melaye ultimately submitted himself.
His aide did not say how Melaye managed to escape from the police vehicle before he started writhing on the ground as captured in viral videos.

The police’s account was that Melaye escaped through the window of their vehicle, but this was readily disputed considering that the senator is over six-feet tall and by every account quite a large individual.
While Melaye and the police continue to churn out conflicting reports, they both agreed that he remains in the hospital, although the police said they have re-arrested and planned to take him to Lokoja to stand trial.

Ayodele said the scene created yesterday was “a last resort by Senator Dino Melaye in order foil attempt to kidnap him and kill him by agents of Kogi State governor in connivance with the police.”

Although Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello and Mr Melaye have been in bitter political rivalry in the state, the governor strongly denied involvement in the criminal allegations the police slammed on the senator.
A Failed Recall
While criminal charges continue to hang over him like the Swords of Damocles, the attempt to recall him has failed.
The petition to recall him and the signatures of those who allegedly signed the petition turned out largely to be fake.
First, people did not come out for the INEC verification exercise because they did not sign the petition in the first instance.
The final results of the verification exercise showed that less than 10 per cent of those who signed the recall letter to INEC were verified.
Of the 189,870 signatories, only 18,742 were verified after Saturday’s exercise.
At least 50 per cent was required for the recall to sail through.

Who Is Next
Ekweremadu, Nwaoboshi, Melaye, and who? No one knows yet who is next but certainly more people will be subjected to intimidation because it is election season. The media are also in the list. Members of the civil society organisations are also being profiled. They are also pushing a for a law to again register NGOs after they have been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. But we have been here before.
When elections are drawing near, it is not uncommon for those in power to attempt to intimidate those in opposition using apparatus of state. Some lily liver politicians have already gone quiet. That may encourage those using intimidation as a weapon to silence opposition to think that this approach is working. The reality is that it never works. It will also not work this time around.