By Evaristus Bassey
IF you are not a Cross Riverian, you may not understand this innuendo. I am not referring to the Last Judgment when Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. I am talking about December 9, when the Supreme Court will determine the case between Governor Ben Ayade and Barr Joe Agi. I am quite conscious of the fact that the matter is before the supreme court and so I shall be careful to not say anything that would influence the court, although there have been organized political rallies, traditional rulers’ declarations, various protest marches, that could amount to influencing the court’s position; I will therefore limit myself to a brief introduction for the sake of those who are not abreast with the matter.
The issue is a pre-election matter. Joe Agi is asking the apex court to remove Ayade as governor, because according to him, Ayade disqualified himself even before the elections took place by making a false declaration, and so as the next person with the greatest number of votes during the primary election, he should be declared the governor of Cross River State.
Ayade is said to have disqualified himself by virtue of the information he filed with regard to his date of birth. Ayade was shown to have three different dates of birth; while enrolling into the university, while contesting as a senator, and while contesting as a governor. Though the form directs that any information contained therein that is false nullifies the application, lower courts had ruled in Ayade’s favour maintaining the position that though the falsehood was significant, it had not much material consequences.
Meaning that if the dates were falsified to gain advantage, assuming that he was not up to the age of being a governor, then it would have mattered. But as there was no gain from the falsification, there were no real consequences.
Indeed, we cannot expect courts to be too different from the societies in which they adjudicate. In Nigeria, swearing an affidavit is as easy as buying a bottle of beer, and if you are a man, you can swear that you are a woman, even if you have a wife and children, and the courts would respect it. Perhaps all these things about affidavits are seen more as vestiges of our colonial past which we try quite unsuccessfully to fit into our culture of deification of powerful individuals and rule of money. My amazement is the tenacity of Joe Agi. I keep wondering whether he is a true Nigerian and what gives him such optimism!
Governor Ayade has defended himself by telling us that the forms were filled by his personal assistants. And indeed how many of our big men really fill their own forms, even for something as important as an application to contest an office, which this amounts to? We all know that all these things are formalities, and it does not really matter what is on paper because it is of no consequence. Take assets declaration for instance. What does it matter if anyone writes anything that comes to his mind, as it has never been, is not, and will never be of any consequences, except where there is a political enemy lurking somewhere ? Our institutions do not exist to fulfill the purposes they are set up for, but to fulfil the purposes of whoever is powerful enough to use them. The Code of Conduct Bureau can bring down corruption by half if it were to be powerful enough on its own to pursue to logical conclusion every declaration at its table. But it is only active if there is a political lesson to be taught to someone. Every office holder looks up to study the body language of his appointer so he could operate accordingly. And now that Mr. President’s body language is against corruption, especially the corruption of the past government, EFCC has found itself under the right man.
And so those who are thinking that Governor Ayade would be removed come December 9th should tone down their expectation. It is a time to pray for God’s will to be done, because it is usually God that knows the best. In an era where judges are accused of collecting huge sums for judgments, and where judges accuse politicians of attempts to bribe them to give judgments in their favour, the course of justice can only be determined when it has run its full course.
It might just be the case that the judgment goes in favour of Governor Ayade. In that case, Cross Riverians should just know that they have to do their best to make sense of what is perceived by many as confusion. For instance, in the matter of a thousand appointments, it is left for those appointed to make good use of the mandate they have been given, to turn sand into gold. There may as yet be quite latent creativity if one applies oneself well to the opportunity. Maybe this is just who Ayade is, and he should be seen not in another’s lenses, but his own.
And if he is removed, it is not a time to celebrate, but a time to sit back and plan for the good of the state. Unlike other states where there is some peoples’ power, in Cross River, the people are so used to being docile and allowing those in government lead them by the nose. That is what the people get when they think democracy is governocracy. Beyond the present situation, people should take interest in politics and push to have a say in who becomes ward delegate, who puts him/herself forward to be considered for nomination into any office, and who gets elected eventually.
Unfortunately the conspiracy of the political elite in Nigeria will always keep the local government system a milking cow for any governor and so the people may not see directly the effect of their effort to organize power at the local level. But Ayade or no Ayade, communities should learn to organize themselves to have a greater say in affairs that affect their lives.
Fr. Evaristus works at the Catholic Secretariat.