Omo-Agege: Fearless loyalty for higher calling, By Aliyu Abubakar
The high-stake politics of electing the principal officers and choosing other leaders of the 9th National Assembly is now moving to a crescendo. Obviously now determined to avoid a replay of the sordid and treacherous Machiavellian theatrics by which Dr. Bukola Saraki elevated crude personal ambition above the collective interest of the APC and emerged Senate President in the 8th Senate, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee, NWC, of the All Progressives Congress, APC, appear to be rightly directing APC’s legislative orchestra this time.
With its comfortable majority in the National Assembly, APC should ordinarily have nothing to fear. But politics is always dynamic. And so, to manage the dynamics well, the party has zoned the principal offices along geo-political lines to cater for diverse interests within its ranks and the nation at large. This has put good clarity on the choice of leaders who are trusted to faithfully execute the party’s ‘Next Level’ governance agenda.
In the Senate, the highly experienced and calm Senator Ahmad Lawan from the North-East zone is poised to be the next Senate President. For the South-South geopolitical zone that harbours the nation’s huge oil and gas wealth, the brilliant and suave Senator Ovie Omo-Agege representing the nation’s 5th largest ethnic group of Urhobo undoubtedly holds the ace in the race for the Deputy Senate President. Senator Francis Alimikhena (Edo North) is said to be there too.
Relatively young, principled, fiercely loyal, detrabilised, and sophisticated in personal charm, Omo-Agege undoubtedly bears in his leadership DNA the fearless sense of justice of his erudite jurist father, Honourable Justice James Omo-Agege of blessed memory who, not blinking an eyelid, served ultimate justice to the infamous Lawrence Anini and his gang of notorious armed robbers in 1987 with these immutable words: “Anini will forever be remembered in the history of crime in this country, but it would be of unblessed memory. Few people, if ever, would give the name to their children.”
Popularly known by his people as The Obarisi, Omo-Agege, a former Commissioner and Secretary to the Delta State Government, was first elected to the Senate in 2015. He was however only able to take his seat in the Red Chamber in 2016 following a unanimous judgment by the Court of Appeal which found in his favour that contrary to the result previously declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, he actually received about 32,000 more lawful votes than his closest rival.
It is a fact that despite the Court of Appeal’s validation of Omo-Agege’s sweeping electoral victory and consequential instant exit of his main opponent from the Senate, Saraki nonetheless did not allow him to take his place in the Senate. Indeed, against the express, absolute order of the Court, there were furtive moves to block INEC from issuing Omo-Agege’s certificate of return. It took some strategic, game-changing interventions by Omo-Agege and principled senators in the leadership of the senate to get Saraki to change his overbearing stance.
Upon resumption, Omo-Agege quickly warmed himself into the hearts of his colleagues as a fine and reliable intellectual, a legislator with a compelling voice of an advocate, and a good bridge-builder. With good legal practice experience at home and in the United States of America, lawmaking came naturally to him – often comfortable in his Suite 0.05 Senate office personally researching, drafting and scrutinizing legislations with his great team.
Omo-Agege has sponsored key legislations to address real societal challenges. Notable amongst them are bills addressing the mischiefs of sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions, elections mismanagement, increasing electoral crimes, and opaque management of dormant financial assets by banks. This is not to mention his witty and incisive contributions at Committee meetings. Even Saraki has on several occasions openly acknowledged Omo-Agege’s robust, smart and principled contributions to legislations.
Once asked by a journalist about his work ethics and hands-on legislative zeal, Omo-Agege said, “I am just privileged to be my people’s senator. You don’t joke with such a rare honour. It is a patriotic duty that requires careful personal attention to details and supervision as much as one can. In the same vein, it would be a great disservice to the legal profession, if as a lawyer, I take just a passing interest in our intricate lawmaking processes. That is why, as a matter of principle, I will as much as possible always strive to ensure that this Senate passes only good laws. To do that well, I must get involved in the making of our Bills. It would be a serious dereliction of duty if I were to leave it to this great team alone.”
This is quite revealing of the exceptional senator in the man Omo-Agege. One in a unique class of loyalty to purpose, duty and values. And, this must have played out in his courageous and very popular choice to team up with other Buharists in the Senate under the umbrella of the Parliamentary Support Group, PSG, to resist Saraki’s open agenda to continually discredit, disorganize and ultimately cause Buhari and APC’s electoral defeat in the 2019 polls.
Omo-Agege’s decision to work with like minds to take on Saraki came to the fore when Saraki made the grave mistake of introducing what core Buharists rightly saw as a ‘poison pill’ into the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill by seeking to change and fix the sequence of national elections to the specific disadvantage of Buhari as President. And Omo-Agege called it its proper name – a misguided political attack on the President designed to gift undeserved electoral benefits to APC’s enemies within and without.
For Omo-Agege, such a brazen targeting of a sitting President by a legislature where the president’s party has a majority was both a clear political red line and a legislative debauchery that could not pass minimum legal scrutiny. For this, he was prepared to challenge and fight Saraki on grounds of principle, even if it meant losing everything. That is the sterner stuff of Omo-Agege.
Being one afflicted by a morbid fear of civilized dissent from his co-equals and even superiors, it was an unpardonable infraction in Saraki’s little dictatorship world for the Delta Central senator to express an opinion in opposition to his (Saraki’s) selfish agenda – that opinion being the truth that Saraki was unjustly targeting the President for an easy takedown.
It would seem that although the Nigerian Senate is supposedly a first line defender of the Constitution, in Saraki’s ‘supreme emperor’ world, senators are not covered by Section 39(1) of the Constitution which grants “every person … freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” For Saraki, our senators are school children to be whipped into line if they ever dared to disagree with him.
