By Ogaga Ifowodo
THE failure, two times in a row, of the Senate to screen ministerial nominee Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi based purportedly on a contrived corruption allegation against the former Rivers State governor has all to do with politics in the bad sense and very little with due diligence.
I say contrived advisedly, given that no allegation of corruption emerged during the long, bruising battle by President Jonathan and his First Lady with Amaechi (wouldn’t evidence of his corruption have been used against him, or is it that they just didn’t care to look for it?) and with specific regard to the circumstances in which Amaechi is now alleged to have misappropriated N70 billion.
Anyone who has been paying attention to goings-on in Rivers State since the latter half of Amaechi’s second term as governor knows that there is no limit to what current governor Nyessom Wike would do to harm Amaechi politically.
The ostensible reason for the Senate’s dereliction of duty is that a petition based on the report of a hastily empanelled judicial commission of enquiry alleges that Amaechi misappropriated N70 billion. Sensing that the commission was really an inquisition panel and he would only be walking with his eyes wide open into a lion’s den—a case of “come quickly to your assured condemnation,” to borrow the unforgettable words of the late Justice Kayode Eso when describing a similar invitation to the late Gani Fawehinmi to appear before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee headed by his bitter foes in the bar—Amaechi had hastened instead to court to challenge the constitutionality of the commission. The matter is currently before the Court of Appeal. Amaechi has also sued the PDP for libel and dared Wike to bring proof of his alleged corruption to court where he would meet them.
But no one is fooled that the Senate is hamstrung by the mere allegation of “misappropriation.” By its own admission, Senate rules forbid an inquiry into any matter already before a competent court. And now the Senate stands the palpable risk of ridiculing itself even more than it has already done if for any reason it failed to screen Amaechi at its third attempt yesterday.
It is either there is a corruption conviction against Amaechi, which renders him unfit to be a minister, or there are only allegations begging proof; allegations fabricated with malice aforethought for the sole purpose of injuring his reputation and preventing him from being appointed into any high office by the man whose election as president he spear-headed. Amaechi’s cardinal sin is that he was a moving spirit of the mass defection of Peoples Democratic Party governors into the APC, a move that literally broke the political spinal cord of the PDP and heralded APC’s sweeping victory in the general elections. Moreover, Amaechi is accused of betraying a son-of-the-soil to work for the victory of the Muslim “enemy” Buhari who was dubbed in malicious campaign propaganda as the Boko Haram general.
But allegations do not turn to convictions simply because they were dredged up by a judicial commission of inquiry. Which is why said EPP committee announced its suspension of investigation into the petition. If the Senate failed to screen Amaechi, it would have displayed intolerable sanctimoniousness at the very time that an indictment before the Code of Conduct Tribunal of its presiding officer has not led to his being stripped of the privilege of directing the affairs of the Upper house of the parliament and ascertaining the integrity of ministerial nominees. Senator Saraki wields the gavel still due only to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, however heinous the crimes alleged might be.
In any case, any allegation by Wike in his scorched earth war against Amaechi ought to be treated with the utmost circumspection: he is not by any chance a whistle-blower or moral crusader. On the contrary, he cuts the unmistakable figure of a man out to settle political scores. Twice in July, with the petition against his election as governor going very badly, Wike paid unscheduled visits to Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
The public didn’t have to guess his mission given that the chairman of the tribunal hearing the petition, Justice Mu’azu Pindiga, was removed after investigations by the Department of State Security. Already the rumour mill is rife that senators have started receiving heavy Ghana-must-go bags as inducement not to screen Amaechi. True or not, when it comes to rumours of GMG bags in the National Assembly, Nigerians have learnt not to turn their ears to the wind.
I don’t expect that the Senate will be happy to turn itself into a weapon in Wike’s personal war with Amaechi. But if it does, then the ultimate shame will be President Buhari’s. No one paid a higher price for the transformation of the people’s crying need for change that led to his election as president than Amaechi who, to say the obvious, also directed his campaign.
It is worth reiterating that Amaechi’s troubles, which seemed to have peaked with his being turned into a prisoner in the Port Harcourt government house, have now been re-intensified with the charge that he betrayed a son of the soil. Having deflected criticisms of an ethnic slant in the appointment of his personal staff with the sentimental argument of rewarding the loyalty and hard-work of his associates, would the president be able to escape a renewed charge of ethnic bias if he fails to ensure that Amaechi is screened for his cabinet?