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The Expressway to Anarchy



By Olusegun Adeniyi


Let nobody be deceived, none of the actors in the game of political brinksmanship going on within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is thinking about the people of Nigeria: It is all about retaining powers and privileges. Has anybody, for instance, wondered why neither the executive nor the legislative arm of government has intervened on the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate scandal involving the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun? That is simply because their interest is the same on that sordid matter.

Therefore, no matter the pretensions to the contrary, the ongoing power struggle is not about the people and their welfare. At a period the population keeps growing amid shrinking opportunities and pervasive poverty even as the number of out-of-school children is increasing by the day, the only response from many of the politicians who now command national attention is to produce Nollywood video to celebrate their ‘home my home’. I am just going to sit by and enjoy all the drama while taking some notes that could prove useful one day.

However, I am also aware that when Nigerian politicians get desperate, as APC leaders on both sides of the divide are right now, danger is not too far away for the polity. When adjournment of a federal legislative house becomes a cynical political weapon, when public officials who are supposed to be fighting corruption begin to wear the campaign lapel of the president as part of their daily uniform to beam searchlights only on regime opponents and when leading ‘transmission’ agents behave like muscle men for Aso Rock, democracy is definitely imperilled.

As an aside, I find it particularly amusing that when a similar drama is staged and restaged at different times in our country, the actors never improve on their performances. In June 2011 when a new session of the National Assembly was to commence, President Goodluck Jonathan did not want Hon Aminu Tambuwal to be speaker so it was felt that the easiest way to achieve that was for the police and other security agencies to prevent the current Sokoto State governor from accessing the National Assembly on inauguration day. At the end, Tambuwal still beat hundreds of security men to arrive at the House of Representatives and the rest, as they say, is now history.

When, in 2014, some members were to decamp from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the APC, efforts to prevent the House from sitting failed rather spectacularly. Now fast-forward to June 2015. In an attempt to prevent Dr Bukola Saraki from becoming the Senate President, both his residence and the premises of the National Assembly were invaded by the police and other security outfits. Yet, Saraki managed to find his way into the Senate chambers to achieve his ambition. And despite the early morning drama of Tuesday, the Senate still had their session where some APC members decamped to the PDP.

The question then is: How can security outfits that serially bungle simple operations like keeping politicians in their bedrooms to prevent them from mischief handle complex national security challenges? That is why a dead and ‘fatally wounded’ Abubakar Shekau has ‘reincarnated’ again and again to threaten our peaceful existence even as sundry criminal cartels are now on the prowl, turning our country into a huge killing field. While these are issues for another day, it would appear that some people are playing the Peruvian Fujimori script of the nineties but students of history also know how that misadventure eventually ended. It is therefore in the interest of President Muhammadu Buhari to call to order those who may be abusing their powers in his name.

Meanwhile, the real danger to our democracy today is not the shenanigan of politicians jumping from one political party to another but rather the disobedience to court order and the justifications being provided by the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, who ordinarily should defend the rule of law. From the continued detention of Sheikh Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife despite the order of the Federal High Court for their release to the consistent disobedience of no fewer than six successful bail application rulings on the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), it should worry critical stakeholders that our courts are being rendered impotent.

With the example set by the federal government, it is also becoming increasingly common for state governments to ignore court orders they consider unfavourable. Yet the greater implication is that when those who swore to uphold the law treat the court with contempt, they are only unwittingly sowing the seeds of anarchy because what they encourage is for citizens to resort to self-help in settling disputes. Besides, no rational investor will bring their money to an environment where court judgements are treated with scorn so the implications for the economy are also enormous.

It may be useful at this point to put the whole issue within the context of an ongoing global debate. We are at a period in history when the age-old issue about strong man and strong institution is resurfacing, especially given what is happening in the United States. In a 6th February 2017 piece titled, “Will Donald Trump be the one to put rogue courts in their place?”, following a temporary stay against the ban of foreigners from seven countries granted by a federal judge in Seattle, popular American radio talk-host, Mr Steve Deace, advocated that President Trump should disobey the order. “Despite his dominant personality, Trump officially became just another Republican president this week. Handcuffed from doing the people’s will by a pernicious lie whose bluff should’ve been called a long time ago”, wrote Deace.

