By Tonnie Iredia
Since the Court of Appeal flawed the Ekiti Governorship re-run election , many analysts have called for the removal of Mrs Ayoka Adebayo, the then Ekiti State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC).
Indeed, fierce opposition to her continued stay in office preceded the decision of the Court. It will be recalled that her return to the election process after vowing not to be part of what she herself found to be a sham drew the ire of many.
Those who felt that in the civilised world, any person with a taint of dishonour should not be allowed to serve as an impartial election umpire renewed the attack on Mrs Adebayo when she was redeployed from Ekiti to Ondo State. While the sentiments are logical, it is expedient to look beyond the surface so that the situation which caused the problem does not recur.
There is doubt if Ayoka’s dilemma is not an apt example of the helplessness of a public officer in a society where government operates above the law notwithstanding pretensions to the contrary.
Although Mrs Adebayo was supposedly the head of INEC’s team which handled the Ekiti election, it is obvious that she was not in charge of it considering that she was not privy to fundamental decisions like the change of the venue for the collation of results of the election.
This according to reports was one of the reasons which informed the decision of the lady to resign her appointment mid-way in the process. If so, why did she not keep to the dictates of her conscience and stay away from the exercise?
In other words, why did she retrace her steps? Some think she was materially settled. That is a possibility. The other option could be that she was probably bullied, threatened, coerced and blackmailed to fall in line.
The duty of an Electoral Commissioner is not a compulsory service like the NYSC and no one gets it by inheritance. It is a contract of service between an employer (master) and an employee (servant) where each party has a right to discontinue with the contract.
When the servant- Mrs Adebayo- exercised this right by resigning in writing with reasons over the Ekiti case, why did the master- the federal government- seek to criminalize it?
Perhaps we have all forgotten now that the Police even declared her wanted as if it is an offence to resign an appointment. The argument that there could be unrest if the lady was allowed to resign is not strong because if she had dropped dead, we would have replaced her before a funeral oration on how hard it would be to fill her post.
No one took the then Inspector-General of Police to task on the subject. We all remained in the comfort of our homes waiting to see who would be the first to blink between the intimidating federal power and a helpless Ayoka Adebayo whose most dangerous weapon is not likely to be more than a kitchen knife. No one came to her aid thereafter except to condemn rather than to investigate her sordid silence.
Consequently, no one knows what actually transpired or what she was threatened with. It could even be a family apprehension like the case of a friend who was appointed to a position during one of the military regimes.
He tried to refuse the offer until his 87year old mother went on hunger strike. The latter wanted to die to avoid seeing with her own eyes, the death of her ‘anti-government’ son. In Nigeria, such a perception of brazen power subsists in the sub consciousness of people whether during a military or civilian government.
In the case of elections, the experiences are the same as every election in the country is always a piece of drama. In 1993, the Nwosu-led Electoral Commission, to the applause of all, ignored a court order stopping it from conducting the June 12, 1993 election.
That was Act 1 scene1. A few days later, the same Commission, in Act1 scene 2, had to obey another court order stopping it from continuing with the election process-Why?
Among other things which appear better for memoirs, the second order was a bench warrant issued by Justice Dahiru Salleh, the then Chief Judge of Abuja to commit Nwosu and his team to prison for disobeying a court order.
The warrant was dramatically served by the then Attorney-General of the federation who ironically had earlier supported the transactions of scene 1. Like Ayoka Adebayo appears to have done in Ekiti, Nwosu’s team ‘capsized’ perhaps for lack of Gani Fawehinmi’s type of courage.
Interestingly, if everyone was officially intimidated, Nwosu’s Director of legal services-a young man with strong ideological persuasions was not and he decided to professionally deal with the issue by challenging the order in a higher court.
Government strategically handled that by announcing the annulment of the election in the early hours of the day of judgment leaving the Court of Appeal, Kaduna to act in vain if it so desired. Head or tail, government must win.
The point to be made is that it is simplistic to tackle societal issues by just condemning public officers who rather than become martyrs capsize to intimidating state power. A cursory look at the enabling law of a typical public body will illuminate the point. There is for example the issue of how a public officer can be removed from office in Nigeria.
What obtains now is that the relevant law specifies a number of reasons and then inexplicably adds a clause like ‘any other cause’. It appears rational to assume that the additional clause is intended to cover a situation where an officer is unwilling to do a wrong bidding or indeed where he forgets to pay homage to his Minister’s family. It is not necessary to provide more ridiculous examples to justify the need for viable societal institutions.
Without that, our public officers are likely to continue to adopt Ayoka Adebayo’s disposition. We need to find out why the lady’s resignation was not accepted and why government was not wary of keeping such an official who appeared to be working against her conscience.
The government should speak on this because it is obvious that the lady has nothing more to say other than ‘God bless Nigeria’ which was all she said when the media wanted to know why she returned to work after resigning or is it that those of us who want her sacked do not want God to bless Nigeria?