Nigeria News
Fintiri: Come easy, go easy

Deputy governors are supposed to be dumb. Vice presidents are expected to be morons, at least, in Nigeria. Here in Nigeria, the personal interests of a governor are more important than those of the state he bestrides.  The individual concerns of a Nigerian president are put above those of the nation.

Since we started our presidential system in 1979, the pattern has always been for the powers that be to select a perceived malleable character for president or governor, and then, go for a colourless individual as his running mate. In recent years, deputy governorship candidates have tended to be older or retired men. In places like Lagos State, women have become the popular choice for deputy governors, partly because of the need to give the opposite gender a place at the top and partly because women are assumed to lack the grit and political clout to “challenge” the Governor politically.

That is not supposed to be so. A vice president or governor is supposed to strengthen the flag bearer and the ticket. He or she is the one to continue if for some reasons the chief executive is not available to provide leadership. When Barack Obama emerged as the presidential candidate of the Democrats in 2008 and the question of who he would like to pick as his vice president arose, he made it clear that he wanted an experienced person who will continue to provide strong leadership for America in his absence. He later went for Joseph Biden, who was one of the longest serving senators and a seasoned hand in foreign affairs.

Funny enough, Nigerians have come to expect vice presidents and deputy governors to be not much more than mere idiots. Till today, some Nigerians still describe President Goodluck Jonathan, a former Deputy Governor and Vice President as “clueless”, maybe because he lacks the charisma of General Ibrahim Babangida, does not break heads like Generals Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo, and does not have the oratorical flow of Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

Obasanjo once said something that rings a bell in my ear till date. During the campaigns for the 1999 election, he was asked by reporters what his special advantages were over his opponents. He simply said: “My biggest advantage over my opponents is that I have a stupid face”! Perhaps, that is the same philosophy driving President Jonathan’s political successes.

Certainly, the assumed simplicity of deputy governors was what the new Governor of Adamawa State, Bala James Ngilari, hid behind to turn the table against those who conspired to get him out of the way and take over. It was a low-ball constitutional coup, which the judiciary has once again foiled.

Ngilari obviously knew it was only a matter of time before he would emerge as governor. It started from the moment that his former principal, Murtala Nyako, joined his fellow Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, rebel governors to decamp to the newly formed All Progressives Congress, APC. Ngilari chose to stay in the ruling party. Unlike some of the rebel governors who were able to move with the bulk of their state legislators, most of the Adamawa House of Assembly members stayed behind in PDP.  When the impeachment allegations against Nyako were compiled and the process put in motion, the normal expectation was for Nyako to be removed and Ngilari sworn in as the constitution says.

However, the Speaker of the House, Ahmadu Umar Fintiri, had other ideas. He was able to conspire with his colleagues to also hang some half-chewed allegations on Ngilari to make for a double impeachment that would clear the coast for him to jump from Speaker to Governor. Ngilari knew that if he fought the impeachment by insisting on his innocence he would still be pushed out. He offered, instead, to resign. But rather than hand over the resignation to Governor Nyako as the constitution says, he handed it over to his chief assailant, Speaker Fintiri. Consumed by greed, Fintiri and his cohorts could not see that this was a poisoned chalice.

Fintiri took over as Acting Governor, while Ngilari went to an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Ademola Adeniyi, and pled that since he did not hand over the letter to the Governor who was yet to be booted out when he resigned, he should be sworn in as governor. His relief was granted. That was the end of Fintiri’s vaulting ambition. If he still wants to occupy that coveted post,  he can join the governorship race come February next year. But he will now be contending with an Ngilari that has consolidated and will be running for re-election as an incumbent.

The most annoying thing about Fintiri’s misadventure was that he was not contented with holding the fort for three months before a new governor was elected. He also wanted to contest, and most likely would have won if the bye-election had gone ahead penultimate weekend.

The Judiciary has shown, once again, its pride of place as an umpire in the savage contest for power between the Legislature and the Executive. Without the Judiciary, this, and other Constitutional coups, would have taken place unchallenged and our democracy would not be worth the piece of paper on which it is written. We need the courts to continue to stand up against serial attempts to rape the Constitution and truncate our democracy by political buccaneers like Ahmadu Finitiri.

We must also give due kudos to the Federal Government for, once again, supporting constitutionality and due process by ordering the immediate implementation of the court ruling. The rule of law has fared very well under this administration, which has always enforced the will of the electorate and the rulings of courts, irrespective of which political camp is benefiting. It is a great departure from the days of former President Obasanjo, when court judgements were often described as “merely declaratory” and subsequently disobeyed.

It requires collective vigilance by everyone for our democracy to endure and grow.

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