By Gbenga Akinmoyo
Times have changed and the good old days are long gone. I guess that feeling is relative because I recall hearing similar remarks from my elders and seniors in the family and school. But I’m almost certain that our times were the best (said with a sarcastic chuckle). About 50 – 60 years ago, when you completed your secondary school education you looked forward anxiously to admission into an institute of higher learning. For those of us who sat the Higher School Certificate examinations (HSC), you may remember with nostalgia how we selected our three subject combinations to study perhaps Law, Mass Communication, Accounting, Medicine, Engineering and the like. With a vigorous pursuit of securing at least 10 points by getting minimum grades of “C-C-C (the maximum being 16 points), those were the prevailing minimum requirements to secure a place in one of the prestigious Nigerian Universities and it was exceptionally competitive and perceived as very prestigious.
In those days, the immediate reward for admission was the colourful Matriculation Ceremony and so we worked damn hard; got the grades and gained admission to spend three years as Direct Entry candidates and at the time the academic calendar dictated that a 3-year course was 3 years and a 5-year course was 5 years, etc. But as the course drew towards a close in the last semester of the final year, the buzz and euphoria of three years earlier had completely worn off; diminishing returns had fully set-in and we became so tired, some virtually fed-up, such that we couldn’t wait to write our final papers, graduate and rush off to NYSC. Does all this sound familiar to somebody here? We have all been there in one way or another where the thrill and zeal to obtain a trophy or a particular level of status or achievement gradually erodes, only to feel a sense of malaise or languor when the assignment is gradually coming to end. If this is natural human phenomenon, is it therefore any wonder that public servants and retiring Presidents sound strange at the end of their tenure?
Today in Nigeria, we practice a Presidential system of government modeled on the American style which was adopted as far back as 1979 at the start of the second Republic. As a good student, you would expect that Nigeria must have learnt from our American tutors. On 20 January 1961, the historic words of former President John F Kennedy’s inaugural address were, “ Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country ”. These words have for many years inspired children and adults to see the importance of civic action and public service. His historic words challenge every American to contribute in some way to the public good. In contrast, on the 29 May 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari at his inaugural address shocked the world when he astonishingly stated,
“ I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody ”. We see here the vocal expressions of two Presidents, with similar yet contrasting statements at the start of their respective tenures in office, which have resonated in the minds of their people.
After attempting unsuccessfully on three separate occasions to rule Nigeria in 2003; 2007 and 2011; when he eventually succeeded in 2015 and was blessed with election for two 4-year tenures, President Muhammadu Buhari would make some astounding personal remarks such as:
▪︎“ I look forward to the year 2023 when I finish, to go home to take charge of my farm ” (speaking on the occasion of his 79th birthday, in Istanbul, Turkey in 2021).
▪︎“ I can’t wait to go home to Daura. If they make any noise to disturb me in Daura, I will leave for Niger Republic ” (during a Salah homage, by FCT residents, April 2023).
▪︎“ Thank goodness, I come from an area which is far away from Abuja. I said if anybody forces me, I have a good relationship with my neighbours, Niger people will defend me ” (speaking extempore at the commissioning of the new corporate headquarters of the Nigeria Customs Service, in Abuja. 23 May 2023).
You can make of those remarks whatever you please. Sadly John F Kennedy was assassinated and died in office so historians are deprived of his official finals words. But it would be interesting to preview and compare the thoughts of two of Buhari’s predecessors, former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (1999 to 2007) and Dr Goodluck Jonathan (2010 to 2015) who have continued to retain varying levels of relevance in the political affairs of this country and the world stage, many years after leaving the number one seat. Perhaps it is just a simple case of character and personality.
