Obasanjo writes Blair over Alamieyeseigha

Yusuf Alli,Tony Amokeodo, Adeniyi Adesina and Bisi Olaniyi

As part of steps to checkmate the Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, President Olusegun Obasanjo has written to the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, for a drastic action.

The letter followed an indication that the Federal Government is weighing about seven options on how to address the jumping of bail by the governor.

But Alamieyeseigha may this week present the state’s 2006 Appropriation Bill to a group of members of the Bayelsa House of Assembly, led by the ousted Speaker, Mr. Boyelayefa Debekeme.

In his letter dated November 23, 2005, the President said that he was drawing Blair’s attention to the level of police security and administration of justice in the United Kingdom.

He expressed regrets that when the governor escaped, it was the Federal Government that got the information and notified Nigeria’s High Commission in the UK.

He said it was regretful that the British Government knew of Alamieyeseigha’s disappearance through the High Commission.

The President said the escape was “most unbelievable, especially in view of the war on terror.”

He added, “You can therefore appreciate why we cannot pretend to understand this development; the second of such a situation.

“Given the global war on terror and the reputation of the British security agencies for thoroughness, efficiency and effectiveness, not only does Nigeria need assurances on this matter, we also expect certain decisive statements and actions on this matter from the appropriate authorities at the British end.”

In spite of the letter, the President said Nigeria cherished her relationship with the UK.

He said he was proud that the relationship had been growing from strength to strength, including the global war on terrorism.

Alamieyeseigha had on November 22 jumped bail in the UK, following his arraignment in court for alleged money laundering.

A reliable source told our correspondents that the Federal Government may, this week, act on some of the seven options against the governor.

A source said the government was consulting with some eminent lawyers, led by a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola.

The legal team was said to have insisted that the governor could be extradited without delay to the UK, since there is a treaty between Nigeria and Britain.

The team advised government to send Alamieyeseigha to the UK for trial.

Another option that the Federal Government is considering came from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Gani Fawehinmi.

Fawehinmi had suggested that the governor should be removed and extradited to Britain in the next available plane.

But the government was said to be worried about the long time that the impeachment might take in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

The source told our correspondents that the Federal Government was exploring the idea of isolating the governor in order to force him to give up for trial.

He said the game plan of the government on this angle was to take away the legislators from the state.

He said this would make it difficult for the governor to influence the legislators.

Part of the isolating theory was the arrest of the state Accountant-General.

It was also revealed to our correspondents that as part of the isolation game, some commissioners were being lured to ditch Alamieyeseigha.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s option was also receiving attention from the Federal Government.

The Chairman of the commission, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, was said to have advised the government to invoke the Code of Conduct Act against the governor.

Ribadu said the governor’s violation of the Code of Conduct Act could lead to his speedier trial than a criminal procedure.

Ribadu was also said to have sent strongly worded petitions that border on corruption against the governor to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the Code of Conduct Bureau.

The EFCC boss also told the government that the CCB should simply arraign the governor before its tribunal, to effect his removal and subsequent extradition to the UK.

Our correspondents also gathered that the EFCC may this week apply to the court, asking for an order to freeze the state’s account on the grounds of allegations of fraud against the governor.

In another development, the Metropolitan Police are withholding further information on the retrieved CCTV recording of the last-minute movement of Alamieyeseigha out of London.

“I'm afraid we are not currently discussing this inquiry further,” the press bureau of the Met, said in a reply to our correspondents’ request for the latest development on their investigation into the CCTV footage.

CCTV footage is a crucial part of security investigation by the British Police.

It was the CCTV footage that provided the lead into the unraveling of the four Pakistan-born British suicide bombers, who struck at three different locations in London on July 7, killing 52 people.

The Punch had reported on Friday that the Met had commenced investigation into the CCTV footage, which revealed that Alamieyeseigha fled from the Heathrow Airport in London aboard a British Airways flight, to Lagos.

In his determination to reassert his position, Alamieyeseigha may this week present the 2006 Appropriation Bill to a section of the state lawmakers led by Debekeme.

Members of the State Executive Council deliberated on the budget at a meeting presided over by Alamieyeseigha, at the Government House on Wednesday.

The meeting was not attended by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

The former Speaker, who represents Ekeremor Constituency 2, and his deputy, Mr. Foingha Jephthah, of Nembe Constituency 2, were removed from office on November 14, 2005.

