Yar’Adua versus “motor park” touts

A friend of mine, an American who has studied and taught in Nigeria, sent me a terse e-mail yesterday. It read: “The ‘president’ of Nigeria is a perfect icon for the country: prostrate in intensive care and held hostage by a secretive, greedy clique!”

Last week, that clique sneaked Umaru Yar’Adua back into Abuja in a move whose mode and purpose ought to disturb Nigerians.

First, there’s little doubt that the man is still gravely sick. Yet, the cabal profiteering from his name (and the misery of the Nigerian people) chose to smuggle in this comatose patient under the cover of darkness. Goodluck Jonathan, officially designated “acting president,” was kept in the dark about Yar’Adua’s return. Yet, in a classic demonstration that Nigeria is a failed state, troops were deployed around the airport and other locations in Abuja to create an atmosphere of absolute secrecy for Yar’Adua and his coterie. If Chief of Army Staff, Abdulrahman Dambazau, ordered this unapproved movement of troops, then he should be fired.

Second, there’s little question that Yar’Adua’s purported return – I say purported because, at the time of this writing, nobody had gone on record to certify that he or she saw the man – was engineered by his wife and cronies as a desperate mission to grab back power from “acting President” Goodluck Jonathan. That mission collapsed only because Nigerians and the international community raised voices in protest.

Third, the whole messy saga starring Yar’Adua really bespeaks the harrowing nature of Nigeria’s condition. Let’s think about it, ladies and gentlemen. For three months, a nation of 150 million people has expended much of its precious time and energy on a ridiculous question: Can Yar’Adua effectively, competently run the affairs of Nigeria from his address in a foreign hospital?

No self-respecting people should waste their breath on a question which, I insist, is ridiculous.

One cannot imagine a scenario where the chairman of an association of motor park “touts” in Agege (Lagos), Sabon Gari (Kano), or Upper Iweka in Onitsha, takes ill, is hospitalized for three months during which he’s incommunicado – and yet insists that he’s still a competent leader. His fellow touts would laugh at his delusion.

Or take a situation where the headmistress of a Nigerian elementary school disappears for three months on account of serious sickness. None of her young pupils would be in doubt that such a woman has ceased to run the school.

But Yar’Adua, a man who – even at the best of times – appeared perplexed by the demands of presidential office, goes missing for three months and – what do we hear? That the machinery of state was running just smoothly!

It took Nigeria’s overpaid National Assembly two and a half months to arrive at a conclusion that something was amiss – and that Goodluck Jonathan should be asked to “act.” It took the cabinet even longer.

Nigerian politicians cover their hollowness with flowing agbada, and they think the world is impressed. Yet, as the Yar’Adua farce played out, these politicians showed the world that theirs is a country where both the emperor and his courtiers have no clothes.

The Yar’Adua mess began the moment Nigerians permitted Olusegun Obasanjo to impose a certified invalid on them. Turai Yar’Adua, conducting the orchestra whose tune is that Nigeria deserves a moribund leader, must have told herself that, if OBJ got away with impunity, so could she.

Is there a positive here? Yes, and it lies in the hope that, next time around, Nigerians will jealously guard their vote. Or they will be condemned to inhabit a colony run by derelicts and the morally as well as physically feeble.

Is Ohakim a monster?

It’s time Nigerians seriously pondered the question whether Ikedi Ohakim, the governor of Imo State, is a monster in disguise.

Shortly after his inauguration as governor, Mr. Ohakim came to national attention when he reportedly stood, unconcerned, as his security escorts beat a woman black and blue in the streets of Lagos. Her offense? Apparently Ohakim’s entourage found her guilty of impeding the progress of the governor’s convoy. For that “crime,” the governor’s thugs allegedly pummeled her.

Perhaps Mr. Ohakim then decided that one of the perks of being a governor is a passport to operate as he pleased. And – if the narrative of Citizen Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha is true – Ohakim appears no longer content to have his boys manhandle those who cross him. He has, it seems, graduated to flogger-in-chief.

