A Case of Self-Evident Truth
The late American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously reminded all of us that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. Dr King’s admonition is instructive particularly for those who under the cover of darkness or in the seclusion of their homes or offices, when no one is looking, perpetrate the most insidious and heinous of crimes on the very citizens they are supposed to protect.
The April 14, 2007 Imo Gubernatorial election is a case in point. By abbreviating the election and hoisting in its stead a predetermined outcome from the sham arrangement of April 28, 2007, Professor Maurice Iwu failed to profess honesty, integrity and wholesomeness. The design which was carried out with his active participation and blessing abbreviated the hopes and aspiration of the people of Imo State in particular and Nigerians in general. He had hoped that Imolites would walk away gently into the night and never be heard from again. He was wrong.
Professor Iwu and Governor Ikedi Ohakim underestimated the indomitable spirit and gumption of Chief Martin Agbaso and those citizens with the commonsense to tease out facts from fiction. Imolites are not stupid. The fact that Professor Iwu and INEC, Governor Ohakim and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume have spent exorbitant amounts of money trying to keep Chief Agbaso from telling his story creates a perception problem for them. Why would they go to court with several Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to stop a man who just wanted a hearing on whether INEC and Professor Iwu acted properly and within the law by cancelling the April 14, 2007 Imo gubernatorial election. Perhaps they can tell all of us the public interest purpose of their effort. How are the citizens of Imo State better off by keeping Chief Martin Agbaso from being heard at the Abuja Court of Appeal? But, that is what they tried to do until the Court stopped them.
I read with amusement several articles that chastised Chief Agbaso for lying to his people of Emekuku on what the Abuja Court of Appeals really decided. These writers had the impudence to say that Chief Agbaso deceived his people. These writers had assumed the people of Emekuku are so ignorant and backwards that they would rely on Chief Agbaso’s account of what the court had said. These writers ignored the fact that Chief Martin Agbaso’s kinsfolk are among the brightest and most educated minds ever to grace Imo state and in fact the entire country and had produced a first republic minister in the name of Raymond Amanze Njoku. Emekuku people are not folks waiting for their warrior son, Chief Agbaso, to come back home from battle and narrate the story of what had transpired at the Abuja Court of Appeals. The accusation that Chief Agbaso had mislead his people by telling or creating the impression he is now governor of Imo State is a hatchet job and totally without merit, malicious, and failed the commonsense test. It must be jettisoned to the trash heap of history. It is the work of paid political operatives calculated to elicit sympathy for the Governor and others who abridged our democracy. It doesn’t work. The people have a right to know whether their governor is a crook.
Having overcome the circular trap set by INEC and it’s Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, the Imo State Governor, Ohakim, and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume; it is entirely appropriate for Chief Martin Agbaso and his supporters to celebrate the February 26, 2009 decision of the Abuja Court of Appeals to hear their appeal. By agreeing to hear their case, the court pushed back the strong objections of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Governor Ikedi Ohakim, and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume. The behemoth trio had argued that the Abuja Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction to entertain the case.
On one hand, INEC, Governor Ohakim and Senator Ararume had reasoned that Chief Agbaso’s case was an election matter that should be handled by the Election and Appeal Tribunals sitting in Owerri and Port-Harcourt respectively. On the other hand, the Election and Appeal Tribunals had earlier ruled that the April 14, 2007 election was a pre-election matter that is outside the scope and mandate of their authority and therefore had no authority to hear Chief Agbaso’s appeal. The Tribunals’ authority, they claimed, only covered issues arising out of the April 28, 2007 arrangement. So, we had a circular trap that would have ensured that the subterfuge orchestrated by Professor Iwu, Governor Ohakim and Senator Ararume would continue and the truth would never be discovered. To Chief Agbaso and his supporters, I say, jubilee.
From my angle, it is only logical and commonsensical for Chief Agbaso to seek redress at the Abuja Court of Appeals, yet, they tried to deny him the opportunity. Why did the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Governor Ikedi Ohakin, and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume spend so much resource and time to try and deny Chief Agbaso the opportunity of a hearing? I certainly can understand Governor Ohakim’s efforts at self-perpetuation and preservation as sufficient reason for wanting to quash Chief Agbaso’s appeal.
The fact that Governor Ikedi Ohakim’s legitimacy as governor of Imo State is at issue, is not sufficient consideration for him and why should it because the entire exercise was a sham or ruse to begin with and he was knee deep into it. Those who truly practice democracy and understand its core values know that legitimacy is its underbelly. Those who don’t understand democracy find reasons to obfuscate, conflate, or convolute the issues even in the face of indubitable evidence. To these later individuals, legitimacy is not necessarily important. Getting there is all that matters. And as they say in communist parlance, the end justifies the means. Well, the difference however, is that we are supposedly in a democracy and the end does not justify the means.
The Abuja Court of Appeals knew better and vacated the objections of the trio. The February 26, 2009 ruling by the Court is victory for the country’s fledgling democracy. It gives hope to all the citizens of Nigeria. It says now in this country; we recognize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and that justice delayed is justice denied. The judiciary has in case after case, through out this country, teased out the evil machinations of unscrupulous political actors and their agents. These undemocratic fellows who are desirous of power, access to power and influence have done so at great cost to all of us. We must continue to resist them at every turn.
