However the courts resolve the pending litigations on the constitutionality of the declaration of state of emergency in Plateau State six months ago, the place of that singular decision of the Obasanjo administration is firmly secured in Nigeria’s constitutional and political history. It makes no difference that ongoing legal actions on the matter may not be conclusively resolved, a prospect that looks real since the legality of the emergency rule may have been overtaken by events. Nonetheless, a judicial declaration on the matter would be quite helpful for all stakeholders in Nigeria’s democratic experiment. Meanwhile, the reality is that the emergency rule incident speaks to the past, but its major significance lies in the womb of the future, specifically in regard to its ramification as a political, legal and historical precedent.
The declaration of state of emergency in Plateau State is a reminder that our extant democratic experience is wobbly. It is better characterized as a “militocracy”. This is a putative form of democracy; or at best, a quasi democracy run and organized on the backdrop of a polity with a political history dominated by military intervention and misadventure in governance. One major feature of that polity of which Nigeria represents an ideal case study is the military mindset of its major actors most of whom have military or paramilitary background. Essentially, they are late but doubtful and pretending converts to the democratic process. One of the consequences of such a polity is that it inevitably yields a culture of military or militarized approach to governance whereof there is little or no respect for the sanctity of institutional structures that support the democratic process. Hence, acts that would require high stake political craftsmanship and long-suffering statesmanship in true democracies are handled with military dispatch in an escapist way. There is hardly a genuine or robust dialogue. This is the reason those calling for a sovereign national conference must remain voices crying in the wilderness.
For these and many other reasons, the Federal Government in a manner characteristic of its “militocratic” orientation and instincts embarked on a self-deluding mission to incubate peace in Plateau State with military dispatch via emergency rule. The anticipation is that peace will hatch in six or more months of emergency rule. Plateau State would we restored to its former glory and we all will be merry and happy. Inherent in this surface-scratching and escapist approach is the impression that hitherto, the obstacle to peace was the democratically elected officials and democratic institutions in Plateau State either by reason of their commission, collusion or omission. Therefore, the only alternative, it was assumed, will be a militarized political mandate such as was given to Maj. Gen. Chris Alli, the President’s appointed emergency sole administrator.
Power is very slippery and elusive commodity. It is like money. Those who have it crave to keep it even as it is in the character of power, like money, to break away from the grip of its possessor. Power, also, like money, begets followership, first, of sycophants, and then of diverse stakeholders too numerous to articulate in this effort. In the past six months of Alli/Obasanjo’s Plateau State, known or unknown to the duo, a new breed of interests have arisen who would rather that Plateau State remains militarized. Whilst these interests are fuelled by anti-Dariye sentiments that not only predated the state of emergency and also eventually brought it about, they (pro emergency interests) have benefited from feeding on the humiliation of democracy. Unfortunately, in their parochial mind-set they interpret the issue to mean the humiliation of Governor Dariye. Truth is that democracy transcends those who deploy it to grab power, including Dariye. That is one powerful lesson of the just concluded Bush/Kerry contest in America’s 2004 presidential election. Unfortunately, it is a lesson that Nigeria’s political class is yet to learn, or better still, have deliberately ignored.
It is exactly six months since democracy was murdered in Plateau State by presidential fiat and rubber-stamped by Wabara-led National Assembly. As we await a presidential account of the six months of emergency rule and Alli’s stewardship of peace in Plateau State, I pose a few questions: Has peace been incubated; is it yet time to hatch the peace? Has Alli used his military magic to force peace to return to Plateau State from which it took an unscheduled flight six months ago? Has the suspended legislature and the executive in Plateau State undergone a metamorphosis in six months for which they can be “trusted” to keep the peace? Can Plateau State be said to have “learnt its lesson”? Can we say that the anticipated deterrence from similar crisis in other states has been accomplished? Perhaps, most importantly have we identified and tried to address the causes of the crisis in Plateau State, formerly Nigeria’s most peaceful state? Is Plateau State less prone to crisis today than it was before the state of emergency? Time will unveil the true answers to these questions and I sense it will not be too long before we know.
However, in the reckoning of the Federal Government, indications are that Plateau State appears to have been restored and peace has returned. For Abuja, through its reported conducts and orchestrations, it seems that at this point the problem in Plateau State is no more one of peace but that of the moral authority of its elected Chief Executive, Chief Joshua Chibi Dariye to remain in office. For Dariye, it has been a harvest of ill omen of all sorts. It does not only rain, it pours. Dariye should carry his own cross just like everyone else. But that is only by the way and beside the point.
