By CHIDI OBINECHE
they come in batches, in aplomb and rule for four or eight years. While the sinews of their power rage in magisterium, they annex in full totality extant and non extant powers and authorities sometimes beyond their call. They sieve their sphere of influence in modes of authoritarianism often stifling dissent, political pluralism, accountable processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public sector, equity, and attitudes and values that foster responsibility, solidarity and tolerance. Using diktat, the spirit and letters of the grundnorm, that is, the Constitution on whose pedestal they ascended to power are impeached and often observed in the breach. They sit like medieval feudal lords in a manor dispensing power and demanding complete subservience. The premiership of the first republic was marked by exciting apprenticeship and avuncular dispositions, incendiaries that were checked through constricted good governance and democratic dividends.
Despite the confederacy and semi- autonomous status of the regions, authoritarianism was tepid, hardly full blown. The fecund powers of governors began to blossom at the advent of presidential system of government in 1979. The kids on the bloc then approached governance with much gaiety, accentuated by a lush political class, the growing wind of acclaim for presidential system of government, and wealth brought about by the wafting oil boom and other control mechanisms. Caution and decency went overboard. Yielding to the demands of the electorate became constant like the northern star. In between came a crippling cavalier instinct which thrashed many democratic ethos on the altar of self- aggrandizement and power show. The republic showed sense and purpose in the midst of the putrescence before they were shoved out. Then, came the militocracy of the Third Republic. The governors played the game hemmed in by a supervening military hierarchy. Their power and guts were asphyxiated as they climbed the iroko tree bare handed. The men of power and means actually took the centre stage of governance in the Fourth Republic. The superfluity of supermen on the stage, who drew vitality and impetus from the dawdling boom days of nefarious trades like narcotics and fraud, muscle men with gripping intellect enough to circumvent the constitution and rein in the most audacious of lions, men of upper limits and bravado who the late Dr K.O Mbadiwe a time honoured political field marshal in his days regarded as “men of timber and caliber” ruled. In 18 years of this dispensation the din and scars of their rulership rankle the nerves and assault the psyche. And the harder they come.
The game of cards
Hot from victories as governors elect, the party structures are assimilated with ease. The plot froths with carrot and stick. Compliance is the word. The officials are either shuffled out and replaced with malleable officials in a thrilling game akin to Russian roulettes, or cajoled into “zombies”, sphinx like figures of the road whose daily routine begins and ends at the government house. Game over, and the light beams on the state legislature.
The new state helmsman determines the entire leadership of the House irrespective of party colouration or ideological differences. As work progresses, the House is run on the apron strings of the executive governor on even rudimentary issues of when it sits and rises, motions and bills and on the laugh line the House rules. When in 2010, the National Assembly in the first, second and third reviews and alterations of the 1999 Constitution to strengthen their autonomy and make them more robust, the state assemblies that were to give a concurrence curiously voted against changes and opted for a continuation of the status quo. An exasperated ex member of the National Assembly Hon Uche Onyeagocha described the episode as the “height of slavish mentality.” He said, he could not understand why people would prefer slavery to freedom, chiding the state lawmakers to strive to remove their shackles and grow above the pecuniary rewards which obfuscated their vision . A stalwart of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and former minister of aviation Chief Ebenezer Babatope described the situation as “simply pathetic”.
But a former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife said the attitude of the governors’ spring from fear of impeachment. “When Balarabe Musa was impeached in 1981 because he had no hold on the legislature, successive governors took precautionary measures. In the process of insulating themselves from legislative power abuses, it took a different tenor.” From seizing or appropriating the Houses, the next port of call is the local governments despite their much touted autonomy. The local government’s yearly appropriations are seized through the nebulous Joint State and Local Government Accounts.
The governors and state houses of assembly dissolve the local government administrations at will and appoint caretaker committees from a pool of fortune seeking, lilly-livered party members. In more ludicrous circumstances the tenure of the chairmen are incredibly reduced to as low as two years. Local government elections come far and in between and with razor- edge tolerance. Then, comes the turn of the States Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs). The SIECs are dampeners, pitiable comical injections into the democratic process. The party in power is compulsorily the winner of the elections.
Disturbed by the development, the proposed amendment of the 1999 Constitution seeks to disempower SIECs and transfer the burden of local governments’ elections to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. In the 4th alteration of the 1999 Constitution passed in February 2015, the Senate in response to a request from state houses of assembly rejected local government autonomy but finally granted autonomy to state houses of assembly and state judiciary.
The Chairman of the committee and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu while defending the action said “ the 71 amendments, when they become law will smoothen some of the rough edges in our constitution.” The move is yet to see the light of the day as it is held up in a constellation of extraneous opposition from governors. Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola recently declared that “there is no third tier of government in the country,” arguing that the local governments are a critical part of the second tier.
Leaving the trail of ashes arising from the stranglehold on SIECs, the governors refocus their siege on defined political opponents. Most of them are often hounded out of their states and informally sent on political exile for the duration of the tenure of the governor they have issues with. If they must come to the state it must be under tight security. In Enugu State, a former governor leveled out the house of a dissident senator claiming it was built on a flood control plane. But by far the most intriguing in the exercise of powers by governors is the perpetual battle between the governors and members of the National Assembly from their states. It is a recurring decimal transcending the barriers of party and friendship.
Sunday Sun findings show that no state has been spared of this malfeasance in the last 18 years. It has led to spates of defections from one party to another and exacerbated the bonds of brotherly camaraderie. Some have had to pay the capital punishment for dissent.
Senator Dino Melaye recently survived an assassination attempt and has stridently heaped it on the doorsteps of the state government. Damishi Sango, ex-minister of sports in a testy moment during his tiff with ex-governor Joshua Dariye vowed that he would never address him as “ His Excellency” claiming it got into the governor’s head. The deputy governors are also constantly on the firing range. All together, about 23 deputy governors have been impeached at the instance of their bosses in the last 18 years.
Some states like Lagos and Abia at a time removed two deputy governors in a span of four years. Governors constitutionally have a heist of cash to play with through the ingenious security votes. The late Ibadan-based political godfather, Alhaji Ladibu Adedibu moved against ex governor Rasheed Ladoja for pulling out of an arrangement where he would be entitled to a huge chunk of the security votes largesse.
Ladoja paid dearly with impeachment for that morbid indiscretion. Having conquered their states, the strong lure at a time was to extend their sphere of influence to the national stage. They coalesced under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF and began a gang up against the economic policies of the Federal Government positioning the NGF as the alternate government. It gravitated to a melee on who becomes the chairman of the NGF, a hitherto nondescript and sinecure post. They succeeded in the sharing of the excess crude oil funds.
Recently, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State while in a spat with Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Dogara published his security budget, to which the Speaker promptly replied that what he published was not his security vote. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Rationalizing the governors’ excesses, Judd Rose counsels that “with power comes the abuse of power. And where there are bosses, there are crazy bosses. It is nothing new.” Power resides only where men believe it resides. And oftentimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.