By Michael West Lagos, Nigeria.
Since the enthronement of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, Ekiti State Gov. Peter Ayodele Fayose has been in the eye of the political storm, particularly since he had chosen to be a leading voice of the opposition to the government in power. Beginning from the electioneering campaigns during which Fayose placed a warning advert predicting the possibility of President Buhari becoming ailing due to his old age, Fayose had stirred the hornet’s nest. Therefore, it is no surprise that he has been stung left, right and centre by the official ‘bees’ – all in the façade of fighting corruption.
If anyone feels otherwise, let such a one name one serving governor whose slate is spotless of financial ineptitude as at today. Simply because Fayose has chosen to tread where even Angels fear to, by being the strident voice of opposition in the political wilderness, an unrelenting beaming of searchlight into his past and present activities have become persecution without trial in the court of law.
Fayose has suffered series of harassments from state security and anti-graft agencies ostensibly for his acerbic utterances about the economic situation and ineffective policies that are running the nation aground. More often than not, some of the punitive actions and measures being dispensed by the Federal Government-controlled agents of the state are grossly ultra vires, illegal, discriminatory, and partisan. Take for example, the Department of State Security reports that led to the nocturnal invasion, raid, and arrest of some judges: similar report against the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial crimes Commission, EFCC, was subject to the review of the Attorney-General of the Federation to determine whether the contents of the report were true or not.
In like manner, several petitions against some former governors now serving as ministers are gathering dust in the EFCC office without any action, not even investigation was acknowledged to be on-going on them. Ironically, the Professor Itsey Sagay-led advisory committee members, the chairman in particular, were always on hand to respond in defence to any mention of these super ministers as being allegedly corrupt; yet, these anti-graft czars wouldn’t mind to accuse, judge and sentence former President Goodluck Jonathan to prison terms on the pages of newspapers.
This has been the lot of most of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members currently under investigation or standing trial in the court of law.
Despite the fact that Fayose enjoys the same immunity like the President and other state executives, some of our notable lawyers willingly offered political rather than proper legal opinions on the freezing of his Zenith Bank account. It is incontrovertible that the Supreme Court had ruled that serving governors or executives can be investigated but not prosecuted while in office. The reason for the immunity clause is not to grant the right for perpetuation of criminal activities; rather, it is to avoid distracting the concerned governor or executive from governance. It is implied that freezing his personal account has ultimately distracted Fayose because the consequence of prosecution was already being applied; and this is in gross violation of the immunity clause.
Fayose cannot be the only governor with issues on financial matters but the unrelenting probing of his moves and activities leaves no one in doubt that he is actually paying the price of being vocal, bold and daring; he challenges many of the policy inconsistencies, deceits, lies and political propaganda upon which this government came to power and which it still wishes to continue with, keeping Nigeria in motion without movement.
While I strongly believe that corruption has dealt devastating blows on our collective prosperity and plundered our commonwealth, the anti-corruption war must be fought fairly and squarely and without fear or favour, and regardless of any political party affiliation. However, because neutrality and fairness have not been manifested in the course of the anti-graft war as so far demonstrated by this government, that is why an increasing number of Nigerians are very critical of its style, partiality as well as the politicization of the process.
About three week ago, Washington State Attorney-General Bob Ferguson took President Donald J. Trump to court over the travel ban he (Trump) imposed on a number of Muslim countries as a precautionary measure against infiltration by potential terrorists. Sixteen other State Attorneys-General joined Ferguson to challenge the presidential order. So far, the ban has been reversed by two court pronouncements, including an Appellate Court. What caught my attention here is that the Attorneys-General acted independent of their governors as well as the President. The court also decided the case as it considered right. Back home in Nigeria, can any Attorney-General dare take such a step? Your response is as good as mine.
The reality that our security and anti-graft agents fail to admit is that they are to stand for the nation and, by extension, the interests of the Nigerian people. But hey, the body language of the President is what determines their lines of action. That some former governors have open cases of financial malfeasance does not matter, especially once they are serving ministers or members of the ruling party. Why? Because ‘Oga might not be happy’ if any of his ‘boys’ is exposed, a development that may be viewed as tainting the image of his government. On the other hand, hacking down perceived political rivals in the guise of fighting corruption will promote the ruling party’s image, so they think; and it does not matter if this erroneous thinking actually conflicts with the perspective of Nigerians about the government.
All these shenanigans are leading to a goal – to muzzle the opposition!
It was shocking last Tuesday evening when the breaking news reported that the monthly statutory allocation for Ekiti State for the month of January was being withheld for just no stated reason. One would have understood if there has been any running battle between the state government and the federal government. Unlike the case with Lagos State in 2004 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo withheld the allocations of the state for 14 months, the reason, though illegal, was known to all and sundry. The then Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration had created additional 37 local governments, having satisfied all legal procedures required in law. Obasanjo, on his part, vehemently opposed it, alleging an unconstitutional process. In reality, Obasanjo took the step to forestall a development that might breed economic and geo-political crises. Allowing more local governments would have led to a potential increment in financial obligations to states as other states of the federation might likely follow suit since monthly allocations were given based partly on the number of local governments in each state.
In the case of Ekiti, nothing of such has happened. However, people out there are already linking this development to subtle and subterranean means of weakening vociferous Fayose whose political image as opposition mouthpiece and leader transcends Ekiti State. It is obvious that he is very likely to spring surprises in 2019 as a potential game-changer. Recent events have lent credence to the towering image and political relevance of the governor.
First to endorse Fayose as “Omoluabi” (a responsible son) was Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola, who also hinted that he and his other progressives will work with Fayose in the “realignment of forces” quietly going on. Shortly after, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar IV, during his “bridge-building” tour of the southern parts of the country, called on Fayose. Late last year, RCCG’s Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye poured encomiums on Fayose for his courage, people-oriented style of governance, and for standing up for his people when it mattered the most. Just recently, Fayose was made the chairman, PDP Governors’ Forum. It is, therefore, needless to look for any soothsayer to know the remote causes of this illegal fund withholding. As a follow-up, it is not impossible to witness organized protest on the streets of Ado Ekiti by hired crowds asking for the removal of the governor – as if they are ignorant of current developments in the state.
Fayose had alleged some weeks ago that some top functionaries of the APC in Ekiti State met in Abuja where it was decided that renewed efforts be made to cripple the state. His words: “It was agreed that the Federal Government must be made to stop all intervention funds to Ekiti State while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should be used to cripple the finances of contractors handling government legacy projects. The game plan is that the moment workers do not receive their salary, they will hate me and my party, the PDP, and this they believe will translate to votes for them in 2018.”
I hope that is not what is playing out right now. I also hope those concerned at the Federal level are already doing something about this unwholesome issue. If they have issues with Fayose, starving a whole state of its dues and privileges is not the solution. Denying a State of its constitutionally-guaranteed entitlements in the name of politics is sheer wickedness. If nothing happens soonest, like Tinubu, Fayose should head for the court of law.
• Michael West, a media consultant, writes via [email protected]