No matter the weight of the allegations against him, the truth is that Dariye is entitled to due process of the law. Even if he is accused of the most heinous crime known to humanity, he cannot be robbed of due process. The last time I checked he was still the democratically elected governor of Plateau State. In accordance with the 1999 constitution, the last time I checked, he has not been proved to have done any of the things he should do in order to cease to be the Chief Executive of Plateau State. Nor has any of the events prescribed by the constitution for the cessation of his mandate occurred. What I know is the Federal Government which truncated the tenure of Dariye and his colleagues in the legislature is angling to get rid of Dariye as the Governor of Plateau State. Apart from its dedicated attempt in other directions to accomplish this objective, it has even requested the court to get rid of Dariye as the Governor of Plateau State, arguing that his truncated tenure was illegal. Again, the last time I checked, it is not the courts that have the constitutional responsibility to sack a democratically elected governor.
Democracy is about due process. This is a truth that is strange in a militocracy such as we presently practise in Nigeria. The operators of our extant militocracy do not have patience and tolerance for due process. It is not surprising that at a recent town hall kind of meeting in the dialogue for peace in Plateau State a man of God earned a presidential aspersion and umbrage. Attempt have been made by a bunch of “renegades”, apologies to Achebe, to abduct a duly elected Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State in fragrant disregard to due process, a situation only possible in a militocracy. But if we must make our democratic experience to endure, there will no alternative to due process in both Anambra and Plateau States and everywhere else. Due process is a non-negotiable component of a genuine democratic process. It helps to strengthen the component institutions of a democratic polity.
And back to Plateau. Abuja has further engrossed itself in the Plateau crisis in a manner that will further complicate the peace process, if ever there was any. It appears to have abandoned the central issue of peace in Plateau State in an ad hominen pursuit of Governor Dariye. In establishing its complicity in the Plateau crisis, the Federal Government is reported to have embarked on showing video clips of Dariye’s alleged questionable financial deals in a manner reminiscent of “the coup video” of the Abacha era. If Abacha be excused for showing a “coup video” because his regime, like all military regimes, did not have the confidence of the people, and as such was still concerned to secure an iota of much needed credibility that was grossly scarce, what would be the basis for the film show in Obasanjo’s Aro Rock? For one thing, Abacha was well within his power as the head of a military junta to set up a military panel to try the alleged coup plotters which he did. But in the present dispensation, the last time I checked, I did not see in the constitution any power vested in the Federal Government to get rid of a governor for any reason and by any means whatsoever, video clips included.
It is compelling to ask: What is the direct connection between Dariye’s alleged other woes and the civil strife that engulfed Plateau State for which the state of emergency was declared? What the Federal Government owes Nigerians and indeed Plateau citizens is an explanation of when and how we have made the transition from the search for peace in Plateau State to the need to remove the governor from office. In addressing that issue, it will be nice if the Federal Government could educate Nigerians on its constitutional status or role, if any, in the removal from office of a democratically elected governor of a state. Indeed, for the rest of the governors, this is not a matter for silence. The declaration of a state of emergency in Plateau State and the circumstances under which that was made and perhaps more so how that gets resolved should be a major concern for all stake holders in Nigeria’s democratic political health.
It is encouraging that members of Plateau’s suspended legislature are reportedly cautions in their reaction to the drama and film show in Aso Rock. They are major stake holders in Plateau State and they are products of the democratic process no matter how tainted that process may be. They must insist that Obasanjo restores the democratic structures and actors in Plateau in the form he met them before the controversial imposition of the state of emergency. My fear is that in Nigeria, our politicians do not hold out for too long and I will not be surprised if “a deal is struck” and Dariye sacrificed in the process. Dariye is still the democratically elected governor of Plateau State, his sins or perceived sins notwithstanding. Under due process, it is only the people who elected him that can remove him from office. They can do this in two major ways, namely through the ballot box at the next opportunity. Since there may be no next opportunity (it is Dariye’s second term as governor), he can be held accountable and, if need be, removed through the peoples’ representatives in the State House of Assembly. Due process demands nothing less.
The beauty of this process is that Dariye would have the opportunity to be heard and to defend himself in a transparent manner that serves the cause of justice. To remove him by any other means or by a backdoor approach such as pressured or involuntary resignation will have ugly repercussion on our highly abused democratic experience. The consequence of such a precedent is that some clandestine forces can foment havoc in any part of Nigeria and attract the attention of a Federal Government that is readily prone to military solution to challenges that require long suffering commitment to democratic ideals and statecraft. Such forces would stop at nothing to achieve what they could not do through the ballot box. It is worrisome, to say the least, that the current mindset of the Federal Government is only fertile to the demented orchestrations of anti-democratic forces in Nigeria, especially in Plateau and Anambra States. It can only be hoped that Anambra does not become the next bus stop in the free ride to state of emergency in our militocracy. Recent developments in that state suggest that this apprehension may not be unfounded.