Even if we disagreed with him in the past, we must salute the gumption and bravado of Chief Agbaso who stood resolutely in the face of corruption and tyranny without equivocation and demanded that the right thing be done. The Nigerian judiciary heard him and many before him who had travelled the same path. The judiciary has led the way and on behalf of the powerless, and a grateful nation, we salute them.
One wonders what was so petrifying to INEC and its Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu that caused their lawyers to argue that the Abuja Appeals Court has no jurisdiction to hear Chief Agbaso’s case. Perhaps, an unwholesomeness that must remain buried and kept from the public view and input? Preventing a hearing by the Abuja Court of Appeals would have covered an alleged unwholesomeness that will now be brought under the microscope and thoroughly examined. Why shouldn’t Nigerians know the real reason behind the cancellation of the Imo governorship elections of April 14, 2007? The reason proffered thus far for the cancellation of the election has been totally discredited and should be by any objective measure.
It is totally illogical and un-professorial for Professor Iwu to claim election irregularities and violence as reasons for the cancellation of the election and in the same breathe, sanction state house of assembly results midwifed by the very same election at the same time, place and space, as having met minimum acceptable standards. In comical parlance, it is called speaking from both sides of your mouth. It does not make sense and should not pass muster before the Abuja Appeals Court. If we, the ordinary and unsophisticated citizens of Nigeria can figure this one out, you know the esteemed justices of the Abuja Court of Appeals would figure it out without pain.
We must remind Professor Iwu and his friends that the moral arc surely but slowly grinds toward justice. That journey has begun and those guilty of wrong doing should worry the most. Anytime they hand out money or make inquiries of who would connive with them to pervert justice, that my friends, is their proof that the justice community is an earshot away and closing in on their crookedness.
The Electoral Act of 2006, Clause Part IV, section 27, subsection 1, contemplated situations when an election can be postponed. It reads, “where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election”.
From the foregoing, it is clear that what happened in Imo state on April 14, 2007 was not of the magnitude of a natural disaster or other emergency as was clearly contemplated by the Electoral Act of 2006 for postponing an election. One observes from the concluding section of the above referenced Clause that the Commission (i.e., INEC) may postpone (not cancel) the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the election. By cancelling statewide, the April 14, 2007 election, Professor Maurice Iwu, and INEC contravened the Electoral Act of 2006, Clause Part IV, section 27, subsection 1, unless of course, INEC and the Professor and their army of lawyers are arguing to us that on April 14, 2007, Imo State became a Banana republic and was in a hobbesian state of total anarchy and meltdown. Yet, the citizens of the state did not even know about it, and no federal troops or substantial police presence was ubiquitous in the state on this date.
One wonders why INEC and Professor Iwu did not postpone the election in the affected area or areas of Imo State ‘only’, as prescribed by the 2006 Electoral Act. Rather, the entire election was cancelled in every area of the state. It would not be, I don’t suppose, because 70 percent of the votes had already been tabulated and collated and Chief Martin Agbaso was coasting to a landslide victory as the reason for the statewide cancellation, or would it? Can a reasonable person draw such an inference? From my worldview, it is entirely reasonable and proper to conclude that some invisible hand was at work and had guided Professor Maurice Iwu’s decision to direct the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Austin Okojie, to cancel the April 14, 2007 Imo gubernatorial election. It is this invisible hand that the Abuja Court of Appeals must find in our collective interest. Our democracy shall endure and those whose personal or narrow partisan cum regional actions undermine it shall be called to answer by all the people.
Never mind that INEC and Professor Iwu hoisted on the people of Imo State a predetermined result that suited their interest and narrow political calculation. Do not inquire of them why in the absence of widespread mayhem and anarchy, they cancelled the entire Imo State gubernatorial election result of April 14, 2007. From the professor’s vantage point, he owes Nigerians no explanation for his actions because as he sees it only the Senate has the authority to remove him as chairman of INEC. It is a tall order, he has reasoned, and no one has the gall to do it, not even President Umaru Yaradua.
Again, as Professor Iwu sees it, it is not at all germane nor is it necessary for Nigerians to explore the true nature of his relationship with Governor Ohakim, the fat bank accounts and property acquisitions that cannot be explained by the emoluments from his real job as a public servant; and neither is it proper or reasonable for any of us to question how a candidate in the person of Governor Ikedi Ohakim, who trailed badly in the April 14, 2007 Imo governorship election would comeback 14 days later, on the April 28, 2007 arrangement to trounce all the other candidates. His victory in that election gave the word ‘landslide’ a bad name.
In the professor’s thought line, no one should bother with the little matter of predilection for Governor Ohakim who only 14 days earlier was relegated in the polls? And neither should it matter to Nigerians that the second arrangement of April 28, 2007, produced a winner from the same local government area as his. Why should we be concerned that members of the professor’s family were brought into some of the highest positions in Imo State government immediately following the April 28, 2007 arrangement? It is not at all quid pro quo, and neither is there a correlation of any kind. We the people of Imo State and Nigeria are not smart enough to discern and neither are we intelligent enough to decipher Professor Iwu’s high level algorithms. The professor certainly thinks so, but we beg to disagree, Sir.
The true nature of the relationship with Governor Ohakim can not be a conundrum or an enigma for much longer. It must be a fertile ground for the fourth-estate to fully explore. They should make a wasteland of it. The Abuja Court of Appeals in keeping with their fine tradition of excellence must in a paradigmatic way ferret out from INEC, Professor Iwu, Senator Ararume, and Governor Ohakim, a condition correctly described by the former US Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, as ‘irrational exuberance’.
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