Alamieyeseigha for president?

By Okey Ndibe

Why not? The caption of this column is not entirely
intended as a joke. I am hereby proposing Governor
Diepreye S.P. Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa for president
in 2007, if not before. As far as qualifications for
the nation's top political office go, Mr.
Alamieyeseigha has demonstrated himself to be an
astute candidate. I can find no worthier successor to
the current occupant of the office. Think about it,
the man who admirers call DSP has in the last few days
demonstrated outstanding presidential mettle.

Nigerians woke up on Monday to the startling news that
Alamieyeseigha, on trial in Britain on money
laundering charges, had arrived in his home state.
Alamieyeseigha, often called "governor-general of the
Ijaw nation," was on September 15 arrested by the
London Metropolitan Police and charged with holding
millions of pounds sterling both in his London mansion
as well as several bank accounts. Press reports
indicated that British authorities had also frozen the
governor's assets worth approximately 10 million
pounds sterling.

After firing his initial Nigerian-born defence
attorneys and hiring two white British lawyers,
Alamieyeseigha seemed on the cusp of convincing a
magistrate to permit his "temporary" return to
Nigeria. However, President Olusegun Obasanjo
despatched Nigeria's attorney-general to alert the
British court that the governor, if released, would be
a certain flight risk. Stung by this reversal, a
furious Alamieyeseigha called in this newspaper's
London correspondent and named Obasanjo as his
nemesis. Obasanjo, according to the embattled
governor, had at a face-to-face confrontation last
August promised to make the governor's life hellish as
retribution for Alamieyeseigha's political support for
Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

Alamieyeseigha's tone in that interview was that of a
desperate, drowning man. Still, I had no doubt that
there was a good deal of truth in his claims. From the
outset, I was convinced that the Bayelsan's legal
trouble, while obviously a product of his own greed
and moral deficiency, had Obasanjo's thumbprint all
over it. In fact, officials of the Presidency had made
much hay out of the governor's arrest, trumpeting it
as a jewel in the crown of the president's vaunted war
against corruption. But by beating his chest, Obasanjo
only generated sympathy in some quarters for the

It cannot be said too often that Mr. Obasanjo's
so-called crusade against corruption is itself corrupt
and fatally flawed. A president who has gone out of
his way to cultivate some of the most corrupt people
in Nigeria, who has recruited to his sanctum sanctorum
a hideous collection of some men and women for whom
corruption is a trademark, a president who has spurned
transparency in his management of the nation's oil
sector, scarcely has moral capital left with which to
pursue other corrupt culprits. A citadel founded on
corruption can only delude itself in presuming to
combat corruption.

Once Alamieyeseigha realised that his chances of using
legal argument to fool his British detainers were
doomed, he began perfecting escape plans. As I write,
the details of his flight remain fuzzy. Addressing
mobs of Bayelsans who thronged the streets of the
state capital, Yenogoa, to exult at his mysterious
return, the governor ascribed his return to "God." One
news report said he told his supporters that his
return was "as a result of your fervent prayers and I
thank God and also thank you for your concern." Oronto
Douglas, the state's Information Commissioner, echoed
the idea of divine causation. Douglas told reporters
that the governor "came into Government House, knelt
down and prayed." The governor's press secretary,
Preye Wariowei, was less restrained, stopping just
short of implying his boss's divinity. According to
one report, Wariowei "likened the return of his boss
to the Biblical triumphal entry of Jesus into

Reading the various accounts, I concluded that the
governor is indeed presidential material. For part of
what it takes to be president in Nigeria is the
facility for dragging God's name into all matters,
however inane and absurd. Public officials boldly
refer to their loot as "God's blessing." Election
riggers invoke "God" as the author of their purloined
mandates. Now, Nigeria's most famous fugitive has
caught up to the rhetoric. Governor Alamieyeseigha
strikes me as an attentive understudy of the present
occupant of Aso Rock, a president who famously
suggested that his run-away "re-election" margin was
"God's doing." If "God" shaped the amazement that was
misnamed elections in 2003, why would anybody consider
it preposterous that "God" swept up Alamieyeseigha and
flew the governor on massive divine wings back to the
bosom of his adoring cheerleaders?

