Sam Omatseye

MAYBE Malami did not see the constitution. Or maybe he did not see House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila when he visited the President. If he saw, we may pity him if he did not hear the clear timbre of the speaker’s voice when he said it.

If he did not see, and he did not hear, then we may conclude that Abubakar Malami is the first deaf-mute attorney-general and minister of justice in Nigerian history. I don’t want to go that far. The man is a SAN, even if we know that some SANs today are no better than glorified charge and bail lawyers, SANs sans erudition or quality. Some SANs are born great, some achieve greatness and some have it thrust upon them. I often worry about the third and last category.

It all began with the butchery in Borno, when a band of barbarians slit the throats of 43 persons and electrified our hearts with terror. The speaker invited the president to engage the lawmakers. The president assented. He also fixed a date, and that was last week Thursday.

But before Malami were APC governors. Four of them paid a visit to Buhari. They were the gubernatorial emissaries. They didn’t bring light but left with a stroke. They did not want him to show up at the House. It was a booby trap. The president would step height and frame into the parliamentary chambers, and implode. They draped him in their flattery like brocaded court jesters. Their words cut the president to the quick, and his eyes barbed back in reply. He had given his word, and he was in no mood for an about face. The humbled quartet squatted out of sight. Game One: President four, Governors on all fours.

Game Two. A NEC meeting. An ambush. The governors trembled over the prospect of a PDP enemy at the parliamentary door. They contended that the opposition lawmakers awaited the president with hangmen and snipers. To sooth their conscience, the APC governors lamented Borno’s grief, its prostrate and its dead. Pharisaic tears, but no more. Before the president could say a thing, he was procedurally incapacitated. The meeting was over. The resolution was on the record. NEC forbade the president to attend the meeting. The president exited, his voice unheard. The score: Governors 20, President yet to sore.

My reporting found that it was not the president they loved more, but themselves. They feared his appearance would plant a precedent. If the National Assembly can invite a president, then their own houses can enact uproar. That was the private musings among the state chief executives. They were preempting a mutiny at home but castrating it in the centre.

It was then that the question of English literacy ambushed constitutional illiteracy between governors and attorney general.  The speaker invited. He did not summon. It was an engagement, not a confrontation. The speaker visited the president, and the atmosphere of cordiality prevailed. He did not invade the villa. He did not even go to beard the lion in his den of beefy body guards and wily reptiles. He came in peace. So how could he summon the president in that ambience? He even never employed the word ‘summons.’

The speaker did not take on the belligerence of former senate president Bukola “Eleyinmi” Saraki. He was not in the old tradition of the French Estates General that led to the guillotine, or the war between parliament and Crown where the crafty and decapitating Oliver Cromwell fomented the British Guillotine of King Charles The First.

If Speaker Gbajabiamila was not in a mood for affray, why did Malami bring a register of verbal warfare into the fray by seeing summons in an invite? Was it a case of a bloodthirsty attorney general with a will to war shielding the president? Was he installing a nuclear arsenal in peacetime, like Putin who is so intimidated by his better rival – The United States – that he has to always boast of his military arsenal even if they make him sound like a grandiloquent cymbal? Before the Second World War, historians called a similar episode on the French and Belgian borders “the phony war.”

That is why I wondered if this was not a case of a hallucinating minister. Maybe he is like the blind man in the New Testament miracle who saw “men like trees.” He saw that the speaker said invite, not summon. He invoked belligerency. He heard him say invite. He also has a constitution; at least, he should as SANs do. And the constitution says the house can invite the president.

Maybe his is like the man who once saw and did not see like the folks in the novel Blindness by Jose Saramago. This is the sort of attorney general, quite like a few we have had in this republic, who misguided their leaders. Some have asserted that invitation is a subtle way to summon. But that is when there is a state of confrontation between both houses. And in that instance, both men would not meet in Aso Rock, and smile over a confrontational meeting in the wings. It just does not make constitutional sense to see it as a summons. Summons suggests consequences. No such threat exists.

By not appearing, the president is presumed to have bowed to the governors and his chief law officer, and welshed on his word. This contradicts a president whose main public DNA is integrity. He did not come, and as at press time, he had not told us why. Neither has he canceled.

We hope that Malami is not the force behind this ill-advised move because the minister knows little about public accountability of this sort. It is this kind of decision that made the APC first decide to dissolve the party structure of elected offices in the states and local government. The carapace of caretakers does not cover its illegality. They were not elected caretakers. This is a gangster act in a party that is unraveling like a spool in a pool. That is the first act of the party’s implosion. Until and unless the president addresses this, we shall see humpty dumpty in a great fall.

What we are seeing is pride. The next chapter may be suicide. With the sort of advice from its governors and law officer, a free fall beckons.

Sam Nda-Isaiah: Such a long time

I HEARD his voice next door. He contended with another voice that would also become familiar. But it took just a few days for us to meet at Awolowo Hall at the University of Ife. When he materialised, I recognised the philter of my neighnour’s voice before the slight stature. His mind was stout, though. Later in life, his body would match his mind. In our first year, we were virtually roommates.

When I first saw Sam Nda-Isaiah, he radiated bonhomie behind the veneer of an aggressor. The other fellow, his sparring partner, was Paul Akinsola, who studied estate management. Nda-Isaiah and Akinsola had a renaissance spirit.

I forget the point of contention when we met, but he wanted to know my course of study. When I said History, he snapped, “You guys in the faculty of arts are autistic.” I did not know the meaning of the word, but I knew he had insulted me. I also concluded with humour that he had lost the argument. We were to meet many times in the course of our Ife sojourn sometimes to spar, but most times to say hello. When I learned he was studying pharmacy, I knew this man was not a scientist by temperament. He was the first to introduce me to the feisty Radio Kaduna political programme, perhaps the best political programme in the country at the time. When I met another roommate from the north central, law student John Kuleve Galu, Radio Kaduna etched itself more on my mind.

•The late Nda-Isaiah

When we left Ife, I did not hear from him until he started his life work, The Leadership newspaper. It did not surprise me. He was cut out more for the pharmacopeia of the mind and society than for the laboratory or the flesh and bone. He pored over the chemistry of votes and social dialectics; the laboratory of circumstances more than substances. He ran for president on the APC platform, and I know a few people who thought he was more than little ambitious for himself. But he was not one to be taken for small. I thought he was following his star, and it took him up and up until the icy prosecutor knocked coldly at his door at 58.

The last time I met him was at  a dinner in Lagos a few years ago, and I reminded him that he called me autistic at our first meeting at Awolowo Hall. He didn’t remember. He couldn’t and we laughed it off. He did not say it out of spite, but out of boyish hubris in 1980. He brought a voice to journalism and politics, and we shall always have him on our mind.


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