Posted by EMMA AMAIZE, Regional Editor, South-South on
FROM the first week Bayelsa state governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was arrested in London over money laundering; a high-level political move was launched by some powers that be outside the state to get his deputy to take over as acting governor
FROM the first week Bayelsa state governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was arrested in London over money laundering; a high-level political move was launched by some powers that be outside the state to get his deputy to take over as acting governor and from there, the governor of the state but the deputy, Mr. Jonathan, whose first name is Goodluck does not see anything good in the luck that destiny has put on his table.
Since the beginning of the sour episode, September 15, Jonathan could be excused on grounds that he was being loyal to his boss. But by Wednesday when the governor found himself in Brixton Prisons, which is his new stamping ground until October 6 when his case would come up again in court, the question is who takes over from him as the acting governor of the oil-rich state.
WHAT the law says: Section 190 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates: "Whenever the governor transmits to the speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to the speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the deputy governor" while Section 191 (1) also indicates that "The deputy governor of a state shall hold the office of governor of the state if the office of a governor becomes vacant by reason of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal of the governor from office for any other reason in accordance with section 188 and 189 of the Constitution".
The speaker of the State House of Assembly by virtue of sub-section two of Section 191 would take over in the circumstances mentioned above if the office of deputy governor of the state is also vacant for a period of not more than three months, during which there shall be an election of a new governor of the state who shall hold office for the unexpired term of office of the last holder of the office. For now, the office of the deputy governor is not vacant and that leaves out the speaker in the scramble. The only person in the race is, therefore, the deputy governor. The governor has not, however, told anybody, either orally or in writing that he was on vacation or unable to discharge the functions of his office and has not also resigned from office.
That again narrows the options of his removal from office to impeachment by the State House of Assembly. Sunday Vanguard learnt that this was already in the pipeline. Indeed, the speaker and other principal officers of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly jetted out of the country barely a week after the arrest of the governor when pressure was allegedly being mounted on them to commence impeachment proceedings against the governor.
All that was needed to jump-start the process, according to Section 188 (1) of the Constitution, was a notice of allegation in writing, signed by not less than one-third of the members of the House of Assembly, stating that the governor is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office. To some people, the legislators were running away from their lawful assignment. Those in this school of thought, however, believe that nemesis would soon catch up with them and they would have no other option if Alamieyeseigha were finally jailed for the offence.
How Jonathan resisted take-over: Sunday Vanguard was told at Yenagoa that Bayelsa’’s share of the last allocation to state governments was withheld because of the arrest of the governor. The action was almost degenerating to another crisis in the state as civil servants were not paid and the deputy dovernor was told categorically that the allocation would not be released except it was clear who the acting governor of the state was in the absence of the governor. The import of the action was very clear to Jonathan but he felt it would be a stab on his boss if he grabbed the opportunity.
It was gathered that those involved assured the deputy governor that they would handle the situation properly and that it would not be seen as if he torpedoed his boss because he was not the architect of Alamieyeseigha’s misfortune. Jonathan, however, read between the lines and squealed to Alamieyeseigha who is holed up in London on phone. A game plan was hatched to overcome the mountain.
The deputy governor had to personally visit President Olusegun Obasanjo to explain the situation to him. The Presidency, according to our sources, feigned ignorance of the temporal seizure of the state’s allocation but it, nonetheless, said the action was to forestall crisis in the state in the absence of the governor. Our source said that the deputy governor had to write an undertaking that there would be peace in the state before the allocation was released to him. With what appeared to be the continued detention of the governor, more pressures have been mounted on him to take the bull by the horns by accepting the challenge of becoming the acting governor to enable the strategists go into action. Will he play ball, it does not seem likely with the footprints of Jonathan.
Unwilling Legislators: Ab initio, the members of the State House of Assembly who suspected or knew that the game plan was for them to impeach the governor and the principal officers flew out of the country so as to be "out of network" or within the coverage area of the hawks. Some people were ready to "burn" some cash, for the governor to be sent packing from Creek Haven as Government House, Yenagoa is called, according to available information. Even the governor’s critics in the rival ANPP in the state were also reading political undertones in his current travails.
As if calling the bluff of those who want them to impeach the governor, the State Assembly had gone on an indefinite recess with some of the lawmakers hinting that they would not resume until the governor’s fate becomes clear. There is the fear that if the House continues with its sittings, some members would one way or the other be compromised and the governor has been so good to them. The premises of the State House of Assembly were calm when Sunday Vanguard visited but none of the lawmakers was found in office. A staff said: "You cannot see them now, they are on recess. Are you a stranger here, don’t you know that they do not want to impeach the governor and so, the best thing for them is to stay off now until the time is ripe to resume sitting because they cannot take any matter in the House now without mentioning the money laundering case against the governor and once that is done, some people could cash in on it to call for impeachment and other things".
