Arresting the Governance Crises in Rivers State -By Citizens for Justice

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Rivers State Government

 

The present distress feeds from the determination of the newly installed Nyesom Wike-led government to establish its authority by dismantling the Amaechi elements and institutions, which are perceived as either illegal or inimical to the interests of the administration and the PDP elements…These hotly contested issues have accentuated the pitch of hatred and bitterness between the now warring former political associates in the state. And a solution must be found to all this, in the interest of the people.

With Rivers as one of the 12 states created in 1967 to assuage the persisting feeling of marginalisation among Nigeria’s minority ethnic groups, coupled with the fortune of unexpected inflow of oil revenue from the end of the Civil War in January 1970, succeeding administrations and the peoples of the state had surmounted their differences to post a semblance of unity and appreciable economic development; more so, the civilian administrations have been practically under one-party governments, with minimal inter-party conflicts. But this seeming political advantage was to go when the internal crisis in the state’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) snowballed into Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s eventual defection to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013. As the crises and acrimony attending this development refused to go, it was expected that the completion of Amaechi’s tenure and subsequent inauguration of Nyesom Wike as governor offered an opportunity to explore ways of healing the wounds inflicted in the course of abrasive electioneering.

Had this happened, non-partisan residents would have been content to pursue their private affairs and leave the politicians to adopt lawful processes for harmonising their interests. But no, what has been witnessed is a continuing manifestation of vengeance and annihilation of political opponents, both real and perceived. Thus, any professed non-partisan stakeholder in the Rivers State project who continues to keep mute in the unfolding wave of governance by recrimination will be taxed to prove his true disposition to the long-term wellbeing of the state and its people; s/he either must be indulging in an understandable self-preservation or is too scared of the probable backlash for boldly standing for what is right. Either way, it suffices to repeat the saying that the path of integrity and rectitude is trodden by the courageous at a cost.

The present distress feeds from the determination of the newly installed Nyesom Wike-led government to establish its authority by dismantling the Amaechi elements and institutions, which are perceived as either illegal or inimical to the interests of the administration and the PDP elements. This is against the backdrop of APC contesting the national, state assembly and governorship elections in the state as (allegedly) roundly compromised to its disadvantage, at the same time that the Nyesom Wike-led PDP government is contesting the legality of the local councils that were hurriedly installed a few days to the end of the Amaechi-led APC government in the state, among other issues. These hotly contested issues have accentuated the pitch of hatred and bitterness between the now warring former political associates in the state. And a solution must be found to all this, in the interest of the people.

The current prompt appointment of Justice Daisy Okocha as Acting CJ by Governor Wike has even raised more questions: can her impartiality in any case involving either Governor Wike’s camp or former Governor Amaechi’s APC camp ever be taken for granted?..The obvious mischief and injury to public trust can only be cured by the appointment of a person who is not only impartial but is also generally seen by all parties to be so…

Prior to the expiration of Amaechi’s administration, it was suggested (through a written submission) that the impasse over the appointment of a substantive chief judge (CJ) be resolved by giving accelerated retirement to both justices Agumagu and Daisy Okocha, to pave way for the appointment of a “neutral” candidate. The fierce contest, covetousness and politicisation surrounding the appointment of a CJ was considered unbecoming on the part of the two contending parties and affected justices, as moral questions were raised on altruism and whether the two officers had demonstrated similar determination in matters of a just and quick dispensation of justice in cases assigned to them thitherto. It was also wondered as to what interests were being served when each of the contenders preferred the crises in the state judiciary to so degenerate as for the courts to be shut down, rather than conceding an office that had been so politicised.

The current prompt appointment of Justice Daisy Okocha as Acting CJ by Governor Wike has even raised more questions: can her impartiality in any case involving either Governor Wike’s camp or former Governor Amaechi’s APC camp ever be taken for granted? Let the probable loss of confidence by the public be weighed against whatever ends that informed the dogged fight for making this appointment. The obvious mischief and injury to public trust can only be cured by the appointment of a person who is not only impartial but is also generally seen by all parties to be so; the overarching need for not setting a bad precedence rules out the convenience of considering the length of time still available for any appointee to remain in service. This thought may have informed a position that the National Judicial Council should exorcise itself of whatever prejudices and sentiments that could deter it from doing the needful expediently.

For the current dissolution of boards of the different agencies of government: this is a purely political exercise at the discretion of an incumbent. But the threat to extend it to APC-installed local councils must be given serious considerations due to its legal, constitutional and even moral implications. As objectionable as the electoral process ushering in the councils is to Governor Wike and his party, a big constraint is that the legality of their birth has not been successfully challenged in a law court. Hence, just as President Buhari conceded the constitutionality of the present composition of leadership at the National Assembly, though against his professed will and that of his party, so are Governor Wike and his party expected to tolerate the present ‘opposition’ local councils in his state.

In the foregoing context, the interests of the parties may not correspondingly lie with the interests of the people: as for the quest for a forced dissolution of the local councils, it is wondered whether the governor will thereafter allow the LGAs remain without administration, or will resort to appointing unelected party loyalists as caretaker committees – to replace “elected” councils; and this is in the context of our common claim that the worst democratic government is still better than the best dictatorship. In all these contests, it is not in doubt whose interests are being pursued. The ordinary citizens in the state are thinking that the “illegally elected” councils can be coerced and pressured to work for public interests and accountability if they continue to function under a “hostile” PDP state government, than would otherwise be the case if they were forcefully replaced with PDP-compliant caretaker committees. Moreover, considering the possible eruption of violence sequel to a contrived dissolution, a line of thought is that the state PDP should show maturity, wisdom and tolerance by continuing to exercise due oversight on the councils until a court process approves any further action.