The representative of Ekeremor Constituency 1, Mr. Peremobowei Ebebi, emerged as the new speaker, while the lawmaker from Nembe Constituency 1, Mr. Bright Erewari, was elected the deputy speaker.

Ebebi and 19 other lawmakers, on Tuesday, served an impeachment notice on the governor.

But nine out of the 20 lawmakers later backed out of the impeachment bid.

To pave the way for a budget session, the state House of Assembly Service Commission, in a statement by its Secretary, Mrs. Flora William-Ebi, had directed the Clerk, Mr. Peter George, to proceed on compulsory leave.

The commission said some unnamed lawmakers complained of George's incompetence, dereliction of duties and disregard for civil service rules and procedures.

A cousin of Alamieyeseigha, Mr. Philip Ere, was appointed as acting clerk with immediate effect.

An impeccable source at Government House, Yenagoa, told our correspondents on Sunday that the governor would present the 2006 budget to the Assembly this week.

A new Commissioner of Police, Bayelsa State Command, Mr. Hafiz Ringim, resumed in Yenagoa on Sunday and has taken over from Mr. Oliver Osuchukwu, whose transfer caught him unawares.

Ringim, formerly of Osun State Command, was accompanied by riot policemen, and headed for the police headquarters at about 9am.

He later moved to the CP’s quarters also in Yenagoa, to brief his predecessor.

Following the arrival of Alamieyeseigha last Monday and the inspection of a guard of honour by policemen, Osuchukwu had been in the eye of the storm.

The outgoing CP was accused of allegedly divulging official police information to the governor, as well as allegedly refusing to effect his arrest, which angered the police authorities in Abuja.

Our correspondents gathered that a new contingent of no fewer than 200 riot policemen, mostly Hausa, was deployed in Bayelsa, with more troops also deployed on Sunday evening, to prevent a breakdown of law and order.

THE PUNCH, Monday, November 28, 2005


Alamieyeseigha compounded his problem by jumping bail — Gen. Ikponmwen
Posted to the Web: Sunday, November 27, 2005
The chief prosecutor in the trial of the three admirals over the missing oil tanker, MT African Pride, Gen. Don Idada Ikponmwen, in this interview with Sunday Vanguard, looks at the return of Governor Diepreye Alamiesiegha of Bayelsa State and declares that the nation is in a quagmire. He points out that the interpretation of section 308 which gives governors absolute immunity is posing serious problem to nation’s democracy, adding that the interpretation is contrary to the spirit of the constitution and negates the rule of law. Idada, who is also the national vice-chairman of the South South Peoples Assembly, also speaks on the recent meeting between leaders of the zone and their counterparts from the South East and says leaders from both zones have decided to come together and fight for their right as a people in the Nigerian federation.
Governor Alamieyesiegha’s return
It is a victory for Bayelsa people, a problem for Nigeria especially in terms of our national credibility. The whole thing sends a picture of an enigmatic country. The South South Peoples Assembly (SSPA), welcomes back a son who was arrested, allegations were made but have not been proved, the man remains innocent. Though the way he came back creates a credibility problem for Nigeria but you have also heard people say that Alamieyesiegha is a victim of political maneuver. Some people are saying why Alamieyesiegha? Is he the only one that has been caught with money? Why is his own different? This is a problem of a system that has failed. Since the system has failed to over play the issue of Alamieyesiegha, the way he came back and all that, is to abandon the substance and fight the non existing issue. All these things are happening because we have a system that is not working. We need a leadership that means well, that has credibility. Leadership that is really and truly transparent. I won’t be surprised if the Nigerian government works with the British government to ensure that he gets a proper trial. But the Nigerian government has told the British government that they would not be able to guarantee any lapses if the arrested governor is allowed to come back to Nigeria. Now he is back to Nigeria and, of course, speaking the way the Nigeria Attorney General did, he said once in Nigeria, Alamieyesiegha is protected by section 308 in line with the interpretation of that section by the Supreme Court, which accorded absolute immunity to serving governors.
If that be the case and against the feelings of the people of Bayelsa State, the joy of the return of a son who was being victimized, in their own words, makes Nigeria enigmatic. Alamieyesiegha is back to the country, protected by Nigerian law-and in another hand a nation that relates to other nations has a problem of credibility, has a problem of how do we relate to this problem in such a way as to enhance the credibility of the country. That is the second part of the enigmatic situation. How do we deal with the form and not the substance even if there is an offending governor? It is a case of one person in a group, may be that person is unfortunate in terms of time and circumstance.
Does that change the country to be a country that will move forward, progress for everybody, happiness for everybody in a democratic setting? Maybe they might want to bundle him back to London, but I do not expect the Federal Government to act in breach of its own constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. That would be contradictory. But this issue has shown us how enigmatic our system is. Some reactions are simply unbelievable and incredible. You see, for example, a person or a group defending an issue simply because it affects someone who is regarded as his own, without regard to the merit or the matter. I have been misquoted in this matter by some national dailies.
When I speak of an enigmatic Nigeria, I am looking at the contradictions,the inconsistencies in the interpretation of section 308 which gives total immunity to governors from prosecution. It is contrary to the spirit of the codes. Some are rejoicing while some fuming over the same episode. It therefore has to do with our values, some of which are grossly misplaced. Talking about how the constitution interpretes section 308 and the global duty to help arrest fleeing offenders, I see grave contradictions in government response to the issue. Government here includes the three arms. Alamieyesiegha’s matter has assumed more dimensions than envisaged: Legal ,social and political.
The political aspect compounds the matter, which, ordinarily, would have required direct legal analysis and solutions. Legally, the nation owes a duty to assist other countries in apprehending fleeing suspects. But Nigeria’s constitution has been interpreted by our own courts as offering complete immunity. On that basis, arresting the governor by the Nigerian government is impossible. The only way out is impeachment by the state House of Assembly. But now, allegations of political witch hunting rent the air. So the view of teleguided impeachment is also a great problem to our society. Speaking as a lawyer, a strategic thinker, I think the governor compounded the case by jumping bail. Then, given the overwhelming influence the federal authorities exercise, the chances are wide that impeachment would succeed..The situation is a pointer that the interpretation of section 308 is untenable and creates a serious problem for Nigeria. That interpretation is contrary to the spirit of the constitution and negates the true imports of the law; that complete immunity as interpreted by the Supreme Court to governors is totally wrong and it poses a great danger to our democracy and does not promote the present government’s anti-corruption stance.The only tenable interpretation of section 308 is that it is meant to prevent frivolous litigation.

