By Allan Ntata
On 6 April 2012, I was in Blantyre when I was asked to immediately travel to the office of the Attorney General in Lilongwe for an emergency meeting. When I arrived, the Attorney General informed me that President Bingu wa Mutharika had died, and that the Minister of Justice, Ephraim Chiume, who was present in the room had instructions for us. Chiume then informed me that he had instructions from the Cabinet that the Attorney General together with me and other government lawyers should look at how the Vice President could be prevented from taking over. Chiume repeatedly emphasized that we were to use any means necessary. Upon discussing the matter, we informed the Minister that we were not going to do anything illegal but that there was merit in trying to get an injunction against the immediate succession of the vice president to the presidency.
The reasoning here was that there was already pending in the constitutional court a presidential referral which was questioning the legitimacy of the Vice President maintaining her position in light of conduct which seemed to suggest that she had resigned.
The legal documents for the injunction were frantically put together, but astonishingly, when Chiume was asked to sign the affidavits, he declined and suggested that Goodall Gondwe, then Minister of Energy and Mining, and DPP first Vice President, should sign it. The significance of his refusal was to come to light later as he was the first Minister to defect from the DPP to the Joyce Banda’s PP. Even more revealing was the fact that Chiume now started pointing fingers at his former ministerial colleagues in the DPP, claiming that they had hatched a plot to prevent Banda from taking over the presidency in preference to Mutharika’s brother, Peter.
Later that same night, I was invited to a meeting that was taking place in the conference room at the Office of the President and Cabinet at Capital Hill. Assembled there were all cabinet ministers and other senior government and DPP officials. They wanted an update on the status of the injunction since the Attorney General was busy elsewhere. As some of the individuals present were uninformed about the injunction, I explained what the legal issues were and why the legal team felt an application for an injunction was justified in the circumstances.
In this meeting, it was observed that rumours were fuelling growing apprehension and tension in the country as no official announcement had been made to the nation about the condition of the President. It was decided that a statement be made by the Minister of Information, Patricia Kaliati, informing the Country that the President had been flown to South Africa and that as of that point there was no need to discuss succession matters until such a time as it was officially announced that President Mutharika had died. The statement was composed by a group of individuals that included several cabinet ministers and some ranking officials in the office of the president and cabinet. It was read out on Television by the Minister of Information, Patricia Kaliati, who was supported in the press briefing by 5 other ministers. These Minister later came to known as the infamous MIDNIGHT SIX.
In the end, the attorney general was unable to find a panel of judges to hear the matter and grant the injunction, and the idea of obtaining an injunction was abandoned.
Later, when Joyce Banda was sworn in as President, she arrested Peter Mutharika and a few other former ministers and government officials and charged them with treason. My own name was on the list of those accused although I had left for the UK and was reading for my PhD by this time.
But Politicians being what they are, it appears that in their discussions as they felt the discomforts of prison cells and the inconveniences of the treason trial, the ministers blamed all their plight on the absentee legal counsel, convincing Peter Mutharika and others that I was the reason for their arrests.
Today, I have become the scapegoat for the younger Mutharika and his ministers’ arrest and prison ordeal. Perhaps the trauma needed a victimin order to heal, someone they can point to for the plight they suffered and also the perfect excuse to accuse me of various things simply because I happened to be elsewhere when they were arrested. Having worked with Malawian politicians, I am not surprised. In Malawian politics, it helps to massage the president and to give him someone to blame for his tribulations!
But, truth is truth. It is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is!