…the controversies trailing the reported ‘reinstatement’ of Mr. Celestine Omehia as former governor of Rivers state should be dispassionately evaluated: as with the granting of pardon to ex-governor Alamieyeseigha by former President Jonathan, the sentiments of the wider public should be considered while contemplating the exercise of such executive power, even if there is no legal inhibition.

Furthermore, as both the APC-led federal government and Rivers State APC have no right to resort to self-help or some ingenious contrivance to remove the PDP government in Rivers State (which they strongly contest as being constituted through a flawed electoral process), so does the non-partisan public expect Governor Wike and his PDP not to stoke any extra-judicial means for undermining the existence and operation of the present local councils in Rivers State, let alone dissolving them. And difficult as the situation is for each party to bear, each is under a moral and constitutional obligation to keep the peace while seeking justice, irrespective of the degree of injury or irregularity being felt by a party. Otherwise, the ordinary people will be subjected to double jeopardy in the hands of a bunch of unprincipled political jobbers who change camps easily to grab wealth for themselves.

Other issues bother on the treatment of past appointees and political office-holders: it is thought that public interest, equity, peace and security should be the overarching considerations. The recovery of official vehicles from executives of an outgone administration is a welcome development, it’s just that the tenets of equity and impartiality demand that this same treatment be applied to all, even nation-wide across the three tiers of government; any circular authorising such mindless stripping of public assets should be repealed and those found culpable brought to justice. In the same spirit, the controversies trailing the reported ‘reinstatement’ of Mr. Celestine Omehia as former governor of Rivers state should be dispassionately evaluated: as with the granting of pardon to ex-governor Alamieyeseigha by former President Jonathan, the sentiments of the wider public should be considered while contemplating the exercise of such executive power, even if there is no legal inhibition.

An uncontroverted interim report on politically motivated killings around the 2015 general elections confirmed the death of at least 94 persons in the state. A sitting governor, if not setting up a corona, can steer in the course of peace and healing by visiting and offering some succor to the bereaved, irrespective of existing political differences…

The recipient in this case, Mr. Omehia, is still a young lawyer of working age who would now be fed from public treasury for the rest of his life – for wrongly participating with a political party in an act that was ruled by the Supreme Court as an illegality and a nullity! It could have been less odious if the present governor chose to rehabilitate Mr. Omehia with a political appointment or with a one-off grant to start a productive engagement. This unnecessary addition to the long list of dependants on the state’s statutory transfers is coming at a time when even serving civil servants in the state are owed arrears of salary. Public opinion holds that private interests are being exalted above the public interest here. While this could be found in partisan politics, the long-term interest and sustainability of a democratic government is better guaranteed by policies that result in the serving of the largest bundle of goods to the largest number of people. It might well serve a godless and gullible citizenry right!

Without being unduly burdened by the thought of the proceedings at the electoral tribunal, the governor can still make a mark by showing a distinction between being a party candidate and performing as a sitting governor of an entire state; between partisanship and statesmanship, and between brinkmanship and leadership. An uncontroverted interim report on politically motivated killings around the 2015 general elections confirmed the death of at least 94 persons in the state. A sitting governor, if not setting up a corona, can steer in the course of peace and healing by visiting and offering some succor to the bereaved, irrespective of existing political differences (except if all the reported death are false claims). And such a humane gesture could well have taken precedence over actions like rehabilitating Mr. Omehia or other political associates.

To urgently address the current governance crises in the state requires that warring political parties cease from violence and flooding the law courts with the legal ambush of opponents, and accept the reality of bi-partisanship in modern democracy.

The new governor would obviously benefit from the wise counsel of humane and non-partisan elements in the state. But unfortunately, such elements seem to be extinct or are on an amoral recess, arising from kleptomaniacal dementia. The partisanship and abdication of civic responsibility by the wider civil society in the state is dumbfounding, to say the least: these include the traditional and religious leaders, members of the ivory tower, the media and individual journalists, labour unions, the vociferous conventional NGOs, and professional bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Some of the prominent religious leaders demurred or remonstrated for being denied what they considered as their traditional share of government patronage; others kept aloof for fear of losing out in the uncertain power game at play. On its part, the NBA leadership in the state, to further decimate its worth and relevance, resorted to an unequalled indignity of suing the state government and claiming N500 million damages for lost income by its members in the long closure of the law courts! But the citizens are asking: what has been the NBA’s concern and action on those politically motivated killings in the state, and the many people held in different inhuman cells while the judiciary was shut down?

To urgently address the current governance crises in the state requires that warring political parties cease from violence and flooding the law courts with the legal ambush of opponents, and accept the reality of bi-partisanship in modern democracy. The governor must wean himself from the hang-over of electioneering activism, and approach the arduous task of governance with decorum and maturity in an ultra-transparent and accountable manner that begets critical trust on a leader. Governor Wike will do well to avoid the meddlesomeness of self-seeking religious and traditional rulers, and accord public interest, more than group interests, precedence in both the review of existing policies and the formulation of new ones. Rivers State and its people need no longer be afflicted with violence among unfaithful servants over control of the wealth of ailing masters who need care and healing.

This piece is from the Good Governance desk of Citizens for Justice, Employment and Transparency (C-JET; www.jet-cng.org, transparent.citizens@yahoo.com, +234 (0) 8036676651)

 

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