“Ngige, Dariye and the Presidency: The Morality of the Absurd” -Part I Nigeria World, Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In 1999, while responding to a suggestion that a lot of retired generals and other political jobbers were making monetary donations to his bid for the presidency and as such would naturally expect to be rewarded, or to wield some influence in his prospective regime, Mr. President (then a presidential candidate) was on record to have said that there will be no room for that kind of politics if he was elected. Specifically, he said that those who were making financial and other contributions in kind toward his bid for Aso Rock should not expect any reward in return for their trouble. He counseled that they should regard their “investment” as a bad one.

The President’s seemingly courageous political disposition elicited accolades from sections of the press and less discernible or gullible members of society. Newspapers were awash with a reaffirmation of the view that the President was his own man, independent minded and not likely to be the lackey of powerful interests. Only few read the President’s lips correctly. Only a handful appreciated that the President’s statement was a mere political grandstanding. Those knowledgeable in the art of politics, particularly democratic politics, knew that the President’s read-my-lips declaration was not a prudent or realistic way of doing the political business of capturing and retaining power. I do not dispute that the President is “his own man” and independent minded. What I know is that such an attribute is not an absolute credit in democratic governance. Indeed, an all-knowing Chief Executive makes dictatorship more attractive than democracy which only legitimizes the foolery of the majority. But that is beside the point.

Five years later, we find a disposition of Mr. President that is in radical conflict with his theory of bad political investment. This is in specific regard to the Anambra crisis. In his response to the question posed by Punch Newspaper team at an interview: “Mr. President, who is Chris Uba?” Mr. President was reported to have replied: “Uba is a young man who worked hard to help the PDP to win the last election in Anambra State”. Attempt by the reporters to engender a presidential dialogue on the crisis in Anambra State could hardly proceed because of Mr. President’s contempt for the way most of us ordinary people have perceived the crisis. He vehemently objected to a reporter’s suggested association of Mr. Uba with the abduction of Dr. Ngige. Hear Mr. President: “Stop! Stop there! I say stop there!…What do you mean by abduction? You are saying something that you do not know anything about. Who abducted whom? I ask you, who abducted whom?”

This is the closest ordinary folks outside the corridors of power have come to glimpse the President’s mindset on the Anambra crisis. As for Mr. Uba, in all fairness to the “young man”, he has made no more claim than that he, and not the people, installed Ngige in power in Anambra State, thus confirming the fact that in Anambra State, the PDP stole the peoples’ mandate. In all of these my heart goes out to Deacon Reverend Barrister Chief Femi Fani-Kayode who has been doing a relentless heck of a job talking about the presidency’s neutrality in the Anambra crisis. Surely, neutrality has a different meaning in the political lexicon of the presidential public affairs assistant.

From the above glimpse of President’s mindset on the Anambra crisis two simple issues are obvious. First, the President believes that PDP won the election in Anambra State. He is entitled to his view as a party man. But at a time when our President does not know that DPK (kerosene) was more costly than PMS (petrol), and that there is abject poverty in the land, it leaves me wondering. The claim that PDP won the gubernatorial elections in Anambra State means that Anambra people are so cheap that after the stalemated regime of Dr. Mbadinuju and his political godfather, Sir Emeka Offor, they still voted for PDP-a party that held their lives hostage for four good years without anything to show for it. The President has so much disdain for Anambra people to think that even with a more viable alternative to the mess created by the President’s party, the opposition APGA could not win and did not win the gubernatorial election in Anambra State.

Second, the President believes that Mr. Uba is entitled to be compensated for the outstanding job the “young man” did for PDP in Anambra state. The young man’s investment must yield dividend. This volte-face from the theory of bad political investment on the part of the President is not really surprising. In politics all things are possible. Those who expect that the presidency has all it takes to douse the raging flame in Anambra State are right in some ways. If not for any other reason, the major actors belong to the same party, and have already declared the crisis a “family affair”. And the President is the overall de facto leader of his party, this demented “family”. Perhaps, the President would have long ago counseled Ngige on how all the young and old men and women who worked hard to help the PDP win the presidential elections were “settled” at the federal level. It seems that Ngige’s willingness to “settle” in not in doubt, what appears to be the issue is what and how much settlement is good enough in the interest of good governance and the people. The irony of Ngige is that he now relies on, and defends the peoples’ interest, the same people whose mandate his party usurped.

