by Duro Onabule
The current disagreement between Goodluck Jonathan and Chibuike Amaechi has once again provoked the need to clearly embrace the constitutional tie between a Nigerian President and a State governor as spelt out in the Constitution and not as it has been wrongly presumed to be, since the days of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Since those days, it was always argued and enlightened in this column that state governors must not render themselves subservient to the president of Federal Republic of Nigeria, moreso as each of the two groups, even if members of the same political party, had autonomous mandate.
It is natural for anybody in Jonathan’s position to resist any challenge, especially within their PDP, to his continued stay in office but it is not a political/constitutional offence for anybody, still within their party to challenge Jonathan. Even where Jonathan employs state machinery to keep himself in office, such an exercise must be strictly within the provisions of Nigerian Constitution.
Even despite his denial or at least non-confirmation, it is possible for Rivers State governor, Chibuike Amaechi, to support another PDP candidate for the 2015 presidential election.
The general speculation is that Amaechi is a possible vice-presidential candidate. In the ensuing slowdown, it is natural that Amaechi will reckon with the tight-hold on his immediate constituency, specifically, the leadership of the state House of Assembly. Still, none of these partings of ways confers on President Jonathan the power to exceed his authority under the constitution.
The situation as of today is that Jonathan is doing exactly just that, by tampering with the composition of the security personnel of the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly. The implication is that Jonathan wrongly assumes that he, as President of the Republic, has the power to withdraw the security personnel of the Speaker. Nobody should swallow the afterthought, a pure lie that the controversy was whether mobile policemen or special protection unit should comprise the security outfit around the Speaker.
If the controversy over the attempt to withdraw the Speaker’s security was not challenged, the next to have his security outfit withdrawn would have been and may still be the governor himself, Chibuike Amaechi.
When a president or state governor engages in illegality and therefore violates the constitution for self-serving purposes, it is clearly an impeachable offence. But, the problem is that we are too timid to allow the Nigerian constitution operate fully.
In the current crisis, it is a matter for the National Assembly and the state governors to halt a rampaging president from exercising any authority beyond his constitutional limit. If it is to be repeated, Jonathan is only engaging in the same illegality ex-President Obasanjo was allowed to get away with when he similarly withdrew the security personnel of (the then) vice-president, Atiku Abubakar.
Failure of National Assembly to check Obasanjo with the only weapon – impeachment proceedings – accounts for the current repeat. Goodluck Jonathan is on the same course. Whatever their clash, who is that American president to withdraw or even attempt to withdraw the security personnel of a state governor? It has never happened and will never happen or the president concerned will be impeached by the Congress, irrespective of political affiliation.
A civilised set-up, American security establishment, for example, serves the country, including the president, but not necessarily the president to be barking down orders against a state governor. In fact, the moment a party’s candidate wins his party’s nomination for sensitive positions (presidency, governorship or congressional membership), secret servicemen immediately assume all responsibilities for his security and do not wait for a president, who may not be there tomorrow, to give them the necessary order.
No American president can therefore withdraw an order he did not give in the first place. What is more, it is the responsibility of the president to guarantee every citizen’s security. In Nigeria’s case, it is the statutory entitlement of a state governor or Speaker of the House of Assembly to be secured by the relevant authorities. Such security does not emanate from Aso Rock as some kind of welfare or at the whims and caprice of a president.
And, if assumed that he can withdraw the security personnel of a state governor, can the National Assembly – the only body authorised to discipline a president – also withdraw the security outfit of a president? A state governor’s official entitlement to security personnel does not, therefore, derive from any president. Anything in violation of that strict convention is reckless abuse of office and gross misconduct, the punishment for which is clearly spelt out in the constitution.
Until we establish that legal/constitutional imperative, we will always have political tension generated at will by a president thumbing our face.
Rivers State police commissioner, Mbu Joseph Mbu, seems to be doing the job for President Jonathan as he (Mbu) now tells us the difference between six and half a dozen. If the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly feels threatened or insecure, only he can determine whether he prefers special protection unit to mobile policemen or the other way round.
When did Police Commissioner Mbu become aware that the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly wants only a particular security personnel different from the one promised by the police? When the Speaker was found on the governor’s side in the disagreement with President Goodluck Jonathan?
