By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire
President Tinubu’s nomination of Festus Keyamo as a Minister would be a troubling and controversial act on the part of the President. No wonder it happened as an afterthought, only possible because the person the President preferred turned out unsuitable, and an urgent replacement was needed. If Keyamo had any honor in him, he would decline his nomination. But, no, he doesn’t and he won’t.
It is easy to infer that President Tinubu must have been in a considerable dilemma over what to do about Keyamo. Ironically, the reason Mr. Tinubu appointed Keyamo as his campaign spokesman is the same reason that makes Keyamo unsuitable for a ministerial portfolio in his government. In selecting Keyamo as a spokesperson, Tinubu must have taken the reality of Nigerian politics into consideration. He knew that at its best, non-violent violence would be involved in the process of winning presidential elections in this country. He needed a person with little scruples and yet who holds a visible position in the society like a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who would be able to inflict that brand of violence that would be needed to win election.
Tinubu needed a distant SAN who would not hesitate to manufacture lies and who could weaponize lies and hate speech as tools for political campaign. Keyamo was exactly such man. The European Union indicted Keyamo for exactly that. Tinubu also needed a SAN who would file abusive lawsuits as a tool for political campaign. He got that in Keyamo. Keyamo filed an abusive lawsuit aimed at intimidating and harassing Atiku and Obi during the campaign. This author didn’t say that. A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja sanctioned Keyamo for exactly that – using the judicial process in an extremely abusive manner. The court fined him the unprecedented amount of 10 Million Naira for that. Apart from that ill-fated lawsuit, Keyamo repeatedly urged DSS to arrest Peter Obi and his running mate. He did that for the purpose helping his candidate and boss (Tinubu) to win election.
Even though the crimes and abuses of Keyamo might have worked in favor of Tinubu given the outcome of the elections, President Tinubu is an intelligent man, strategic and highly calculated. He understood that having a man with the record of Keyamo would undermine his effort to present an image of a respectable cabinet to the world. He would rather not have Keyamo in his cabinet. But there-in lay his dilemma. Leaving Keyamo out entirely could send a message to others that Tinubu could not be loyal to those who risked everything for him. If he could turn his back to a man who seemed to have sold his soul to campaign for him, others might be reluctant in the future to take similar risks as Keyamo did. So, Tinubu had to thread the fine line between ignoring Keyamo and embracing him. A bone must be thrown to the dog.
If one had studied Tinubu well, it is easy to realize that he has so many top lawyers as friends, supporters, followers and beneficiaries. Tinubu is single-handedly responsible for up to 50 lawyers in Nigeria becoming SANs. From Fashola to many more, lawyers close to Tinubu were encouraged and sponsored by Tinubu to become SANs. Keyamo was never one of those lawyers. If Tinubu needed lawyer or a person with knowledge of the law, he would likely not go to Keyamo. So, when it comes to lawyers close to Tinubu, Keyamo is an outsider. The President does not seem to have high regards for Keyamo as a lawyer. His interest in Keyamo is simply for Keyamo’s nuisance value. All these are reflected in the last-minute and after-thought nature of the decision to nominate Keyamo.
Many who know Keyamo well are very upset by the idea of having him in the cabinet. But they are satisfied with the humiliating manner of his nomination. It suggests to them that Keyamo is going to end up with a relatively unimportant portfolio. He is not even thinking of becoming the Attorney-General. When he was first nominated by President Buhari, Keyamo thought he was being considered for the office of Attorney-General, and some Senators who interviewed him then aimed questions at him in that direction. Keyamo, who believed he could become the Attorney-General stated on the Senate floor, when asked what he could do if made the Attorney-General, that he was going to “unbundle the Supreme Court”.
Keyamo’s idea of “unbundling the Supreme Court” was an extraordinary display of lack of relevant knowledge by Keyamo. The Supreme Court is not a company or business enterprise that could be “unbundled”. Reforming the Supreme Court cannot take the form of unbundling it. If you create a tribunal higher than the Supreme Court, then it is no longer a supreme court. If you have each of the six regions of the Nigeria having its own Supreme Court and none appealing to the other on any issue, then, you have essentially destroyed every notion of a unified legal system, as each of the courts will become supreme and Nigeria would have six supreme courts. An intelligent reform of the Supreme Court should focus on introducing a system of certiorari and thus reducing the volume of cases the court hears and thereby making the court more efficient. Alternatively or cumulatively, you may to expand the number of justices at the Supreme Court, thus making the court more able to hear more cases in an efficient manner. And also, the focus could be on enhancing the technical efficiency of the court.
Anyway, Tinubu seems to have shown that Keyamo is not being considered for anything as serious as the Attorney-General. He is going to be in the cabinet to replace the lady that was withdrawn. That is Tinubu’s intelligent way of balancing the conflicting desires – the desire to throw some bone to his attack dog and avoiding the wrath of the citizens and the world for embracing a man certified to be a peddler and purveyor of fake news and hate speech. Keyamo’s presence in the cabinet strengthens the idea that Tinubu would end up with a bloated cabinet. That is an inevitable outcome where there is need to throw some bones to some dogs.
You would recall that Keyamo waited until the very day his tenure under Buhari’ administration ended to inform his boss and colleagues that the Constitution of Nigeria did not recognize the position of “Minister of State for anything”, a position he held for four years. Let’s see what he would do if Tinubu gives him the position of “Minister of State” this time. Will he reject it since he does not believe that the Constitution allows such position? Well, he will not resign, but also, Tinubu might not put him on the spot in such a manner by offering him a position he publicly castigated. And finally, Keyamo recently stated that he made more money as a lawyer than as a minister of government. To use his exact words, the position of Minister is a “labor of love”. Will Keyamo prove himself now by rejecting this after-thought nomination or will he now admit that being a Minister of Government is far better for him than anything he could do as a lawyer?