As things have turned out, even unbeknownst to him, Ngige now stands as a nemesis for his hostage takers literarily and figuratively in resisting but not yet breaking the cycle of political brigandage and godfatherism in Anambra State. In a converse direction to the President and in the interest of good governance and the people, Ngige has made a volte-face from his initial commitment to his godfathers. Unlike the President, he is not known to have promised bad investment without dividend to his sponsors, but he seems to have insisted on a conscionable measure of dividend that does not completely shortchange the people as his predecessor appear to have done. Despite a checkered and unpredictable regime, he gives credibility to the notion that power ultimately belongs to the people. Without the people on his side, the House of Assembly, the judiciary and the Nigerian press, Ngige and indeed Anambra State would have since bled to death. And yet life is being squeezed out of Anambra State but the Federal Government and its law enforcement agents stand on the sideline cheerleading, perhaps until when the “young man” is fully settled.

It is interesting to note that the President characterizes the crisis in Anambra and Plateau States as raising a fundamental moral issue. According to him, the moral issue is one that tasks the governors of the two states as individuals and, in the case of Plateau, the State House of Assembly members as the peoples’ representatives. The President believes that because of the allegations of messy financial deals Dariye has a moral burden and is not fit to remain in office and that the State House of Assembly has a duty to hold Dariye to account on behalf of the people. It may not be pretty simple as it seems, but the moral issue in Dariye’s case looks less hazy than in Ngige’s. I will follow through with Dariye in Part II.

I venture to suggest that there could be two major sources of moral issues as they relate to Ngige; subject, of course, to what the President knows. I proceed, however, on the assumption that if there are compelling moral issues of great urgency, the presidency will be inclined to set up a video clip carnival as it has done in the Dariye case. The First moral issue would be that the Presidency believes that Ngige did actually resign as alleged by his abductors and as such (no matter the circumstance of such resignation) he has no moral basis for insisting in remaining in office. On this, I will spend little time. The courts have ruled that Ngige did not resign from office and the House of Assembly has rectified its records accordingly. Again, the President is not an enforcer of moral obligations let alone of two individuals. He swore to defend the constitution and the Nigerian people. The constitution is a legal and not a moral document. Where there is a conflict between morality and the law, that latter prevails. In fact, law has little affinity with morality, which it does not really treasure.

The second moral issue would be that the Presidency truly believes that Ngige is indebted to Uba and the former must not be seen to renege from his commitment. On this score, the answer appears to have been provided earlier: what and how much is enough? Whatever is being demanded and offered must be subject to good governance and the interest of the people of Anambra State. I would expect if the President follows through with his theory of bad political investment, he is in a better position to lend support to Ngige than to the latter’s opponents. Ngige’s resolve, so far, if evaluated on moral scale, has raised morality to a higher standard that trumps the President’s treatise on morality and bad political investment. Indeed the presidency has a moral responsibility to insist on the primacy of peoples’ interest and good governance. I wonder why it would seem that the interests of good governance and entire people of Anambra State should be subordinated to that of the “young man”.

Since the President has appealed to morality in the evaluation of the Anambra crisis, let me suggest that the key moral issue in Anambra State is the im/morality of the stolen mandate of the people by the PDP, the party of the President, Ngige and Uba. Ngige is the official arrowhead of a stolen mandate; Uba is an unequivocal facilitator and the President an executive endorser. The three have a strong moral burden to discharge in the interest of the good people of Nigeria and Anambra State in particular. By affirming that “Uba is a young man who worked hard to help the PDP to win the last election in Anambra State”, the President does not come to terms with the real moral issue in Anambra State in which his ruling PDP is complicit. On this point, I would suggest, echoing Dariye deliberately, albeit out of context, that those who live in a moral glass house should not throw moral pebbles. It is a wise kettle that shuns the temptation to call the pot black. One question, I have for the President: If the Anambra State crisis manifests in Ogun State in exact same details (God forbid), sir, would your approach be different?

–to be continued



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