Waiting for the Mortal Combat

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ENI-B 

By Eniola Bello

Now we seem to be getting there. The unending shadow boxing between the Executive and the Legislature since the inception of this administration appears set to become the real deal. Those of us who have waited this long for such gladiatorial combat are set for ringside seats. The very prospect of such a titanic combat is, in itself, exhilarating. We hope this would be a fight to the death: a free style combat where all is fair, the ring encaged, and the services of a referee dispensed with. We do not expect either of the combatants to chicken out before the fight. Indeed we would not entertain it. We the people, as spectators, should simply book our seats to enjoy the show. For when a dinosaur is exhumed and confronted by a gang of predators, ordinary mortals should, rather than get involved on either side, stand back and enjoy the show while it lasts. The reason is simple. Both combatants only want to dominate their environment. Both are driven by personal ego. Both are, in their different ways and for different reasons, out to expand their sphere of influence. Therefore having both operate from the same environment is akin to having two rams drink from the same basin of water.  Something would have to give.

Let’s take a closer look at the combatants. There’s President Muhammadu Buhari, the dinosaur in one corner of the ring. Outdated, rigid, divisive, and stubbornly insular, he has failed to, and is almost incapable of, adapting to changing circumstances. He has insisted on superintending the affairs of the country since his election in 2015 the same way, and with the same methods, that spectacularly failed him as military dictator in 1984. It is usually some others pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for his benefit. In short, Buhari loves the title and perquisites of the highest office in the land but doesn’t seem to enjoy the daily grind and hard work and headache arising from the challenges of that office.

Buhari and his supporters are wont to make a song and dance of his anti-corruption war. He has repeatedly claimed that his removal in August 1985 by Babangida and his ‘Boys’ was because he was fighting corruption in what officials of his administration presently, have cleverly phrased as “corruption fighting back”. But Buhari’s anti-corruption war, then and now, has always been selective. This administration’s anti-corruption war only appears effective when its arsenal are pointed on the opposition PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), or other presidential aspirants in the APC (All Progressives Congress), or the president’s critics in and out of government. Those who, however, worship on the altar of keeping Buhari in office, or whisper sweet nothings in his ears, are supposedly untainted by corruption irrespective of the allegations against them to the contrary. For a man whose funding of his political struggles have wholly been dependent on the benevolence of some businessmen and politicians, Buhari is akin to the famed chichi dodo, the bird which has great aversion for excrement yet feeds on worms whose very survival is dependent on faeces.

In the other corner of the ring are the lawmakers, the predators. Since 1999, the National Assembly has had the notoriety for parading members notably loud for venality and greed. Despite having passed some very important bills into law, the 8th National Assembly’s reputation is even worse than previous ones. Perhaps because most of its members have lived on the State for long, the 8th Assembly has been no different from its predecessors in its culture of entitlement, and has continued plundering the nation’s resources through bogus allowances to members in quarterly payments, budgetary allocations for so-called constituency projects, and veiled blackmail in the incessant probe of MDAs. In one area, however, the 8th Assembly surpassed others before it in allowing its leadership maneuver and use the legislature as whipping rod for fighting personal battles. Senator Bukola Saraki has, following his election as senate president by political sleight of hand, been battling with series of unwholesome allegations. For every allegation against him, Saraki’s usual first line of defence is to claim he was being persecuted before rallying his colleagues to get the presidency to intervene, and when that fails, resort to legislative motion to harass, or intimidate, or censor the head of the agency handling the investigation. Were Saraki indeed being persecuted as claimed, that could only be the consequence of a choice he consciously made when he defied his party, the ruling APC, and went into alliance with the opposition PDP to achieve his ambition.

The latest of these allegations is the claim by the police that some leaders of a robbery gang arrested over a deadly violent heist in Offa are political thugs with alleged links to Saraki. Shortly after the police invited Saraki for questioning, the Senate and House of Representatives quickly held a joint executive session from which they rolled out 12 resolutions Buhari should implement or face impeachment. The resolutions enjoined Buhari to stop: the killings in the country, police intimidation of perceived political opponents, the selective fight against corruption, and the removal of the Inspector General of Police amongst others. There’s no question that this administration’s anti-corruption war is selective, or that the herdsmen killings in some parts of the country have gone on for too long, or even that there’s an overt harassment of political opponents. Buhari’s clannish security appointments have of course not helped the situation. However, with the way dissenting voices in parliament are hounded with indiscriminate suspension and disgraced, it is rich of the leadership of the National Assembly to condemn the Executive “systematic harassment and humiliation … of perceived political opponents, people with contrary opinions… by the police and other security agencies”. On this point, Saraki and Buhari are two sides of the same coin.

