By Mahmud Jega

There is an alleged firm in England called Ditcher Quick & Hyde divorce lawyers. I was just wondering. If someone had registered Nigeria as a firm at the Corporate Affairs Commission, Nigeria Copyright Commission and Nigeria Bar Association last week, he would have appropriately named it Slap Delete & Collapse assault, election maneuver and consumer rights lawyers.

Imagine how a slap completely overshadowed the swearing in of a governor, for that matter a governor who is set to become the top showman of all Nigerian governors. Since his election four months ago, twenty-one years after he first bided for the office, Prof Charles Soludo has done many things, beginning from the size and quality of his transition team, to indicate that he will be a governor with a difference. In the event, it was nearly 48 hours after last Thursday’s inauguration before we learnt that Governor Soludo actually delivered an inaugural speech. Knowing how meticulous Soludo is, he must have spent long hours working on the speech, consulted every textbook known to economists and managers, must have checked every data file ever churned out by World Bank, IMF, OECD, EU, US Federal Reserve, OPEC and Davos Forum, and must have rehearsed the speech throughout the night. Only for it to be totally eclipsed by a dirty slap!

Until the police step in, Nigerians will continue to argue who was to blame for the dirty slap. At least there is video evidence that Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu slapped Mrs. Ebele Obiano. Without waiting to reach the police station and write a statement, Bianca followed it up with a public statement in which she said why she did the slap. She said she was provoked because Mrs. Obiano walked up to her, breathed whisky fumes in her face, repeatedly tapped her shoulder and provocatively asked her why she turned up at an APGA event when she swore that she would never attend one. In self defence, Bianca said, she slapped the outgoing First Lady and yanked off her hairstyle in order to protect herself from physical assault. As far as we could see from the video, Mrs. Obiano did not slap her back, maybe because she was tipsy from early morning whisky shots.

The mitigating circumstance here is that the slapping event took place not in a civil service office but at a political event. Under civil service rules, fighting is punishable with dismissal. A political event is however regarded as all-comers’ affair where winning and saving face are the only ground rules. To allow insulting words, uttered in your face, in public, mixed with whisky fumes, accompanied by taps on the shoulder, to go unchallenged could spell doom for one’s political career.

Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu is no stranger to altercation from both the paternal and marital wings of her glamorous life. During the NPN governorship primary election in old Anambra State in 1982, her would-be husband the Ikemba of Nnewi got entangled in a physical altercation with her father, Chief C.C. Onoh. Reports at the time claimed that Ikemba slapped Chief Onoh, who promptly retaliated. That saved his political career because Onoh went on to win the NPN governorship ticket, won the election and governed old Anambra State for three months before the military struck. Ikemba however lost the senatorial election in Anambra South to the NPP candidate, Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe. Despite that altercation, or maybe because of it, Onoh’s daughter Bianca married Ikemba.

Although Nigeria Police is quick to arrest people for breach of the peace, it has so far taken no steps to investigate what happened at the event, much less prosecute the identified culprits[s]. Instead, within a day of the slap event, energetic Nigerian businessmen produced and began selling a head gear similar to that of boxers. They tout it as a Slap-Proof Gear for VIPs, suitable for wearing at conventions [such as the APC convention coming up this week], at polling stations, at election tribunal sittings and at inauguration ceremonies.

Hot on the heels of the Slap, came the Delete. No one expected top Buhari Administration officials to take lying down the insult represented by Section 84 [12] of the amended Electoral Act, which requires them to resign before they can contest in party primaries or even sit as delegates at congresses and conventions. Up to ten ministers and a host of other top agency heads are known to harbor presidential or governorship ambitions.

The president criticized that provision while reluctantly signing the Act. He promptly sent a bill to National Assembly asking for it to be deleted. Not only did Senators unanimously reject his bill, they did so at Second Reading, meaning it could not be taken up again in the life of this Assembly. But the ministers, who include the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, had an ace up their sleeves. They resorted to the courts. On Thursday, they got a court order to delete that section of the Electoral Act because, according to the court, it conflicts with a constitutional provision that gives public officers a month to resign before elections.

The speed with which this Delete order was obtained, the remote location where it was sourced, the dubious locus standi of the plaintiff who sued the Attorney General in order to get it, as well as the speed with which the Attorney General ordered the Federal Government Printer to delete the provision from the law, all qualified the word Delete to be added to the newly registered law firm once called Nigeria.

Why go to Umuahia, when there are many Federal High Courts in Abuja, including its Chief Judge? Why isn’t the man who sued one who is visibly affected by the provision, such as a minister or commissioner? Why wasn’t the National Assembly, which makes laws, joined in this suit? Although time was of the essence in this matter, the media got no wind that this case was filed, or that there was substituted service in the newspapers, or that the Respondent responded, filed a preliminary objection, said he was not served with the originating summons, demanded for time to study the papers served on him, or that the plaintiff applied for accelerated hearing, or that the judge fixed a date to hear the motion on notice, or that the case was adjourned because the applicants’ lawyers were not well briefed, or that the Respondent applied for the case to be transferred to another judge. It suspiciously looked in this case like the Plaintiff and Respondent were one and the same person.

Maybe it was a case of one bad turn deserves another, because the MPs selfishly inserted this provision into the Electoral Act in order to stumble their powerful ministerial opponents. This could amount to a violation of their oath of office, not to allow personal interest to affect their law making. Besides, it was indecorous to receive the president’s veto of the Electoral Act due to the provision that made direct party primaries mandatory, agree to delete it, only to add new provisions that were not in the original bill.

Ideally, this matter should have been handled politically, through the political parties. In 1982, just before it held its primaries for the 1983 elections, NPN governors rammed a decision through their party’s National Executive Committee, requiring all appointed persons to resign before they could contest primaries. That was because many Shagari ministers were set to challenge their governors for the party’s ticket. A few ministers resigned but the rest simply gave up their ambitions, knowing that they did not stand a chance once they left their ministerial positions. Getting the party NEC to adopt such a decision was sly but I think it was more decorous than inserting this clause in the Electoral Act.

For most Nigerians however, the issue last week was neither the Awka slap nor the hastily deleted section of the Electoral Act. It was the Multiple Slap of long fuel queues, very sharp drop in public power supply due to lack of water for the hydels, lack of gas for the Gencos, vandalisation of gas pipelines, collapse of the national power grid twice in one week, astronomical rise in the cost of diesel, a similar rise in the cost of aviation fuel, threat by airline owners to ground all their planes, on top of the onset of the hot season and ASUU extending its four week “warning strike” by another eight weeks. Together, they merit addition of the word Collapse in the newly registered law firm’s quaint name.

VIEW FROM THE GALLERY in This Day and 21st Century Chronicle. Monday, March 21, 2022.