(Vanguard of Sunday, April 23, 2006)
I put the questions last week as follows — who can the Vice President be said to be disloyal to – to the one he swore allegiance to or to the one he works with? Or to both? And what constitutes disloyalty? Is it what the boss says or what the brief you are given contains? These are the issues I said I would moderate. But as if I had flown a kite, people called me from all over, including the United States and Canada, telling me what their views were on the relationship between the president and his deputy.
I hope I did not give the impression that I was going to conduct an opinion poll. No, that is not what I meant when I said I would moderate the issues. I had in mind that way of looking issues in the face from as many perspectives as possible and leaving everyone to pick where they fit in.
Let us restrict ourselves to the old and new dispensations. The old dispensation is the military era. The military arrives on the scene without due process. The one who leads the junta has three positions rolled into one – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Translated to make more sense, this is that he is the President of Nigeria, the President of the Senate of the National Assembly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the de facto governor of each state of the federation, the de facto speaker of each state house of assembly, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, and the chief judge of the high court of each state of the federation and the federal high court.
His word is law and it supercedes any provision of the constitution. He speaks through decrees which he can pass to take care of any contingency. Everyone in the polity is his servant, his subject. He is entitled to their loyalty and the punishment for disloyalty is death. Look into the books since 1966 when the military arrived on the national scene and count how many had to pay for disloyalty through coup-making that failed. I was editor of the Daily Times when our President was Head of the Federal Military Government and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Dimka had failed in toppling the government but he and his collaborators paid dearly for their temerity. The maximum ruler remained as long as he was able to until someone else succeeded in removing him. Failure to do so was treason punishable with death. The maximum ruler could even invoke a case of disloyalty and do you in if you were seen as a threat. That was what Abacha did to Obasanjo. In the old dispensation therefore, there was no doubt that loyalty was claimed for an individual, and enforced.
Not so with the new dispensation. There is a Road Map with detailed road signs that everyone must obey; and these are binding on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as they are on Victor Kassim Oyofo who represents me in the Senate of the National Assembly, and on me as a citizen of this country. We must all look at that Road Map which is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and do what it tells us to do. Obasanjo cannot take more than the Constitution gives, nor can Oyofo, nor can I.
We will come to the Constitution in a minute, but let us look at this disloyalty thing from another angle. As I told you, many called to say what they thought loyalty meant and did not mean and whether the Vice President was loyal to the President or disloyal to him. Here we are looking at loyalty as it relates to one to whom fidelity is owed, like the relationship that should exist between husband and wife.
I am ready to extend it to a promise made and not kept. So Ngige was disloyal to Uba, his political godfather. Ladoja was disloyal to Adedibu, his political godfather. Nyame is now said to be disloyal to Atiku who backed him for governorship of Taraba State. Atiku has for three years been disloyal to the President who picked him as his running mate. Obasanjo is disloyal to Babangida if it is true that they agreed that IBB would take over the baton in 2003 before OBJ “begged” to put off the handing over until 2007.
But this is not the loyalty demanded by and acceptable to the new dispensation. Come to section 14(2)(a) of the Constitution. It says, “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority.” The Constitution is therefore a documentation of delegated powers. If you can’t point to the power you claim, you don’t have it. And before you assume office, you swear to defend the Constitution, to be faithful (that is loyal) and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In our new dispensation, loyalty is to Nigeria, to its people who have given a brief to government. This brief is in the Constitution. Loyalty and disloyalty have meaning therefore only when we look at what actors in government do with the powers and authority granted in the Constitution. And there is no denying why the powers and authority were given. The reason is to ensure the welfare and safety of the citizen. But how can we ensure the welfare and safety of the citizens when those we briefed are pre-occupied, not with the good of the people and the country, but with their own greed.
I cannot, however, deny that loyalty is segmented, but you err where you are unable or unwilling to situate loyalty where it belongs. Loyalty to the nation, to the people of Nigeria in whom sovereignty resides, is not negotiable. Loyalty to the Constitution as the supreme law of the land is not negotiable. Loyalty to your party in relation to other political parties is not negotiable. Loyalty to the boss in the workplace is not negotiable.
But where loyalty to the boss in the workplace will breach the conditions of service, then the boss must be disobeyed. And where loyalty to the party will subvert the system, then the party must be ignored. And where issues being canvassed will breach provisions of the Constitution, then the Constitution must be defended. And where the sovereignty of the people is endangered through dictatorial moves, then everyone must rise up in defence of the only weapon the people have over those they assigned duties to.
Coming over to the Vice President’s case, there is a clear case of breakdown of communication with the boss, and this is unhealthy for good governance. But is it disloyalty to aspire to an office you are qualified for? The problem those who want the Vice President out of office have is that they cannot push him out outside due process.
Ministers can be thrown out without notice. But the way to get the Vice President out of office is the same way to get the President out of office. He will have to resign, die there or be impeached. In the political chess game being played for all to see, the Vice President will make the falsest move if he quits. His stay in PDP can be terminated, but not his stay in office.
My sympathy goes to the President. Between 1976 and 1979, he was the overall boss, superior to Nigeria and the Constitution. He won no elections then. Now, after campaigning for mandate that he was given, why should he not be more powerful? That is the point. He cannot be more powerful than the people whose servant he must be because the conditions for his coming were settled – in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which he, the lawmakers and the courts swore to defend. It is disloyalty to breach provisions of that Constitution.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 126 – 129; Lagos, 2008).