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A Vote of Thanks! By Sonala Olumhense

BEFORE we empty our shortcomings into the New Year, I have a few words of gratitude to say to some Nigerians of special significance to me.

First, Professor Chinua Achebe. Many years ago, when I first met his tragic hero, Okonkwo, something told me that he and his most famous creation were destined for wonderful journeys. But I was too young to understand. In 2008, when the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of "Things Fall Apart," it became clear that my teenage intuition was correct: Achebe (which I use in this way not out of disrespect but as an adjective for literary excellence) is an African milestone.

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All over the world, in 2008, followers of the arts saw Achebe bring unprecedented honour to Nigeria. I was privileged to witness one of the events in New York where hundreds of people struggled to gain seats at one of the events celebrating Achebe and his most famous work. In various interviews, Achebe portrayed the dream of every Nigerian who ever desired respect for his humanity and his work. In the United States, on BookTV, I saw people of different nationalities lining up for the opportunity to ask a question of the writer about his epochal achievement. But what was more elevating was seeing Nigerians engage him about the impact of the work on their lives. I join them all in celebrating our hero, Achebe.

My gratitude this year also goes to Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Four years after Achebe himself turned down a corrupt and underachieving government's offer of a National Honour, Chief Fawehinmi demonstrated the same courage in rejecting the offer. The famous lawyer cited the dissonance between the interest of the people and the failures of the awarding government.

I celebrate three judges of the Supreme Court: Justices Aloma Mariam-Mukhtar, George Adesola Oguntade, and Walter Samuel Onnonghen. This month, as a majority of their colleagues failed to find the nerve to offer an honest verdict in the presidential electoral appeal before them, these three men and women did. "The court below should have nullified the (said) election," Justice Oguntade said in the lead minority.

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He reasoned: "When a provision of the law requires an act to be performed before taking any further steps and that act is not performed, the further steps taken may amount in law to a nullity...A court could not first assume that a disputed act was valid and then place on the plaintiff the onus of proving the invalidity of the same act when what was in dispute was the constitutive elements which would lead to a pronouncement of the validity of the Act."

At a time of deep cynicism throughout the country, I am very proud of these Supreme Court judges. They offer some hope for the future.

I congratulate Comrade Adams Oshiomole, who battled his way through enormous odds to claim the governorship of Edo State, despite every vicious hurdle placed in the way by those who think they own the state, and the law.

I celebrate Mr. Femi Falana, the President of the West Africa Bar Association (WBA), for being the recipient of the 2008 International Bar Association's Bernard Simons Memorial Award. Mr. Falana does a lot to help in the advancement of human rights in Nigeria, and it is gratifying to see him enjoy international acknowledgement for his efforts.

I also want to recognize the unusual victory at the Supreme Court last week, of Mr. Gozie Agbakoba in the disputed House of Representatives Onitsha North/South Federal Constituency case. The seat was being held by Ms. Lynda Chuba-Ikpeazu, but the court ordered her to vacate the seat immediately, and for Mr. Agbakoba to be sworn in.

The matter involved who was the validly-nominated People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for the 2007 election. According to reports, the nomination was originally won by Mr. Agbakoba, and his name was duly sent his name to the electoral commission, but that was subsequently changed by the party, and Ms. Ikpeazu's name substituted. Mr. Agbakoba challenged that action at the Federal High Court, where it was dismissed on the grounds the PDP's argument for the substitution was valid.

Mr. Agbakoba then took the matter to the Court of Appeal, but the election was held before it could be heard. The court struck it out, conveniently describing the appeal as "academic."

But no, said the Supreme Court last week, the matter was not academic. It then assumed the powers of the Court of the Appeal, and ruled on the substantive matter that Mr. Agbakoba must be deemed to have won the election. Although Ms. Ikpeazu is a friend of mine, I congratulate Mr. Agbakoba for his dogged fight, even within the jungle of the PDP.

It is remarkable that it is the same Supreme Court that, only 10 days earlier, sadly gave the infamous judgment, mentioned earlier, to President Umaru Yar'Adua. On this case, I congratulate the wisdom of Justices Ignatius Katsina-Alu, Mariam Mukhtar, Ibrahim Muhammad and Francis Tabai.

Finally, I salute Leadership newspaper for its bold dedication to the cause of reporting our political landscape, even in its thorniest terrain. Publisher Sam Ndah Isaiah and his staff have my deep respect.

I offer these recognitions at a time that the Nigerian government is increasingly turning to the chasing of its critics. Last week, Nuhu Ribadu, the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was fired from the Police Force. The farce of discrediting him as an anti-corruption campaigner is almost complete. It was the same week that Nasir El-Rufai, the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory who had done so much to remind us of the kind of federal capital we set out to build in Abuja, was being dragged into a corruption scam.

Meanwhile, under the guise of a plea bargain, former Edo State governor, Lucky Igbinedion, was receiving from the EFCC a generous federal award of most of his homes, billions of Naira, and a lavish lifestyle. Like him, several former governors previously indicted for corruption are living a great life. Nigeria's Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, is regrettably better-known for his battles abroad as he helps one of those governors avoid justice.

As we prepare to enter a New Year, the usual clich?s abound. Said President Yar'Adua in his Christmas message, "In the New Year, this administration shall... strive harder to meet the national aspiration for greatness."

He added: "Long deferred, the promise of Nigeria shall not continue to remain just a potential. It will soon be redeemed. Our season of renewal has dawned."

I wish I could believe him, but it is clear he is only responding to those Nigerians who challenge his competence as a leader, and honesty as a man. For me, the standard remains the same, it is what you do-and not what you profess or promise-that I will be watching.

In that sense, I salute the ordinary Nigerian, on whose back the burden of our failure painfully rests. Your refusal to buckle under the failures and contradictions of yet another leader is the stuff of which legends are made.

The Guardian /Sonala Olumhense

By Sonala Olumhense


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