Incidentally, it is not only people like Deace who believe an American president could act above the law, there are also respected politicians who rationalise such viewpoints. “We have had an executive branch that has emasculated itself by surrendering constantly to the idea that once the court says something, that’s it; it’s the law of the land,” argued Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, on Fox News before he added that he was “glad to see” Trump attacking James Robart, the Seattle judge who had blocked key parts of his executive order. At the time, Trump had actually commented wryly: “We’re going to see what happens. You know, some things are law, and I’m all in favour of that. And some things are common sense. This is common sense.”

I am making the foregoing point not only to highlight the tension between those who believe a president has absolute power to infringe on individual liberty under the guise of national security and those who argue that the court is the final arbiter in such matters but also to show that even the America that most of us see as the ideal is not a perfect system. The difference between us and America is that there are several layers of checks to the excesses of the president that are sorely lacking here with the most significant being the subordination of the military and security agencies to the Constitution and not the man in the White House!

In Nigeria, the primary responsibility of those who superintend those critical institutions of state is regime protection for whoever is in Aso Rock. That is why we cannot afford a situation in which the president and his enablers will also render our courts prostrate. Unfortunately, in an incoherent interview with the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa Service last week, Malami rationalized the disobedience to court orders in the Dasuki case on grounds that the former NSA, who is yet to be convicted of any offence, was “instrumental to the death of over 100,000 people” because “there was massive mismanagement of funds meant for military hardware which the military could not access and that led to the death of many.”

What that says quite clearly is that Dasuki has already been convicted by the federal government so you wonder what role the court still has to play in his case. Incidentally, it is the same disposition that the administration has adopted on Elzakzaky as well as in the war against corruption. Once you are accused of an offence you are deemed guilty, regardless of whatever the courts say and notwithstanding that they may even not be able to produce any credible evidence beyond the nebulous blackmail line of “corruption is fighting back.”

According to Mr Femi Falana, SAN, it is the height of contempt which smacks of official impunity for any public official to justify the disobedience of a valid and subsisting order of a properly constituted court of law. “Even under the defunct military dictatorship in Nigeria, detainees were released from illegal custody once the detention orders issued pursuant to the obnoxious State Security Detention of Persons Decree No 2 of 1984 were set aside by the law court”, said Falana.

He is not alone. At a public lecture at the faculty of law, University of Lagos, on 31st May this year, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen warned about the possible effects of disobeying court orders. “Any government that is against the enthronement of the rule of law is by implication inviting anarchy into the system. A democratic government must not only obey the law but also courts’ orders,” Onnoghen said.

Against the background that so much song and dance was made of a recent invitation of President Buhari to The Hague by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the 20th anniversary, one wonders whether this administration worries about its predilections for hypocrisy. At the ICC event, President Buhari said the co-operation of Nigeria with the Court “is borne out of our strong belief in the respect for the rule of law and human rights, and in our firm commitment to the sanctity of fundamental freedoms at international and domestic levels as ingrained in the objectives for establishing the Court.”

Speaking at the 2017 All Nigerian Judges’ conference last November, CJN Onnoghen said while Nigerians easily refer to the Supreme Court judgment on the Kenyan presidential election to conclude that the judiciary in that country is doing better than ours, they “forget to mention that President Uhuru Kenyatta promptly accepted the judgment annulling his victory and agreed to a re-run against his opponent”. I hope President Buhari will get the message and begin to accord more respect for the rule of law in Nigeria.

On the Dasuki and Elzakzakky cases, it is not enough to cite the usual higher national security excuses for their continued incarceration against the law. If indeed these excuses have substance, they ought to have been canvassed in court. A situation where government casually undermines the very foundation of democracy under excuses hinged on ‘the reason of state’ is a ready escape into the realm of autocracy. Considerations of ‘national security’ cannot be a leeway for any government to cherry-pick which laws to obey and which to arrogantly disregard.

Equality of the government and the governed, irrespective of circumstance, is the highest aspiration of all democratic culture. The private whims of an individual leadership must therefore not in any way be disguised as national security nor should we allow autocratic flirtations to undermine this fragile democracy even with all its imperfections.

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