It was gathered that there were really moves to get the lawmakers to impeach the governor and this much, the national president of the Ijaw National Congress, Prof Kimse Okoko, indicated when he addressed a world press conference few days after Alamieyeseigha’s arrest. Majority leader of the House, Hon Steve Adika, who recently returned from London, where he visited the embattled governor castigated the Nigeria High Commission in Britain for allegedly acquiescing to the arrest of Alamieyeseigha despite the immunity granted him by the Constitution. A lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity said the members had only gone on recess to consult with members of their constituency on the 2006 Appropriation Bill currently before the House.
Who runs Bayelsa for now? The deputy governor is in-charge of the running of the affairs of the state for now. Before the governor was remanded in Brixton Prisons with court approval, he was said to be briefing the governor constantly and getting instructions on what to do. But the channel of communication has been hampered since the remand. Jonathan is, however, mindful not to do anything that would suggest that he is disloyal to the governor even though he is eyeing the governorship seat in 2007. Nobody is competing for power with the deputy governor as far Government House, Yenagoa is concerned at the moment. The only powerful person that would have been flexing muscle with him by virtue of his been a cousin to Alamieyeseigha is the Special Adviser who is on the run following the manhunt for him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Clearly, Alamieyeseigha is still in control of the state.
Atmosphere at Creek Haven: As one observer put it: "The governor moves with the soul of the state whenever he travels out of the state". That is exactly the situation at Government House, Yenagoa when Sunday Vanguard visited. The seat of power was quiet with the deputy governor running the affairs from his office. According to our source: "The place is like a deserted arena when the governor is not around and with him being held, it is now like a grave yard". The signs of the time were boldly written on the faces of virtually everybody in the Government House but the workers were seen going about their normal duty albeit with low spirits.
Ambush, not for Alamieyeseigha alone: Sunday Vanguard investigations showed that traps were set for most of the governors who were out of the country then on vacation by the Federal Government. It would have been a devastating blow, most especially, for the South-South if three of its governors, including Alamieyeseigha, who is already in the net, were arrested for money laundering. "That was exactly the plan but it failed because some people were smarter than those plotting their downfall thought", a source told us. One of the governors reportedly got a tip off from his contacts in the Presidency and stayed clear from a bank where all necessary arrangement had been made to follow him.
Average Bayelsan: The ordinary Bayelsan in the streets of Yenagoa was initially perturbed when the news of the arrest of the governor was broken to them, September 16, through the newspapers and, daily, they thronged the newsstands to find out the latest. The strong campaign by the governor’s loyalists, Ijaw National Congress, Ijaw Youths Council and other groups diffused tension later as they saw his ordeal as political fireworks against him by the Presidency because of the internal politics of the PDP. "For now", said a trader, Mr. John Beneibi, "we are not perturbed, we are waiting for our governor to acquit himself creditably and come back but that is not to say that he will get our support if he is found to be involved in money laundering". The government of the state did not break the news of the arrest of the governor to the people, September 15, when the news got to Government House. Rather, it tried to hide the information but it became public the next day to the average Bayelsan when the newspapers broke the news. Since then, the local newspapers in the state, and there are legion in that axis, have been feasting on the matter.
New twist: What could have been Uhuru for the governor, following the clever argument by his lawyers that his arrest by the Metropolitan Police and bail conditions attached to it were unjust, lasted only for a moment as the police re-arrested Alamieyeseigha on the grounds of fresh evidence and formally charged him to court, where a legal remand order was obtained after the court had, technically, quashed his arrest. The re-arrest of the governor by the police seems to indicate that they were ready to prosecute the case. That is to say that they believe that they have enough evidence to slam him. Though, only the court can determine whether he is guilty or innocent, some people were really beginning to wonder whether the governor could come out of this trial with his reputation unscathed. One of those who strongly believe that the governor would come out victorious is his Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Oronto Douglas.
Immunity against arrest
But as far as Warri-based constitutional lawyer, Mr. Akpo Mudiaga-Odje, is concerned, Alamieyeseigha, by virtue of State Immunity Act of 1978 of the United Kingdom has immunity against arrest or prosecution in the United Kingdom. He added that the governor’s liberty was guaranteed in the United Kingdom like a diplomat and, therefore, "cannot be interrogated or arrested at all". Mudiaga Odje also stated that the Federal Government had no right to waive this immunity on behalf of the governor unless the governor under the Immunity Act and Internationally Protected Persons Act waives it by himself. His words: "The primary issue now is not really money laundering or corruption, but that of international diplomacy, status, prestige and law. The worst thing that could have happened was to send the governor back on the ground of being a persona non grata or to allow him travel back to Nigeria after granting him bail on self recognition and to return when requested.
Who is the wrongdoer: Alamieyeseigha or Obasanjo? As far as Mudiaga-Odje is concerned, Alameiyeseigha’’s ordeal is a calculated ploy to intimidate those involved in the resource control struggle. He said, "No amount of political foreign arrests, victimization and oppression will make us abandon the struggle for resource control. When they ask what we are doing with 13 per cent, then we ask what they are doing with the balance stolen 87 per cent of our oil money"
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