In any case, members of the National Assembly displayed a chronic lack of self-worth to help fight Saraki’s personal battles in the guise of matters of common good. A serious group of legislators desirous of their place in history, respectful of their constituents, concerned about the integrity of the parliament, and passionate about Nigeria, would have requested that Saraki step down as senate president, clear his name and thereafter return to office. We are talking of the violent robbery of five banks in broad daylight, the killing of 33 people including six policemen, and total shut down of Offa town. That is felony, a very serious crime. Had Saraki offered to step down, or had the National Assembly requested that he step aside to defend himself, the legislature could have easily climbed a moral high ground, and the senate president would have, if he were indeed framed, given a mean-spirited president a bloody nose, and his political capital would be the richer for it.

The usual quick resort to a no-confidence vote on the police Inspector General, as happened when Senator Dino Melaye was arrested, blurs the line between politics and police investigations, and creates the perception that somebody has something to hide. You blame the police for not doing its work diligently to arrest increasing criminality; then where the police did seem to be making progress in the investigation of a major crime, you complain of persecution. Unfortunately, the issues are not about us, the people. The bickering has no bearing on our welfare and wellbeing, our security, education and jobs for our children, and the continued progress of our country. The bitterness is more about power and privileges, about vain ego. Let’s therefore leave and watch the dinosaur and the predators fight dirty. Their continuous disagreement can only empower us, the people as we count down to 2019 elections.

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The Police, Rivers and 2019 Polls

In the last several weeks, the Rivers State government has been crying out in a series of advertising placements on several media platforms against the redeployment to Port Harcourt of Akin Fakorede, an assistant commissioner of police and commander of the Force Special Anti- Robbery Squad (F-SARS) in the state. The Rivers government, relying on a panel report of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the 2016 rerun elections in the state, not only called Fakorede an “election rigger and enemy of democracy”, but also alleged that the SARS commander has been reposted to Rivers after a brief transfer to Yobe State, to help rig the 2019 elections violently with a specially trained squad.

To put the issue in proper perspective, the INEC report in question not only accused security operatives of hostage taking, hijack of electoral materials and physical attacks on its officials, it spectacularly named Fakorede as assaulting two of its officials – Dr. C. Odekpe and Mrs. Tunkayo – and injuring one of them, after a failed attempt “to lure INEC staff to travel with him from Port Harcourt to Emohua LGA under the pretext of enabling them to collate results.”

The INEC has not denied that the report of its panel indicted Fakorede on such weighty allegations. Fakorede has also not denied the existence of the report the basis of which the Rivers government is uncomfortable with his presence in the state, and has not hesitated to shout out its concerns. The SARS commander has, however, been waving a yellow card of libel case in the faces of the newspapers which published the advertorial. In a letter from his counsel Ayodele Akintunde & Co., Fakorede rather argued that the allegations against him were untrue, and that he wasn’t given a fair hearing, as the panel never bothered to invite him to present his own side of the story. It is inconceivable that the INEC panel, or any panel for that matter, would not get all the sides to a case being investigated. Could Fakorede have opted to ignore the panel’s invitation? If he wasn’t invited to present his side of the story, didn’t he know that was a solid ground for him to have gone to court to render the report nugatory, and stop INEC and any other body from circulating or publishing it in any shape or form? Didn’t he realise that the report was bound to be of public interest the moment the electoral body had it released?

The fact is, the nation’s electoral history has shown that the police are one critical agency a ruling party, and unscrupulous politicians, brazenly use to commit electoral fraud. As things stand, the INEC report has badly damaged Fakorede to render his continued stay in Rivers untenable, and particularly so with the loud discomfort of the state government over his return. What was the hurry in returning him to the state anyway, shortly after his transfer to Yobe? Keeping Fakorede in Rivers would most likely precipitate violence in a state where almost every election is marked by bloodshed.  It would also reinforce the narrative of the Rivers government that he has been returned to the state for the sole purpose of rigging the 2019 elections. Police Inspector General Ibrahim Idris has more than enough badly cooked food in his plate to add a slimy fish from Rivers political cauldron. He may consider sending Fakorede to go join the Offa armed robbery investigations.