When did police authorities discover that inappropriate police personnel were guarding the Speaker and, therefore, needed to be changed? So far, Jonathan is still vacillating on whether or when to extend the political victimisation to Governor Amaechi, because of gradually increasing public criticisms.
Herein come the other thirty-five state governors. Why have they failed to take a stand to assert their entitlement to security details as of right under the constitution and not as slaves at the mercy of President Jonathan? These state governors must see early enough beyond their noses.
The suicidal venture of the state governors is to regard the developing showdown as personal between Goodluck Jonathan and Chibuike Amaechi. Instead, what is involved is the supremacy of our constitution on the limits of a president in wielding power over the states and state governors.
If Jonathan succeeds in violating the constitutional right of a state governor and his entitlement to official security, all other governors would have reduced themselves to no more than donkeys to be whipped about by Jonathan.
It is a lesson for the governors. It is even more compelling for Speaker Tambuwal of the House of Representatives to take a public stand on the fate of the current Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly. Why are the Speakers of Federal and State Houses of Assembly too scared of Aso Rock? Their colleague in Rivers State is under fire, which if left unchecked, will consume them one by one in the future.
At their gathering tomorrow for the election of a chairman for the authentic Governors’ Forum, the only contribution they can make to the development of political Constitutionalism, is to take a public stand on whether a president has the constitutional power to withdraw the security personnel of a state governor.
In defence of President Jonathan
The main expectation of Nigerians from anybody in President Goodluck Jonathan’s position is to be fair and just to ordinary citizens in the discharge of his duties, not the least in this period of emergency in operation in some parts of the country: Yet, for employing fairness and justice in the current onslaught against the Boko Haram dissidents, Jonathan come under unnecessary and unjustified criticisms.
It must, of course, be conceded that the criticisms were partly caused by the initial needless hype of the military crackdown on the Boko Haram elements. All the same, Jonathan rightly ordered the release of wives children of, and even some suspected Boko Haram activists.
Despite the prevailing emergency regime, what is in place is not martial law(s). It is, therefore, logical that any arrested or detained suspect is still entitled to legal obligation of being considered innocent until he or she is proved guilty by the State.
Such proof of guilty, even if established through interrogation, would still need to be validated in a court of law. And the state, moreso under an emergency, would not risk a doubtful case in a court of law, only for the accused to be discharged and acquitted. When were these suspects arrested? That could be anytime from the day Jonathan proclaimed the emergency to three years ago.
In the interim, the suspects must have been interrogated. If they were found culpable, they would and should have been tried in a court of law. But apparently, after being subjected to what must have been rigorous interrogation by security operatives, they (the suspects) were found innocent. Jonathan, therefore, rightly ordered their release.
What was wrong with that? Even worse was the case of the wives and children.
What did they have to do with the bombing exploits of their husbands and fathers? So far, despite the propaganda in some cases, neither the Federal Government nor the army ever claimed to have found women – be they wives or daughters – involved in the Boko Haram insurgency. Did Boko Haram have to demand their release before they were set free? There is a possible official reason, for taking in the children along with their mothers.
If left behind, the babies might end up abandoned, aimlessly roaming about, hungry and possibly kidnapped by criminals. Detaining them with their mothers avoided such human agony.
But, as the mothers were found to be no longer needed for interrogation, Jonathan should, in fact, be commended for ordering their release. There is this loose reference to victims of Boko Haram’s serial violence on innocent churchgoers, passers-by and bystanders. Yes, they did not deserve their fate. But Boko Haram is no Federal Government.
Boko Haram could risk suicide, revenge attacks, torture and trial for crimes against humanity. Jonathan cannot drop to that level. What is more, if Boko Haram elements are assured of amnesty and re-integration into society by the same President Goodluck Jonathan, releasing innocent ones among the suspects is one sure way to demonstrate his (Jonathan’s) sincerity.
It was, therefore, correct to release the innocent suspects. Or, when did it become a crime in Nigeria to be the spouse or offspring of a suspected criminal even if (the suspect, that is) an eventually established Boko Haram bomber? Only the guilty or at least culpable should be made to face the law.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Duro Onabulele