Distressed that Omo-Agege’s principled stance in the PSG was a major reason for the eventual defeat and burial of the proposed Electoral Act amendment targeting the president, Saraki moved rather ill-advisedly against him. Acting exactly like a headmaster would against an offending pupil, Saraki purportedly suspended Omo-Agege from the Senate for 90 legislative days! Even the 90 days came by his ‘supreme benevolence’ – having been arbitrarily reduced from 180 days first proposed by his advisers.
Before this time, Saraki had successfully but lawlessly suspended Senator Ali Ndume (former Senate Leader in the 8th Senate). Still gloating in the euphoria of removing Ndume from the Senate without real consequences, Saraki obviously expected absolute compliance from Omo-Agege. But he was wrong. Dead wrong.
As a lawyer, Omo-Agege knew that Saraki, a co-equal senator, has no powers under the Constitution to remove him from the Senate and deny his people legislative representation thereby. This point is well settled in several judicial authorities, including Hon. Danna v. Bauchi House of Assembly, Dinno Melaye & Ors v. Speaker House of Representatives, Sen. Ali Ndume v. Senate President, Hon. Abdulmumin Jubril v. Speaker, House of Representative and, of course later, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege vs The Senate President. Indeed, under the Constitution, a Senator can only vacate his seat by reasons of death, a recall or decampment from the Party on whose platform he was elected (if there is no division in that party) or otherwise by an appropriate judicial decision, and not because the Senate President is intolerant of truth.
So, Omo-Agege went to work on April 18, 2018 like his colleagues. Holding just the Constitution, he demanded to know directly from Saraki (Senator Ike Ekweremadu standing in for him on that fateful day) where he derived the powers to arbitrarily remove duly elected Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from the Senate. Clearly, the Senator from Delta boldly showed up to call the bluff off and tame Saraki’s tyranny and break his cup of suffocating leadership impunity, and he did it so admirably.
Yes, regrettably some suspected hoodlums invaded the Senate chambers and carted away the Mace of the Senate about the same time that Omo-Agege came in. The senator was not heard or seen talking to or directing them. While some believe that they were protesters who were offended about Omo-Agege’s oppressive suspension, others allege that the so-called hoodlums were ‘security agents’ procured and directed by Saraki’s office to discredit Omo-Agege’s righteous and courageous rebuke of Saraki’s Stalinistic cult of the individual. For the latter group, after all, Saraki’s office was aware that Omo-Agege had rejected his alleged suspension as a joke and promised to show up for work on that fateful day. In any case, whatever the motives of the invaders were, their act, which is now a subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the police, is condemnable. Suffice to say that though pressured by some elements in a National Assembly Ad-hoc Committee with malicious suggestions on Omo-Agege’s possible involvement in the invasion, the Office of the Inspector-General of Police flatly rejected every such suggestions.
Most significantly, as already alluded to above, the purported suspension that led to the April 18 episode was, as generally expected, later quashed by the Federal High Court in Abuja. The Court declared it as manifestly illegal and unconstitutional, and therefore null and void. In the end, though strange for him, obedience was forced upon Saraki by the superior power of the law, as Omo-Agege returned to the Senate, with his head held high.
Just recently, it was in the news that Saraki may be planning to reopen wounds that are gradually healing following his very poor handling of ordinarily simple relationship issues that have partly led to his political eclipsing. As one who believes firmly in the power of the courts, Omo-Agege did not waste time in inviting the court again to stop any further visitation of venomous malice, injustice and oppression on him.
To this end, an Abuja High Court has, upon a sober consideration of his case, restrained Saraki or “whosoever” from taking any step on the matter until an Originating Motion questioning the constitutionality of Saraki’s next steps is heard. That is what happens when a ‘lay man’ is up in arms against the rights of one with good legal learning, one may say!
Without question, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege’s courageous rejection of Saraki’s leadership impunity is an exemplary badge of honour. No media spin can change this reality. Yes, he paid a huge price in defence of his convictions, but it is worth it. It may have been meant for his undoing, but the reality is that it has helped to launch him to that special realm reserved for leaders who do not bow to tyranny.
The irony which even reveals more of Omo-Agege’s leadership greatness is his amazing forgiving spirit. Despite the turbulent times, he remains unfazed and focused on his mission in the Senate. Just recently, it was a marvel to hear him say with admirable equanimity that, “Saraki is effective as a presiding officer. He understands the dynamics and workings of the senate well. My challenge with him is on leadership values, principles and convictions. Petty leaders with raw, untamed ambitions and who take unwise counsel always fail and fall. These, I think, are his (Saraki’s) problems. … Elections have consequences. You do not deny a President an opportunity to govern well. It is even worse to do so from within the President’s own party. That is utterly sinful. It is treachery of the worst kind and totally unacceptable. I believe he would one day look back and be honest with himself that he was wrongly advised on many issues. I hold nothing against him.”
With this clear Nelson Mandela mindset, Omo-Agege is trusted to deliver on his mission to work with each Senator “as a confidant and partner for a Senate (9th) where the common good of Nigerians, true friendship and mutual respect are our guiding compass.” As he further put it, “Given the honour and privilege to serve as the DSP of the 9th Senate, the brotherhood of co-equals will always be alive in the Senate … .” This is the essential character of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege who many pray will become the next Deputy Senate President. Without a doubt, he will help to elevate the quality of leadership in the Senate, and it will sink better into our national consciousness that fearless loyalty to fine leadership principles is an indispensable catalyst for higher patriotic service.