“In the end, it will not matter to us whether we fought with flails or reeds. It will matter to us greatly on what side we fought.” G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 60).
By Dele Sobowale
This is the second time in almost thirty years of writing, with close to 3000 articles behind me, when the subject of the controversy would be someone I had long admired and respected. The first was late Chief Bola Ige, former Federal Minister for Justice. Forgive me for repeating it. But, I knew Uncle Ige before just about anybody reading this column – even before his late wife, Auntie. Ige started and finished at Ibadan Grammar School, IGS, on the same dates as my eldest brother, late Chief Sanu Sobowale, who was also Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General under Governor Jakande. Twice, when they were at IGS, my brother brought Ige home and they spoke in “strange tongues” – which after getting to Igbobi College, I found was Latin. They joined the Action Group Youth Movement together.
Ige remained faithful until the 1998-9 election process. Confident that he was going to emerge the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, he was stunned when Chief Olu Falae was the choice of the party. I became sad; but that was the will of the party. Obasanjo won the election in 1999 and proceeded to appoint Ige as a Minister without consulting the AD. Ige accepted without informing the party. That was the sort of conduct Ige would have been the first to condemn if it was somebody else. I developed the intuitive feeling that something else was coming – perhaps something more alarming. Moreso, when Chief Ige also inaugurated the Yoruba Elders Forum, YEF, as a counter to the influence of AFENIFERE in the South West. Something sinister came soon enough.
A few months into his tenure as Minister, a reporter asked Chief Ige if he still supported the call for a Sovereign National Conference, SNC. The reply was a thunderbolt; at least to me. Ige replied that there was no need to agitate for the SNC anymore since an elected government was in charge. The Presidency and the National Assembly embodied the will of the people. So, all agitation should cease. Or words to that effect. Sitting in front of the television and watching that news at 7; listening to Chief Ige; was the saddest day of my life on anything not personal. To me it was like hearing a Cardinal or Chief Imam, given high political office saying abortion is now ok because the government he serves supports it. I had sleepless nights. But, I also had this page to write.
My first thought was to call Chief and ask if I heard him correctly. He removed that option by repeating the statement a few days after when others challenged him. Through my brother, my family had been in the progressive alliance since the 1960s. After the civil war and the long dark years of military rule dominated by the North, the abolition of the civilian constitution, SNC, had become the battle cry of the Awoists. It ranked side by side with Free Education at All Levels as the abiding manifesto. I was appalled that one of the many heirs apparent of late Chief Awolowo would, for the sake of an appointment as Minister, jettison the idea that had united us – politicians and non-politicians alike. I was not a card-carrying member of the party.
What could be responsible for this change? Then, I went through our recent history and discovered that several individuals had entered Aso Rock with reputations for some principles only to drop them in order to hold on to the office. That political disease, for lack of a better name, I called Aso Rock Disease. I was ready to openly confront Chief Ige. Right on this page, I wrote a two part column which, after surveying the political history of the Progressive Movement, in which my Uncle was accused of suffering from Aso Rock Disease. The disease manifests itself when an individual with an established reputation for certain principles, jettisons them when offered an appointment by the President of Nigeria. We have experienced several individuals undergoing that unhealthy transformation since 1999 – under all the Presidents. We are witnessing one now.
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, enjoyed something close to worship in my mind for as long as I have followed his interventions in contentious issues in Nigeria. He still does largely. But, lately, he is beginning to strike me as another appointee to high political office who, thereafter, turns his back on the very principles which established his reputation. In addition, my hero is sounding too self-righteous and “all-knowing” for me. Like Ige’s case, I could have got in touch with Prof; and we could have had a private disagreement. But, that won’t do. This infectious disease must be brought out in the open because it is creating a great deal of havoc in the country and could be contagious.
Until Buhari came into office and Prof was appointed to head a Committee, he, like most lawyers had stood firmly on the universal principle that “a man is presumed innocent until proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.” Allied to that is that a court of law cannot assist the prosecution to provide evidence against the accused. Just as strong a component is the principle that the accuser, be it government or anybody else, cannot be the judge in its own case. The only entity to decide a case is the court – without interference or intimidation from the Executive branch of government.
Professor Sagay has also held strongly to the belief that “court orders must be obeyed” by all the parties involved – including government. He had also been known to state categorically that the notice to file an appeal against the judgment of a lower court does not automatically translate to a stay of execution of the lower court’s judgment.
So we have three principles, among others, on which the legal luminary established his reputation. These basic principles of justice apply to all individuals (accountants, soldiers, bankers, rapists, murderers, police men, Senators etc) facing charges, criminal or civil, irrespective of whether it is capital offence or a misdemeanor.
To start with, it is highly hypocritical and, to me a corruption of thought, for anybody to berate governments over several decades for not obeying court orders and to accept appointment from a government which does just that. The Buhari administration, for which Professor Sagay gladly works, is a serial offender when it comes to disobeying court orders. Only God knows how many people are held in detention by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Directorate of State Services as well as other security agencies despite repeated orders from courts to release them. Is it possible for all the organizations working for government to be acting illegally while claiming to seek justice? A honest man who disapproves of anything done by any group should not be a part of the group.
Action speaks louder than words. Sagay’s continuous stay in the new office created and given to him, suggests that he does not really believe in the rule of law. The hypocrisy involved in his position is made clearer by the fact that, his latest call for the government to obey court orders has been totally ignored. As far as the Federal Government is concerned, servants are not hired for their intelligence but for their loyalty. Instead of adhering to the rule of law, they would prefer to replace him if he continues to harass them – and he knows it.
So, the first thing I want from Sagay is a simple answer to two questions. Do you really believe in the rule of law? If yes, why are you working for a government which is disdainful of the rule of law?….
ELEPHANT WENT INTO LABOUR TO DELIVER MOUSE
“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” I.F. Stone. VBQ p 80.
People want to be anonymous when they do things of which they are ashamed. Somebody in the Federal Government of Nigeria did just that recently. On June 6, 2017, a four –page advertisement appeared in a national newspaper titled BUHARI ADMINISTRATION MIDTERM FACT SHEET. Nobody claimed responsibility for it. But, from the number of half-truths and absolute falsehoods in it, something tells me that the author of the advert must be the same guy who cannot tell the difference between truth and lie.
In the advert, Nigerians were told that 1,051,000 primary school pupils are benefiting from the Home Grown School Feeding Programme, HGSFP, across seven states. More than 11,000 cooks were also said to be employed. The states were not listed.
On June 12, 2017, Mr Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to Osinbajo was reported claiming that kids were fed in nine states. He listed them. According to the “story”, Abia has 61,316 kids, Delta 90,523 and, wait for it Zamfara, 268,573 kids. Can you believe that! Akande’s total came to 1,287,270. So far Akande has failed to provide the names of the schools benefiting from the programme. They have spent N3.7 billion on HGSFP. It reads like hogwash to me.