Last Saturday, the Sun published a wide-ranging interview with Iwuoha who’s a one-man war machine against Ohakim. He does not hide his disdain for the governor; he considers Ohakim a thief. Mr. Iwuoha has written several petitions – to the state assembly, the police, and the EFCC – accusing the governor of flagrant acts of corruption. Not only has he signed each petition, he’s also provided his contact information and promised to validate his allegations if invited to do so.

A governor who’s beyond reproach would be incensed if anybody falsely accused him of dipping filthy fingers in state coffers. Such a governor should quickly deny the allegations and seek to demonstrate their falsity. He would instruct his lawyers to file lawsuits against his traducer in order to reclaim his good name, and to make his accuser pay for malice.

That may not be the Ohahim method.

Mr. Iwuoha told the Sun that Governor Ohakim sent “five heavily armed men” to his home at dawn on January 21, 2010. The men reportedly claimed that the state commissioner of police, Aloysius Okorie, had asked them to summon him. But when he submitted himself to the gun-toting men, they drove him to the governor’s office, arriving at 7:04 a.m. Once Mr. Ohahim arrived in his office just after 9 a.m., the governor’s chief security officer (CSO) reportedly appeared to convey Mr. Iwuoha to the governor’s lodge for an encounter with Mr. Ohakim.

There, the story of the encounter between governor and his nemesis took an even more bizarre turn. Mr. Iwuoha recounts that Ohahim “shouted ‘lock the door, lock the door’” and ordered him to strip nude as the “CSO pulled his gun on me.” Ohakim then “took a ‘koboko’ (whip) and started flogging me.”

Weeks after the beating, Iwuoha’s bared back and legs still bear horrific scars and welts, mementoes of a citizen’s brutalization.

The Sun reports that Ohakim’s “aides have denied” Iwuoha’s account. The story should not rest on that note.

The Inspector General of Police as well as the Nigerian Bar Association ought to investigate what transpired – and specifically, how those welts got on Mr. Iwuoha’s body. Our so-called democracy has no meaning if public officials can get away with the extra-judicial savaging of fellow citizens. If Ohakim whipped Iwuoha, then the governor must be regarded and treated as a criminal of the highest order, one that deserves to be stripped of his gubernatorial preferment, arrested, and put to trial.

His office notwithstanding, Ohakim, like every other Nigerian, is bound by the nation’s laws. He’s also entitled to the protections guaranteed by the laws. His job specification does not include lashing citizens, even if they call him an embezzler. If he has conducted himself in an exemplary manner in public life – if, in other words, he’s earned a good name – he’s entitled to protect his

reputation against all false accusers. He reserves the right to defend himself against Iwuoha’s allegations that he pillages public resources. But the courtroom is the arena to seek that redress. No law confers on Ohakim any right to smack, whip or kick his accuser. That’s abuse of office.

Mr. Iwuoha’s narrative of assault at the hands of Governor Ohakim is, for me, most disturbing at the point when he asserts that the state police commissioner, Mr. Okorie, and the state director of the State Security Service (SSS) entered the governor’s office, the venue of the flagellation. If they were indeed present, then both the state police boss as well as SSS director ought to have read the riot act to the unruly governor.

Instead, according to Iwuoha, the two officers pleaded with him to “cooperate” with Ohahim. The head of SSS, a woman, reportedly implored, “My son, cooperate with His Excellency”.

The IGP as well as the director general of the SSS ought to investigate the alleged role of their top state officers in this shameful act. If it’s determined that the officers stood askance as a power-drunk governor flayed a citizen, then the officers deserve to be dismissed from service – to serve as examples to others who misconceive their duty as law enforcement agents.

A governor who beats up a citizen has displayed open contempt for the law, and should not enjoy immunity from prosecution. If Nigeria’s democratic culture is to germinate and flower, then lawyers as well as all enlightened citizens ought to view Iwuoha’s bitter experience as an affront to our collective dignity.

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