Perhaps President Buhari is not alone with his realistic personal disclosures arising from the intensive and perhaps draining rigors of office as he and his deputy, the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo SAN leave office in just a few days. At the same time, there will be inauguration of State Governors and their deputies in 28 states of the federation. Those who are bowing out having completed their second terms and are therefore constitutionally barred from running again for the same office must now turn to other pastures, whether they are green or not. That factor may well be the key that has triggered the reactions being exhibited by President Buhari and those who share a similar disposition at the end of their tenure. Although they cannot run again since their terms were definitive, would they have felt the same if the Constitution had permitted an individual to continue in office as either President or Governor beyond two terms? (Not that I am advocating for a change in the Constitution).
Thinking aloud, are the bumper pension benefits and excessive severance packages, which the various federal and state legislation have provided for them, insufficient to console the boredom and huge drop in data and phone bills that characterize their exit from the exalted high office? Or perhaps they are concerned that those benefits are inadequate compensation for the loss of “Convoys and Siren Status; other paraphernalia they have become accustomed to as VIPs; as well as the spontaneous desolate residential lobbies and car parks as the lobbyists, sycophants and crowds, immediately move on to the new office holders, as if directed by automated traffic lights? These features of our political system raises questions about what service is really about for both the leaders and the led, which makes John F Kennedy’s historic remarks even more profound.
Let us now contrast these executive officers with their colleagues in the Legislature who have the luxury of constitutional liberty in the sense that a member of the State House of Assembly, House of Representative or the Senate can contest as many times as they wish; win as many times as the electorate and political gymnastics cultivates and return to the legislative chambers until a local zoning Tsunami puts paid to a subsequent pursuit. When did you ever hear a Legislator say, “I’m tired, I want to return to my farm/business”? Is it because there is no constitutional limitation on the number of tenures an individual can occupy such seat(s)?
Unlike President Buhari, there is a remarkable appetite for serving your people as a legislator when you consider the likes of the out-going Senate President, Ahmad Lawan who has been in the National Assembly continuously since 1999 without a break. He was MHR for Bade/Jakuso Federal constituency from 1999 to 2007 and became elected senator of Yobe North Senatorial District from 2007 to 2023 and the count continues because he was re-elected again at the 25th February 2023 General Elections to serve in the same capacity until 2027. But he is not alone in the feat as the records show that Hon. Nicholas Ebomo Mutu, an ijaw-born lawmaker represents Bomadi/Patani federal constituency of Delta State at the House of Representatives, first elected in 1999 and won re-election bids in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. In 2022, a group called Bomadi and Patani Political Mandate (BPPM) called on Hon Mutu to run again in 2023. According to the group, “Hon. Mutu stands taller than all the aspirants who have shown interest in terms of achievements and development strides because as a member representing the constituency in time past, he is more experienced and positioned to deliver more democratic dividends desired by Bomadi and Patani Local Government Areas constituents” (Sunday Apah, Mar 15, 2022, Daily Independent). At the 2023 General Elections, Hon Mutu of the PDP scored 8,866 votes narrowly beating his closest challenger, Tamarankiko Juliano Obriki of the APC who scored 8,155 votes in second. The comments of the BPPM Group and the subsequent election results could be reflective of what serving the people is suppose to be, but with more than 70% of members of the 9th National Assembly not returning to office in June 2023, as a result of the interplay of Party Primaries and 2023 elections results announced by INEC, there are clearly several other considerations.
Whilst our concentration is on the House of Representatives, the out-going Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila is deservedly noteworthy of mention. Records available show that after completing his secondary education at Igbobi College, Lagos he sat his A/Levels at King William’s College in the Isle of Man (equivalent of HSC), before gaining admission into University of Lagos where he studied and graduated with Bachelors of Law (source: Wikipedia). He was first elected into the House of Representatives in 2003 to represent Surulere Constituency I and was re-elected by his constituents in 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 when he was elected by his peers as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 9th National Assembly. It would appear that Hon Gbajabiamila still has a healthy appetite to continue to represent his constituents having successfully maneuvered the 2023 elections and was re-elected to serve yet again in the National Assembly, but that plan may be set to change given his perceived closeness to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who will soon be announcing his team, as he takes over as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on 29 May 2023.
