Posted by By Soyombo Opeyemi on
We cannot build an enduring nation by supplanting the rule of law with the rule of will.
We cannot build an enduring nation by supplanting the rule of law with the rule of will. Nigeria is not a community of beasts. In the kingdom of beasts, arbitrariness defines existence; the word constitution or constitutionalism is anathema to them.
We are no beasts; we are humans created in the very image of God. We are governed by a constitution and the rule of law, the sanctity of which guarantees our peaceful co-existence and prosperity and any willful breach, which reduces our humanity and places us at per with animals.
The Alamieyeseigha saga has clearly revealed the parlousness of our commonwealth and pretension to being a member of the 21st century democratic comity of nations. We observe without any tinge of ambiguity the great gulf between the of rule of law and constitutionalism in Nigeria and Britain, where Governor Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa recently jumped bail and escaped to Nigeria.
While there is hysteria in Aso Rock and some quarters in Nigeria over Alamieyeseigha's escape, the British government has lost no sleep over the matter. As it is her wont, the law must take its natural course. At best, the governor would be arrested anytime he steps on British soil. The U.K. had not even requested any extradiction because Governor Diepreye is not a war criminal. But here in Nigeria, hell has been broken.
The Bayelsa state radio station has been seized by federal forces; the army has occupied Yenegoa; the EFCC has forced the Bayelsa House of Assembly members to sign impeachment notice at gun-point in distant Lagos; she has also directed banks to freeze all accounts of the state, ministries, parastatals and local governments so the people can rise against the governor. Chief Gani Fawehinmi has called on Chief Obasanjo to withdraw the constitutional-guarantee allocation to Bayelsa state (a precipitate, undemocratic and perfidious call!). Indeed, Bayelsa, one of the federating units of Nigeria, is under the federal government's siege.
Clearly, these measures are brazen assaults on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is an erosion on the federal principle and a supplant of rule of law with rule of might. By the time the dust will settle in Yenegoa, the nation would have been taken back four decades in constitutionalism and constitutional development. Except we permit law and reason to rule the heart and not emotions, the current socio-political and economic stagnation will remain insuperable.
On the eve of Obasanjo's exit from power, we are now confronted with a third-term agenda. I do not know which one is more honourable, stealing of government money in Yenegoa or manipulation of the federal constitution to suit the morbid interest of one man in Abuja? We need to fathom why corruption in Abuja has different hue and shade from corruption in Yenegoa? Why theft of public funds in Abuja should not attract the same condemnation as that in Yenegoa? We need to be informed from the pinnacle of government why General Ibrahim Babangida should go on walking the streets of Nigeria as a free man with our 12.5 billion U.S. dollars 1991 oil windfall in his pocket (even when some experts have volunteered to assist in tracing about 25 billion U.S. dollars looted between 1985 and 1993) and why Alamieyeseigha should not have sound sleep over his 3 million U.S. dollar loot?
Indeed, Governor Diepreye must go to jail. It is not just because I wish it so, it is because the arm of the law must catch up with him. In my "Reflection on the U.S. Intelligence Report" (Thisday 12th August 2005), I had censured the EFCC and ICPC as executive tools of witch-haunt of political adversaries and then posed the question, "Is it not better to strengthen the constitutional Code of Conduct Bureau?" Again, the love of Nigerian rulers for short-termism, short sightedness and idea bankruptcy usually inform their predilection for creating extra-constitutional and extra-judicial bodies at the drop of the hat. This may even be simplistic; the fact is that if the Code of Conduct Bureau were to thoroughly beam its searchlight on all state houses in Nigeria from Aso Rock to Yenegoa, then there will be no governments in Nigeria, for all of them would be found guilty of infraction of the Code of Conduct.
Which of the public officials does not operate a foreign account or abuse his power? Which of them does not receive "gifts" from contractors or appropriate public utilities for private gains? Is the presidential library infamy not fresh in our memories? Can we easily forget the Odi massacre, the fuel tax palaver, the brigandage of police officers in the Owu Obaship crisis to mention just a few? The conclusion here is that Nigerian rulers abhor a system that is politically self-cleansing such as the constitutional Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal, which, if guaranteed, political neutrality will put Nigeria in the league of developed democracies like Britain and the United states of America, where no public official abuses his office with impunity.
In the fifth schedule of the 1999 Constitution, paragraph 9 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers says, "A public officer shall not do or direct to be done in abuse of his office any arbitrary act prejudicial to the rights of any other person knowing that such act is unlawful or contrary to any government policy." Are all the extra constitutional measures taken by federal government in Bayelsa (through its agents) not a breach of the Code of Conduct? Can the Code of Conduct Bureau muster enough courage and direct its searchlight against Obasanjo over the abuses mentioned above? Certainly not.
The present system is so badly flawed that the bureau/tribunal can only be woken up from slumber by the federal government to do a dirty job and that ís exactly what she has been called upon to do against Governor Alameiyeseigha
An addition to the rule of might is the use of threat of state of emergency to punish hostile governors. But we must sound this clear that a serving governor cannot be removed from office by invoking the state of emergency provision (even where none exists). Creating a state of chaos in Bayelsa in order to declare a state of siege is an anti-social tactic fit only for the kingdom of beasts. Emergency rule or not, the governor of a state remains the governor and his immunity remains intact. He was elected by his people and can only be removed constitutionally by the same electorate (through their properly constituted legislature) or a process kick-started by a (non-political) Code of Conduct Tribunal. The rule of law must prevail over the rule of will. We can only build an enduring nation by striving for a system that is politically self-cleansing.
Soyombo is a Lagos-based public affairs commentator
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