Even so, Alamieyeseigha's puzzling flight from London
has invited other earth-bound theories. Elendureports,
fast evolving into a website for some of the deftest
analyses and most daring commentaries on Nigerian
affairs, has suggested that British authorities
quietly relaxed their vigilance to enable the governor
to sneak away. Once Obasanjo's emissary showed up in
London to persuade British court officials to ensure
that the governor never travelled home, Tony Blair's
government seemed to wisen up to Aso Rock's expedient
game. Nobody knows better than the British about the
depth and reach of corruption in Nigeria's public
life, including within the president's inner circle.
By lending his voice to Alamieyeseigha's predicament,
Obasanjo may have exposed to the British his untoward
desire to exploit a venerable British institution in
settling scores with one of his political foes.
Britain, according to elendureports, chose not to be
complicit in this unprincipled brinksmanship.

That speculation is, for me, wholly plausible. Bayelsa
is home to Nigeria's largest deposit of oil. British
oil interests in the state could easily have been
beleaguered by the perception, however wrong, that
Britain was doing Obasanjo's dirty job. At any rate,
if a high-profile suspect like Alamieyeseigha was able
to outwit the apparatus of British security, then
neither the Queen of England nor the British Prime
Minister should be sleeping soundly for sometime. For
the same Nigerian bandits who in 2003 abducted
Governor Chris Ngige could slip into London, abduct
anybody who caught their fancy, however highly placed,
and fly back to their Nigerian masters without

Nuhu Ribadu, chairman of the Economic and Financial
Crimes Commission and Obasanjo's pointman in the
hypocritical fight against corruption, was quick to
wax indignant about the fugitive governor's action.
"It's a tragedy, it's a challenge to us and to our
justice system," Ribadu told a news conference in
Abuja. He also offered his own theory of the
governor's escape. "We know that he dressed as a
woman. We know that he forged documents to gain
entrance and pass through undetected both at the UK
side and the Nigerian side," Ribadu asserted. I can't
wait to see Ribadu triumph over Alamieyeseigha in a
Nigerian court. However, Ribadu ought to know that his
commission's credibility has been eroded by the
manifestly selective pattern of its operation. Not
one, repeat, not one official who is close to Mr.
Obasanjo has ever been flagellated by the commission
for corruption. Why, Mr. Ribadu, is that the case?

From press accounts, Alamieyeseigha returned to his
state to a rousing welcome worthy of a hero. Does this
mean that Bayelsans are fond of rogues, willing to
coddle a man accused of filching from their common
inheritance? I suspect that something other than a
culture permissive of graft was on display in the
streets of Yenogoa. The people of Bayelsa were
delivering a sharp rebuke to a president who has
turned a noble idea, namely a war against corruption,
into a cynical tool for hounding his political
opponents. Were the president demonstrably principled
in prosecuting the war, Bayelsans would have felt
encouraged to disown their quick-fingered governor. In
the event, they could not help viewing him as a victim
of a president whose public policies are often
actuated by his narrow, illicit objective of
self-perpetuation in the mode of Ibrahim Babangida and
Sani Abacha.

I have often stated that, top to bottom, Nigeria is
ruled mostly by criminals, men and women who (in more
law-conscious societies) would be facing life tenure
in gaols, rather than occupying splurgy political
offices. By some bizarre unnatural selection, the
worst elements in Nigeria elevate themselves, or are
catapulted by godfathers, into exalted offices. And
the worse their performance, the quicker their
promotion to higher and higher offices. By this
strange political algebra, Alamieyeseigha's arrest in
London may well have placed him in line for a
presidential run. It is fitting that one of the
fugitive's first statements was to pledge "absolute
loyalty to President Olusegun Obasanjo." In making
that pledge, the governor served notice that he had
learnt his lessons, namely, that a corrupt governor is
officially corrupt only if he is estranged from the
president. Alamieyeseigha also said something that
contained an important fact about Nigerian public
life. "Today," he said, "I reclaim and reaffirm my

Only in Nigeria does a man flee a foreign nation where
he is accused of hiding stolen money and arrive in his
office to a tumultous welcome. It is a nation that the
likes of Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo, certainly not
God, have made possible. It is a nation where the
prospect of Alamieyeseigha emerging as president is
not as wacky as it might at first appear.