South-South, South-East parley.
In our bid to work for genuine federalism in Nigeria. In our bid to ensure that the next president of this country comes from the South-South, we went to Owerri last (penultimate) week in a summit tagged South South, South East summit. It was well attended. The point was under scored, that in a federal system, regional strength is an integral part of federalism. Federalism works when the federating units federate to the center, with some degree of power. And federalism strives when there is mutual recognition and mutual respect. These points were seriously highlighted at the summit. The fact that the South South zone and the East are areas that contribute heavily towards the sustenance of Nigeria. And it was identified that if anything was the matter, the leaders of these zones had beaten themselves to a position of irrelevance in their quest to satisfy personal interest, they had failed to recognize their own importance and relevance and in the process lost respect for themselves. And by losing respect for themselves, they ended up making their zones irrelevant and insignificant.
The summit also emphasized the need for our people to wakeup, recognize who they are, what they are doing for this country and to demand that they get respect that is commensurate with the level of their input into the Nigerian federation. So it was a good summit and I believe that we must continue to explore this kind of bridge building, not only with the South East, we must also strengthen our relationship with other zones, like the Middle Belt, the South West. We are even going to let the north recognize that if Nigeria must be one strong nation, it must be based on principle of equity, justice and fair play.
Do you think this romance with the South East will succeed considering the fact that the people of the South South never trusted the Igbos?
It is true that there has been a tendency for the Igbo tribe to dominate their environment and to overwhelm their surrounding. There are several incidents that tend to justify this thinking. In the past, for example, the way Biafra overran the mid west during the Nigeria civil war went round to get the message across that the Igbos as a very strong side can dominate anybody. The domination of the economy, environment in the then minority areas of the former East, a situation which led to the issue of abandon properties in Port-Harcourt and Bayelsa, is another. There could be some skeptism of the Igbo tribe, but we cannot allow ourselves to be tied to the mistakes of the past. There is nobody who would not recognize when there is a need for change, that will enhance the health of the overall system that we are working on when we know that we cannot have a nation without having co-operation among the people. Of course, we know that groups strengthen federal structures, so we must find a way to overcome our past mistakes and past errors and for us to reciprocate each other, in terms of gesture, in terms of respect within our zones. It is on this mutual respect and mutual recognition that a healthy federal structure strives. So we need not therefore allow ourselves to be bugged down by the fear of the past, instead we must open new avenues for strengthening our unity in the Nigeria federation.