No doubt, every politician has his own story to tell and each individual has their own reasons for choosing to dabble into the somewhat murky waters of politics. Many people who have expressed a desire to serve their people have been frustrated by the shenanigans of the political class and the modus operandi of the different political parties, so much so that they would rather sit on the fence even though they believe they have so much to offer; a sentiment shared by many observers and admirers in the community. But the system conspires against these willing servants as a result of so many different factors and it is the society that ultimately loses out. Until such a time that the Nigerian Constitution allows independent candidates to run for elected offices into the executive and legislature at federal and state levels, we remain stuck with the process of sponsorship through a registered political party. This leads me to another category of political species, the Party Chieftains, who will form the final scope of discussion in this piece.
It doesn’t matter which period you examine there is rarely any shortage of political drama and intrigues, whether it is the early parties of this 4th Republic in 1999 – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD), or those which came along the way which are now defunct – the All People’s Party (APP); All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); Congress for Progressive Change (CPC); Progressive People Alliance (PPA); or those who have survived the INEC Guillotine and have not be proscribed like Accord Party (AP); Action Democratic Party (ADP); All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA); Labour Party (LP); Social Democratic Party (SDP); Young Progressive Party (YPP) or the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).
From these political associations many have come to serve and the leadership of their party at different times has raised heated exchanges that had to be resolved in the courts of law. Some of the prominent cases that caught the national interest include: Umeh v Obi (APGA, 2012); The G7 Governors (PDP, 2013); Makarfi v Sheriff (PDP, 2017); Oshiomole v Obaseki (APC 2020); Secondus v Wike (PDP, 2021); The G5 Governors (PDP, 2022); Ayu v Wike (PDP, 2023); Abure v Apapa (LP, 2023). In each of these instances there has been a jostling for power amongst elected party officials who were elected to lead their parties for a fixed term (with maximum of two tenures) in accordance with the Party Constitution. In most cases, the Chairman or top functionaries were unceremoniously removed from office even though they volunteered to serve their political party and by extension the nation at large.
If the real motivation is to serve your people as it is with the elected officers in the executive and legislature that we considered earlier, is it really necessary to have the internal wrangling, mudslinging; physical combat and endless court battles that have characterized many of these cases? Although ugly scenes usually accompany these conflicts, it is usual for the warring parties to eventually come to the table to reconcile their differences after severe damage has ensued. What price must a volunteer pay to serve his people? The following selected examples are reflective of some skirmishes involving political party chieftains who have served us in the recent past:
MAKARFI & SHERIFF: – At the signing of the Peace Pact in March 2017, the legally recognized Chairman of PDP, Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff and the Chairman of the PDP National Caretaker Committee Sen. Ahmed Makarfi both had to be reminded that, “ The resolutions reached were that all actors of the party should desist from making derogatory, inflammatory and diverse statements against party officials, stakeholders and members ”.
OSHOIMOLE – Following his suspension in 2020 confirmed by the Court of Appeal, the erstwhile APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshoimole said, “ People should put God first, our party’s interest second, and our democracy deep in their hearts and not trying to use any externality to destabilize it ” (20 June 2020).
ABURE/APAPA – Following the hearing at the Presidential Election Tribunal on 19 May 2023, Labour Party supporters loyal to the suspended National Chairman, Mr Julius Abure, amidst jeers, pushes and shoves argued that Mr Lamidi Apapa was not a representative of their party and hence would not be allowed to speak on its affairs to journalists. In serving his party and by extension the people he represents, Mr Apapa, a factional Acting Chairman of the Labour Party was publicly humiliated and chased away from the court building, to the extent that the bronze-coloured traditional cap Mr Apapa adorned was aggressively removed by the irate mob (Yoruba taboo) who chanted “Ole” – Yoruba word for thief. What price do you think is too much to pay for serving your people, we would love to hear from you.
This article was written by Gbenga Akinmoyo who is a legal practitioner, public affairs analyst and the C.E.O of LeadiFollow Limited (+234 803 660 9090).