By no mean guile, the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Festus Keyamo (SAN) is one of the controversial figures in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari. Both as an activist and a legal practitioner, his life has been a tale of controversy. From his early career days in the chambers of the late renowned human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, to the celebrated trial of the suspected killer of the slain Attorney-General of the federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige, up till the period of his stint as the EFCC prosecutor, Keyamo had always been entangled in one controversy or the other. But at every stage of his travail, he forges ahead like a moving train.
For the record, the late Bola Ige was murdered on December 23, 2001 at his Bodija residence in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, by some unknown assailants. Keyamo, who was a counsel in the celebrated case, accused the police of frustrating investigations into the dastardly act.
Speaking during a symposium held in Lagos by the Bola Ige Centre for Justice to commemorate Ige’s death anniversary, he said: “The state was complicit in Bola Ige’s murder. The police were more interested in destroying the evidence at their disposal. They were struggling to redirect the focus of the investigation. Bola Ige was not killed by armed robbers!
“When they brought me to Alagbon Close in preparation to charge me with arson, because I was representing a group that burnt the NNPC building down, I met Andrew Olofu the principal witness in the same cell with the prime suspect. I told them the investigation had been destroyed because the prime suspect was in the same cell with the principal witness.
“The case of Bola Ige is the case of the killers looking for the killers; that is why it could not be resolved.”
The controversy took a befuddling dimension when a key suspect in the trial, Olugbenga Adebayo, alias Fryo, accused Keyamo, his lawyer, of masterminding his alleged confession to the murder of the late minister. He was subsequently detained and arraigned before the Igbosere Chief Magistrate’s Court for perjury. The rest is history!
Consistent with his antecedents, the obstinate and intrepid minister again on Tuesday challenged the Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on Labour to a slug-fest over the recruitment process and allocation of slots for the 774,000 jobs provided by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In line with its oversight functions, the committee had invited Keyamo alongside the Director General of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Nasiru Ladan, to appear before it for detailed briefing on the modalities for the recruitment process. But after a prolonged argument with the lawmakers, the parley ended up in fiasco with Keyamo walking out of the meeting.
What was his ground for insisting on an open hearing? He did not want the lawmakers to hijack the process for their selfish reasons and shortchange the applicants from less privileged background. Known for his obstinacy, Keyamo declined to tender apology for maintaining that the right thing must be done in the interest of all.
And so the lawmakers reacted with a threat to stop the planned job recruitment. While some of them were quick to declare the minister’s uncompromising stand as an affront on the National Assembly, questions have also been asked as to the rationale behind the threat to stop the recruitment process. Beyond the raging sentiment and the seething cauldron of anger, Nigerians need to know the real reason for the sudden turn of event, which necessitated the option of a closed-session amidst open hearing.
For too long, the down-trodden have been denied of their rights by a few privileged individuals in the positions of authority. If, in the first instance, the primary essence of the public hearing organized by the committee was to demonstrate openness and transparency in government, it would have made a sense if the lawmakers were courageous enough to expose any alleged infraction so far committed by the office concerned rather than threatening to cancel the recruitment exercise.
This is by no mean a muscle-flexing issue, as unemployment problem cuts across all strata of the society. And it could only be fair to give equal opportunity to all prospective candidates who could no longer wait for the programme to kick-off, especially at this period of COVID-19 pandemic and all its ravaging effects on the economy.
It is, therefore, no cheering news to hear that the joint committee of the two chambers has issued a statement urging the implementation of the Special Public Works Programme to be put on hold, even despite the revelation that the lawmakers had received 15 per cent of the job slots. As they say, “he who comes to seek equity must come with clean hands.” If the committee is genuinely acting in public interest, there can be no better time to expose any alleged wrong doing by Keyamo than now.
Festus Keyamo (SAN) was born in Ughelli, Delta State of Nigeria on January 21, 1970. He attended Oharisi (Model) Primary School, Ughelli, 1975 to 1981, Government College, Ughelli, 1981 to 1986 where he took a Higher School Certificate (HSC) course in the same school. He obtained his LL.B degree at the Ambrose Alli University (AAU)), Ekpoma, in Edo State and subsequently called to the Nigerian Bar on December 15, 1993. Thereafter, he proceeded to the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in the United Kingdom where he qualified as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK).
He started his legal practice in Gani Fawehinmi Chambers in Lagos State and won the Award of Best Lawyer for his brilliant performance. He left Gani Fawehinmi Chambers in 1995 and later established his own law firm, Festus Keyamo Chamber. Before his appointment as Minister, Keyamo had served as private prosecuting counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.