So, the low turnout of constituents of the Kogi West Senatorial District of Kogi State put an end of the attempt to recall Senator Dino Melaye last Saturday.
The rejection of the contrived plan to remove the embattled senator, who is currently confined to a hospital bed with what looks like a battalion of policemen on surveillance, was loud enough to make Sunday’s formal announcement of the outcome of the previous day’s verification by the Declaration Officer, Prof Ukertor Gabriel Moti, a mere formality.
But observers of Nigerian politics should agree that the result of that the exercise was a surprise. Given the almost conclusive evidence that the recall process was instigated by or at least backed by the machinery of Governor Yahaya Bello, with whom Melaye had been in an acrimonious relationship for months on end, nothing but the final determination of that process against the senator was expected.
State governors in Nigeria are demi-gods! They have enormous resources at their disposal and are hardly subjected to any form of checks and balances, since the state Houses of Assembly are always almost at their beck and call. So, most often than not, what a state governor wants in Nigeria is a fait accompli.
Even some traditional tenet of the land kind of attests to the totalitarian capacity of the executive. Ever heard the Yoruba describe government as the one who paralyses you and whatever supernatural powers you may possess and oppress people with? That is the absolutist essence of executive power in Nigeria.
But last weekend’s event in Kogi West signals a desire of the people to reclaim their hitherto mis-appropriated democratic muscle. The failure of the recall process is not necessarily an elaborate testimony of the love of the people for the overly loud senator nor their hatred for his erstwhile benefactor turned alleged tormentor, Bello. Were it so, those who elected the senator would have, from the outset, protested the attempt to terminate his tenure. That the process was allowed to go for almost one year, with 188,588 signatures of the 360,098 registered voters in the district submitted for verification, without massive protest in support of the candidate, especially as there are now allegations of forgery, is an indication that the people give no much care.
What happened on Saturday may as well be from a determination not to allow one elephant manipulate the mass of the people into undoing another elephant. It may be payback time for two people who may have at one time or the other colluded to subvert the will of the people. And on a larger scale, an eminent caution to politicians that days of subjugation of the Nigerian electorate are numbered.
Melaye is a beneficiary of this new consciousness and his career as a senator is now on a rebound even though millions of naira would have been wasted by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
But then, the senator has successfully dodged only one bullet from a high-calibre firearm set against him.
On Wednesday, a national daily reported that authorities of the Nigeria Police were set to forcefully move him from the National Hospital, Abuja, where he is currently receiving treatment, to Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State.
In Lokoja, Melaye is expected to face trial for alleged illegal firearms possession and arming of political thugs. And unlike last week’s attempt to move him by road, which resulted in a fiasco that Nigerians still do not understand, the senator would be flown in a police helicopter.
Time will tell whether this plan is as reported but Nigeria’s lead law enforcement agency had by last week’s attempt to transport the senator to Lokoja shown its disregard for the very law whose integrity it is meant to protect.
When the case came up for mentioning at the Lokoja Division of the Federal High Court early last month, the presiding judge, Justice Phoebe Ayua, was quoted as having informed the parties that: “Hearing of this case has been overtaken by events. The Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati, had reassigned this case to Abuja to be heard under Justice Gregor following complaints by one of the defendants in the case.”
Newspaper reports said that although the prosecutor laboured to convince the trial judge on why the case should remain in Lokoja and why the FHC should not exercise discretion on the request of only one of the accused people, his argument was said to have been rejected by Justice Ayua. Ayua reportedly maintained that the case must follow administrative protocols as prescribed by the Acting Chief judge of the Federal High Court. The resort to self-help by the police is therefore as much a slap on Nigeria’s democracy as the obscene grandstanding that has become Senator Melaye’s trademark.
Otherwise an enchanting personality, whose irrepressible boldness, impressive articulation and street wisdom could attest to the resilience and industry of the youths in a country stunted by structural and institutional indiscipline, Melaye has over the years courted the loathing of many compatriots for his inability to gauge the appropriateness and venom of his utterances.
His public and political conduct, which provided the initial fuel for igniting the fire of his botched recall has over the past years become representative of the irresponsible and contemptuous arrogance of our power elite. Melaye is the one wont to deploy aggressive, unparliamentary and sometimes, unprintable language on fellow senators or engage in fisticuffs in the same place that is ironically described as hallowed chambers by himself and his colleagues.
Although police authorities have not told us the truth of what transpired in the alleged escape attempt by Melaye last week, that endeavour shows a wilful disrespect and contravention of the same set of laws that this senator joins other members of the National Assembly to enact. It reveals the frequent exploitation of the dysfunctional and impoverished political and democratic structure that we grapple with by our elite.
But how is the institution that is empowered to prosecute the lawmaker better? Headed by an Inspector General who would disobey direct instructions for the President/ Commander-in-Chief, even when those instructions are meant to prevent loss of Nigerian lives and property, the Nigeria Police has largely remained unaccountable and unashamed of the people’s loss of confidence in its ability to protect them and prosecute criminals without fear or favour.
About two weeks ago, a newspaper alleged that the police in Offa had prior knowledge of the presence of the armed robbers who hit the town leaving tens of dead bodies. But rather than act on the intel and nip the crime in the bud, the report alleged that policemen sent to investigate the matter looked the other way after allegedly receiving an inducement of N400, 000. No organ of the police has yet to impugn this report.
But what leaders of the police force do not realise however is that incidents like the forceful relocation of Melaye in defiance of the court, recurrent cases of abusive use of power and failure to exercise discretion in the interest of the people, diminish prospects that Nigerians will ever trust our police force. It tells of the depressing failure of national institutions and the poverty of our democracy and governance. It takes Nigeria back to the age of dictatorship. But what do they care?