Friday, July 03, 2009

Andy Uba: Time to review an ambition

WHEN the Supreme Court justices dismissed in the second week of June 2009 Andy Uba's application which asked the court to reinstate him as the official winner of the controversial 2007 governorship election in Anambra State, the justices also expressed their irritation at, and dissatisfaction with, Uba's endless attempts to ask the court to change its previous decision on the same subject. That dismissal was the third in as many months.

In delivering the unanimous judgment, Chief Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi said: "I have carefully listened to the submissions and arguments canvassed by counsel to all the parties in this application and come to a conclusion that the application is a thorough abuse of the judicial process. It is trite law that there must be an end to litigation. This application therefore fails and is accordingly dismissed..."

But Justice Kutigi couldn't hide his frustration and disappointment with the frivolous nature of the application. Indeed, Kutigi reserved his special censure for Uba's counsel, for agreeing to take up the case in the first place. To Uba's lawyer, Justice Kutigi said: "What kind of country is this where Senior Advocates of Nigeria are used to mess up the judiciary? We will not allow this kind of practice. This is wrong. The appellant has been shuttling from one court to another on a matter that the Supreme Court had already delivered judgment. If the Supreme Court makes a mistake, there are procedures of correcting the mistakes; not this way, and we will not allow it."

This severe criticism of Uba's legal counsel marked a direct denunciation of the slapdash practices adopted by some senior lawyers (such as senior advocates) to secure favourable judgments for their clients. The reprimand directed at Uba's lawyer was serious because it cast aspersions on the integrity of senior advocates in Nigeria. But it must not be interpreted as a blanket condemnation of all senior advocates, as many of them have established impeccable legal track records that are not only impressive but also strikingly appealing.

However, the Supreme Court justices were absolutely right to point out that the latest application brought to the Court by Uba's counsel was politically motivated, ill-advised, unhelpful and unwise. To be clear, the Supreme Court is not a practice board for dart throwing competition where competitors' chances of hitting the bull's eye grow with more practices. It is improper for anyone - counsel or politician - to believe that he or she alone can offer a more valid interpretation of the law than the rest of society.

There is no honour in seeking justice in a matter in which the highest court - Supreme Court - can perceive sheer insubordination and unwillingness to accept informed judgment. In law, tenacity does not win cases. You must build your case on substantial, verifiable and incontrovertible evidence. Anything else is pesky gimmickry.

Many people have asked the question: Who is Andy Uba and why has he persisted in taking his case to the Supreme Court in spite of previous adverse judgments? Andy Uba represents many things to many people in Anambra State and beyond. To some people, he is a quiet achiever (whatever that means), a great organiser of men, women and material wealth. His enemies in Anambra in particular perceive him as the archetypal symbol of political disorganisation in the state. To some others, he is a man of many parts and an obsequious servant of Olusegun Obasanjo. This group prefers to cast Uba as a na•ve politician who put himself and his resources in the forefront of the petty political wars that Obasanjo - his former master and now benefactor - fought in Anambra during the eight years of Obasanjo's misrule.

It is indeed difficult to discuss Andy Uba without drawing fireworks from his supporters and his enemies at the same time. However, this essay is not intended to gratify or displease the different camps. Part of the reason why Uba symbolizes political controversy has to do with the public perception of Uba as a man who is easily stirred by affluence, political power and political manipulation by Obasanjo, the depraved former president.

Those who are close to Uba say he is incredibly generous but even that generosity has yet to yield political dividends. His political enemies do not hesitate to draw on that fact to point out the paradox in Uba. In the newspapers and in online discussion sites, he is depicted variously as a man with inestimable wealth, a man willing to donate cash and kindness to his political followers, a man who cultivates the king makers in the People's Democratic Party (PDP) regardless of their vile record, a man who jumps whenever Obasanjo calls, and a man with a string of chieftaincy titles. Yet Andy Uba's friends worry that despite all these good and bad attributes, the man has not been able to convert the good qualities so effectively to become the governor of Anambra either through a fair and free election or through the active agency of his friends in power.

In Anambra State, it is public knowledge that Uba wants to cap his undistinguished political career by becoming the governor. So far, the big prize has eluded him, except for the brief period he was crowned governor in 2007 before the legal machinery set up by Peter Obi turned Uba's governorship joy into an unforgettable political pain. As Peter Obi's first term approaches an end, just about every politician who thinks he or she can govern Anambra is already warming up to throw their hats into the ring. The politics of 2010 will separate the boys from the men.

Realistically, Uba doesn't have to serve as governor in order to contribute to the development of his state. If he is bursting with enthusiasm about how to serve his people, there are so many ways he can release that energy without being trapped in the nasty politics of trying to govern Anambra by fair or foul means. Uba should consider the following ideas. He can set up an education foundation in the state which will grant free primary, secondary and university education to all the students who deserve the scholarship. Free and quality education is the greatest gift Uba would give to school children in Anambra.

Uba can assist impoverished men and women in the local villages by setting up industries which will provide much needed jobs to the people. Nothing soothes the mind as paid employment. It will serve as a shock absorber against idleness, as well as a buffer against the painful effects of the global economic crisis. The people will love Uba for transforming their lives. Uba can also set up public or private hospitals equipped with state-of-the art technologies, diagnostic laboratories and renowned specialists. The hospitals will provide free healthcare services, including valuable jobs to unemployed medical doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and other healthcare workers who have well decorated certificates but have no avenue to engage in professional practice.

If Uba still has some change to spare after accomplishing these tasks, he can throw the money into other challenges in Anambra State that have been ignored by state and federal governments for many decades. For example, there is the soil erosion problem which has displaced many people in communities such as Nanka, Agulu, Ekwulobia and Oko, to mention a few. Uba can also take on road reconstruction. There are many roads that need to be repaired.

Investing in these philanthropic projects will yield instant results for Uba. First, his new image as a renowned philanthropist will endear the people to him forever. Second, in a few years, his growing popularity could produce an Andy Uba who would become a major gubernatorial contender in the politics of Anambra. Third, his good works will speak for him. The people will advertise his name and fight for him too. There are many ways that Uba can transform his image and, perhaps win in the long run, a political prize that has eluded him in recent times.

Andy Uba could dismiss these suggestions on the sound argument that past and present governors and presidents did not invest their personal wealth in altruistic projects before they were elected. That would be an unassailable argument. Nigerian politicians usually don't want to serve the people. They want the people to serve them. Or, they want to use the people to attain their political goals. Whatever happens, Uba must now review his political ambition in light of the Supreme Court's judgment of June 11, 2009.