Controversies have continued to trail the action of Ekiti State government under the leadership of Governor Ayo Fayose for banning his predecessor and current minister of solid minerals, Dr Kayode Fayemi from holding public positions for 10 years over allegations of financial mismanagement. Also given similar treatment was Fayemi’s Finance Commissioner, Dapo Kolawole.
However, stakeholders have expressed divergent views on the matter. While some of them called for caution on the part of the state government, others said the onus is on those indicted to act fast and clear their names.
Expectedly, members of the main opposition party in the state, All Progressives Congress (APC) viewed the action as direct attack on the leader of the party who they accused Fayose of not comfortable with in view of his rising profile in the current political dispensation.
Although, Fayemi is yet to make his intention known on whether he would re-contest, his body language and that of his teaming supporters in the state point towards that direction.
A legal practitioner, AbbdulRahman Balogun told Sunday INDEPENDENT that the government’s action had further shown that the commission was orchestrated to tarnish the image of the minister rather than investigate the use of public funds during the tenure of the Fayemi administration.
Balogun stated that the commission lacked powers to impose such sanctions against any individual, saying it can only recommend any public figure alleged to have abused office, for trial.
Describing the whole scenario as laughable, he hinted that he has gotten the clearance from Fayemi to challenge the alleged arbitrariness, adding that he has written to Ekiti State Attorney General to get full details of the reports.
“The commission can only recommend them for trial in a competent court of law. But my client was not given fair hearing on the matter. Although, we have challenged the composition of the commission before, but this is a new case and we are not resting on our oasis. “
Speaking in the same vein, Lagos Lawyer and Human rights Activist, Femi Falana agreed that the commission lacked the powers to bar the two public officers. He however added that Fayemi and his erstwhile Commissioner have a duty to address some issues raised.
Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), in a statement said: “In the case of Atiku Abubakar v Attorney-General of the Federation, the Supreme Court held that only a court of law has the power to disqualify and ban a Nigerian citizen from holding public office in Nigeria.
“So, the apex court set aside his disqualification from holding public office via a White Paper, which was endorsed by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
“A similar ban placed on Malam Nasiru El-Rufai by the House of Representatives was also quashed by the court.
“To that extent, the decision of the Ekiti state government to ban Dr Fayemi from politics cannot stand the test of constitutional validity. If Dr Fayemi challenges the ban in court, he is likely to have it quashed and set aside.
“However, as a serving minister in an administration that is fighting corruption, Dr Fayemi has a duty to respond to his indictment by the judicial commission of enquiry, which probed the finances of Ekiti State under his watch.
“Alternatively, he may pray the court to annul the report. But he cannot afford to ignore the findings of the panel.
“Since Dr Fayemi chose not to appear before the judicial panel, he has to explain his own side of the story to Ekiti people.
“This is in line with the principle of public accountability enshrined in the Freedom of Information Law and Fiscal Responsibility Law enacted by the Fayemi administration,” the statement read.
Akure-based Lawyer and Human rights activist, Morakinyo Ogele described the white paper as a beautiful nonsense which would not hold water.
“I have not seen the beautiful nonsense called White Paper but want to say that only competent court of law can bar or ban any individual from holding public office. I want to believe that the members of the commission are suffering from ignorance.
“This clearly shows that there is no separation of powers in Ekiti State any longer. Under an ideal situation, the commission report should have been submitted to the office of Attorney General who would then advise government on the next line of action. “
Ogele, said that the report cannot stand legal scrutiny and should be disregarded by members of the public.
Chairman Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Prince Tunji Ogunlola said the report was a total distraction.
Also a pressure group in Ekiti, The Just Keep Following Group has taken a swipe on the White Paper describing it as an effort in futility and crass display of ignorance by the present administration in Ekiti State.
In a joint press release signed by the Coordinator of the group, Comrade Bisi Dada and the Director of legal affairs, Mr. Adeoye Aribasoye, the group noted that the action by Fayose’s panel is misplaced in law. In their words, “it is worthy of note that nobody or authority in Nigeria by the provisions of our constitution can bar any Nigerian citizen from holding public office other than a Court of competent jurisdiction.”
Defending the position of the state government, Mr Lanre Ogunsuyi, Commissioner for Information, said that Ekiti State is a pacesetter when it comes to the management of finances. He said: “Government views accountability and probity as hallmarks of good governance. Therefore, the government decided to set up the Judicial Panel of Inquiry in line with its law enacted in 2012. The government viewed seriously the report and it intends to carry out all the recommendations in the report.”
Also, Ekiti State Chairman of PDP, Barrister Gboyega Oguntuase supported the position of the state government, saying Ekiti people were pleased with it. He dismissed claims of political witch-hunt saying Fayemi is not formidable.
The PDP boss argued that the result of the last governorship election in Ekiti had proven his point beyond doubt.
Not minding the fact that Fayemi is challenging the constitution and credibility of the panel headed by Justice Silas Oyewole, on the ground that its members were card-carrying members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the government acted on the report of the commission to issue its White Paper.
According to the report, “Both Dr John Kayode Fayemi and his Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Dapo Kolawole are recommended as unfit to hold any public office in the state and any part of Nigeria.
“This is as a result of their refusal to appear before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, even after the determination of the case instituted by them challenging the inauguration of the commission. For their disrespect to the constituted authority and the undignified roles they played in the whole contracts saga which were obviously against the interest of the state they were supposed to protect, they are banned for holding public offices for 10years.”
The Judicial Commission of Inquiry was set up by Ekiti State government to look into the financial transactions of the state under the administration of Dr. Fayemi.
Apart from banning the minister, it also directed him to refund a sum of N2.75billion allocated from the N25 billion bonds obtained by the government for the execution of contract for the construction of Ultra-Modern market in Ado Ekiti, which was never executed.
The Commission of inquiry also said that the contractor who handled the furnishing of the Government House built by the Fayemi administration be made to refund a sum of N324.8 million, noting that the contract should not have been more than N280 million.
The panel said it found out that KITWOOD Nigeria Limited to which the furnishing contract of over N600 million was awarded had no traceable address and that “the address on the Letter of Award is a virgin land opposite the new Central Bank along new Iyin Road, Ado Ekiti.”
On the controversial N852.9m State Universal Education Board (SUBEB) fund, the commission said it was clear that the government of Dr Fayemi hoodwinked the Federal Government into paying its own matching grant by obtaining N852, 936,783.12 loan from Access Bank on November 25, 2013 without perfecting documentation in respect of the loan, thereby flouting the provisions of Section 11(2) of the UBEC Act, 2004.